Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to Choice

Back to the blog after two very pleasant weeks away. The first was spent in Swanage on the south coast, one of the few places down there which is nice but not London-On-Sea. We took the camper and hooked up with two of my schoolfriends and their families. Work is not discussed by unspoken agreement which is refreshing. Our kids are all small, our lives kind-of working out ok and there is something quite cool about hanging out with people you've known since you wore short pants.

Then the Isle of Wight on a House-Swop. We do this about four times a year and its normally pretty good - a trust-based like-for-like exchange. While I wasn't excited about it, the Isle of Wight felt like a proper escape, helped by poor mobile signal. Our house didn't have a computer in it either, which was ususal. Much of the island has the feel of West Wales or Northern Scotland. The chains are only present in the main town, the rest a tapestry of men's outfitters, old cafes and jewellers who haven't replaced their signs since the Seventies. I love all of that, except, of course, when I want to find a good cup of coffee.

Time away gave me a chance to reflect on where things are for me just now. Since leaving I have had a hectic three months of non-execcing, coaching and preparing for my new venture. I also realised how much, overall, I had enjoyed myself since ceasing to be a CEO. Normally, the job thunders round my head as my body seeks to pace itself to holiday-rhythm. This time, I slipped right into it, no problem. Temperamentally, I am probably a little too stress-prone to be a CEO, though I do miss parts of it, particularly the teamwork and the big wins. Much of it though, especially the inevitable confrontations and disappointments when things go tits-up, I do not miss one iota.

Of course I kept in touch a little with events via Third Sector Daily. There is this huge worry that Big Society is the right idea at the wrong time in the wrong hands. I couldn't disagree more. Now is the right time. There is no money. We had years of plenty but that encouraged the state just pumped itself up like a body-builder. Today that isn't any longer an option. Big Society is the only game in town. The idea is also in the right hands. You could never trust Labour with this stuff. Their addiction to the state meant they were never going to allow our sector any serious role beyond our traditional one of Vitamin-Supplement to a corpulent state.

The response of our sector to Big Society has been interesting. True to form, we are slightly on the defensive. We have `Cutswatch' websites and our commentators are very much in `Yes, but...' mode. The view you hear most is that now, of all times, is not the time to kick our sector in the nuts, just when society and the Government needs it most. To this end, we complain, politely, about cuts to Capacity Builders, V, the Compact Commission.

Voices will become shriller in the Autumn when the action really starts. At the moment, a long list of well known organisations will lose their core grants from the government. Thousands more will lose grants and contracts from local authorities.
How we respond to this is, however, our biggest test yet. Will we go into 1980s' Oppositionalist mode, just putting the word `Coalition' where `Thatcher' used to be daubed. Or do we actually accept that if the public sector is about to be vanquished we might just have to take a kicking ourselves - and just get on with it?

My bet is that the sector will go `Ashes to Ashes' on this - and turn to the mind-set of 1980s not the 2010s. Half the people I talk to in the sector still talk about the recession as a creation of the banking sector in which `they' got off scott-free while `we' suffer. This is hokum. We were headed for this with or without the traders of the Square Mile - and if you don't believe me talk to the Institute of Fiscal Studies who have been quietly making the point about the need to control public spending since the middle years of the last decade.

However, we do have a choice still. We can accept that there are far too many `strategic' organisations getting public money and that fewer may well be better. We can recognise that the long-boom produced tens of thousands of charities which now are unsustainable and therefore must either merge or find new ways to deliver. And, perhaps most importantly, we can drop the mentality that renders ourselves helpless in face of outside forces. Whatever happens to us, however unfair, we have a choice about how to respond. We can get angry. We can roll over and die. Or we can decide to survive and thrive. This is an existential choice familiar to millions of us in our individual lives, at some point. I know which is the right route for me, when night fell on my own life. This experience helped me to create an organisation which itself was pretty resilient. Because whatever shit happens, the one thing we control is our response to it. These are, of course, not my own words - for more see Tony Robbins - but he is right. The choices facing our sector are exactly the same.

1 comment:

David Floyd said...

Well, the idea that the current situation is due to either the moral or professional failings of people who work in banking is certainly an idea we ought to let go of.

All sectors - if not all individuals - benefited to some extent from an economic model based on leaving the financial sector to get on with it, while spending the tax proceeds (or optimistic predictions of the proceeds) on the public sector.

The big question for me at the moment is how some of the smaller service-user led organisations, who would offer something different in the brave new world of personalisation, actually survive long enough to get the chance to compete in that market.

The problem - certainly anecdotally in terms of some organisations we work with in the mental health sector - is that council or NHS funding is being pulled now leaving organisations without the time or resources to react to the new realities.