Wednesday, 16 April 2014
York and food banks
In York for interviews and had the chance to go to choral evensong at York Minster: an exceptional choir in a gorgeous building. We prayed for the Middlesborough Food Bank, which was opportune given today's publicity on Food Banks generally.
Religious leaders have called on the government to take action to tackle a "national crisis" of rising hunger and food poverty, as the latest figures suggest more than a million Britons have been helped by food banks in the past year. More than 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders have signed a letter, calling on David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to tackle the causes of food poverty, including low wages, rising food prices and an inadequate welfare benefit safety net.
They said the period running up to Easter had been a time of "sorrowful and deep reflection" for people of all faiths on what it calls the terrible rise in hunger in Britain, and urged society to "begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis".
It is time the Government took a more proactive stance on this issue, instead of the classic attack the messenger rather than evaluate the message. I’ve written before about the Department for Work and Pensions’ relationship with charities like the Trussell Trust
I was staying overnight at the "Guy Fawkes Inn" just next to the Minster. It’s the actual birthplace of Guy Fawkes in 1570. As I was born on Guy Fawkes day I was rather keen to stop there; a rather quirky place it has to be said but so much more fun than the usual hotel chains.
And there was a rather Roman Catholic theme to the evening as I went past the small shrine to St Margaret Clitherow, who, in 1586, was crushed to death under a door for hiding Priests during the protestant persecutions of the 16th century. She was canonised in 1970 and her house (it was a butchers shop in the Shambles) is now a rather lovely and quiet place of reflection away from the tourist throng outside.
I had dinner with an old friend, the actual "Vicar of Dibley" as was. The Revd Malcom Macnaughton is currently the Chief of Staff to the Archbishop of York but was previously the parish priest in the village where they filmed Dibley (in the Hambleden Valley). He tells me one day he emerged from the vicarage to see Dawn French who shouted "imposter" at him! It’s amusing to note that the Vicar of Charlbury, shortly to become Archdeacon of Dorchester, is Dawn's sister.
So all in all a rather interesting day.
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Well, I'm home. And back in work, but on the way we had a rather splendid weekend in Singapore. Tiffin at the Raffles Hotel and Palm Sunday Mass in St Andrew's Cathedral, and shopping, obviously. My great uncle Wilfred (Squadron Leader Barrow as was) was here after the war and I have some of his photos but the place is unrecognisable having been colonised by motorways and skyscrapers. Not all progress is good.
Today will be interesting; a call from the Chair if the Charity Commission to let me know who they have appointed as CEO. This will be a crucial appointment and the new person needs to take the Commission on a new journey; less money and resources and more scrutiny around fraud and tax dodging. But whoever it is will need to remember one of the statutory functions of the Commission is to maintain trust in charity. It is not all about being the Stasi and support to organisations like ACEVO to build capacity and good governance will be an important part of the job. Maundy Thursday I'm booked to speak to them; but I have as yet no idea who it is. Not a scintilla of gossip has reached ACEVO towers! I will wish them well and we will work with the new CEO and Chair in the years ahead.
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Ok. So I know it's annoying to see other people's holiday photos, especially if they come from very sunny and pleasant climes but tough. Here they are:
Spent three gorgeous days at the Island Brook winery in SW Australia.
We had a wood chalet in the Jarrah forest that surrounds the vines. Relaxing sitting out on the veranda with a bottle of the winery Semillon and Chardonnay and then eating local cheeses with their award winning Merlot. And a good trip out to see other wineries. The Cullen winery is one of Australia's finest.
Must say I prefer the Margaret River wineries to the Hunter Valley but both produce brilliant wines. Although I'm bringing a few bottles back it is actually cheaper to buy their wines in the UK rather than here!
Australia has a large and vibrant third sector. They have a crucial role in the delivery of public services such as employment and in social services. Organisations like Mission Australia and the Salvation Army are big providers in the jobs market. They proved a model for our own expansion into jobs provision here, though regrettably the private sector scored better in the UK as opposed to the Australian charities in their market.
There has been an interesting debate about whether they need a “Charity Commission". The last Julia Gillard led Government were setting up a national regulator but the new Abbot administration has said they will abolish it. The sector is divided about the need for a regulator. Some of the sector leaders I have spoken to have been unimpressed by the example of our own Charity Commission and have set their minds against anything like it. They are clear they don't want an Australian Shawcross and who can blame them.
The new Government are proving controversial. They want to repeal parts of the anti-discrimination laws on the grounds it inhibits "free speech". An entirely specious argument. After all no one suggests repealing health and safety laws so that people are free to shout “fire" in public places. But one change I thoroughly approve of; they have reintroduced imperial honours so have rough back knighthoods. An excellent move methinks!
But now we are off to Sydney on the last legs of the holiday.
Wednesday, 9 April 2014
Amid all the drama about Maria Miller this morning it was easy to overlook the DWP select committee’s suggestion that their evaluation of Universal Credit has been ‘hampered by Ministers’.
Dame Anne Begg MP criticised the ‘excruciatingly slow pace of roll-out to date’, and said that Ministers have ‘hampered the committee's scrutiny of Universal Credit implementation by not providing accurate, timely and detailed information’, for example on the IT problems the scheme has suffered.
We heard last month that rising demand for food banks is not simply due to more of them being set up. Evidence is starting to emerge that ties the explosion in the use of food banks to Government welfare policy. A report today from the University of Sheffield makes that point.
Furthermore, the DWP’s reluctance to publicly release full data on food bank usage, and Iain Duncan Smith’s reluctance to meet with charities such as the Trussell Trust, suggests an unwillingness to listen when third sector organisations speak truth to power on their beneficiaries’ behalf.
It is our sector’s duty to keep on speaking up, and raising awareness of the impact of public policy on the lives of our beneficiaries.
Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found in a study of the ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘spare room subsidy’ that half the tenants affected were in arrears after six months, further putting pressure on third sector organisations who pick up the additional demand. They say the policy is forcing tenants to choose between ‘heating and eating’ – while three-quarters have had to cut back on food bills.
Our sector will continue to do its job as always. But this would be easier – and many people’s lives better – if the government were to be more open with their mistakes.
On holiday in Australia (every good CEO deserves a break, even me!) and arrived in Perth after spending a while in the Hunter valley wine region. On a farm as it happens. And so lots of wine tasting and good food.
Here are a few photos for you amusement.
|The hunter valley|
|In the driving seat|
|In the Hunter Valley|
Sunset at Mandurah.
|The hunter valley|