Good charities are also good businesses – some are better than others

I’m reposting this, following today’s front page story in the Telegraph. Although they are targeting the £100k+ salaries that some charity bosses now apparently receive, they are also suggesting that this could be a sign of the salary creep that is allegedly happening in the public sector.

It should hardly come as a surprise, that if you push the often complex and challenging community support work done by local authorities on to the voluntary sector, their executives are going to expect to be rewarded for managing that increased workload. As I say below, good charities are also good businesses and good businesses know that high quality management doesn’t come on the cheap.

It’s tempting to see this as some sort of three card trick by government, where they encourage charities to take over more and more local authority work, thereby easing the burden on the public purse. In the meantime, these charities are working their socks off to find the extra funding needed to supplement the often inadequate funding that has been passed on by the already inadequately funded local authorities. The confidence tricks comes when you realise that much of the extra money required comes from the same public that has already paid their taxes to government to provide those services!

Personally, unlike some, I’ve never laboured under the illusion that all those who work for charities, do it out of the goodness of their hearts – even where that charity has no national profile.

When it comes to the national charities and their modus operandi, they are, first and foremost businesses, with a business plans, financial projections and performance targets. As such, when they need to recruit somebody into one of their senior management positions, the last thing on their minds is likely to be the social conscience of the individuals applying for the vacant position.

Indeed, having somebody who is more concerned about doing ‘the right thing’ at every step of the way, even if it costs the organisation money, is more likely to find themselves receiving a thank you very much for applying letter, than one offering congratulations.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see that some of the most popular charities are paying big bucks to their top staff.

That said, it stills seem slightly wrong to see £60,000 plus salaries, potentially being paid out of the pennies and pounds donated via high street collections and charity shop donations, sometimes by those who can least afford it.

To be absolutely fair, at least to those charities that deserve it, the key number for me, is the % of their total income spent of their raison d’être, charity. Those that achieve 70% and above should be acknowledged for achieving figures similar to the overheads costs seen in most successful and efficient businesses.

Those returning figures below 70% and especially below 50%, should be questioned as to their effectiveness and as for the Age UK figures, well…..

Charity

Income Millions

% Spent On Charitable Activity

Number Of Staff Earning Over £60,000

Cancer Research

£493

70

160

Oxfam

£386

76

35

Save the Children

£333

89

31

British Heart Foundation

£250

46

36

Banardo’s

£245

80

35

Royal Mencap Society

£201

96

39

British Red Cross

£200

67

32

Action for Children

£198

93

38

RNLI

£173

78

42

Age UK

£168

49

41

All above figures copied, with thanks, from the article by Richard Dyson – Sunday Telegraph, Money Supplement, 21 July 2013

What chance for the Big Society

Two issues I’m dealing with in the ward at present, offer a demonstration of the challenges involved in making David Cameron’s Big Society work on a practical level.

The first one is a fairly minor matter in the great scheme of things, but to the person affected it is a very real problem and one that is leading to some distress for the lady concerned. Her problem is with a neighbour who is neglecting his garden to the point that it is spoiling hers. Having spent good money getting her front garden made low maintenance, she now finds it blighted by wind blown weeds from the neglected garden next door.

Despite the best efforts of council officers to persuade the gentleman to do the right thing, he continues to do the bare minimum. This means that he doesn’t really fix the problem, but his neglect isn’t bad enough to justify any sort of legal action.

The second case is more serious, because of the activities of another bad neighbour. In this case, as well as having an impact on their neighbours, these people are allegedly carrying out certain illegal activities. Numerous comings and goings, often for less than 5 minutes at a time, suggest that these people are not coming around for a cup of tea. A large number of different vehicles, often taking up other residents’ parking spaces, also suggests that these are far from your normal neighbours. Some residents also report seeing scrap metal, farm equipment and even red diesel being handled at various times. It seems that our local police are ‘aware’ of these people, but have been unable to catch them in the act.

If we are struggling to deal with people who fail to be good neighbours and who spoil the quality of life of those around them, with our current but reducing resources, will the Big Society offer better or worse solutions?

Time for action on Big Society

As MPs went through the motions in Parliament, having been recalled, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, took the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that triggered the recall, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent, both horrifying and depressing, events across mainly England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is the risk of being accused of being all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep doing so from now on, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs tracks to run, Big Society will only work if it has the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets and that is one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners, providing genuine community based policing.

The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.

Police or community? Why not both?

As MPs go through the motions in Parliament today, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, take the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that last 7 days, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent horrifying and depressing events across England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is being seen as all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep on being so community spirited, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs a track to run on, Big Society needs the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets – that’s one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners in Japan, providing genuine community based policing. The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.

Time to choose Dave

Rather than being seen as a failure for David Cameron’s government, the recent outbreaks of criminal behaviour across England, could actually be seen as a confirmation of his Big Society vision. Unfortunately, unless he is able to back this vision up with money, that’s all it will remain – a vision.

However, things have gone too far and the damage has already been done to several generations. It’s a racing certainty that a number of those carrying out criminal activites in recent days, will be parents in some form or another. Even if only in the same way a feral dog becomes a parent by spawning with any willing bitch it comes across. The only way to deal with these people is initially via the justice system, but not just by a police caution, a supervision order, or an ASBO. If you can’t alter the way these people think and act, then all you are doing is using a sticking plaster on a stab wound that needs major surgery.

David Cameron now needs to acknowledge that his policy of throwing money at the overseas aid budget is not an acceptable thing to do whilst London and other cities are burning. Until he has sufficient cash in the bank to do both, he needs to prioritise fixing what is wrong within our own borders, before he continues to try to fix what’s wrong in the rest of the world.

First priority should be to take back control of the streets, but not by using Theresa May’s approach of permissive policing. More police on the streets, a court system applying swifter and harsher justice and a genuine attempt to prevent repeat offending.

The next priority and this is where Dave’s Big Society comes in, is to prevent another lost generation being created. However, unless David Cameron is prepared to accept that this cannot wait for the government’s finances to be healthy enough to support all of his pet projects, I fear the recent unrest will be repeated again and again.

Tottenham riots not just a local issue

Whilst the weekend riots in Tottenham are ringing numerous alarm bells, most of these appear to relate to the immediate issues of the police response and how a peaceful protest turned into a violent one.

For me, the flaw in the approach of pandering to the bellowing headlines that demand immediate answers and equally immediate solutions, is that it allows the politicians to duck the really hard questions. The first of these is, does this expose how thin the veneer of civilised society in this country is? In other words, are we fooling ourselves in to thinking that, given the opportunity, the same thing would not happen in practically every other city, town and village in this country?

Why such a depressing view of British society? Well, just look at our urban centres any Friday or Saturday night and the complete lack of self respect for both themselves and the police, displayed by our young people. Using the excuse of alcohol is a cop out in my opinion and allows those in power to duck the real issue of an increasingly failing society. David Cameron made reference to this in a recent speech and sadly I think he is right. Equally sad, is the fact that he didn’t seem to have any idea what to do about it other than something called the ‘Big society’.

The second issue to come from these riots for me, is the police response. The low level policing of a peaceful protest march had to morph into all out riot control almost instantly. If this had been anywhere else but London with its (relative to the rest of the country) high levels of police numbers, one wonders how much worse it could have been. Having drafted in police from other areas, including Kent I believe, did this then leave those area vulnerable to the same criminal behaviour? News reports from the following day, reporting incidents of sporadic rioting and looting breaking out in other areas of London, one can only suggest that the answer is yes. Even if it was a case of the criminals migrating via their Blackberry based intelligence network and not a case of other (normally law abiding people?) taking advantage, the issues remain the same, can the police cope now and what happens when the cuts in policing numbers take effect?

I hope I’m wrong and that when they do their inevitable post riot navel gazing exercise, part of it involves an analysis of where police officers were draft in from and where the subsequent rioting and looting took place and that this shows my fears to be unfounded.

Finally, where these two concerns come together – social breakdown and policing numbers – lies in the question, what are the politicians going to do about it? Despite David Cameron’s Big Society idea, our politicians are clearly failing to offer us any real solutions. This policy void brings me to another question – where next?

My solutions? Initially, more police on the streets, applying a zero tolerance policy and a justice system that doesn’t continue to think a police caution is a deterrent to anything. Longer term and much more difficult and expensive to do, is addressing the causes of the social breakdown. This comes from the lack of respect, for both themselves and others that we see in many young people these days, namely poor parenting and poor schooling and needs to be addressed before it damages another generation of children.

All we need now is a benevolent dictatorship, so that these policies can be implemented and not derailed by the liberal lefties who want to hug the hoodies- sorry Dave!

Same old game with a different name

I see from today’s Sunday Telegraph that parish and town councils are going to be encouraged to take on more local services as a way of forcing sorry, encouraging, the cause of Localism and the ‘Big Society’.

No problem with that as a concept, given that the cost of running many of the basic services that people value, is often inflated by the management structure of the organisation that runs the service, but without adding any real value to it.

Unfortunately, what is likely to happen is that, as these grassroots organisations gain more and more power, they are going to turn in to the ‘bureacratic monsters’ they were supposed to be replacing. Those little parish councils currently run by a part time clerk, who probably works for one or even two other parish councils, will suddenly find there’s a need for both a full time clerk, a book keeper or accountant, somebody who has some legal training, an HR expert just in case they get problems with employment law, an elf and safety expert, etc, etc.

Parish and town councils at present are not answerable to anybody, other than their voters, for excessive increases in their precept (their version of the council tax) unlike district councils, that can be capped and forced to re-bill by central government. So the next stage in this charade will be the need to introduce legislation requiring parish and town councils to submit balanced budgets and within government limits – how long before the first parish or town council kicks out their parish clerk and appoints a high paid chief executive? Before you know it you’ll be back where we are today, just using different names for it!