Spending review pulls ‘Transition Fund’ rabbit out of the hat

I must say, I tried to listen to Osborne’s live spending review statement on R4, and I thought I had listened reasonably thoroughly, but I missed this… Third Sector Online reveals that the speech included proposals for a ‘transition fund’ for charities in genuine hardship, aimed primarily at medium and large “organisations delivering front-line services that stand to be affected in the short term by reductions in spending, and [which] are able to demonstrate that the financial impact will affect their ability to deliver services”.  Read the story here.

The fund, to be delivered with an as yet undisclosed partner, is likely to be worth a total of £100m — £10m this year, and £90m next year. ACEVO’s chief exec has called it good news and a  rabbit pulled out of the hat.

NAVCA’s chief exec on the other hand says he will be arguing that OCS exercise ‘tough love’ in how the fund is administered, and that local authority areas that have made savage cuts in third sector funding should not be able to apply to the transition fund. This, he has argued, would be rewarding bad practice. “I don’t think this fund should be used to reward local authorities that have cut the voluntary sector deeply and disproportionately,” Third Sector Online quotes him as saying.

Key headlines from the review:

  • Local government spending will be cut by about 30% over the lifetime of the spending review.
  • About 490,000 public sector jobs likely to be lost.
  • Average 19% four-year cut in departmental budgets.
  • Structural deficit to be eliminated by 2015.
  • £7bn in additional welfare budget cuts – total cuts in welfare benefits about £18bn.
  • Police funding cut by 4% a year.
  • Retirement age to rise from 65 to 66 by 2020.
  • NHS budget protected; £2bn extra for social care.
  • Schools budget to rise every year until 2015.
  • £30bn capital spending on transport.
  • Permanent bank levy.

The full spending review document can be downloaded here.

Pickles confirms scrapping of Local Area Agreements….baby and bathwater?

Seems a bit odd to me that in an ‘age of austerity’ when surely co-operation and collaboration are a necessity, government is getting rid of Local Area Agreements (LAAs) which (I thought) were intended to do just that…

In a letter sent to council leaders and chief executives yesterday, Eric Pickles claimed that abolishing LAAs would remove more than 4,700 targets from local authorities, “relieving you of the bureaucracy that that diverts money away from the front line.”

The notice under section 109 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 revokes all designations of local improvement targets in Local Area Agreement with effect from 13th October.

He wrote: “What this means is that I am handing over full control of all current Local Agreements to you – if you wish to amend or drop any targets you are now free to do so, without needing my approval. Where you choose to keep any of your targets, we will no longer monitor your performance.”

“And instead of the National Indicator Set, and instead of every single department’s endless demands that you measure this, that or the other, there’s just going to be one list of every bit of data that Government needs.”

Still, out with the old and in with the new, I suppose.

Government consults on infrastructure support for civil society & social enterprises

Just hours after announcing the closure of the Capacitybuilders programme and the Commission for  the Compact, third sector minister Nick Hurd has announced a new strategy for strengthening the voluntary and social enterprise sector, Building a Stronger Civil Society: A Strategy for Voluntary & Community Groups, Charities and Social Enterprises and a new consultation document on infrastructure support, Supporting a Stronger Civil Society: An Office for Civil Society Consultation on Improving Support for Frontline Civil Society Organisations.

Please note that the OCS link for the first document is currently broken. The easiest route to finding these papers (the Cabinet Office website is almost impossible to find anything on) is to download both from the Volunteering England website here.

Third Sector online covers the news here.

Please note that unless my eyes are a lot weaker than usual, it appears that the OCS has published the consultation document without the annexes mentioned in the context which include response dates for the ten questions set out — and there are apparently two different dates.

Update — closing date for responses to the consultation is 6th Jan 2011.

Liam Byrne MP will be Shadow Minister for Cabinet Office & big society

footprintassociates reveals that Birmingham MP for Hodge Hill and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne will be the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and will be shadowing on the Third  Sector and Big Society. Mr Byrne was called by newly elected leader of the Labour Party Ed Milliband during a Hodge Hill event this morning.

New ‘Sherlock’ award launched!

Further to this earlier post, I’ve just read an item in Third Sector Online which must take the No Sh*t, Sherlock Award (yes, a ‘Sherlock’!)…

“Social enterprise investment experts” have told the European Association for Philanthropy & Giving symposium that the key problem in social investment is not getting capital into the sector — it’s having enough competent, strong social enterprise business cases that invite investment. Who could have known.

“We’re often focused on getting more capital into the sector,” Ron Schwartz,, chief executive of ClearlySo, said. “I think there’s more than enough capital. What we need is more good social enterprises.”

Hmm. Hang on. Does that mean that social enterprise investment — the key idea of two successive governments now in how the sector can best be grown — was….a product without a market?

Quick, call the factory, we’re running out of Sherlocks, here!

Kingsbridge declares peace on local community

Those seeking live examples of the kind of role local, grassroots social enterprise action might take in the Big Society might be interested in the following — just in from one of the folks involved in the project (thank you, Richard):

An exciting new project to restore one of the city’s most dilapidated and under used sports facilities would appear to be a perfect solution to a recent Birmingham Mail article depicting some of the city’s open spaces as “war zones.”

The Kingsbridge Project is aiming to rejuvenate the run down facilities of Holders Lane Sports Centre and Playing Fields to establish a vibrant and exciting new community managed Social Enterprise that provides sporting and social facilities in South Birmingham. Kingsbridge will provide sport and leisure activities for a wide variety of local user groups in addition to providing training, work experience and employment opportunities.  Local residents are excited at the prospect of transforming the site from an area of crime and graffiti to an upbeat social and sporting venue.

In the Birmingham Mail article, Councillor Mullaney said that he was shocked at the state of many of the city’s open spaces and has ordered park rangers to adopt minimum standards as regards graffiti and vandalism.  One of the directors of the Kingsbridge project is community worker Roger Lynch.  Roger has led community volunteer teams for several years in the Balsall Heath area in tidying up run-down areas and painting out graffiti in local open spaces such as Nelson Mandela Park. Roger recently wrote to Councillor Mullaney to express his support and to suggest that Kingsbridge might be just the kind of project the area needs.

While removing graffiti is a strong short term benefit, in a recent interview with BBC West Midlands Roger highlighted that the long term solution is to put ownership of Public Spaces and Facilities like Holders Lane back into the hands of local communities.

First educational theatre company outside London achieves Social Enterprise Mark

What do the following social enterprises have in common:

That’s right. They are all holders of the Social Enterprise Mark, the new nationally accredited brand for social enterprises.  This is something of a success story for Birmingham, I think.

And now these enterprises have been joined by The Play House which has also just attained the Mark. The Play House is an educational theatre company, providing drama and theatre to stimulate the learning of children and young people. The Play House is the first theatre company outside of London, and only the third in the country, to be awarded the Mark.

This coincides with the launch of the company’s new website, which offers Play House’s online resources free for the first time.  Congratulations to The Play House and to all of Birmingham’s Social Enterprise Mark holders.

Oh, and by the way, if I have missed anyone from the list then please complain to the Social Enterprise Mark folks — I found there was no very good way of searching for Mark holders by city. Maybe you should lobby them on this.

“Austerity drive must not derail the winning big society”

So said Phillip Blond in an interesting comment piece in the Observer on Sunday 3rd October. Blond is director of the right-leaning think-tank ResPublica and author of Red Tory. Blond’s basic thesis (as I’m sure he’d call it; his schtick, his thing, his gimmick, if you prefer) is that Britain has been broken by the competing ideologues of right (free marketeers) and left (statists) and that only a steady stream of carefully wrought, contrarian ideas from well-paid policy wonks in groovy think-tanks can fix it.

The thing that most caught my eye in the Observer piece was his glowing praise for Sandwell Community Caring Trust, a residential care charity externalised from the local authority in 1997.

Blond notes that according to the Social Enterprise Coalition, under Sandwell Community Caring Trust’s delivery

…costs have fallen from 22% of turnover in 1997 to less than 6% today. Staff sickness levels fell from 22 days a year in 1997 to 0.3 days in 2007, turnover spent directly on frontline care up from 62 % in 1997 to more than 82% in 2006. A mutualised approach improved performance and pay. In 2006 residential care for the elderly cost the local authority £657 per person per week, the trust has reduced this cost to £328 per person per week, and residents are happier – this really is more for less.

These are of course impressive figures. But it’s the “more for less” bit at the end that concerns me. The purpose of social enterprise isn’t more for less. It’s delivering the best value possible, delivering greater social benefit… And achieving the best and fairest deal possible for employees. If social enterprises aren’t doing that then they might as well be private businesses.

So, does anyone know what has happened to wages under  the SCCT model? If the  business has managed to achieve all this while also raising carers’ pay, improving their terms and conditions and generally doing something about the appalling levels of working poverty in the care professions, then that really would be news. I’m not knocking SCCT; I’m just a bit suspicious of Blond’s fulsome praise…

Stronger definition of SE will help protect sector from being a trojan horse for privatisation

I haven’t yet been able to read all of this stuff yet, but the Third Sector Research Centre has just published Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK. In a statement by Peter Holbrook, SEC has responded to the paper saying that the “predicted massive growth of the social enterprise sector in the coming years will demand a much stronger identity and infrastructure” in order to prevent social enterprise being misunderstood and “put in jeopardy”. The story is also covered here in Third Sector Online.

Radio 4’s Analysis programme on the Big Society

I didn’t catch all of this on Monday when it was on but there’s still a few days left to listen on the BBC iPlayer — R4’s Analysis programme investigates the roots of the Conservatives’ big society ideas. Listen here.

Cameron’s chief strategist, ex-Saatchi-ite Steve Hilton is largely credited with being the primary architect of the big society. Fascinating to see that on the Financial Times’ Westminster blog here there is a summary of Hilton’s strategy bulletins and indeed all of the key ideas are there — small government, civic action, transparency, ‘post-bureaucratic’ approaches to ‘nudging’ behaviour and manipulating social norms, social entrepreneurs… It’s all there.

Introducing the contents of strategy bulletin No. 5 Hilton says it contains some “some cool ways of harnessing the power of information”. This gives you a clue regarding the origin of many of these ideas: the US. Hilton has spent significant time there, relocating to California when his wife, Rachel Whetstone, got the job of vice-president of global communications and public affairs for Google.

In April this year, the Sunday Times called him “Cameron’s secret weapon”. In January the Mirror called him “a dangerous law-breaking road menace who routinely jumps red lights and cycles on pavements”.

So now you know.

Inequality worthy of the court of the Sun King

There was an excellent piece in yesterday’s Observer by Will Hutton, based on his new book Them & Us: Politics, Greed & Inequality – Why we need a fair society.

In the piece Hutton, ever a master with the surgically targetted fact, depicts a British society so deeply riven by inequality that only the most egregious examples of social decadence and ostentation — the collapsing Roman empire, or France under Louis XIV — seem to do it justice. For instance, 47,000 people in this country have an average pre-tax income of £780,000 a year. Another 420,000 have pre-tax incomes of between £100,000 and £350,000. Sir Philip Green spent £4m on his son’s bar mitzvah and £5m on his own 50th birthday party. Venture capitalist Ronald Cohen – one-time adviser to Gordon Brown, and non-exec Chair, by the way, of Bridges Venture, the social investment fund – extended his £15m mansion with a £1m underground swimming pool…

On the other hand, 10 million adults in Britain earn less than £15,000 a year.

Hutton concludes that we need a fundamentally fairer society. It would be hard to argue with that. But oddly he seems to believe that capitalism can be challenged — or perhaps shamed — into helping to deliver this. He calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for British capitalism — along the lines of the commission which examined apartheid crimes in South Africa — to investigate how and why over the past decade capitalism has produced the greatest financial and social crisis this country has seen since the 1920s.

Political and social change of the scale required in order to deliver social and economic justice in Britain cannot be achieved by ‘atonement’, by ‘apportioning blame’, by what Hutton calls, in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s term, ‘social closure’. Frankly, this is politics as day-time TV, a nation’s bankers on the analyst’s couch. They would be only too pleased. We’d probably wind-up being invoiced for the therapy sessions too.

Hutton’s analysis is bang-on, but his solutions amount to little more than hand-wringing. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

The cull of Quangos

Thanks to Tamsila and Jackie at BVSC for this item.

The Daily Telegraph (and I can hear DT journos rubbing their hands with glee even from here) has a full list of all the quangos being culled (an astonishing 177), those being merged (129 down to 57), those being privatised (4) and those still under review (94).

I can’t believe anyone — other than perhaps some MPs — will shed a tear at the abolition of the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines (maybe it should be merged with another regulator — OffLicense?), but note that the list does confirm that Capacitybuilders and the Commissioner for the Compact are going.

i-SE launches new website

Business support provider and development specialist i-SE has just launched its new website — here.  I’m still exploring, but I must say i very much prefer it to the old version. It looks better and it contains more.

I especially like the free downloads — useful stuff like a really good, practical Business Plan template, a standard agreement template for organisations entering into joint working arrangements, toolkits on how to develop and manage delivery ‘clusters’ and more.

Take a look and explore for yourself.

Nick Hurd Interview

Third Sector Online has a longish and interesting interview with Nick Hurd, minister for civil society.

The previous government pledged to invest £500m in the sector between 2008-11. Hurd confirms that whatever amount the coalition decides on, it will be significantly less than that. He goes on to say:

If you look at that £500m, has it made a huge difference to the sector? Has it transformed the fundamentals? Has it moved the sector in a healthy and positive direction, towards being more independent and resilient and efficient? The jury’s out on that – I’m not sure it has. We’re different from Labour. The heart of the big society agenda is about trying to reduce people’s sense of dependence on the state, and that goes for the sector as well.

You can read the whole interview on the Third Sector Online website here.

Concept Conference Centre in the news…

Concept Conference Centre — and its new initiative at Galbraith House on Gt Charles Street, Concept Flex — is in the news: in The Caterer online.

A pioneering conference business that employees partially sighted and blind chefs has expanded its scope with new services and ambitions to provide outside catering.

Read the story here.

This marks a concerted effort by Concept under new manager Alexander Lewis to break Concept in the mainstream catering industry media. Good luck and success to all involved.

Cameron tells local authorities not to take the easy option and slash funding to voluntary and community groups

Thanks to Pauline Roche for this item — fascinating coverage on the Civil Society website regarding a recent exchange with David Cameron during PMQs on the 15th September. Read it here.

Cameron was responding to a question from Labour MP Julie Hilling (Bolton West) who told him that community groups in Bolton had already lost £89k in funding — and what would the government do in order to protect such bodies and ensure their role in the Big Society.

Cameron said:

“… we should say to every single council in the country, ‘When it comes to looking at and trimming your budgets, don’t do the easy thing, which is to cut money to the voluntary bodies and organisations working in our communities. Look at your core costs. Look at how you can do more for less. Look at the value for money you get from working with the voluntary sector.’

Charities Aid Foundation, however, is calling for much stiffer commitment, demanding that the government

“…insist that spending decisions of individual [public sector] departments consider as a priority the need to strengthen civil society and take account of the long-term impact the work of the voluntary sector has on local people and communities….”

In other news, we were used to the ‘evidence’ mantra under New Labour, but so far the new government has said relatively little about evidence and social impact. Civil society minister Nick Hurd has just changed that. Speaking to mark the twentieth anniversary of Charities Evaluation Services, Hurd said:

“To be able to tell a story that doesn’t just rely on anecdotes or bringing a few people into the office to tell their personal story – I’m afraid the future is going to demand more than that. This poses great challenges, particularly for smaller organisations that don’t have the resources necessary to develop complex methodologies to articulate social return.”

Story here.

UNISON members say No to social enterprise

The message from the Leeds Community Health Branch of Unison couldn’t be clearer. You can download the newsletter in full here. Unison says it is stepping up its campaign against social enterprise because it threatens jobs, threatens terms and conditions and represents the privatisation of the NHS.

The issue of terms and conditions and security of employment can’t be dodged, it seems to me. I’ve spoken to enough health workers in social enterprise to know that these are very real risks and those transferring to social enterprises would be frankly daft not to consider them.

But the argument that social enterprise represents privatisation should be countered. Social enterprise represents a different form of socialisation of health services. But this is a more subtle argument than many will wish to hear or be receptive to, I suspect.

The social enterprise movement has a major job of campaigning and explanation here. Are we up to the task? Should we be?

Blackwell’s opts for employee-ownership to counter the crisis in bookselling

Now here’s a fascinating story from the finance section in yesterday’s Guardian. Anyone who follows anything to do with the booktrade will know that it is in crisis. In fact, there has barely been a period during the past twenty-odd years when it hasn’t been.

But the current pressures are of a different order: the abandonment of the Net Book Agreement (which enabled book discounting), online and supermarket competition, rising costs, the emergence of electronic readers, and jittery investors. Last year Borders closed their operation in this country, Waterstone’s owners, the HMV group, are pressing directors to sell off the book business, and hundreds of smaller independent booksellers have closed.

What does one of the longest-established family-owned academic booksellers — Oxford-based Blackwell’s — do in the face of such a perfect storm? In a bid not just for survival but for a continuing future as an independent bookseller, current owner Toby Blackwell plans to hand the business over to an employee-ownership trust.

This is really significant news for the booktrade — especially if employee-ownership at Blackwell’s manages to produce similar trading figures to those achieved by John Lewis and other staff-owned busineses, which recent research by the Cass Business School identifies as significantly out-performing shareholder-owned companies. There are over 100 ‘co-owned’ businesses in the UK, according to the Employee Ownership Association and together they have a turnover exceeding £25bn a year.

Co-ops, mutuals and not-for-personal-profit societies of course have a long tradition not just in radical bookselling, but also in academic publishing. But to the best of my knowledge the proposed employee partnership at Blackwell’s will mark the first time that employee ownership has been adopted in mainstream bookselling.

I have a soft spot for Blackwell’s. Just over twenty years ago I worked for a book distribution co-op. What we sold was low margin and for the most part ultra-uncommercial — multicultural educational resources, international development studies, campaigning anti-sexist, anti-racist literature, even indigenous African and Asian publishers which otherwise would have remained undistributed in the UK. Yes, I know, great business plan, but it was like that then… It was my job to ‘rep’ these titles to Blackwell’s in Oxford — and I never failed to come back with a bulging order file. Happy days. Good luck, Blackwell’s.

BASSAC & DTA to merge?

Third Sector online has just reported that BASSAC (the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres) and the Development Trusts Association are in merger talks. As two of the most prominent national umbrella bodies for  community organisations, this is quite a significant development.

Both organisations are members of OCS’s strategic partners scheme and as such are facing possible funding cuts.But as reported here on the Civil Society website, both claim that the merger is not being driven by cuts but by the genuine potential to combine skills and a strong existing base of partnership working  to create a stronger single body that can not only “support community organisations nationwide” but also “shape national and local policy”, according to DTA director, Steve Wylie.

Be careful what you wish for…

Further to this post, there is an excellent piece by Paul Gosling in Co-operative  News online, called Sadly, David Davis got it about right on Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ proposal.

In it Gosling analyses the potential risks the co-op and social enterprise movement faces in aligning itself with big public sector mutuals. He also recounts a fascinating snippet, David Davis overheard talking to an FT journalist:

“The corollary of the big society is the smaller state. If you talk about the small state, people think you’re Attila the Hun. If you talk about the big society, people think you’re Mother Teresa.” Mr Davis apparently referred to the Big Society as being the “Blairite dressing” to a cuts agenda…

Food for thought. Thank you Paul Gosling for ripping off the velvet glove to reveal the mailed fist.