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.

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