Friday, October 23, 2009

Breakfast with the Minister

The place. `Fifteen' in Hoxton. The time. Eight thirty AM. The people. Twelve or so Social Enterprise Ambassadors plus Third Sector Minister Angela Smith and her entourage of four (yes, I know) from the Office of the Third Sector. The purpose. To tell Angela to keep this mainly pro-bono programme funded beyond 2011.

But let's start with the food. Breakfast was distractingly good. A kind of muesli-porridge followed by sausage and bacon baps and lashings of scrambled egg. The kind of food it is very difficult to have in front of you while politely waiting for someone to finish their spiel. I resisted at first - but couldn't stop myself. Fifteen it is definitely delivering its `taste bottom-line', as well as its financial and social ones!

We kicked off with intros. Very interesting to hear how people's businesses have grown, including bag-maker EAKO, toplining £2m from only half a million just a couple of years ago. Then Angela. She was, I have to say, very energetic and likeable. Quite chilled and healthy-looking for a Minister too.

She clearly grasps the sector - her own VCS background helping a little here I think. Unlike previous Ministers, she is keen for us to mark the ground clearly between what we're doing and the rest of the third sector, despite the similarities in some of our organisations.

Sam Coniff, the suave Founding CEO of marketing social business Livity chaired magisterially as ever and there were presentation on both public services and young people's services.

The theme across both was the need we have for our wider social offer to be taken seriously by commissioners who are often working to extremely narrow service-specs. Social clauses are a big requirement and we let the Minister know this.

I used my spot to say that our offer is well-suited to the age of austerity in which we can no longer afford full-price public service. Her response, perhaps predictably for a Labour government minister, was to stress that we shouldn't be primarily competing on price. I didn't want to say that I am already am . Forced to by commissionrs , even this early in the game.

Photos outside and then whoosh, she was gone in the Ministerial Prius. Overall we acquitted ourselves well. We come across as a dynamic, can-do bunch. Not your typical charity sector miserabilists.

So well done to all, especially the young woman who organises us all, Pauline Milligan, who is classy - in every sense.

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