Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Social Care Green Paper

Not my most exciting blog title I know. But before you click-off give me 30 seconds. There are many strong arguments against the Social Care Bill which you can get from the national papers (essentially it is unaffordable and statist)but I want to make one more.

Mine is an argument about justice between generations. For explantion I will make this personal. I do not think I should have any obligation to contribute towards the eventual social care of, let's say, a retiring MP or Council-Leader of 70.

Why? Well, for a start, it is a heavy-bill. His generation is about 25% bigger than mine so we are asking for a small number of people aged 25-50 to pay for a much bigger cohort aged 50-75. This is a very big ask. And not only do my generation have the biggest personal debts (we have to pay silly money for houses sold to us by the generation ahead), we will also be responsible for paying the national debt they, as society's dominant generation, has left us.

It goes on. I will probably have to work hard till well into my 70s to generate the kind of pension which is quite normal for today's boomers and much of my income, even then, will be funding my kids education - which the generation before us got for nothing.

So you can see why I am a bit irked by this bill. It feels, to me, like a very large and dominant generational cohort working the system - again- to its advantage. I, for one, am not having it!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Big Offer?

To Millbank Tower and the Third Sector Summit with the Tories.

Although I obviously struggle a bit with the whole `Eton Rifles' thing (my issue, not theirs!), what makes this day interesting for me is that I actually agree with most of what they are setting out. They get it. They seem to understand how producer interest in the public sector really does work against the most vulnerable. There's a healthy impatience with the absurdities of the public sector. A much bigger philosophical embrace of civil society than even the better Labour Ministers could manage. Indeed, their `Big Society' idea is actually rather a good one - wish my lot had thought of it. One that they should be ramming home but, strangely, are not. Whatever folk in this sector think of the Tory-messengers, I suspect many agree wholeheartedly with the message.

So what of the day? Well, their refreshingly normal Treasury guy Phillip Hammond was eloquent and precise about how we need to attack public sector debt - and public sector productivity. He sees the sector as an ally in the search for value, along, I am sure,with the private sector. He promises radical early action to improve commissioning, open public services to competition and declutter commissioning processes . Odd though it is for me to say, I would feel safe in this man’s hands.

Francis Maude, though sufficiently rich to probably buy down a reasonable chunk of the deficit, manages to sound convincing about how it all works at the front-line for people leaving jail. Rather than meeting the drug-dealer at the gates, better, he says, they be met by a social firm like Blue Sky offering them a bed and a job. Blue Sky boast a 25% reoffending rate compared to the usual 80%. Although I am as mystified as most people by the gyroscopics of SROI (Social Return on Investment), this not a hard calculation to make.

Five quick `one minute’ examples of the third sector offer follow. Mick May of Blue Sky being, without reading it all out, easily the most gripping. A couple of other good ones. Others less compelling - why do some CEOs in our sector feel the need to sound like management consultants?

These were followed by a number of `panels' involving different Tory Shadows. Mine was on social care/health and was kicked off by Simon Antrobus, the very bright young CEO of Addaction. He made the case for early sector involvement in shaping service-specs - so that what's commissioned isn't just a pale version of the public sector. Couldn't agree more.

I had been asked to focus on personalization. I was lucky. The day before I had been for a walk in the park with my friend Gill and her profoundly disabled daughter Laura who, six months after her residential care placement broke down (£140k PA – dodgy private provider) is now back with Gill. Until we involved her MP, Councillor and the CEO of the local authority, Lauren's case was lost in the mad machine of local authority inertia, arse-covering and dysfunction.

The County Council CEO’s involvement, surprisingly enough, has speeded things up and an indicative sum for a personal budget is due in May (expected amount £70-£100k - big saving). However, it is unlikely that the full amount will be spent on industrial-style social care at all. Once people have budgets they tend to spend it on accessing the things they want in their lives (friends, pubs, cinema, the local park), rather than bog-standard care-home stuff, be from the public, private or voluntary sector.

My message to Andrew Lansley – the Tory Shadow was that Lauren's case is what you get when you leave a policy in mid-air, as Labour have done, with no legally enforceable right to a personal budget. We must immediately legislate to get rid the misnamed `Fair Access to Care’ – which keeps control of resources with the commissioners and providers – and replace it with the `RAS’ – the Resource Allocation System designed by Simon Duffy and InControl - a system now used in some LA areas which has been found to save money and improve outcomes.

Andrew Lansley was actually very good. He has been Tory Shadow since 2003, he’s a GP by profession and knows the brief. He started the job, he said, as someone incredibly supportive of the NHS. Although it is possible to find a number of quite contradictory Tory health policies in recent years, what Lansley said today I agreed with: GP fundholding, a stronger purchaser-provider split, a split in the budget between the NHS and public health and an opening up of the NHS to alternative providers - including the third sector. Not the whole answer but a good start. He described the NHS, interestingly, as a “secret garden”, with its own mores, language and non-invented-here syndrome that made it inpenetrable to outsiders. Perhaps an observation that says it all really.

The next session was on education. Here the meeting of minds was less apparent. The sector as a whole is, I fear is far more statist on this issue than it is, say, on health or social care.

The Tories, to their credit, condemned the local authority stranglehold which I see with my own eyes as a County Councillor. Even here in Tory Suffolk, the Council’s writ runs through its schools. Everything is controlled by a bossy and expensive bureaucracy which Gordon Brown himself would be proud of. How the Tories nationally will get these free schools through local government I don’t know.

Big messages? Well, there was a real meeting of minds, I felt, on what kinds of improvement was needed. And, given the clear political gulf between the people there and the Shadow Cabinet, there was a surprising level of fellow-feeling on the big issues.

Three things came out for me. Firstly, in the aggressive search for productivity there will be opportunities for low-cost, high impact solutions. We seem up for that, which we have to be. Innovation. Value. Risk. We're there. Secondly, there is a vital recognition that the public `secret gardens' have been privileged at the expense of other sectors and that this lot are more `on our side' in terms of their worldview than Labour were. Thirdly, the Tories now seem on-side with the need for a proper capitalisation of the sector. A necessity if payment by results becomes the norm.

Am I heartened? Yes and no. Yes because I basically agree with them. No because I think you need utter determination to see this stuff through. A programme which isn't going to be blown all over the place. A leader who isn't going to be run by the media or his MPs. My suspicion too is that the majority or political deal with the Lib Dems - won't be there to see through the necessary reform (imagine all those newly elected MPs in marginals defending their local hospitals) and we'll just be left with Treasury-driven budget-slicing, which would leave us with 1990s style public services with less money in them.

That would be depressing - but as a `glass half-full' man, I wouldn't bet against it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meeting of Minds

`Meeting of the Minds’. While his sounds like a kind of NLP based dating game for the over-educated, it was in fact a gathering in London last night of a small number of leading civil servants, business people and the Social Entreprise Ambassadors. In Admiralty House, under oils of `The Battle for Martinique’ and other British naval glories, we discussed how the sectors could, just maybe, take working together to the next level.

On my table we were joined by Ray Mills of PWC, Rolande Anderson who heads up the Office of the Third Sector and the Minister herself (for about another seven weeks), Angela Smith. Plus the cool and bearded people from innovation company `What if?’.

Our challenge was this: We all hear about partnership between sectors - and we all know that not a lot of it goes on beyond initial conversations. We somehow lose tack with each other quite early. Yet we know that conventional business wants to do more with and for social enterprise and that we can help them to become better business. We know that social enterprise needs some of what some of the larger businesses can offer in terms of scaling, quality and big delivery. We also know that not a lot of what either Government or charities do is making a big enough dent in social problems for the money we spend. There is still an growing underclass, frightening numbers of half-educated schoolkids, a Russian Roulette in many of our hospitals. And a country that, overall is less happy, less employed and less associative than it was fifteen years ago.

Ray Mills, a straight-shooting Geordie, from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) puts his cards on the table. He's just written a paper about partnerships with social enterprise. He likes us a lot. But he thinks social enterprises are also full of little messiahs who don’t want to grow large, successful businesses but prefer, in their hearts to be big fish in a small pool.

He adds that many big companies actually can’t find social enterprises to subcontract to, even when they want to. There just isn’t aren’t enough ambitious entrepreneurs out there – or any real way of finding those that exist. He has been charged by PWCs Board to come up with a strategy for social enterprise and he’s stuck on page one. He doesn’t yet quite know what to say to his Board. Inspire me, he said.

I was inclined to agree with a lot of Ray’s points. There doesn’t appear to be the pipeline of ambitious and capable entrepreneurs out there. Every social investor I speak to bemoans the dry pipeline. There's a lot of us, but few of us, it seems, that match the hunger to develop massive businesses that you tend to find in most private sector entrpreneurs. Part of this is, I am sure, the preoccupying drivers and limiters on many social entrepreneurs. We see growth often as a mixed bag - and, anyway, it is often a lot harder to grow a social solution than a commercial one, particularly if you're having to deal with the state.

At this point, someone then raised the big elephant question “Isn’t that because social entrepreneurs aren’t sufficiently incentive financially for them to go all-out for growth?” A small silence fell because, on some level, we all know this to be true. Social entrepreneurs, while not primarily financially driven are not driven-snow either. I include myself. Indeed when we signed up with Impetus Trust in 2004 I immediately made a deal with my Board which doubled my pay if we hit financial targets within three years. While this wasn’t the sole incentive (we were talking £30k going to £60k), it did actually, help to motivate me, especially when the going got tough. Had that deal not been there, I may have been more easily deterred. Perhaps we just need to be a bit more `out' about the fact that socia entrepreneurs need and deserve decent rewards as their ventures go through the pains of successful growth.

Ray was asking how PWC could help or work with social enterprises. My response was the story of ourselves and Impetus. Which could as easily have been the story of us an PWC, I tell him. Had PWC stood their balance sheet behind us, stuck in £400k (which they could, in fact, have got back later - Impetus elected gladly to leave it in) and put in their best talent to work alongside us, they could have been a partner is the Speaking Up story. It would have been as much their growth as ours. Speaking Up, while legally still a limited by guarantee company, would, in effect, have become a joint venture with PWC, with all the good effects for both organisations.

Unfortunately, back then, the big four were still sending smiling staff teams to repaint recently repainted community centres or dig woodand paths. CSR at that time was still deeply patronizing window-dressing. A day out of the office “all in a good cause”. Today, they want to engage. Not only because they want to do good in a troubled world and report a social bottom line – they do . But because they want the best talent to come work for PWC – and to enhance their financial bottom line.

I made this point to Ray. If the likes of PWC devote even 5% of their energy to social issues, they would probably eclipse the achievements of many of our national charities. Their understanding of value-chains, customers and business processes matched with the insights of social entrepreneurs and, to be fair, many of the major charities – could act as multiplier. Venturing together, using the assets of a successful commercial business in combination with those of a socially focussed organisation with ambition - be it a social business or charity (it doesn't particularly matter in my view) may, I believe, release as yet untapped value.

For once a fascinating evening, a real sense of potential - and a call to make in the morning.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bowl Half-Empty

To West Stow Country Park just outside Bury St Eds with the kids. 'Englands First Village' we are told. This is where, on good days, a reenacted Anglo Saxon settlement is in full swing. Today was..well , half swing. A smattering of sack-clothed `peasants' and a poorly attended pre-medieval cooking demonstration (hog, anyone?) was all there was to see.

But our kids are too young for all that. We came for the recently refreshed outdoor play equipment. My two year old slammed his finger in the car door then banged his head wincingly hard on a slide but, as kids do, he yelled for 30 seconds... then carried on regardless.

After an hour both kids were finally worn out and we went to the onsite cafe, run, it appeared, by the local council. The idea - my idea - was to fork out fifteen quid to avoid the lunchtime shift at home - an hour of prepping, cooking , cajoling and cleaning.

If only life was so simple. Self service meant literally that. The only thing not up to yourself were the portions. My soup (Minestrone) was served up in one of those naff cooking pot-style bowls. But it looked a decent size. It arrived just over half full.

Id like to say I immediately took issue and requested more for my three quid but of course I didnt and instead fumed as the slit-mouthed catering assistant plonked down my pot before spraying the next table with a foul-smelling substance and cleaning it.

What it would have cost to fill the bloody thing I dont know. Seven pence? Nine? The small price of my contentment. And they didnt have the wit to realise that 40 year old dads who have spent an hour playing with kids or examining flint daggers need a decent lunch. Not a Weight-Watchers one. Particularly as he is normally the one paying.

I am, I realise already turning into a grumpy middle aged bloke. Only five years ago his sort of thing made me laugh. Now I want cry - or kill.

Only the day before I was chatting to my charity CEO friend Hannah Eyres who is a fellow Bolton fan . "You're a real glass half-empty-man arent you?" she mused as I gloomed about relegation, despite a thumping four-nil home win. Ten years my junior, and a member of the sunny Generation Y (I am a depressive X) Hannah always sees the bright side. Which, I tell her, you need if you are a Bolton fan.

I am ending the weekend with my children in a three way exercise in `cooperation' as we try, together, to fill the bird feeder with peanuts. I cannot convince my daughter that we dont need a kilo of nuts on the floor before we start to fill the small hanging dispenser. Wilf keeps trying to sit on the bloody thing, nearly breaking it. Then, out of of the blue, she lamps her brother full in the face (he was, it has to be said,asking for it). Tears all round. Wife appears. I am told to stop texting. I obey.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Returned today from 24 fairly mad hours in Newcastle where I did a keynote address to ACEVO North's conference at the ultra-modern Sage Centre, Gateshead, known also to the locals as `The Slug', due to its funny shape.

I made the mistake of saying how good it was to be back in NEWCASTLE, but several members of this lively audience immediately put me right on that one. Otherwise it went well. My usual message of optimism, the need for bold, upbeat leadership and opportunism in troubled times.

Other presentations set out the opportunities and risks of post 2011 in more detailed terms. It's all getting familiar now so I won't repeat.

Also caught up with two third sector CEOs, Liz Wright of Skills for People and Hannah Eyres of Keyfund, one of the Impetus Trust charities. Skills for People is where it all started for me in terms of my ideas for what became Speaking Up. I volunteered there for three years which is when I met Liz who was CEO back then. She is still there today, enjoying it and grappling like all of us with the future-question. In a way Skills is what Speaking up would have been had it remained in one main location. Intensely local, able to change quite quickly, probably a bit easier to manage / control - but also very dependent on a few key relationships. Fantastic organisation still, though, and I always feel indebted to them for the opportunity they gave me as a 22 year old with ideas above his station!

I also catch up with some buddies. One, Graham, who was at college with me has had his life blighted by serious mental illness and, while coping admirably, has struggled to meet his high potential, a source in itself of some understandable anguish. We tend to speak every week on the phone but meeting is often quite tricky for him as he tends to become anxious and paranoid after a while. It goes well though, and we call it a day after an hour.

Newcastle, for me, is always a pilgrimage. My formative years (18-24) were spent there and the place feels mixed up with who I am. Decreasingly so, as the years wear on, but I am always transported when I am there. Like me, the place has changed beyond recognition since the late 80s when it was still in post-industrial malaise. Indeed, the Sage Centre, where I stood earlier today, was just a scrapyard on the deserted south bank of the river Tyne. I can think of no other English city, bar perhaps Manchester, which has seen such profound physical change in recent years as Newcastle.

I jump on the train back at lunchtime, view the bridges over the Tyne and settle down to `The Pinch' - the new book by David Willetts. Its an impressively researched and beautifully written book about intergenerational justice by a man who is the kind of Conservative I have always liked and, indeed, share many views. Even if you don't like Tories, read this book, you'll be surprised at its thoughtfulness and insight.

At Peterborough I leave the rail network. Crossing England is nowhere near as easy as getting up and down and this is where I leave my car. If Newcastle is one of my favourite cities, Peterborough, for a host of reasons, is my least. Bland, ugly and spiritless, with a slight tinge of menace, I am always relieved to be back on the A1. To home. Wilfred awaits me with characteristic happiness soon to be joined by his rather more sophisticated sister, who weighs coming to see me versus going straigh to the TV and, wisely, comes to say hello.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shedding My Skin

Soon I will no longer be the Chief Executive of Speaking Up. Indeed, I have already relinquished day to day running to my superb replacement Jonathan Senker who, I believe is the right person to lead the new merged organisation long-term.

Handing over the reins has in some respects been surprisingly easy. When you are confident of the person coming in, and know they share your values, it is actually quite easy. Not quite so easy is where this leaves you as a person in the world. Our status is a bit like our health. We sort of take it for granted, indeed hardly notice it - till its no longer there. Then, coughing and wheezing, we chide ourselves for not appreciating what we had - and wonder when we'll be back to our normal selves again.

Probably the most challenging part of this journey for me, then, will be the reinvention of myself that is a requirement of the the transformation of what-was to what will be. Whether I like it or not, I am no longer Mr Speaking Up. It's now on my CV but no longer my calling-card. Indeed, it would be a mistake to do what I have seen many others do - become known primarily for what they were, rather than what they are doing now.

Which leaves me with the question of how I define myself now - before I actually have something clear to say about what I actually am these days. In truth, I am between things. Freelancing for a bit till I decide on the next big thing. Something which I am sure will be interesting, fun and restorative. But hardly something on which I can hang my hat.

I suppose I will always be the person who set up Speaking Up - but I can't - and shan't live on my capital for long. Time to shed my skin.