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!