Sir Stephen Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb

Friday, 17 October 2014

A new Chair and Vice-Chair

Some good news for a Friday afternoon. Very good news even. This week I was pleased to confirm and announce that ACEVO's Board have elected our new Chair and Vice-Chair, to replace Lesley-Anne Alexander and Virginia Beardshaw from January.

Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, will be our next chair. Sharon Allen, CEO of Skills For Care, will be our Vice-Chair. Like their precedessors they are both highly distinguished chief executives, and will bring a wealth of experience and wisdom to our board and to the whole of ACEVO.

You have only to look back at all of the coverage Paul secured for Mind at the recent party conferences, for example, to see that he is a chief executive at the top of his game. He really has put his organisation at the top of the national political agenda. Sharon likewise leads one of the social care sector's foremost organisations, and speaks from deep experience of this vitally important part of our society - which employs no less than 1.5 million people.

So, welcome to Paul and to Sharon! And whilst we'll have a proper celebration in January to say our thanks, thank you Lesley-Anne and Virginia for your sterling leadership and advice over the last six years. We'll be sad to see you leave the board!

Monday, 13 October 2014

What are the Charity Commission up to now?

Had anyone noticed – before last week – that the Charity Commission this year produced a new ‎‘Statement of Regulatory Practice’?‎ Certainly it hadn’t been much discussed. It appeared in its 2013-14 Annual Report, published in July, and was mentioned by Paula Sussex in a speech last Tuesday. Stephen Cook’s excellent editorial in Third Sector on Friday was timely in drawing attention to it and the surrounding debate. At ACEVO we’ve been investigating the new statement for a few weeks; it is important and concerning.

The new Statement of Regulatory Practice has added an interesting regulatory area that seems not to have appeared before in this form; the regulation of ‘‎improper politicisation’. No mention is made of this point in previous reports.

The full statement reads:

‘We will be alert in particular to fraud, terrorist activities, the abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries and to improper politicisation.’

The closest equivalent line in the previous Annual Report instead focuses on:

‘Issues of fraud, financial abuse, terrorism and concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable beneficiaries are among the most serious of abuses and we will continue to concentrate on tackling these problems.’

No word on ‘politicisation’ there.

Of course charities need to avoid being partisan and party political. The Commission has the job, as regulator, to enforce the law on this matter. But how exactly will the Commission – whose role is explicitly non-political and in fact quasi-judicial – properly determine what is ‘politicisation’ let alone when it might be deemed ‘improper’? The Commission’s own guidance document CC9 states specifically that ‘campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake’. Indeed if you invert the phrase this would mean that ‘proper’ politicisation is fine. What does all this mean in practice? And who is to judge?

This might all be discarded as merely a clarification of existing practice as set out in CC9 (in its latest post-2008 version). But given the tone the Commission has set over the past year or so charities might be right to wonder whether the definition of what political work is deemed ‘proper’ might vary according to political whim. Either the Commission is subject to political influence and so it shouldn’t be allowed to make judgments like this, or it is indeed a quasi-judicial body and thus the independence of its regulatory activity should be closely guarded.

Further down in the Statement of Regulatory Practice comes an assurance that ‘we will respect and protect charities’ independence’. How do these two statements add together?

I’m concerned that in the current debate around charities’ duty to speak out and to campaign, the focus on preventing ‘politicisation’ might curb our right to independent voice as long established in law – and as is laid out in CC9. In the recent debate about the Oxfam ‘perfect storm’ advert it would have been good to see the Commission more clearly defending our right of free speech from the outset. I’m sure they will be clear in their views that the advert fell well within their Guidance and will protect our independence from political attack. 

At worst this addition to the regulatory list may signal the Commission is prey to ideological winds, as exemplified by the recent choice of Frank Prochaska to speak at their Annual Public Meeting, comments from its Chairman or the failure of the Commission to argue for charity exemption from the Lobbying Act. If, as Stephen Cook suggests, a wider review of CC9 and charity campaigning guidance will soon be afoot, if not before the election then later in 2015 or 2016, it would be worrying to begin the review with the Commission already having set out a clear, hostile view that says charity campaigning and political activity should be curtailed.

We saw in our Red, Blue and Yellow Books of the Voluntary Sector that the big political parties are all thinking seriously about charities, the regulator and civil society’s relationship with politics. Let’s hope that the run-up to the General Election gives us a serious debate on this issue, and that MPs take their seats next May better informed about charity political activity and ready to carefully defend us against any efforts to curb our campaigning. Our independent speech must be protected!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tales from Glasgow

Well it was an enjoyable end to party conference season at a rather quiet Glasgow SECC with the Lib Dems. This conference has less of the manic atmosphere of Labour and the Tories. It leaves more time to speak to other charity leaders, politicians and journalists.

Tuesday morning started very early with our third Social Investment Summit, held in partnership with Big Society Capital and the Social Investment Business. I chaired and we got off to a good start with speeches from Nick O’Donohoe (Big Society Capital), Howard Sinclair (St. Mungo's Broadway), Sandra Schembri (House of St Barnabas), Norman Lamb MP and Jemima Bland (PPC for East Worthing and Shoreham).

Later on we launched the third of our hotly-anticipated essay collections, The Yellow Book of the Voluntary Sector - which has a brilliant foreword by Nick Clegg. You can find a PDF of it hereHaving been shown the excellent diary story based on my opening speech at last week's Blue Book launch, I opened with a less harvest-festival based speech that did express hope that the Lib Dems would go back to their roots and embrace our sector's potential. Here's a few pictures from the evening, with our speakers Baroness Jolly, Ibrahim Taguri PPC, Jemima Bland PPC, Ben Nicholls PPC and Kelly-Marie Blundell PPC.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Championing charities in Birmingham!

So the Tory Conference has drawn to a close. Last night's ACEVO/CAF civil society rally was a triumph. We launched our Blue Book of the Voluntary Sector, part of our series of essay collections looking at the major parties and their future relationship with the voluntary sector. You can read the full book here.

There was a positive debate on how civil society is central to Conservative thinking and a very good humoured and purposeful discussion. Even when the dreaded Lobbying Act was mentioned, our Blue Book authors were keen to stress their support for charities rights to campaign. I gave them a tub-thumping speech on our dual role to provide support and advocacy, linking this improbably with the harvet festival lesson on ‘righteousness’. I suggested that’s what charities do! And once again our new Minister Rob Wilson came along to speak. A good few words on how he wants to work with the sector over the next few months.

Of course, running fringes is only part of what we do at these conferences. Much of the value lies in the conversations and chats that go on around the conference halls and rooms. So I was able to catch up with the Prime Minister (who also happens to be my MP) as well as key Cabinet Ministers like IDS, Nicky Morgan and Francis Maude. I caught up with old friends like David Willetts, Greg Clark and Damian Green and I did a couple of dinners where I spoke about health and public service reform. And I even had an enjoyable chat with the journalist Christopher Hope, the chap on the Telegraph who wrote the charity CEO stories. We had a good discussion about transparency in charities, which we intend to continue over lunch.

Although conference season is a draining 3 weeks it is essential that the third sector flag is seen flying high. One of my core roles as the charity CEO leader is to be here. We argue our sector’s corner, keep ourselves visible, and make the connections and networks we need to promote our cause.

So roll on Sunday; Glasgow and the Lib Dems and the launch of the Yellow Book!

Here are a few photos from last night taken by my policy officer George Bangham.

My opening speech:

New Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson MP speaks:

Dominic Raab MP talks about his essay:

Penny Mordaunt MP discussing her work:

John Glen MP challenging Clement Attlee's vision of charities and public services:

Our packed audience:

Monday, 29 September 2014

Social Investment Summit - photos!

Well we had a fantastic fringe meeting with our new Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson. A great chance to welcome Rob to his new brief and to hear a lively debate between David Gauke (Financial Secretary to the Treasury), Clare Pelham (Leonard Cheshire), Caroline Mason (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and Nick O'Donohoe (Big Society Capital).

Here's a few photos...

David Gauke, Rob Wilson and me.

David Gauke speaking.

Nick O'Donohoe answers a question.

(Part of) the audience.

Events, dear boy, events...

.... Macmillan once laconically observed.

And so it was this last weekend. So we now have a new Civil Society minister, Rob Wilson and I'm glad to say I will be meeting him at lunchtime when he comes to the Acevo fringe on social investment (supported by our good friends SIB and BSC).

I'm proud  that we have a top quality fringe programme here at Conservative Party Conference. Tomorrow we launch our "Blue Book", the second in our series of conversations with key politicians and opinion formers on their views of the role of the third sector (in association with our friends at CAF). The Blue book has contributions from a range of tory thinkers; the launch of its counterpart The Red Book was the 'must-attend' event at Labour; we're expecting similar things here.

Tomorrow we have a stellar line up of the Blue Book authors. All, that is, apart from the person who contributed the Foreword, our former Minister. Even without that curiosity it's very much worth getting a copy, as events aside, there is a lot we need to be doing to reset the relationship between the sector and politics. I'd delighted that this ACEVO-CAF project has led the way.

I shall Blog more on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Labour, Ed and the Red Book

As usual, Labour Conference this year has been fascinating and tiring in equal measure. Unlike recent years though we're doing a bumper programme of ACEVO fringe events - the largest in many years.

We started well on Sunday night by launching The Red Book of the Voluntary Sector with our friends at CAF. Do read the book - it's available here. And I do have to note my preference for 'third sector' over 'voluntary sector'.

It was a brilliant event. We had 11 speakers in an hour and many Parliamentarians dropping in and out during their first night of conference schedules.

As Ed Miliband says in his introduction to the book (and referring to his time as the first third sector minister): ‘This collection of essays shows the depth and vibrancy of thinking across the Labour movement on this important issue and makes a vital contribution to the debate in the run-up to the next election.’

Speeches ranged from Dianne Hayter's outline of Labour's historic relationship with civil society to Will Straw counting the costs of austerity in his prospective parliamentary seat of Rossendale and Darwen.

Overall, the event gave me hope that Labour is listening and engaging with our sector. Like the equivalent Blue Book and Yellow Book that we're launching in the next couple of weeks, we'll push hard to convert this willingness to listen that the three big parliamentary parties have shown into a willingness to engage with our sector when the next government is formed after the 2015 election.

I'll blog further about our other conference events but thanks to everyone who came to our events and please do read the Red Book!