Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Calling 2009

New Years Eve 2008. Like everyone else I am taking stock. The year ahead feels `safe' - in the sense that I can, to a reasonable extent, forsee what may and may not happen in my own organisation. In fact, it could even be `good', if we get certain decisions right. And, unlike a lot of people I know, I am pretty sure I will be working this time next year, if not New Years Eve 2010!

So how do I see the risks? One is that my organisation, like all of them, was built on a booming economy and an expanding public sector. Being successful in such conditions is not an act of genius.

Keeping it up in a major recession will show how many of us have been swimming naked. My hunch is that the downturn will provide the jolt to our sector it has need for a very long time. Performance will matter more, both individually and organisationally. My fear is that a lot of our organisations do not have a way of working in the Robert Peston era.

For Speaking Up, a lot depends on how fast we can do the things all organisations need to do. Understand that we could, with the wrong decisions, go into rapid decline in the 2010s. Realise that value will shape all contracting and grants and reshape accordingly. Deal with problems more rapidly than ever before. Forget old rivalries and collaborate with people who share our mission. Understand what is special about us an power-inject this into our weaker areas of delivery. Rapidly turn nice new ideas that have been hanging around for a while into touchable products and services people will PAY FOR today.

So what of the wider sector? Here's my own predictions for 2009.

1. The End for a significant number of charity brands. Probably not the top ten but a lot in the next hundred. What the public don't really get to know is that our sector contains its own version of Woolies, MFI and all the other crap businesses that were found wanting once the boom ended. The lucky ones will find refuge in mergers that, frankly, should have happened years ago. Others will just spiral and die.

2. Loads of CEOs leaving or being fired. Most third sector CEOs have never led in this situation. Many will not be able to move fast enough or radically enough to sort our their organisation. The job will prove too much for a great many.

3. The end of the sector's easy-going relationship with Government. The lines are already opening up as the sector competes with just about every other for the Government's attention. The truth is that we are quite important to the Government, but not that important in a year like the one we're about to have.

4. The beginning of the end of the civil wars within the sector. The spats of the past (NCVO/ACEVO/DSC/NAVCA etc) were just about affordable pre-downturn. Now we need to work as one as never before. Watch out for emerging discussion this year about common platform, infrastructure and even leadership across the main sector bodies.

5. Winners as well as losers. Not all third sector organisations will have a bad recession. Some will grow, improve and use the `blazing platform' presented by the downturn to engineer some long-needed improvements in their offer. Change is the child of crisis. Expect to see some organisations pulling their finger out in the next couple of years.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taming the Morons

Last night I went out for a drink with a friend of mine who is a local Councillor here in Bury St Edmunds. He brought with him a publication he'd been sent that week by the Local Goverment Assocation (LGA) produced in concert with RADAR, the disability rights organisation.

The publication in question was a guide to how our Councillors should deal with disabled people. A kind of Debretts' for when you meet someone in a wheelchair. I didn't quite know how to respond to the publication.

It read a bit like the kind of guide you see when you're about to travel to a very obscure country, where certain things you might say or do be deemed highly offensive.

Do Councillors, for example, need to `not stare' and `appear positive and friendly' when faced with someone with a serious facial disfigurement? Or replace the words `moron' and `imbecile' in their vocabularies with `person with a learning difficulty'. Or see people who are mentally unwell as not suffering anything (however obviously they may be)but as experiencing `mental health challenges'.

While it is laudable that we let Councillors know about respectful conduct, I am not sure that publications like this are the answer. Half the people reading will, like I did, piss their sides at the clumsy, patronising earnestness of it. The other half will, in trying to take it all on board, extract any residual naturalness that may exist in future conversations they might have with disabled people.

Yes, where once there may have been quite normal, albeit clumsy, offense-risking exchanges like the ones I witness every two months at our Service User Parliament ("This poor young man in the wheelchair here" etc), there will now be a more stilted and somehow less human dialogue between elected members and people with disabilities who they represent.

For by taking the normal everyday `risk' out of interaction between disabled people and their Councillors, one is also eliminating something core to all human interaction. The net effect being, in weird, unintentional kind of way, to dehumanise disabled people.

Which I am sure wasn't the idea at all.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ego and I

About a year ago, following discussions with those who know me and care for me, I decided to raise my own profile as a third sector leader. It made sense. I had things to say, a book coming out and an urgent need to bring new investment into my organisation.

This has involved doing the usual things: a regular colunm in Third Sector, occasional pieces in national newspapers, the odd profile spot in the wider media, a range of non Exec roles and not a little networking.

The effort worked. I now have a bigger profile. I take part in the debates and, I hope, ruffle the odd feather. But it has come at a price. During the first half of the year I neglected my organisation. People felt, with me out promoting my book all the time, that I had, effectively left. As a result, they didn't feel I was there for them. And if I wasn't `there', why should they be? My appraisal mid-year said it all. Either go and do it now or stay and be a proper CEO.

My response was to reallocate my time, get my eye back on the ball and re-engage with my organisation. Still do the other stuff - but make sure people knew that, when it got sticky - my priority was to be back on the farm.

Whether I have succeeded or not I don't honestly know. The vibes are a lot better, I know that. And I feel a lot better. The heat and light of being out all the time is enjoyable at the time but can, when you look back, feel like slightly frittered time. There is something important about having a proper job and not just being part of the London-based scene. You really can spend all of your time working the media, the conferences, Whitehall and the seminars. Although I find it agreable enough work, it doesn't feel quite like real work, if this makes sense.

And then there's ego. For most of my adult life I have experienced, as many people do, an odd combination of both high and low self-esteem. I have always, on one level, known I have some ability and that I can do most things I apply myself to do. On the other hand I easily default to to the `I'm not good/clever/interesting enough' mindset that has kind of been there from the beginning.

This year I have probably received more praise and recognition than in all of the years of my life combined. This has had, in the short term, a very positive effect. But it doesn't last. You kind of end up where you always were. Whereever that happens to be.

The year I have had has made me ask the hard questions about why I do what I do. I think I now realise that some kind of search for recognition has always been part of it. That achieving social good is also part of an agenda which is quite strongly linked to my own psychological needs.

Where does this leave me going into 2009? A bit less personally ambitious perhaps. What the bit of recognition I did get showed me that while immediately gratifying, the focus on self that it brings is not particularly nourishing. Indeed, the thought of focussing on myself a little less going forward brings with it a sense of relief.

The only fear this leaves me with is that I know that I, like many others who have made things happen socially, is that without my demons pushing me so hard, I may actually be less driven to make good things happen.

Which is something I may just decide to live with.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Moving On

Not from Speaking Up but from my old house to my new one. We did this ourselves, which reminded me why the removal industry continues to thrive. Our house move, like everybody's I talk to, was a bit of an on-off saga, with an added bit of last minute, solicitor-induced tension. It is not something I intend to do ever again.

Not that I should ever need to. We have moved to a house just on the edge of a beautiful public parkin the countryside just 2 miles from Bury St Edmunds. Foxes bark in the night and there's that blackness to the night that you get outside the towns. The house is an 1860s cottage which has been recently extended to create a family home. It is little short of perfect for us.

Moving all our stuff made me realise, as we all do from time to time, the amount of waste we create in the course of our lives. We did ten runs to the tip as the accumulated detritus of our lives piled up behind us. We really are high-impact beings.

All this is on my mind as we ponder whether to have a third child, where to work, how much to drive, commute, earn and consume. Even a modest life generates a big demand on resources and tons of waste, never mind a really profligate one. Will it be seen as responsible in 50 years time to have three or four kids. Will the Optimum Population Trust be seen as sages ahead of their time as we all hunker down to a one-child policy?

Becoming 40 soon (well, in a few months) is prompting all sorts of questions. I have recently decided pretty much that I won't spend my 40s commuting to London every day to head up a national)(something I hadn't discounted till now). But this raises a lot of questions about how I spend the next 20 years of my working life. Presuming that Speaking Up, at some stage soon, will require fresh leadership, I have to find a way to balance my ambition to make a difference with the needs of my family life and the fact that I want to live in a fairly sustainable way. Portfolio is one option but I seem too young for that. Another is to start a new enterprise just now is a high-commitment, high risk, low income option. Without major backing I couldn't do this just now in the way I did at the age of 25 when I started Speaking Up.

Anyway this is all a bit serious and I have two fractious kids to feed so I will go now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Avoiding the Next Baby P

How can we avoid the next Baby P?

Here are a number of proposals you probably won't see on any document coming out of DCFS next year.

1. Involve the Third Sector. Not in the actual care-proceedings, but in the work with families - the `preventative' work that if done well stops children being damaged in the first place. At the moment, all of this work sits with Social Services, leaving them in a conflicted role as both nurturer of families and, if things go wrong, taking the kids away. Clearly in the Baby P case, social workers were confused about who they were there to help, resulting over-identification with the Mother, to the cost of Baby P. Better perhaps to let the third sector do the nurturing and bring in the social workers once things get really bad.

2. Rename the social work profession. `Social worker' sounds like a legacy from the 1970s. It is a low status occupation that people avoid. Only this week I was talking to a talented man now in his 40s who considered it when younger but couldn't face the lack of status it conferred, even compared to teaching. Indeed initiatives like `Teach First' and the injection of better management and leadership into teaching have raised it from a Cinderella profession to the job everyone now wants to say they have done. The same is needed for social work.

3. Integrate Child Protection Teams and Police Family Support Teams. A lot of what is happening in families-gone-wrong is criminal - or is about to become so. The skills of the police - and their unsentimental view of the world - are valuable assets in dealing with devious people who harm their children. People in these integrated teams need to be at one remove from local politics - as the police are, well paid (as the police are) and given the kind of status the police have (a lot higher than social workers).

There's a lot that could then happen in terms of leadership, management, recruitment and training that would free child-protection from a lot of the social work ideology and local authority politicking which has blighted the protection of children like Baby P. The Third Sector could play a vital role in providing the ongoing low-level support to families which comes under the label `prevention' and let the new integrated police/child protection teams do the heavy stuff.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Plotting the Perfect Merger

Well, if you don't believe me, that well-known third sector prophet-of-doom Dame Geraldine Peacock (winner of the most Wonderful Person in the Universe, several times) said last week that about 60,000 UK charities would `wither on the vine' very soon.

This is bound to happen. In 1994, when I first started Speaking Up there were about 90,000 charities. Now there are almost twice that number. 1994 was also the year the economy really got going again after the recessions of the 80s and 90s

Therefore, I believe 2009 will be the Year of the Merger. There is nothing like the threat of imminent vapourization to get people over themselves and into a sensible conversation with the organisation down the road with a similar name, mission and area of concern. And not before time. Our supporters have for too long been paying for too many organisations, all with their own CEOs,offices, IT systems and so on.

One of the biggest barriers to charity mergers is, I believe, ego. The people who found and run organisations tend to think, on some level, it is about them. I know this because I am one such person myself. My ego is, in many ways, tied into the continued success of Speaking Up. Left unchecked (and mine is pruned constantly by my excellent board and senior team), this is dangerous and leads to Little Republics.

So if you're going to merge with the people down the road, what's the best way to do it? Well, the first is to pick people you feel you can work with and a culture which blends well with your own. A fratricidal feud will create mutual destruction very quickly.

The second is to pick an organisation that has something you want (a great infrastructure, a good balance-sheet, a sexy brand or great reputation)and which also views you as desirable in some way. Don't merge with a Titanic - or wait till you're so badly-holed that no-one will throw you a line. Act early.

The third is to get some of the big questions out of the way first. Is this a merger or a takeover - be honest. If you're more than three times the size of the other organisation, it is probably a takeover. Call it spade.

The fourth is to sort out who gets what jobs. Ideally a new organisation will take the best people from both sides but fear about this gets in the way of even the most logical mergers.

Fifthly, involve as many people as you can in the actual decision. Mergers can feel the ultimate in being `done unto'. Let this not happen to you. Give people a say - a vote even.

So, if you do find the perfect merger partner, how should you behave? I would say that if you are the larger party it is vital to behave with grace, respect and generousity. For a merger to work the smaller party must never feel bullied or dominated. Be open to ensuring your partner's identity finds its way into the new identity. Indeed there may well be a case for keeping their brand, as has happened with two charities recently merged into a much larger one.

The final thing I would say is that you might want to find some help. Mergers are difficult to get right. Due diligence is important and some facilitation will be needed to get to the issues. Sadly, there's not a lot of good stuff written. But there's plenty of CEOs out there doing it now. So talk to them.

Whatever you think about mergers they are going to become the norm in the coming year or two. We are entering very bleak times, the depth of which few yet appreciate. The trouble this time is that it isn't clear we will come out into clear growth in three or so years. We just don't know. Such is the crisis.

In this environment, we must behave responsibly - and this means many more mergers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Justice for Baby P

The people who actually killed Baby P are languishing in prison cells, hopefully sharing with people who help them feel what it means to be scared.

Those who mismanaged the resources entrusted to them to save his life have now stood down, or in the case of the hopeless Head of Children's Services Sue Shoesmith, been sacked.

While it was Roy Keane's resignation I was expecting today (he has, after all, lost four home game for Sunderland), I felt lighter as I heard the read-out speeches from the Councillors who oversaw all of this.

I have a funny attitude to these Councillors. On the one hand, I know how little they have to do with what actually goes on in Services. The ones I know are all old duffers in their 70s and 80s who are intellectually and educationally inferior to senior officers of the council.

The brighter ones I know do their best in a job that is basically voluntary and in which they do not have nearly as much influence over what happens as senior managers.

Their principal job as Councillors is to make the right pick. Get this wrong and they are buggered, as they clearly were in the choice of Shoesmith whose radio appearances said all you needed to know.

An identikit LA manager, Shoesmith showed incredible sensitivity to the plight of her staff and very little emotion around the fact that a child on her watch had his head gounged, his fingertip cut off, his earlobe torn and his back broken under the watchful gaze of her department.

One of these wonderful staff, only a week before Baby P gave up the fight, wrote in a report that "Baby P's mother feels stressed out by the accusations made about her". Bet she did.

No, its senior managers I mostly blame. Complaisant non-leaders like Shoesmith who don't really cut it as senior managers because, when it comes down to it, they put their own survival above their own responsibilities.

But not all the blame goes there. Back to politicians for a second. National politics is dominated by young men like Ed Balls who has never run anything in his life outside Whitehall. He will just bash out a new set of rules that are as bad as the old ones and feel he has made a difference.

What local politicians spend an awful lot of time and energy doing is politicking. Both within their parties and between. If even half of this energy went on the oversight they are elected to provide we might have half of Baby P type cases.

Indeed there is a strong case for local government to be mostly politics-free. You'd find a lot more people wanted to do it and this would mean that in places like Suffolk which are, essentially one-party states, people of talent who don't happen to be members of the Conservative Party would step forward and actually make local government a dynamic place rather than some geriatric version of the student union.

Yes, better quality people who are elected for what they can do rather than the colour of their rosette would realise that report after report setting out new processes and systems will never make these problems go away.

This atrocity happened four years after Laming, a few streets away from where Victoria Clumie died. , supposedly after the system was overhauled by Every Child Matters. Today's OFSTED report sounds tiresomely like the one written by him after the death of Victoria (or simply `Clumbie' as George Meehan, ex-Leader of Haringey called her today).

No,what we need are councillors, MPs and politicians who don't just call for a different kind of regulation. We need people who understand that what's wrong in child protection is more about people, culture, systems and leadership. We have the best rules in the world, its just that the set-up around them is warped: Council child protection can't easily recruit the right kind of staff because people of talent don't want to work in them. Everyone knows that certain councils are toxic, bureaucratic and badly managed, a one-way ticket to a personal crisis yourself. So the wrong people go there and, hey, the best ones end up being promoted into management and then senior management. Next thing you know, Sharon Shoesmith is running the show and, Christ, how does that make you feel?

Next time I talk about this I will, I promise be constructive. Right now I just still feel angry.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fire Fighting

Yes, except this Fire Fighter (its been on HELL of a week for me, hence no blogs) can't retire at 48 on a full pension. Nor, however, do I have to run into burning buildings, granted.

There has been surprisingly little fuss about how well protected people in the public sector are not only from recession but also from the poverty in old-age. At one time, we all had good pensions care of excellent private and company policies funded by a rising stock market.

That is history now. To buy a pension at 65 that will give me, say 20k per annum I will need a fund running into hundreds of thousands of pounds which, in turn, would require me to put about £800 per month aside, or 20% of my income.

However, were I to join the NHS or a local council, I would simply pay about 7% of my salary into the scheme and have a defined return of about half my salary upon retirement. Or, if I was on the money I am today at 65, about 30k.

Can this be right? Is it healthy to have a two-tier system in which one section of society enjoys a massive privilege by dint of the sector they have chosen to make their career?

I think it is wrong that you can't find a company pension scheme for love nor money while my younger brother, who has just joined a council in the north of England at age 29, be retiring on twice what I will, while probably finishing work on half my earnings and having put far less aside.

Worryingly, the pensions timebomb is nowhere on Alistair Darling's long-range projections. Today, there are more retired policemen taking a pension than serving officers. Soon, the same will be the case in other emergency services, local government and the NHS. Public Sector Baby Boomers will get their final slug of luck and retire happy and secure, again at the long-term expense of the rest of us.

For some reason, this isn't being flagged as the scandal it is. In my view we should close all defined benefit pensions for the public sector to new entrants and reduce entitlement to a third rather than a half of final salary so that we can actually afford to pay all these people.

This will hurt me too by the way. My wife is a public sector worker who will do very well from the scheme. But I think if want social cohesion we can't afford to have a class of people retiring affluent at 60-65 while the rest of us work into our 70s. Its just not right. The Unions, with their puported interest in social justice, need to say this too. But they won't, of course.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sick Bredrin

36 hours in the capital now back in Suffolk and its five to midnight.

Wed AM: Met with my Polish mentee Karolina, a young social entrepreneur with incredible talent who will, I am sure, run the world (or at least Poland) one day with enormous energy and skill. She is a fast learner, not scared to take risks and learns from her mistakes. Just needs the breaks. She'll be fine.

Wed PM: Futurebuilders Investment Committee. Talented committee, always a good use of time. Lots to decide. Always colourful, never dull.

Wed Evening. Meet Malcolm, my college friend now teaching in a West London Comp. Thirty odd nations in his school. Find out that "Sick" means "good" in street-speak. The school's ageing liberal head ("go play Connect 4 in the mentor hut") has been replaced by a bully ("you lot have been patronizing these kids for 30 years") who is chasing results and after Malcolm's ass because he is now the (reluctant) NUT rep.

I ask about Malolm's week. Heavy.

1. Two sets of Catholic Polish parents being told (via a translator) that Magda and Iva, their 14 year old daughters have been impersonating each others' mothers in calls to the school to the last month to say they are ill when they have really been round at 21 year old Omar's house, shagging him.

2. A Kuwaiti goatherd (age 11) refuses to sit at a desk because he doesn't know what one is and prefers the floor. The kid, like all kids, is learning English really quick is now describing his leather jacket as "gangsta" rather than "cool" or "fashionable".

3. Black History Week has been "taken over", to the chagrin of most parents, by a militant Livingstone-era "head of cultural cohesion" who was rapping in assembly that the BLACK man Obama has now taken over the WHITE House (his emphasis). Much to the chagrin of theSouth Asian families who don't see themselves as "black". Needless to say, Remembrance Day wasn't marked by the school, again to the bemusement of the White British, Polish and West Indian parents.

4. The final nail in Malcolm's week has been finding out that his favourite colleague has been probably shagging a former pupil (with whom he now lives) since she was 11. The cops are involved and he's having to weigh how to play it with his erstwhile colleague.

Listening to Malcolm you see how much Britain has changed since we were kids (I am nearly 40). He cannot be alone with a kid. The school has thirty odd language spoken and kids are scanned at the gates with metal detectors.

The staff group churns every five years. At six years in, Malcolm is a grizzled veteran on the team. Yet he insists it isn't a depressing place and that things have been getting better. His account grips me, perplexes me but also lifts me too, all at once. When I talk to Malcolm I realise how far I am from any kind of front line. He deserves at least an MBE.

Today, do a workshop at a middling conference at Westminster then off to Coutts to a reception for social enterprise. Coutts have invited wealthy clients to hear from top notch social entrepreneurs.

I don't speak but hear excellent presentations from Rod Schwartz of Catalyst Investments, Kevin Brennan the surprisingly good new Third Sector Minister, Penny Newman of Cafe Direct now Fifteen and the guy who set up Whatif?, the innovation firm.

I muse on social business. Most of the Coutts clients present don't mix business witb doing-good. They do both but keep it strictly separate. Blending them is a new message. The speakers do this well but I can see just how novel this idea is to many of those watching.

In the toilets I speak to one of the SE Ambassadors who is v cynical about the event, telling me that quite a few people had left saying it was essentially a charity-bash for rich people. Tough but perhaps a little true as well.

Get home at midnight having missed the kids like crazy for 24 hours. I long to go and hug them bu I can't without waking them up. So I blog instead. Goodnight.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Broken Bones, Broken System

At the end of a perfect paper trail lies the shattered corpse of a dead baby. The facts scream out at us. 60 visits from professionals in the last year. Procedures not followed. One on four social work posts unfilled. Silence from the 150k a year leaders of these services.

OK, so, beyond the recycled headlines what is wrong here? I know a lot of people in this world and this is what they tell me.

Firstly, many local authority children's departments are poorly led and badly managed. This creates a vicious circle of declining performance. A friend of mine leads a local child protection team in the East of England. Upon taking over the team, he had several vacancies, two staff on long term sick, two about to leave and a number of people he personally deemed incompetent on this team. `How many strong individuals did you have?' I asked him. Two he said. Out of a team of eleven. And he counted himself in this number. `What kinds of problems does this cause?' I continued. He he told me there were people in his team who had problems with the language and reading the subtleties of communication (they were recruited from overseas), other who couldn't write reports, keep basic records and manage relationships. confronting parents and tended to opt for the least distruptive line-of-approach.

Secondly, according to my friends, the system used tends to create a situation whereby all the agencies get involved and the process is followed but nothing happens. Accountability gets blurred and people engage in blame-passing. The professional cultures of the different authorities jar and communication is often poor. Inter-agency working - the glue that binds the system together- is just not happening in many areas.

Thirdly, there is a culture of `working with the family' which sometimes gets in the way of the necessary hard-headedness to say to people that you think they are are lying and you're not giving them the benefit of the doubt. A lack of worldliness and toughness is common among social workers, I am told.

Now, if this is a child protection team in a fairly well-to-do part of the world what it is like in places like Haringey? I imagine that chaos and complexity of a place like that is very much reflected in the way its public services operate.

Is there an answer to this? Yes of course there is an answer. It was never inevitable that Child P was going to die. There were countless opportunities to remove him which were lost. The local authority has a lot to answer for and, yes,senior heads should roll and the department taken out of council control for a time. Outsiders need to get in there and turn the place over.

I just can't believe there has been no resignation. If anything truly terrible happened in one of my services I would hope I would do the decent thing. Even if the Director of Children's Services was not personally at fault (which I doubt) it is right and proper that they stand down. Just like the Controller of Radio 2 did over a far less offence.

The Government also is to blame. They have set up these `Safeguarding Teams', , inter-agency panels led by the council, which oversee the way councils are dealing with `at risk' children but placed them within LAs rather than at one remove. This is wrong-headed. In the case of Haringey, reports into how the case was handled would be signed off by the same person whose department is under scrutiny. Total madness.

Finally, the social work profession needs to take a close look at how it works. There is a strong feeling among the public that social workers prioritize the wrong things and that political correctness plays too much a part in decisions. Especially in big London boroughs where social work teams do not reflect the local population. We have to support social workers to make the right calls and not to fear being accused of racism or being anti-poor people.

And the third sector? Could we make a better fist of child protection? I am sure we could add something to the mix but I am not sure if the sector's skills and capacities are yet fully up to the challenge. I suspect we could easily end up , if commissioned drawn in the laybrinthyn madness of local authorities' ways of working. Nearly every local authority I have encountered has an internal culture that is, to put it politely, unhelpful to the disposition of its duties. I fear we could end up toxified bv that as I doubt they would give any third party the freedom to operate in any way differently or even slightly beyond their control.

I end my week with two children in the house sleeping. One is just a couple of months older than Baby P. When I saw those images, I saw my son. His soft skull, his simple needs, his beautiful eyes and soft skin. Just like those of Baby P.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Day with the Lefties

Spoke today at the conference of London Voluntary Sector Resource Centre, the VCS umbrella for the capital. Sharing a platform was Andy Benson of the new National Coalition of Independent Organisations.

Andy is an incredibly eloquent exponent of a view of the sector which, in many ways is right. But rather in the way that Marx was right. The analysis is strong and based on good principle. The problem is that, like Marx, he offered few answers beyond getting angry, solidarity, all that SWP/Respect stuff.

What I liked about Andy was that he is coming from some of the same places as me. He's angry about a lot of stuff. He believes in freedom of expression and the primacy of civil society. He is a sceptic about the state and brilliantly funny about the rot mouthed by Government about empowerment, capacity-building and so on. He is also very perceptive about the way commissioning can turn the sector into a dumb servant of state ends, no longer an independent, free voice.

But that's as far as it went. He's also, quite oddly, a bit of a statist. Asked about the need to break down public sector monopolies, he talked about the loss of central control this would entail. What I couldn't quite square is how this champion of community wanted to protect failing state monopolies whose existence impoverishes the communities which he champions.

While there were supportive pockets, the audience overall was probably the most left-wing I have encountered. It was a bit like speaking at a fringe meeting at Labour Party conference, circa 1982. I was heckled when I dared to slag off our beloved NHS (yes, the one that is particularly adept at killing learning-disabled people, normally through neglect)or when I spoke about the potential for community organisations to deliver public services.

This bunch of conservatives (for that is what they actually are, for all their self-styled leftyism) actually prefer things the way the are now. They would rather we all choke up even more in tax to pay for the falling productivity and Stalinesque management of these failing bureaucracies than turn them over to a diversity of providers and empowered citizens using personal budgets.

If the choice is a bigger state these guys would go for that every time over a smaller one and more empowered communities. Or at least that's where leftiness inevitably takes you. Personally, that's not what I want. I think we all deserve better than that. The people I work with certainly do and, until someone proves to me otherwise, I will do everything in my power to place choice and control back into their hands and away from the state.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Third Sector Obamas

What does Barack Obama mean for third sector leaders? Any leaders in fact. I have been obsessing over this ever since his election. Obama seems to easily answer the question of what good leadership looks like. A question which, somehow, can seem hard to answer when faced with the sea of ordinariness presented by many of our so-called leaders.

So what does he do? He raises one's sense of the possible. He makes one feel understood. He conveyes a sense that his purpose is really your purpose. He seems to transcend the limitations of what was previously seen as possible. He clearly stands for something greater than his own pursuit of power. Obama is not alone in having these qualities. What is unusual is that he has all of them in abundance.

Now, the third sector. How many Obama-like figures do we have? How many boards seek Obama-liked people to lead their organisations? How many people working in TSOs have CEOs who raise their motivation in the way that Obama lifts the Democrats?

The answer to all these questions is `Not Very Many'. Yet what would TSOs look like if they had leaders with the kind of qualities that Obama has shown?

I count myself as among the deficient. I have, over time, moved from being a leader to a manager and, of all the skills I have sought to develop, I have majored on the technical (understanding balance-sheets, HR, operations) rathe than the inspirational.

I know I am not alone. I think the necessities of the job sort of push you into these directions. It certainly changed me from the idealistic young man I was early on to a slightly harder-edged bloke with a big sense of life's limitations, a sense which, at times, drags my vision down with it.

Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself here. I do feel hope, I do still burn with an honest desire to make good things happen. But leading and inspiring others to join me, while once felt easy, is now more of an effort, knowing, as I do, just how hard it is.

And I guess Barack Obama knows how hard it is too. Yet where he is better than me - and most people - is that this knowledge isn't getting in his way.

That's why he inspires me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One Way Traffic

This week I learned that a another former employee of mine is off to work in the public sector. Very talented person, big job, good luck to her. She is not the first. In all I reckon I have lost about ten in the last two or so years to public sector jobs. In the opposite direction about two.

No-one can blame the staff. In the public sector they get good money, job-security and a gold-plated pension, often for doing work not a million miles away from what they did for us.

However, what this does indicate, for me, is that the public sector is probably doing too much in relation to the third sector. Most of the people I have lost are doing roles which could be delivered far more effectively and economically in the third sector. Tenant participation. Youth action. Customer complaints.

But no, they have ended up `in house'. Not because they should be there but because councils are permitted to grow their own workforces without recourse to competitive tender. So no matter how costly or poor the service is, there is no mechanism for its replacement, as is the case if, say, one of my services doesn't make the cut.

My feeling, after watching councils-in-action for 15 years now is that they can't really be trusted to do the right thing. With a few very notable exceptions, they are generally poorly led, both at political and officer level, and do not have any real concept of how to work with other sectors, private or voluntary.

Indeed one of the councils I have watched at close quarters has shown, at times, a sectionalism towards its own provider interests which, if this were a particular southern European country, may attract a much ruder label.

This has to be stopped. How and by whom I don't know. One of Thatcher's brightest ideas was, upon Community Care coming into being, to guarantee 80% of social care going to other sectors.

In one act, this prevented the nationalisation of social care, a move which would have been as disastrous as it would have been inevitable had the NHS and LAs been left to do what they wanted. Thanks to her, we now have a thriving, diverse and pretty efficient social care sector. I don't often praise Maggie but she knew vested interests when she saw them.

Something similar is needed now. Because I want my youth workers back.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Wilting Rose

The Windsor Leadership Trust's annual lecture was given this year by the Chairman and CEO of Marks and Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose.

I was really looking forward to the evening. WLT events are normally very strong. In previous years I had seen bravura performances from leaders such as Allan Leighton and Sir Ian Blair (just in the aftermath of 7/7 so totally fascinating).

Tonight however was different. Sir Stuart was, well, simply dull. He had very few insights to offer beyond the usual golf club cliches and tired military metaphores. He just didn't come across as a man running Britain's best-loved firm. Neither did you get a sense of how he had come to be the man he is. No sense of the inner drive or exceptional motivation which catapults people to high profile jobs.

In terms of the concept ofleadership itself, I sensed that he wasn't particularly interested. He is clearly no intellectual but, at the same time, obviously knows, on quite an instinctive, practical how to lead. Perhaps what was most frustrating was that he couldn't really articulate this in an engaging way, leaving his audience unfulfilled, as testified by the dearth of questions at the end.

I am probably being a little harsh. Rose is under a lot of pressure right now as the media paint his recovery as another M&S false dawn. I agree with Rose that M&S is a much better business now than it was when he took over but its clear, from the whole body-language, that he feels he is entering the last year or two of his reign.

I nearly asked a question about his reaction to the election of Obama and what he made of Obama as a leader. Then I didn't. Because I wasn't particularly interested in what he might say.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Leadership Lessons from Barack Obama

I stayed up till the BBC confirmed that he had won Ohio. That meant it was in the bag. I went to bed feeling relieved. This, after all, was the country that elected George Bush only four years before.

Over breakfast I heard his acceptance speech in which he laid out the palate of American history through the life of a 106 year old supporter. This woman had been born just one generation after the abolition of slavery and now was witnessing the first black president.

Now the attention is on what Obama will do with office. One cannot help but feel this is going to be a very different kind of Presidency. The engagement he has created in the campaign will, I believe, find its way into the way he uses the office going forward.

I believe Obama won because he is the most outstanding candidate since JFK. What sets him apart is his leadership. The lesson of Obama is that a leader must both embody and stand up for particular values. He or she must also make people feel that what is happening now is about them - not about the leader - as Obama did in his acceptance speech.

One think I think Obama understands is that leadership is about raising the sights of others. This in turn motivates real change. Presidents often come in with strong ideals - like Carter and Clinton - then don't have the traction to make good of the office. By contrast, Obama grasps that if he is to succeed as President he needs to mobilise people and use the office to reach out, rather in the way he did as a candidate, to set an agenda for people to follow.

Obama is taking office at the turning point in US economic power, at the end of its period of military dominance and at a time when the world is facing its biggest ever challenge, that of the environment.

Ironically, America has elected somebody that could, if we all had a vote, be President of the World. God Bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Exit Strategies

The Managing People conference last week, hosted by Directory of Social Change, was looking at the problems of why there are proportionately more Employment Tribunals hailing from our sector than any other. The answer, in short, was that we have a more `stroppy', rights-aware workforce who, if wronged, are quick to go to law. Coupled with this, we are not good, as a sector, at settling the matter with people before things go nuclear and you're staring at your former employee across a courtroom.

So what do we do about this? Although its probably unfashionable to turn to the private sector at this present moment, let's look, for a second, at what goes on here. Three big differences stand out about the best private firms. Firstly, they are better at the technicalities of employing people. Taking on staff these days carries liabilities which many TSOs just don't understand. Slipping through the ice is incredibily easy, as I did myself a few years ago when I got a `consultation period' wrong and ended up in a Tribunal. I, of course, never even knew I had to have one!

Secondly, the better firms are better at heading things off at the pass. Most Employment Tribunal situations arise because, somewhere along the way, things have gotten out hand. Emotions have risen and communication has quickly broken down. When this happens, TSOs, I have noticed, become paralysed, fearful of making contact in case this itsself opens up legal liabilities. I remember in one charity in which I was a trustee, where a dialogue was probably all that was required to settle matters. The charity remained ice-bound and ended up paying out £10,000 and being on the end of some harsh words from the Chair of the Tribunal.

Thirdly, private companies are, in my experience, much better at cutting a deal. Most of my friends work in private companies. In their world, there is a recognised financial cost for settling disputes which everyone understands, including the employees. This is because of the hassle of a Tribunal. People are willing to pay quite big money to avoid being put through the trouble. So quite simply, there is a `price' for resolution of disputes, dependent on the dispute and the industry. One bloke I spoke to confided that if he wants shut of somebody he knows he has to pay out £30k to the person involved. While forcing people out without due process isn't to be encouraged, it is worth considering that agreements which benefit everyone are probably something to be encouraged.

Given these lessons what can be applied in our sector?
1. Find a HR advice line. We should all make sure we have access to decent HR advice. This needn't be a lawyer or a member of our Board. There are now lots of HR advice lines which cost very little. We had one for years and although the advice is always very cautious, it means you don't get caught on the simple stuff.

2. Keep dialogue open. The instinct to freeze once someone mentions the word Employment Tribunal needs to be overcome. Dialogue before the lawyers get involved is the most likely route to resolution. Once you're in a legal dispute, you've lost, even if you go on to win because of the distraction it will cause you.

3. Cut deals. For a lot of people, a deal which allows them to leave with their dignity intact, three months' salary, a decent reference and a handshake is preferable to the stress and uncertainty they will face in a Tribunal. Most employees do not want to take a dispute public and realise the damage this can do to their CV. A deal which leaves them satisfied - even when you think you might win in a Tribunal is better than beating them in a public setting. By offering a resolution you are not admitting liability. You are simply setting out a better way forward for all parties. Though contact a lawyer to set you straight on just how to do this.

I have to say that when I think about it, were employing people in this country the risk it is now when I started business at Speaking Up I may have thought again about it. So far, I have had one Tribunal and settled with about ten others. In nearly all of these cases, I felt confident that we were on sure ground but I just didn't want the hassle. So I made a deal. Not the best way, perhaps, but it kept cost down and kept us out of the papers. And, of course, freed me to focus on the business in hand.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Workaholics Anonymous

My grandparents worked 12 hour days six days a week in Lancashire's cotton mills. My 64 year old father who is a company director flies out to Japan 8 times a year and runs around like a thirtysomething. So its little wonder that I have a strong in-built value around hard work.

For most of mankind's history, my proclivity for slogging would have placed me in a highly esteemed position. I am the kind of person who would have dug moats, gathered crops or hunted boar until someone told me to stop. In more recent corporate times, I would have been viewed with awe, a Duracell Man, a prized company asset.

However, these are not my times. Modern thinking about work and life renders me a saddo. A workaholic. Someone `out of balance' with possibly something worrying going on in my head, something I am escaping through work. All said, I am not `normal' and my example is not something to be passed on to others.

As a result, I have kept my problem secret. I store my night-time emails so they go out in the day. I implore my colleagues to `look after themselves' and get home on time every night, then secretly indulge in my private life of work.

So why did I do this? Well, its partly because I believe that it is hard work, more than anything else, that makes things happen. Talent is fine. So too are ideas or great skills. But alone these are worth little. Only when mixed with frightening levels of graft do mountains move.

Look at the evidence. Think of anyone who has made a big impact on the world, or even our sector. What marks almost all of them out is prodigious work rate. These people have the same time as the rest of us. Of course, they use that time well but they all work extremely hard.

Now, I have made a much smaller impact than most of the people I admire. I have established a successful organisation, Speaking Up, that has made a mark. And when people ask me `how I did it', the answer, more than any other, is that I worked and worked and worked some more. For a long time, it was my life from the moment my eyes opened till they closed again 18 hours later. That is what it took. It isn't like that now but for many years, this is how I lived.

The current obsession with work-life balance is, on one hand, a mark of a more civilised, gentler society. But I also think it is linked, in a way, to the wanting-it-all culture: `I can have my big job, salary and also have this amazing life outside work'. The truth is, I think, that it isn't really possible to deliver incredible results in your work and have a wonderful life outside work too. You can't have your cake and eat it.

My life today is a case in point. A lot of what I said right at the beginning is now a little bit historic (well, if six months ago is `historic'). Now that my two kids are on the scene, I am about half as productive as I was before. The time I had spare to work is now gone. I can't work at night any more because my kids wake us up. My `life' is coming ahead of work, probably for the first time in twenty years.

This means, for me, accepting that I can't move any mountains for at least the next couple of years. The stuff I would like to achieve, the new projects I need to throw every cell of myself at to make happen won't happen till at least my kids get beyond their second birthdays.

In the meantime, I am going along, doing OK, doing what 98% of us do all the time, rarely getting out of fourth gear. Its fine, its my choice, my kids need me but I don't pretend that I am really getting much achieved. Not really when compared to earlier times. It isn't what I would call a work-life balance, its putting life ahead of work.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Third Sector Leadership Centre - Do We Need One?

Well the answer for now is that we're got one. At least for a couple more years until its funding runs out from Capacity Builders.

I spent Wednesday this week at Henley Management College (worth a post in itself) in Berks along with 20 odd other third sector people to work out a potential future for this body.

Its name - The Third Sector Leadership Centre - is currently a bit of a misnomer. Its more like one of those academic `centres' than a service-deliverer. Its brief so far has been very broad - too broad - to raise profile, provide research, connect things together, etc etc. With about three staff.

As a result the TSLC has a pretty low profile, a weak brand and fuzziness around what it does. This isn't helped by the lack of a clear `offer' to organisations. One of its options will be whether or not to create a distinct leadership development offer to TSOs. Without this, one has to ask how it will earn a living.

The leadership question in the third sector is a tricky one. We need more, better leaders at all levels but there aren't the resources to send them to places like Henley.

So what do we do? Well, there's web-based peer-learning, something now being done commercially by, among other, Knowledge Peers. There's also leadership networks that could be supported by CVSs and schemes to hook promising third sector leaders with volunteer mentors or coaches.

Like a lot of blue sky sessions with third sector people, this one produced a lot of great creativity but all of it is a world away from what we have now - two and a half academically oriented people based at Henley. It was hard to make the imaginative leap from this to the vision of thousands of improved leaders that we all seek to see.

My instinct on all of this is that the money for TSLC may well end up in the new Third Sector Research Centre and that the squeeze on finance to all sectors won't fund a new programme to focus on developing capacity among our leaders. Therefore it will be a case of either crafting a paid-for offer, working in partnership with existing leadership orgs to reach high potential leaders in our sector and doing something useful online, like Knowledge peers, that inspires and connects people who are seeking to grow as leaders.

The M4 back made me understand why more people are choosing to emigrate. However, if you are one of those, visit Suffolk first. Britain's Best Kept Secret.

Let's Raise a Glass to the Recession

As a positive soul, I have just compiled a list headed "good things about the recession".

First, it will shake the tree. We'll now see a mass cull of thousands of dreadful organisations that provide very little except comfortable employment for their staff. We all know a few of these and nobody will miss them one bit. At least their funding can now go on something useful.

Second, we will see the sector become more accountable. For years we have got away with being the sector of great anecdotes. When asked about the difference we make, we often bang on about our best-ever success or offer improbable statistics that would do a Soviet-era government proud ("our two staff provide services for 267,000 people" and so on). In a tougher climate, those who properly measure and prove impact will thrive while those who bleat that it's all too difficult will sink.

Third, the recession could take our relationship with government to a better place. The past few years have been like the very early days of love: we've passed a lot of compliments and exchanged looks of longing before, eventually, taking them back to our place for coffee. The result has been the Office of the Third Sector, some great ministers and a place in the sun.

But the recession will quickly puncture the romance. Difficult things are going to be said. Government's doubts about us will come out ("can you really deliver?") and our resentments will come flooding through ("why does the hammer still fall on us first?"). As with any relationship, however, all this will simply have to happen. Emerging from this turmoil, I believe, will be a better understanding of our long-term usefulness to each other as lifetime partners.

And boy, are we useful. Society is about to be convulsed by pain on a scale not seen for nearly 20 years. As ever, we are often first on the scene. In the longer term, the pending catastrophe in the public finances will mean much faster public service reform. This won't only mean more business for our sector, but also more 'voice' as we push hard to ensure that services are shaped by users, not Whitehall.

OK, three is a short list, but I bet you could add to it. There's still plenty to feel good about, so let's raise a glass to the recession!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Love a Sales Meeting

Today I am in Nottinghamshire where we are tendering for a significant advocacy contract which, if we win, will strengthen our position here massively.

The meeting went well. There was myself, my excellent Director Business Development, Paul Morrish, and my Service Manager Reiz Evans. The aftenoon before was spent in feverish rehearsal, driven by Paul who, like a Director kept asking for just one more run-through until we were word perfect.

And perfect we were. Today, we were in `the zone' - that space where you lose track of time and space and you know you're performing to the max. As a sales piece, it was strong. They definitely liked us. We were credible and we were in tune with their agenda.

Our downfall is that we are not strictly local. Always a negative, especially with local government commissioners but not necessarily fatal. Its a bit like starting one-nil down in a game. You need to quickly draw level and from there its anybody's game.

Of all the things I do, I think I like sales meetings the best. Up there with public speaking and writing. I know I am good at it and I know I can help bring the best out in the people around me.

Today's commissioners were pretty good, I have to say. Their questions were relevan and they tried hard to engage with us in the right way. We are facing heavy local competition. Weaker competition but I sense their relationships and networks are good.

So let's see how this goes. Before we went in I gave us fairly long odds. Now I think its 50/50. Let's see what happens Friday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Not Britains Most Admired CEO

Just been to Britains Most Admired Charities Awards at Barclays in Canary Wharf.

As we glided up to the thirtieth floor and then looked out it was incredible to see the scale of the City and to imagine the ructions now ripping it s firms into fragments.I was up for 'Most Admired CEO' which was won by Clare Tickell of Action for Children CLare was accompanied by a young woman who looked just like her who I assumed, when I spoke to Clare, to be her daughter only to learn with that awful reddening of the fauxpas that this was her sister. Oh God, why did I need to say anytbing?

Clare is a worhy winner. As was Matthew Thomson of London Voluntary Recycling. Saw several people I like including David Carington, David Cutler of Barings and Stephen Bubb of ACEVO who was really encouraging of m whicb was very nice to hear.

Earlier I met Patrick Butler of Society Guardian over a good lunch. Patrick has been incredibly supportive in recent months and placed several pieces in the paper. He will go a long way, perhaps all the way. He combines a critical mind and a sharp eye of the hack with a good heart and an integrity that draws you in.
Once a year we bring everyone at Speaking Up together under one roof.

The Big Day Out 2008 was I am glad to say a perfect expression of Speaking Up at its best.

There were two highlights for me. The first was our 'marketplace' where we recreated the sights and sounds of an East End market. Spivs wandered round with watches hanging off the insides of their coats. Traders bellowed from their stalls. Buskers played for coins. The place just buzzed while people swopped info and found reasons to talk with colleagues they had never met.

This idea came from a mad lunch I had with some staff. Totally unplanned but an indicator of how much better things are when you throw away the rule book now and then.

The second magic moment came when our African drummers didn't show up for their workshop. Two of our staff, Jo and Vicky, ran to the kitchen of the venue, borrowed a heap of pots and pans and ran the workshop themselves, based on something they had been to before.

We talk internally of 'The Speaking Up Person'. This kind of thing confirmed to me that we still do attract the kind of person you don't often encounter. Making Speaking Up the kind of place such people come to and thrive within is a big personal goal.

What does this mean? It means that you communicate in a real and genuine way with people. That you level with them and don't talk to using the language of KPIs (even if you have them). It means that your organisation is a place where good things can happen without undue complication or hassle. It means that you very clearly indicate,as managers, about both the mission and the plan. Finally it means you celebrate not only what you are achieving but also how you go about it. Because this is where the DNA of your organisation is located. The How.

When you think about your strategy, remember that in this crowded sector, the how is almost as important as the what.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The End of Capitalism? Come off it Andrew!

The Guardian today was full of stuff on the downturn and what it means for the Third Sector. Geoff Mulgan thinks it the era of chasing public sector contracts will be replaced by more organisations getting involved in the real economy as happened in earlier eras with mutuals and so on. Andrew Simms of NEF, who writes well, talks about the current crisis of financial capitalism as the equivalent of the end of Soviet Communism.

Personally I think the latter, though a great line, over-does it a touch. The end of Communism was the end of the idea of the planned economy in which markets played no meaningful part. The events of recent week are not its equivalent in reverse. As Simon Jenkins says, also in the Guardian, just because the car drives too fast and crashes doesn't mean we should ban driving.

What we have seen isn't the same kind of failure of that of Communism, which was based on a totally flawed concept of how people are. Rather it was a failure to properly managed a system based very much on how people are - if just left to just get on with it. Better road-signs and more traffic cops are needed. Not an entirely new way of getting around.

The State is Fashionable Again

The state is fashionable again. Government played a blinder and saved us all from capitalist Armageddon. While as relieved as the rest of you that we appear not to be melting-down, I worry about effect all this will have on the new consensus. Previously, virtually everyone was of one mind that the state had gotten too big and couldn't deliver the kind of social change we all wanted. Today, it feel like the `activist state' is back on the political menu, indeed as a Special of the Day.

As someone who has always felt ambivalent about the state, I currently feel on the back-foot. The silver lining in all this for me is that this could be, as Rod Schwartz was saying last week in the Guardian, this could be the big chance for the social economy. People currently don't trust the private sector, not, in many cases should they. And the state continues to deliver mediocrity, in the main. The social economy - which is, at its best, human-scale, trustworthy and responsive, should experience a lift.

But whatever you say, it does feel like the world has changed. The state did (as it should in extreme times) ride to the rescue. My fear is that just because the state came in to sort the banks means that its got to get stuck into all parts of the economy.

And that public services rather than being opened up remain failing monoliths, safe from the influence of market-forces, even when it is patently obvious, as in the case of nearly all services for people with learning-disabilities, that the state does far too much and keeps hold of too much of the money for its own projects and services.

For many people with disabilities this will continue to be a personal disaster.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Top-Down-Bottom-Up Solutions

My early days at Speaking Up were spent on the front-line in Cambridgeshire. Today I was back there looking at how we go about setting up a `User Led Organisation' for Cambridgeshire and a Centre for Independent Living.

The main problem is that we are doing it in what i called a `Top-Down-Bottom-Up' way. Meaning that the decree from the Top-Down was to do it in a `Bottom Up' way. The kind of Doublethink we are all so used to these days.

The Top-Down thing works like this. In effect, the Goverment and the Council is (possibly) hanging some money out if a successful collaboration between disabled people's organisations comes off. Which is fine except how much money nobody knows. In the current climate this could end up being very little. Our particularly Bottom-Up problem is we belong to no-one. The semi-powerful woman from the council who got us all here is now gone and, it seems, she didn't tell anyone back at Shire Hall what she was up to. The bloke who was supposed to replace her didn't even show up today. Which means when it comes to full council, 100k for this versus four threatened teaching assistants wages won't require much of Members' time.

What about the Bottom-Up problems? Well, we aren't, as organisations, really that skilled, or sufficiently well-resourced to work up really fantastic new propositions from nothing. It can, after a few meetings, seem like a lot of hard work for a poor return. Much easier just to fix on the stuff you know you can do without all the argy-bargy. Which leads to the kind of ultra-fragmentation we have now and, of course, need to move away from....Which is why, when I sat and thought about it, I was there today.

Where this one will go I don't know. I see a few potential partners in the room. Much smaller organisations that could, I reckon, work with a bigger one if they could trust us not to pulverise them. The elephant here is that you really need one organisation with superior resources and know-how to run hard and for the others to fall in behind it in a lesser role.

But this involves a ceding of power and control which runs against the assumption of equality underlying these types of meetings. My worst fear is that if the larger orgs, like us, will have to carry the responsibility for delivery without the power of efficient decision-making - meaning we will find ways of doing it on our own.

Which, of course, doesn't solve the problem that both Top and Bottom would like, ideally to solve. Let's see what comes of this one. I remain, for some reason, hopeful.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beeting the Downturn

The word `Meltdown' summons all kinds of images. Icecaps, nuclear reactors. Never, till now the financial system which underpins our whole economy and society. What it could mean for charities and social businessses is only just beginning to be considered.

We exist, largely, on the wealth of society and the state. None of us had planned for an era in which this wealth wouldn't be there. The bailing-out of the banks, though necessary, has used up all the Government's borrowing capacity. No money to shore up the economy through massive public works or tax cuts. Savage cuts in public spending will follow all this as day follows night.

It was weird mulling all this over today on a perfect October morning as I stomped across fields of sugar-beet while tractors raced around us moving the beet from the soil to the steaming processing plant five miles in the distance. The beet gets, I am told £23 per tonne. Prices are lower than farmers expected. So the job has to be done quickly and I will probably be walking through wheat next year.

Brilliant, clear days like this offer comfort because they remind you that most of what truly matters to you is the stuff you don't pay for. The smiling baby in the backpack. The health which propels you effortlessly across heavy fields. The browns and greens of the early Autumn made bright by the pale October sun.

As I scanned down the hectares of descending fields overlooking Bury St Edmunds, I saw a landscape barely changed in decades. Stability running long into the future. But it feels like the mental-maps we have all used to understand the way our world works have been lost and that, for now, we are working without a new one. Even the opinion-formers seem to be unable to bring together the forward-prospect.

This is particularly so in the third sector where most people are either in denial or fighting the last war (the early 90s recession) and waiting for the weather to change. My own feeling echoes that of Rod Schwartz of Catalyst Fund writing in the Guardian last Wednesday that we are possibly going to emerge from this into a new period of capitalism based not on profit-maximisation with some subsequent disbursement to `good causes' but a blended model where firms' create both financial profit and other social outputs all at the same time. In other words, social business.

I only hope he is right.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where Has Our Money Gone?

My week started with a vague unease about where our reserves were kept. I had a hazy recollection of an account set up by my former FD which placed our reserves in foreign accounts. By Wednesday and news broke about Iceland's banks I started to quietly panic. I phoned my new FD and asked her to check out exactly where our money was that day. She found out and thankfully it is spread among 35 national banks all rated A-Pure by some ratings agency. Just one going down would see us lose 1/35th of half a million quid.

Bad but not as bad as the the three charities which between them appear to have lost 25 million for now. The real figure will, of course, be a lot higher. There must be loads of CEOs like me who don't really know where the money is and haven't yet got round to finding out.

Apparently the crisis is so bad that the voluntary sector is finally, for the first time ever, speaking with one voice to Government. All the main bodies went together (yes, TOGETHER) to speak to Treasury Minister Paul Myners today. Tonight on `Any Questions' Harriet Harman gave a massive hint that the Government will help the most affected charities. Charities have been all over the media. I hope the various heads of our sector take note of what happens when we come across as a united force and not a bunch of squabbling squirrels nicking each others' nuts.

Which is just how a bunch of organisations in Leicestershire looked this week when the county council there, after two years waiting for a sector-led proposal, ending up putting a big piece of work out to tender for them to fight over. In typical fashion, we ended up looking like people who prefer arguing to helping people. No wonder, as Sir David Henshaw said in a recent speech, councils prefer dealing with the private sector. They may be tough and commercial but at least you know what you're dealing with. We are completely un-predictable - and in business-terms, that's deadly.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to Build an Empire Without Taking Slaves

Stuart Rigg is CEO of Advance Housing and Support. It sounds like a monolith and, on one level, it is, with a turnover of around £25 million. However, its approach to expansion is anything but monolithic. Rather than grow organically or via take-overs they have instead partnered with smaller organisations, allowed them to keep their name and what made them special in the first place, but brought them clearly in the Advance family of companies.

What's the deal then? And why partner with Advance? Well, take the example of HILT in Hackney. HILT was a successful local charity doing very interesting work with disabled people but which had real problems around its back-office functions and its financial management. Enter Advance. All of these functions are now performed at Advance's business support centre at Witney (Oxon). In addition, HILT can now call on the balance sheet, cashflow facilities and credibility of Advance when dealing with commissioners. No longer is it viewed as a vulnerable local minnow with poor financial control. Commissioners feel much safer.

And for Advance? Stuart's philosophy is the opposite of the standard business advice which is to find your core product and stick to it. His is housing and support, both mature, `sunset' sectors with little to play for. Instead, he advocates diversification. So you see Advance moving into personal budgets, shared ownership, community-based health care and so on. All are bets on the way the future is going but Stuart knows only one or two will come off. Therefore he has placed several.

But rather than setting up his own version of things, as many third sector organisations do, he's gone about things differently. By partnering with the likes of HILT, he's bringing the best of Advance into organisations and approaches that could thrive while, quite hopefully, finding the key to Advance's wider future in the process.

Its a different approach, less imperialistic and one which allows for smaller organisations to keep what is special about them (including their particular identity) while, at the same time, allowing the good things brought by a larger organisation to work their magic.

We ended up talking about the pros and cons of having four children (he was in Cambridge visiting his youngest daughter). He felt very lucky to have `had it all' - career, good standard of living, four great kids. I said I was only just coping with two and that four would mean I would definitely be buying a shed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sharp Elbow

For the first time since Ruby was born two and a half years ago I have been to a gig. Elbow. Winners of the Mercury Music Prize. Critically acclaimed, commercially struggling.

What I like about Elbow, as well as their music is a) that they are old (mid-late 30s) b) that they are from Bury, where I grew up and c) that they took a long time to come good

Yes, you guess it, they remind me of myself, while at the same time making me feel that although I am 39 it is still possible, in a parallel universe,to have Glastonbury eating out of my hand. I like Elbow in much the same way I loved Teddy Sheringham for still scoring the odd Premiership goal at 40.

The Corn Exchange in Cambridge was sold out before the Mercury Prize was announced so only true believers were present. The band didn't disappoint. To leaven their immobile, older selves, a string quartet of sparingly-but-tastefully dressed women occupied the rear of the stage at various points.

Elbow is really about Guy Garvey, the porcine singer and songwriter who combines a versatile voice with a passionate stage presence. But he is no swaggerer. Garvey is un-remittingly nice, at one point stopping a song dead in order to take girl out of the crowd who had passed out.

Garvey's songs reflect the rainy skies under which he grew up, the pubs he drank in and the web of relationships that make up a life. Longing and connection are both big themes but underneath you always feel the sadness of wet streets on an aimless Tuesday afternoon in the North West.

Elbow are `alternative' but have an unusual sound that makes itself known through a mixture of a slowish rhythm and a certain songwriting style coupled with some very interesting arrangements. They are loud, often drawn-out but never fast or poppy. `Weather to Fly', `Starlings' and `One Fine Day' - all from award-winning `Seldom Seen Kid' - were the show's best moments.

As usual I was relieved when the lights came up (an hour is usually enough for me) but felt glad I had bothered. Its good to a band clearly appreciating that this is their moment and having the wisdom the play it to the max.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Road from Rikers Island

Peter Mason who I met yesterday took a year to build a social business which now turns over 4.3 million pounds (it took me ten to do the same).

Secure Health Care provedes nurse-led health services to inmates at Wandsworth prison. His is the first outsourced health service in the UK and next he is tendering for four more. If successful he will have about 1000 staff and a urnover of 30 odd million.

So what is his USP? Peter offers a model which doesn't make a take profit out of healthcare and uses a model of employee ownership, a sort of John Lewis Partnership for health.

He is swimming with the sharks in that his private sector competitors (Serco for example)circle manacingly looking to legally challenge his use of public funds.

Social entrepreneurs don't come a lot bigger and better than Peter. He is operating at a scale most eschew and his capabilities and ambitions place him in the top tier.

I like meeting people like Peter because he reminds me that e do have serious players who can operate and win at scale who are also able to infuse what they do with the right values. This is a man who regularly gets on his nurses uniform to show people about what his vision means on the ground. This is real leadership, something people in the cynical, tired and institutionalised prison health sector can believe in.

Coupled to this is the business nous and ruthlessness to tackle competitors and poor quality.

I came away from our meeting refreshed. I would love to see Peter's story out there and for him to be on the platforms. But as he says himself, he is immersed in a business and that is where he is needed.

What started as a nurse in Rikers Island penitentiary in New York in the nineties will I hope end in health care system across in UK jails which is a quantum better than we have now. Then,he tells me, he will write his book, 'The Road from Rikers Island'.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The End of Social Business - Or the Beginning?

I have spent the last week talking to bankers, VCs, donors, millionaires, entrepreneurs and academics. I have also, of course, been reading the papers and watching the telly.

What is abundantly clear is that we are in the middle of what will be looked back upon as a major change in our economic life and, arguably, the end of a particular kind of capitalism.

What is not clear yet, as the bullets fly and the shells explode is what the world will look like once calm resumes. While we are likely to see a far more regulated Eurozone-type financial sector, what will this mean for the `real economy' in places like the UK which, since 1986 have forgone a major manufacturing role in favour of financial services? What depth of recession are we going into? How many jobs will go? What will happen to houses and rates?

And, at a more granular level, what will this mean for third sector and social business organisations which, even durign the good times, were struggling to survive?Short-term, one sees the third sector and emergent social businesses as an expendable luxury, a bit like organic food. Great in the good times, cut back on the minute things get tough. There is more than a little truth in this. Charities and social firms will find their income down as people look to their pockets.

Longer term, the picture, I think, looks better. Taking aside the inevitable body-blow to social business in 2009-12, the concept of a better type of capitalism has never seemed more attractive. Indeed, has there ever been a moment before this when it has possible to ask, to insist even, that the single-bottom-line business model has seen its heyday?

Now, in this time of flux, I believe it is the perfect time to push for three things. Firstly, the reform of all corporate law (not just for banks) to demand clear publication of both social and enviromental bottom lines and extent of adherence to ethical business practices. Second, the creation a new kind of PLC which makes explicit social and environmental aims that rank alongside its financial ones. Not a CIC, as the assets would not be locked nor profits capped to anything like that degree, but something much more balanced than the typical share-value driven company we see in the FTSE 100 today.
Third, and finally, let's have a Social Investment Bank, a wholesaler of finance to capitalise the social economy. Never, in the era of the `bad-bank' has the case for a `bank-for-good', been more profound.

Even a year ago, there was no real appetite for most of this. Anyone talking about messing around with corporate law would have been brushed off as a socialist-interferer. Only CSR and other acts of voluntary partnership with the social sector were viewed as ways forward.

While we did see through CSR a lot of good progress and engagement (and Speaking Up is one major beneficiary of this), there is a strong argument that this does not run deep enough or wide enough to have a major impact on social problems. That the problems caused by certain company and bank activities far outweigh any useful outcomes from CSR.

This coming few years represents a great opportunity for the this deepening and broadening - and for it to be intitutionally embedded in law. The politics are are good now is they have been. Few beyond people like Sarah Palin now believe that unrestricted markets produce the best outcomes for people and society. Even the mainstream right in the US and UK acknowledge that the market needs stronger rules if it is to work properly - just like human beings need robust laws if they are to form successful societies. Indeed it is no accident that the most successful societies in terms of cohesion, interpersonal trust and personal opportunity tend to be capitalist ones - but where the extremities of the free market (income-inequality, a large underclass, poor life-chances, low social mobility) have been dealt with.

Arguably, it is countries like Sweden that have gone furthest in this direction though social solidarity there is expressed principally through a conflated state rather than an active civil-society. There, companies such as Nokia have a much stronger concept of corporate citizenship than, say Merrill Lynch or Lehmann Brothers ever mustered.

My own view is that social enterprise will develop from being a fringe activity at the edges of the third sector (protected by nebulous kite-marks etc), to a small but growing band of progressive businesses which currently are seen as mainstream corporates but are, in fact, changing quickly into something more balanced.
This crisis, if capitalised upon by lawmakers, will accelerate this trend so that within fifty years, we could end up with a corporate sector, underpinned by a sensible banking sector, which is as close to social business as I think we are going to get in this century.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meeting the Mandarins

On Friday I am one of about ten third sector CEOs called by ACEVO to meet with the Permanent Secretaries of the major Whitehall Departments. We meet at Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre just near the South Bank. I arrive early and chat to the CEO of RDID Jackie Ballard who used to be a Lib Dem MP and thought the Commons was a pretty poor job compared to her current one.

Then they all arrived. Suddenly, I was having a coffee with Hugh Taylor, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and talking about personalisation of social care budgets. He's all for it (of course) but concerned that the provider market is still immature. Which is right. The big question is whether users holding the budget will force the market to become user-shaped. My guess is that it will take time, a process not an event. Big providers, whether private, public or third sector, all have business models to protect. Most of these services rely on large numbers to be viable. If some drop out to make their own arrangements, the whole service is at risk, forcing even those happy with the status quo to think again.
Which isn't quite the idea....Particularly when that majority are those least well-resourced to use their budgets well and there isn't another provider in the area.
Unintended outcomes comes to mind.

I manage to get Hugh Taylor to agree to meet. He want me to put together a group from the front-end of the supply chain in services to disabled people to discuss the issues with him and bunch of his top people. I agree to set that up. I am going to ask Jon Sparkes, the excellent CEO of Scope, who is also a Speaking Up trustee, Darren Fitzpatrick, a personal budget user (and Trustee of Speaking Up), one of the guys from In Control and at least one of the commissioners we are working with on our new service offering `life:unlimited' which aims to be a new-style service helping people to access the market and co-create new work, leisure and learning options using a personal budget.

The big messages of the day come from Stephen Bubb who delivers them with his usual verve. The third sector is ready to play a much bigger role in the life of our society and we, as its leaders, want to build a mature relationship with Government which goes beyond the usual blandishments. The day, in effect, was about developing respect, showing we were people Government could do business with.

Gus O'Donnell, Head of the Civil Service, spent the whole day with us. He was impressive, strangely classless for a senior civil servant and quite a bit younger than most of the Permanent Secs. His core point was that financially things will not be good for the next few years and that the sector has got to understand this. If I understood properly, the Government will simply not be in the market for pay-now-results-later propositions. In effect, we are being told to prepare for an era of austerity.

It was good to meet a range of top-level CEOs from the sector. Their quality was, I felt, pretty good, though quite variable. And there were some people I felt would have added a lot, such as Jon Sparkes of Scope or Cliff Prior of Unlted, who bring a high level of thinking to any occasion.

For once I managed to get home well before six only to find everybody out so instead unpacked my bag and lay down on the bed. I awoke, startled, an hour later by Ruby who was keen to demonstrate her tickling skills.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I am invited to speak in Ipswich to launch a report on the state of social enterprise in Suffolk. I drive down from Bury St Eds with my friend and fellow West Suffolk separatist Mark Ereira Guyer.

Endevour House is one of those glass and steel monuments to municipal power which in place like this is the only such structure. Is the home of Suffolk County Council. The main endevour of its occupants is to impose a single tier 'One Suffolk' authority over all of us, removing all local democratic structures. A rival three unitary proposal was roundly rejected by the Boundary Commission. Apparently there are all sorts of creepy totalitarian things happening such as 'One Suffolk' staff groups to promote the idea beyond the council. When we get there it is clear that this is all that's going on. The place hums with it.

Into the gathering. Its the usual sleepy Suffolk mix of older charity types and deadbeat public sector lifers. The charitis feel social enterprise threatens their funding. The public sector worry about their jobs. That's about it really.

I decide to go on the offensive and declare myself a West Sufolk supporter and I got a few mock boos. That was as lively as it got.

I tried again and tld them to back winners and cut funding to nonperforming groups. Again, nothing.

All we had was this guy going on about why we don't publish every report in 17 languages, as though its 1986 and 7-7 never happened.

I leave before the end and head west, back to Bury.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Switching Sides

This week I make my first appearance as a columnist in Third Sector. Unfortunately it has meant I have had to say goodbye to the excellent people at Social Enterprise Magazine for which I have written for two and a half years. Telling Tim West, the Editor, that I was leaving wasn't good. He's one of the good guys who gave me my first break as a writer and I felt I was letting him down by leaving. Which, of course, I am. My preference was to do both TS and SEM but Haymarket (who own TS), insist that I had to choose. Considering they don't pay their writer this is a big ask but I can also see their point. SEM is a rival, of sorts, and they don't want to share a contributor.

So why jump ship? Well, the main reason is that the readership of TS is very large indeed in the third sector and, indeed, in the social enterprise sector generally. The column will be longer, more prominent and will enable me to speak on a wider range of matters than those linked to social enterprise (not that Tim ever particularly restricted me if I am honest). The final reason is that I want to speak directly to the charitable sector about a lot of things I believe it is getting wrong. Badly wrong. My first piece talks about how the sector needs to act now if it is to avoid major trauma in 2-3 years as the economy sours and the public finances deteriorate. I have plenty of others lined up. I won't be popular with some people but I think the sector needs someone telling it how it is.

My only regret is to leave a fast-improving Social Enterprise Magazine. I am compiling a short-list of excellent writers to suggest to Tim who, I hope, will still want to speak to me. I have offered to write occasionally for him on any subject at any time and I hope he takes it up.

There will, I am sure, be the odd eyebrow raised at this `defection' from SEM to a magazine focussed more on the charitable sector but, for the record, no slight is intended. My reasons, I hope, are clear.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Exhibiting in Frankfurt

I spend Wednesday at the European Venture Philanthropy Conference in Frankfurt. Up at 5am I travel with the irrepressible Benoit Vauchy of Permira who looks like he is used to early starts. As I worry about something happening in an advocacy project in Lincoln he is running the AA and Saga Group from his mobile phone. He is possibly 35. As normally the youngest face as third sector events I wonder if our sector is missing out on th e energy and talent of young men like Benoit.

I arrive at the conference totally shattere trailing in Benoit's energetic wake. The event, he tells me is held in the former HQ of IG Farben, pharamceutical makers appointed by Adolf Hitler to come up with Zyklon B, used to efficiently kill people in their millions. Miraculously the building, a neoclassical 1930s monument so favoured by the Nazis. escaped major bomb damage and became the HQ of the US Army in the immediate postward period.

today it is the university and host to 400 people from firms, social businesses and vp organisations across Europe.

Its a strange mix, a bit heavy on people from the financial sector and academics, possibly a little thin on living breathing social entrepreneurs.

This hunch is confirmed in our workshop where I feel like a rare exhibit brought out of its box into the sun. People were extremely interested, which was grea but because I was the only person they had met all day who was doing something with VP money and help.

I catch the plane just in time to Londons excelent City Airport and fall through the door exhausted . The dogs need walking and Wilf's been sick I am told by Katy. Oh,and make me some cheese on toast....

piece of neoclaassi escaped major bomb damage and

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Watching our Weight

These are wild, wild days. The chaos we are saying in the financial markets chills my blood. The future feels blown open. Everything is set up around a benign economy. This includes the third sector wbich I fear is about to catch not only a cold but possibly, at worst case pneumonia. Grants depend on the markets. The public finances beyond 2010 will be ruinous. While there will be greater scope for third sector provision, I also fear the pressure we are going to endure on our public sector contracts. Councils in particular just pass pressure downwards. My darkest fear is the evisceration of high quality orgs (like SU) which cost more than the lo-cost-lo-quality outfits.

So what do we do as a sector? The first thing to do is to shape our organisations so they are ready for a tougher climate. More efficient, leaner and keener. If we are to avoid enforced cutbacks of a fairly brutal nature we have a year perhaps to make difficult decisions now.

We also have to be honest about our lack of efficiency. In the good times, organisations - public, private or third sector - get fat. In some cases obese.

By 2012 I think we will be living in a different world. Four years of low to no growth, desperate public finances and high rates could leave the sector in a parlous state unless we act. NOW.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Game is Up

I slagged Nick Clegg off the other day for a fairly bland speech to ACEVO members in Sheffield. However, this week he launched an excellent new tax policy for the Lib Dems. Tax cuts and smaller government. He's not the only one saying this. Alan Milburn, ex Health Minister, has called for a cull of Whitehall of 25% of headcount.

The idea here is not to create a nasty 19th century state but to recognise that the state has had its day (well, its century actually) as lead agent in public service provison.

Life for me throws up regular examples of why Nick Clegg and Alan Milburn are right.

Last night I was Guest of Honour at the AGM of a growing charity called Out and About. Based in Suffolk, they deliver exciting options for young disabled people. Their CEO, Steve Allman is a fantastic young talent who wants to grow it from its current £1 million to a multi-million outfit working right across the Region. I am so excited about Steve that I have just agreed to mentor him during the next year or two. He really is that good.

After my talk, Steve showed me round the building which Out and About share with Connexions. Till a year ago, Connexions was an independent company, a bit like a social business, albeit state-funded. Then it was taken in-house as part of some warped idea that this would somehow achieve joined-up-ness with the rest of the Council's derisory offer to young people.

One of the most depressing outcomes of this forced-takeover (this has happened everywhere) was in the internet cafe or Infobar which is jointly run by Connexions and Out and About. Once a thriving place, this is now much quieter and less well used. Why? Because the council says its OK to go on most sites except...get this...Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

Now, I am not particularly `down with the kids' but even I know that young people essentially live their lives through such sites. Apparently, Steve tells me, the council are worried about their liability if a kid ends up being groomed by a paedo on one of their PCs. Their concern about a `Kiddy Fiddler on Council Laptop' headline outweight all others. Even for the kids themselves who end up using other facilities, presumably with no limits at all on viewing. But this is OK because risk to the council has been eliminated.

It is this sort of specious logic that makes so many people want to stop paying so much tax to organisations that think its OK to behave this way. Yet this is what happens when you give the state the right to become a monopoly. It serves its own interests, not those of the people. Or the kids, in this case.

While I am sure you get a bit of this in the third sector, its not nearly so pervasive and the lack of monopoly means organisations not delivering soon get found out. And I know for a fact that Steve would lift this ban immediately were Connexions outsourced to Out and About.

Now there's an idea...

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I went to a charity shop in Bury St Edmunds this week and bought a an old copy of Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper from 1988.

It was in near-perfect condition and after putting the kids to bed last night I sat down and immersed myself.

One article particularly made me smile. It was about this biscuit factory in Kazhakstan which was turning out biccies that nobody could eat because they were so foul.

The article earnestly spoke of the waste of resources this entailed and listed what needed to happen. There should be proper monitoring of quality, targets set and penalties for enterprises whose biscuits didn't meet them. Individual plant managers should be named and shamed. Possibly made to eat their own repulsive products! This would sort out the problem. It didn't of course and we all know what happened to the Soviet Union.

But doesn't this list sound familiar? You will find it in any report you read about Britain's failing public services. Just replace biscuits in Kazhakstan with MRSA or people with learning difficulties being killed by the NHS.

Thankfully all the parties now realise that you don't get change by exhortation, targets and bullying. Everyone now realises that you get better hospitals, schools and social services in the same way you get better biscuits. By empowering the customer not with platitudes or focus groups but by giving them hard cash to spend as they choose between competing suppliers.

In one magical stroke this does away with the need for phalanxes of regulators and quota-chekers. All you need is people talking to each other about what working best for them. Word gets around. Even, dare I say it, among poor people, most of whom are not as thick as the Guardian-reading intelligencia think they are.

These people (among them many readers of Social Enterprise) worry too much about the implications of smashing up public services and just giving people the money to make their own decisions. And the the cleverer ones among you make some very convincing-sounding arguments about postcode lotteries and the poor losing out etc.

But the truth is that the poorest and most marginalised have most to gain by financial empowerment. We have seen it in the personal budgets pilots in social care. Those who have had the dog-end of public services see the biggest improvements. It is the middle classes, who've always found ways round the system (the timely house-move, the first-names relationship with the Director of Social Services or editor of the local rag) who have most to lose.

And here's the challenge for social business people: ARE YOU GETTING ON THIS BUS OR NOT? Are you willing to get your hands dirty and try to deliver better public services than the state has tried and failed to do? Those that bite this particular bullet will add to the choice and diversity in public services for all people.

The rest, I predict, will just be consigned, along with Pravda, to the dustbin of history.

So which side are you on?