Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Third Sector

In relation to government plans for privatising the probation service, it's not just the big boys like G4S and Serco who are circling like vultures over head, there's also the 'third sector' hoping to move in as well. Mostly made up of charities, I've touched on their increasing move into delivering public services before. In Charity Ends Where Exactly? I discuss my concerns regarding NACRO being involved in bids to run prisons. 

"I must confess I've had my doubts about NACRO for some time (The Dog that Doesn't Bark), because they used to have a distinguished record for campaigning, but I've only fairly recently come to realise that Frances Crooke of the Howard League for Penal Reform no less has similar concerns. It would seem that she fair put the cat amongst the pigeons by bringing the issue to the attention of the Charity Commission, which by all accounts lost her several friends amongst the charity world, Catch 22 and Turning Point included." 

Not surprisingly, NACRO have welcomed the government's proposals contained in 'Transforming Rehabilitation', along with the sector generally. I remain very uneasy about charities basically increasingly becoming government contractors for public services. It's not just that they are affecting our jobs, although that's bad enough, it's more that it doesn't fit well with me in terms of their 'charitableness' - they're turning into businesses surely?

One of the key organisations that speak for the so-called 'third sector' is ACEVO, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, a sort of trade union for CEO's. It's leader since 2000, Sir Stephen Bubb, has described it thus and he quite rightly attracted the attention of the Charity Commission for the ill-considered description on his blog. 

But then he seems to like poking people and organisations, not just in the interests of his members one suspects, but his own too judging by his blog. He seems to have little regard for trustees and wants them 'professionalising' by being paid. Quite rightly the Charity Commission are having none of it for he displays all the classic characteristics of CEO's in charities that typically prefer a situation where the tail wags the dog.  

I have to say as blogs go it strikes me as one of the most utterly cringing and self-serving I've come across and in my humble opinion hardly gives a good impression of the sector. I suspect I'm not alone in thinking this as there is some evidence across the internet that others feel the same and Sir Stephen appears to be the object of some well-deserved derision in certain quarters. It's even spawned a spoof

Nevertheless the man prides himself in being a champion for the sector, and indeed he got his gong for doing so. Why he recently had the temerity to write to the Prime Minister to tell him that the 'Big Society' was effectively dead, so perhaps he can't be all bad. Seeing as his salary and that of many of his members increasingly depends on money from the State, it possibly takes balls to bite the hand that feeds you. He only got a reply from Nick Hurd though.

Sir Stephen has had probation in his sights for some time. Here he is giving evidence to the Parliamentary Public Administration Committee in 2011 on the subject of Smaller Government : Bigger Society?:-

"You only have to look at one example: crime, and the money that we spend in our probation and rehabilitation services. Only 4% of that budget is delivered through third sector organisations, and yet we know the state is hopeless at rehabilitation because more than 70% of people who have been in prison are back in prison within two years. Third sector organisations that deliver those services get records as low as 50%, so why are we not commissioning them more? I think we have to open up our public services to ensure that third sector organisations really can deliver more."

On his blog this is what he had to say recently about probation:-

"We ran it once. We can do it again.

Probation that is. Indeed it's a third sector invention and we ran it for many decades; where the emphasis was on rehabilitation; indeed "reformation" as the 1601 Charity law has it. Since it was taken over by the State the emphasis has changed and there has been less rehab work - not solely the fault of the service it has to be said but the demands of the criminal and justice system. I welcome the proposals from Chris Grayling. Opening up the service for bids by the sector can help shut the revolving door of prison, release, back in again. Half of prisoners currently reoffend within a year. Surely an indictment of our current system, not to mention a massive drain on resources and harm to communities."

l think we know where Sir Stephen is coming from. Here is a snippet from his Third Sector interview in 2012:- 

He also credits Acevo with a key role in the creation of the Future Jobs Fund and changing attitudes to full cost recovery, which he says has "sunk into the psyche of the sector". He helped to develop the embryonic social investment market by becoming chair of the Adventure Capital Fund in 2006. That’s a post he still holds, but his real epitaph will be his zeal for ensuring that charities provide more public services.

It’s an aim that has alienated trade unions and some charities that are concerned about loss of independence, mission creep and collaboration with private companies. Bubb dismisses such comments as "bollocks", saying charities have always delivered public services and generally do it better than the "crap" state.

So this is what we're up against with our third sector 'partners'. You know what, it sort of makes me want to be much more considered in relation to my charitable giving from now on.

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