Posts Tagged: Stephen Bubb

Arise Sir Stephen – and honour is satisfied

For a long time it was a moot point whether Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, or Stephen Bubb, head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, would make it first on to the honours list.

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Ranking charities – interesting, but unrealistic.

I attended Martin Brookes’ RSA lecture last night, in which he called for someone – I’m not entirely sure who – to look into developing a ranking system for charities according to how much they benefit society. The idea is to inform people’s decisions on their charitable giving.

To me it was clearly a very interesting debate, but it can only really be taken seriously on an intellectual level.

The practical implications of putting such a list in place boggle the mind, and in my view render the whole idea unrealistic.

First of all – and I am in agreement with Stephen Bubb on this – who on earth would have the moral authority to put together such a list?

Secondly, the needs of our society and environment are so fluid that this list would need to be continually updated, almost on a daily basis, if it was ever going to reflect accurately which organisations are the most beneficial at any time.

And finally, where is the cut-off point for something like this?

If, for example, you decide that giving money to a charity which helps starving children is far more worthwhile than giving it to a donkey sanctuary, at what point is it all right to start giving a proportion of the available funds to the donkeys rather than the next starving child?

This is a question which I fear can only really have one answer: when there are no starving children left to help.

I would obviously love there to be no starving children in the world, but is it realistic that this is ever going to be the case? And is Brookes saying that every other slightly less worthy cause should be abandoned until it is?

I would never judge anyone who donates to charity. As Brookes himself pointed out in his speech last night, the number of people in our society who donate to charity is steadily falling.

To my mind any donation to a charity, however worthy or unworthy some may believe it is compared to another cause, is to be applauded, and it is just not a good idea to go down the dangerous path of finding flaws in it.

The good news is that there are many charities out there which do fight very obviously ‚Äėworthy’ causes and are very successful in their fundraising. They are some of the biggest and most generously funded charities in our society.

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Big society means big change ahead

Lord Wei, the government’s big society guru, weighed in recently with a warning that some charities and social enterprises had become too bureaucratic because they received most of their funding from the state. “They have ended up becoming big charity, not big society,” he said.

This chimes with Conservative arguments in recent years about the “Tescoisation” of charities, and with the party’s often-stated preference for local, community-based organisations. This government does not much like larger charities that get state funding, many of which are contemplating the future with some trepidation.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, responded by arguing in his lecture last week that “big society requires big charity as well as local charity. Properly speaking, big society means new life being breathed into the state-charity partnership.” He urged the government not to forget that the partnership between the state and the third sector is rooted in our history, has enjoyed cross-party consensus and is crucial to the well-being of society.

As we await the public spending review, it’s hard to predict in any detail what’s going to happen. The government is committed, as was Labour, to making it easier for the sector to bid for public contracts on a level playing field. That’s good in its way, if it actually happens, but public contracts are likely to be fewer and smaller, producing a countervailing effect.

The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, also told Third Sector recently that the government was keen to open up public services to new providers. But he emphasised that it was interested in “community-based solutions.” That doesn’t sound encouraging for the bigger voluntary organisations.

The most that can be said with certainty is that the state is going to shrink, and with it many parts of the sector that depend on the state.† And when such large cuts are made so fast, many babies will go out with the bathwater.

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Large charities win contracts, but how does that square with big society rhetoric?

Are small charities better than big ones? Few questions provoke more ire.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, says it is a “senseless and divisive argument”.

But the new government seems to be following the path trodden by Iain Duncan Smith five years ago when he contrasted ‚Äúbureaucratic and risk-averse‚ÄĚ big charities with ‚Äúthe instinctive understanding‚ÄĚ of small, local groups.

It was noticeable that small groups, rather than the sector monoliths, were invited to Downing Street to discuss the big society last month.

This month, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the new Communities First fund would be ‚Äúsuper-local, seriously neighbourhood-based and almost microscopically granular‚ÄĚ.

I’m not quite sure what he meant but it didn’t sound like an invitation to Cancer Research UK to apply.

Yet charities still face pressure to get bigger and more centralised if they want to tango with the government.

The Alzheimer’s Society is a high profile example. It has tightened control over local offices, which has upset some volunteers but was done to improve accountability and enable the charity to win more contracts from the government.

I interviewed Jeremy Hughes yesterday, who, it was announced this week, is leaving Breakthrough Breast Cancer to become the society’s chief executive. He thinks cancer charities’ model of closer collaboration with government is the way to go if you want to win contracts and influence people.

It‚Äôs difficult to argue with that, yet it‚Äôs hard to see how it squares with the ‚Äėbig society‚Äô.

Like it or not, I suspect the size issue will be one of the key themes of the years ahead.

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Fire and brimstone missing at Unite’s mass meeting for charity workers

The mass meeting last night of charity sector workers organised by Unite showcased a side of the Labour Party rarely seen these days.

Labour MPs initially outnumbered charity workers in committee room 11 of the Palace of Westminster, as delegates battled with hordes of tourists and schoolchildren to get through security. The MPs declared themselves only too anxious to be lobbied on the woes of being a charity worker in the era of competitive tendering, while charities minister, former charity worker and Unite member Angela Smith oozed sympathy and concurred with Unite‚Äôs assessment that management in the sector needed to pull its socks up and become “more union-friendly”.

Perhaps this friendly, genteel environment accounted for the lack of fire and brimstone from the floor. One delegate from Edinburgh did his best to get the pulse racing by announcing he was “fed up” with cuts in sick pay and pensions, and of being treated as part of a “second-class workforce” by councils.

Another delegate said he was “quite emotional” about his charity‚Äôs announcement that unless its workers work four extra hours a week without increased pay the organisation could go under. “A gun is being held to our heads,” he said.† †

The Government was also accused of being a “disgrace” for pitting legal charities in direct competition with one another “based on price and nothing else”. But such barbs were spread relatively thinly among reasoned and, in some cases, pre-prepared analyses of contracting culture.

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