It's supposedly the season of goodwill and Christmas cards have started arriving at blog HQ and more often than not they are charity cards. Shelter is of course a well-known charity, highly respected and with a long history, but just like Nacro they're getting into bed with the privateers and hoping to make money out of the probation sell-off.
Just as Nacro sold out on its historical campaigning work when it started bidding for government contracts some time ago, I don't know about you, but I can't recall hearing Shelter shouting too loudly about homelessness and government policy in recent times either? You can hardly bite the hand that feeds you, can you?
As we rapidly approach the signing of probation contracts, I think it's time to take a closer look at Shelter who of course have secured a number of contracts with their business partners Interserve, trading as Purple Futures. Shelter seem surprisingly coy though about this exciting new business opportunity and a search of their website reveals no mention of moving into probation work.
A google search however reveals a very familiar story that should serve to sound alarm bells in a number of quarters. This from Inside Housing:-
Staff at homelessness charity Shelter have voted for strike action following changes to pay.
In a ballot that ended last Thursday, members of the Unite union voted 69.2% in favour of action following changes that would affect the salaries of Shelter’s new advice and support workers. Unite last week said they were balloting 330 of its members.
Inside Housing understands that the provisional dates for strike action are just before Christmas. Under the pay changes salaries for new staff members working in the charity’s advice support section will be reduced and based on ‘market median’.
Shelter says it currently pays advice and support workers ‘well above the salary for similar roles elsewhere’. It maintains that funding cuts and increased competition for donors mean it cannot sustain such salaries. Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘This leaves us with a simple but painful choice: keep the higher pay levels, cut our services and make some roles redundant, or maintain the number of people we help and reduce salaries for new staff. ‘We always strive to be the best employer we can be, but in this instance we feel we have to put our ability to help those who need it first.’
Shelter’s latest financial accounts show Mr Robb’s salary increased from £110,000-£120,000 to £120,001-£130,000 between 2012/13 and 2013/2014. The charity posted an operating deficit of £2.3m in 2013/14 (2012/13: £5.2m), however the organisation says this is planned, due to increased spending on fundraising activities. However, Shelter is carrying out a review of its charity shops, after its retail arm posted a loss due to ‘difficult trading conditions and stock supply’.This on the uniteforoursociety website:-
SHELTER UNION REPS APPEAL TO TRUSTEES
Shelter has built its reputation as the foremost housing charity in the country on the quality of the service we offer and our expertise. We're writing to tell you why we, Shelter's union, have decided to ballot for strike action, because we think that our hard-won reputation is under threat.
The cuts to frontline pay already implemented for new service staff - and threatened for existing staff - equate to up to £5000 a year. They are only being implemented for our lowest paid, frontline service staff: those who see and advise our clients every day. This will have an inevitable impact on the quality of the service that Shelter offers.
The arguments for this substantial cut to our frontline workers’ pay
do not stand up to scrutiny.
It is argued that our donors would want their donations to be spent in the most economic way. Yet many of our donors and supporters will believe that cutting pay for staff is a false economy. They believe in the quality service that we offer. That’s why they support Shelter.
It is argued that Shelter must cut pay so that we are not undercut when competing for contracts. Yet our ability to offer an excellent service is our strongest competitive advantage. And pay changes are being implemented across the board, including for posts funded through voluntary income.
It is argued that we will still be able to recruit people at the new levels of pay proposed. Our concern is not that we will be able to recruit at all, but that we will not be able to recruit and retain the colleagues we need to continue to deliver an excellent service. Colleagues have already reported to us difficulties in recruiting staff on the new pay scales.
It is argued that we must pay the median wage because we pay more than others. Other organisations do not have the reputation for quality we have. Cut-rate pay will lead to a cut-rate organisation.
We do not take our decision to ballot for strike action lightly. For many of us this would be our first industrial action. But we are prepared to do whatever we must to ensure are able to continue to run exemplary services and campaigns.
Yours Sincerely,Shelter have got form. This from 2008 on the Permanent Revolution website:-
Shelter Trade Union Stewards
Homelessness charity Shelter union shop's ballot for industrial action ended last Thursday. Their dispute arises directly from the government's policy of commissioning out public services to the "Third" or voluntary sector – Shelter management say they have to cut staff wages and conditions in order to win government contracts for projects previously provided by public sector workers.They got a 65.8 per cent turn out for the ballot, and a 76 per cent vote for industrial action -- so they will be taking a series of strike days over the next few weeks.The whole business of privatisation and charities has got to be debated as we head towards the election in May next year, not least because of what the Tories are planning. This on the CivilSociety website:-
Minister outlines plans for massive transfer of services to voluntary sector
The new minister for civil society wants to see “billions of pounds” more public services delivered by charities and social enterprises over the next few years and plans to embark on a massive new capacity-building programme to enable it to happen.
In an interview with Civil Society News on Friday, Rob Wilson laid out his proposals for a wholesale outsourcing of services to the sector, and hinted that a new £100m fund that he mentioned in his Giving Tuesday speech last week would contribute to getting charities ready to take on more service delivery.
He said his two main priorities in the near-term were to expand the range of public services that can be provided by civil society groups, and to help get them to the stage where they can take on more delivery.
“I think that the days of believing that the government is the best deliverers of public services are more or less gone,” Wilson said. “People who are closer to the coalface and who understand their communities are much better at delivering services than governments run from Whitehall and to some extent even governments run from their county hall.
“So my belief is that we need to push much faster this whole idea about commissioning out services that can be delivered by charities and social enterprises. Over the next five years we need to see a massive transfer of funds from the centre of government out to localities, communities and regions and that means we need to do a lot of thinking about how we smooth out and make easier the commissioning process, and make government departments understand better how they can commission out more services. “We need to make organisations more aware of how they can get those contracts and how they can bid for those contracts, and we need to support much more capacity-building in the sector so that these contracts aren’t seen as beyond the capacity of those organisations.
He said he plans to construct a support system comprising finance and other mechanisms so that whatever stage of the development cycle a sector organisation is, there will be something available to help it scale up.
"So at the very bottom it might be some sort of social incubator fund, or it may be you need to plug into what we previously called an investment and contract-readiness fund. It may be you need something to help you get the first step on the ladder with funding so we’re going to announce something around that in the not-too-distant future. And then we’ll obviously have Big Society Capital that is working through intermediaries.
“Three-quarters of organisations don’t need or want it, they get their funding where they get their funding, but for those that want to grow, to get involved in government contracts, who want to grow their social enterprises, this a route they might want to take and the idea is that these things will all be in place so they can get finance and support.”
Pressed about the difficulty that voluntary groups face when trying to compete for contracts with large private sector conglomerates like Serco or Capita, Wilson said it was still very early days for voluntary sector public service provision. “The number of big contracts we’ve been putting out has been quite small in number. They are big contracts but there have not been that many of them – the first big one was the Work Programme and we learnt a lot of lessons from the way we did that.It occurs to me that I'm going to be much more careful in relation to which charities I support from now on and I'll make a start on where I get the Christmas cards from. It's such a crying shame to say such things, but some charities are just turning into businesses and arms of the State to boot. That reminds me. I must see what Sir Stephen Bubb has been saying of late.....
“Transforming Rehabilitation is a lot better than the Work Programme was and although the sector didn’t win outright itself any big contracts, 35 in total of the supporting organisations out of 50 were voluntary sector. And again we will have learnt lessons from that and it is my view that we can put a focus on that over the next six to 12 months and really put a rocket under it.”