Thursday, 15 April 2010

Vale of Glamorgan Hustings-Vale Candidates are a credit to the Vale

Yesterday, 14th April saw the first Hustings in the Vale of Glamorgan. I was pleased to say that my organisation (Vale Centre for Voluntary Services) organised and facilitated the proceedings. It was a pleasure to have the candidates for Plaid Cymru (Ian Johnson), Labour (Alana Davies), Conservative (Alun Cairns) and the Liberal Democrats (Eluned Parrott) together to speak to representatives of the Third Sector in the Vale.

To be honest, I wasn't sure quite what to could have been a recipe for disaster - four opposing candidates all wanting to convince us to vote for them. Would it turn into a shouting match? Would the invited audience be hostile? Would it turn people off the electoral process?

In fact, it was none of the above. All candidates were exceptional in their professionalism - dealt with all questions fully, but more importantly, they all respected each other as politicians. Even though there were huge differences in policy between the parties, there was no disintegration into the yah-boo politics that we sometimes see at Westminster - what a refreshing change!! It was good to have a serious debate about serious issues in a mature and measured way!!

All in all, a successful event - all candidates could relate to the real issues facing the Third Sector and could relate to us, as constituents and voters. All of them are from the real world. How politics has changed over the years!! I'll be attending further hustings events in the Vale to chart the progress of the candidates!

Despite their differences in policy - one thing they did have in common was "Gavin and Stacey" - its funny how a TV programme can unite people who have opposing political views!!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Bed and Breakfast, Bigotry and More!

According to my Collins dictionary, a business is defined as:-

a: the purchase and sale of goods and services
b: a commercial or industrial establishment

I think its plain and simple that anyone who provides "Bed and Breakfast" on a commercial basis comes under this definition. The Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007 make it unlawful for a person providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public to directly or indirectly discriminate (or victimise) on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision or non-provision of such goods, facilities or services, or the terms upon which they are offered. So anyone who runs a shop, hotel, bed and breakfast or any other service that is advertised to the public on a commercial basis will be breaking the law if they deny services solely on the grounds of sexual orientation.

So, when you run a Bed and Breakfast establishment, you are running a business - same as running a shop, garage, etc. Your home becomes your business - you cannot have the benefits of running a business without realising you have a responsibility to the law - if you have a problem with the law, then you should question whether or not running a business is for you.

The current shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling obviously feels that its OK to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation - his recent gaffe testifies to this. It should come as no surprise that his comments were not pounced upon by his leader, David Cameron. As I write, I think there has been a stony silence from the Conservative Party Leader.

I'm sure if Mr. Grayling had said that its was OK to deny services to Black People, Jewish People, Disabled People, Women his leader would have dealt with him appropriately. However, as its a "gay" issue, it ranks low in the pecking order of equality - I have just one (polite) message - deal with these issues appropriately and effectively and start building the confidence of gay and lesbian people!

However, this does raise a more serious issue of people's attitudes in a society which is perceived to be inclusive. Even in the Third Sector (which outwardly promotes itself as a model of excellence in promoting equality and diversity), I've heard comments similar to those made my Mr. Grayling and I have dealt with them appropriately. Its only by challenging these views that we can move forward and make our society the inclusive society that it claims to be. People in authority have a particular duty to set an example and uphold the principles of equality and diversity. I will be relentless in challenging discrimination, no matter how subtle or covert it may be!

Friday, 26 March 2010

How many hats?

Life in the Third Sector is rarely dull - it can be full of challenges, opportunities and it also provides scope to influence policy locally, nationally and internationally. Yes, we can make a difference!

Wearing my Citizen's Advice Bureau hat, I chaired a Trustee Board Meeting earlier this week. As with a lot of organisations in the Third Sector, CABx across the UK are feeling the effects of a funding squeeze. However, CABx are resilient - they empower people to access their rights and despite the external factors that impact on CABx, its business as usual - providing impartial advice and a wealth of information in order for people to access what is theirs by right.

I am proud of Cardiff Citizens Advice Bureau. They provide a sterling service to the people of Cardiff. Despite the challenges that lay ahead, there is a determination that the people of Cardiff will continue to receive a high quality service delivered by an exceptional team of advisors.

Wearing a different hat, I led a briefing session on the Kick Start funding scheme. I'm the grants manager of that scheme - it's a small grants scheme for Third Sector organisations that benefit the Vale of Glamorgan. It never ceases to amaze me the difference a small grant can make to a small organisation. Its always good to hear the projects that an innovative Third Sector has in mind - innovation is the Sectors unique selling point.

Wearing yet another hat, I also represent the Third Sector on the Vale of Glamorgan's Safer Vale Partnership. I attended a full Partnership meeting on Thursday. The Safer Vale Partnership, is committed to creating a safer environment, in which people can live, work and visit, free from crime and disorder and the fear of crime. Its an outstanding example of how different agencies can work together for the benefit of the wider community.

I'm finishing off the week where I started with Cardiff Citizen's Advice Bureau. This time I'll be attending the Annual General Meeting where our President, Alun Michael MP will oversee proceedings. This will be my first AGM and as well as looking back we will be looking forward - looking forward to another year of success, to another year of serving the people of Cardiff, to another year of making a difference!!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Westminster, Wales and Europe

On Monday (15th March 2010) I headed to Westminster, London to meet with Nick Hurd MP, Shadow Third Sector Minister and Mark Francois MP, Shadow Europe Minister. The meeting was arranged by the Euclid Network (the European Network of Third Sector Leaders of which I am a member). We wanted to know what would or could a Conservative Government do for the UK Third Sector in Europe.

The journey to London on First Great Western was not straightforward - I was booked on the 11.55 a.m. train which I boarded. The service was subsequently cancelled because of a lack of a driver. I wonder how the train got the station in the first place?!!! So, we all had to get off the train, change platforms and catch the 12.25 p.m. train. However, every cloud has a silver lining and there was a travelling chef on board, so at least I could have a freshly cooked lunch!!

Anyway, I digress! I arrived at Portcullis House, Westminster in plenty of time and met up with my fellow Euclid Network members prior to the meeting. In a meeting room with views across Parliament Square, we met with the Shadow Ministers. We are able to put across the sector's frustration regarding the bureaucracy around European Funding. I was able to address the meeting by giving real examples from Wales, and the effects of a heavily bureaucratic process on small to medium size organisations.

Despite being one of the largest funders in the world, the European Union's funding streams remain the most bureaucratic, inflexible and difficult to access. We would like to see European funding more accessible, easier to manage and report, more flexible and better value for money as a source of social innovation.

It was good to be able to add a Welsh dimension to the discussions and to put over the views of smaller Third Sector organisations. The Shadow Ministers listened and did seem concerned about the issues we raised. At least the issue of European Funding for the Third Sector is now on their agenda. Of course this message needs to get across to politicians of all parties. The Euclid Network is tenacious in banging the drum for more accessible European funding for the Third Sector. I'm pleased to belong to a Network that can access those who are able to influence, shape and make policy. It will be interesting to see what happens next!!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Fair's Fair - but not the Barnett Formula!

Yesterday (9th March), I attended the "Big Ask" Event in Cardiff arranged by ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) - a good event which provided excellent opportunities to speak with leaders from other organisations.

We discussed the impending General Election and the impact this may have on the Third Sector in Wales. Of course, many organisations in Wales receive their funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and therefore think that the General Election would have little impact on funding arrangements in Wales. Yes, it is true, that because of devolution, we look to the Welsh Assembly. However, the amount of money that comes to Wales is decided by Westminster. So, the General Election, whichever party wins, will have a major impact on the Third Sector in Wales.

At the moment, the way funding is channelled to Wales is, more or less, determined by a formula called the Barnett Formula. This is a mechanism used by the Treasury to adjust automatically some elements of public expenditure in Wales. Indeed, this formula is used when determining how much money is allocated for the Third Sector in Wales.

To say that the Barnett Formula is outdated is an understatement. It was devised in the late 1970s in the run up to the planned devolution in 1979 (which never happened). It takes no account of needs, or different needs or different costs in different areas. It is essentially based on population - hardly fair when Wales has some of the most deprived areas within the UK.

From my perspective, within the Third Sector in Wales, the new UK Government must look at this system of distribution - after all, the Barnett formula was meant as a temporary feature, just like Income Tax was when it was first introduced!!!

So, if you want to know what a new UK Government can do for the Third Sector in Wales - they can start with Barnett Formula and bring into place a system that gives everyone a fair share of the cake!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Diversity - Is the Third Sector really that diverse?

I've worked in the Third Sector for many years - all too often I hear the phrase that the Third Sector sets a good example in embracing diversity. True, if you look at the range of organsiations that make up the Third Sector, there are many organisations that are focused on diversity issues, e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, disability to name but a few. These organsiations are crucial to ensure that civil society moves forward, is inclusive and that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Without the work of these groups that have championed equality, overt discrimination would be rife (Covert discrimination is still here, but that's another issue for another day!!)

However, taking this a step further - should Third Sector organisations make more of an effort to embrace diversity at all levels? The success of any Third Sector organisation calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring a a whole range of fresh ideas, views and perspectives to their work. Thinking differently and from different angles is key to success. The Third Sector cannot do that if there is a level of "sameness" around the Board table or at senior officer level.

Diversity is no longer as straightforward as a race issue, disability issue, age issue or sexual orientation issue (or any other issue) - it is much more complicated (and interesting) than that. You cannot put people into silos - Disabled people can also be gay, black, old or young - and this is all interchangeable!

Diversity is about where the lines cross - its not only about the crossing over between, what I call, the traditional diversity themes but its also about people's lives. Many organisations face challenges about building a diverse environment. They have a tendency to pigeonhole, placing people in (what they think to be) neat little boxes based on their diversity profile. This is a recipe for disaster! This is the real world, and diversity cannot be (and shouldn't be) easily catergorised.

How should Third Sector organisations start embracing diversity and actually set a real example? My own thoughts on this are quite simple - Walk the walk rather than talk the talk. If Trustee Boards and senior management teams within Third Sector organisations actually advocate that they are embracing diversity - they MUST make it evident and a reality at all levels within the organisation and when I say all levels this includes Board level. For organisations to say that they embrace diversity (e.g. by having policies in place and perhaps by employing a "token" person from a minority group), they need to do more - Actions speak loader than words!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Shifting Sands of Funding

In these days of outsourcing, more and more public bodies are looking at cost effective ways of delivering services. Sometimes this involves contracting out services to Third Sector organisations (which include charities, social enterprises and other not for profit organisations).

However, one of the main obstacles is the perception that "charities" are old-fashioned, not professional and only here to help the "poor and needy". A lot of work has been done by the Third Sector to combat this negative perception. Third Sector organisations have had to be innovative, professional and provide good value for money in order to secure funding. How often do we read that funders are looking for new and innovative ways of doing things? Third Sector organsiations have had to adapt to the ever changing needs of society and the plethora of funders. Partners in the statutory sector are now also being challenged with the changing attitudes to funding. More and more I hear from statutory partners "we can only get funding for this for X years". Gone are the days of funding something forever!! Well, this is how we in the Third Sector have had to work for years and years.....welcome to the real world where funding is measured against outcomes.

Our statutory partners can learn a lot from the Third Sector. From my experience, a good Third Sector organisation brings added value to services, provides services at a cost effective level and brings creativity and innovation into the market. I know that statutory bodies have a legal obligation to provide some services. However, some services are discretionary - if they are really looking to provide citizens with the best possible service at a cost effective price, perhaps more consideration should be given to outsourcing - this doesn't mean that all non-statutory services should be outsourced, but other providers should be able to compete on the same level with the statutory providers to deliver those non-statutory services.

My organsiation works well with our statutory partners. There is a high level of respect, an openess of dialogue but more importantly, a desire to work together to provide better services. Lets hope this continues for the benefit of all.