Monday, 28 July 2014


I was on holiday last week in Wales – Solva on the Pembrokeshire coast. A pretty fishing village where  Welsh TV were filming Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood”. I went for a superb 14 mile walk along the coast on a beautiful day when the Atlantic sea looked like the Med. (but not the same temperature!) Visited St David’s Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace..the whole area is rich in references to Celtic Christianity. Very fine.

And straight back in on Monday morning at 9.15 am  to a meeting of our sub group of Trustees and then a full Trustee meeting on Tuesday evening with a long  agenda. The Board appointed and welcomed two brilliant new Trustees and we are fortunate in having a very strong, experienced and capable Board. The Board approved last year’s Report and Accounts, and also  a new methodology for assessing the Outcomes of what we do…a notoriously difficult but necessary task. Intended outcomes  have to be accompanied by performance measures or else the term “outcome” (ie. what difference is made) is just being used for motherhood and apple pie effect. The Board agreed to my proposals though urged caution in not spending too much time on measuring performance rather than delivering…remembering we are a small team of 3.7 FTE

We had a presentation from Surrey CC about their commissioning of services for young people - £32 mill. worth, and the Board also approved  the first increase in membership fees for 4 years, and other changes so that we can take on businesses as Associate (non-voting)  members so that they can access our CommUniLAB project.

Since it was my last Trustees meeting I was surprised by the appearance of chocolate cake (favourite) and fizz. And kind words.

The rest of the week saw the finalising and updating of the submission papers for Pqasso (qa system), and work by colleagues in arranging our Youth Social Action conference on Saturday 15 November. I was at a Surrey Connects Enterprise Working Group this morning when amongst other points we were updated on the exciting plans for  a University Technical College in Guildford near Kings Manor School. Back to the Future -  I could not help feel that if we as a country stopped messing around with education we’d serve our young people better…did you say what’s wrong with technical colleges and polytechnics?  
Friends for dinner this evening; sermon to write on Saturday (about Wisdom and discernment). My parting shot is about holiday reading : I highly recommend Charles Leadbetter’s new book “The Frugal Innovator” which is about why we need to reduce and re-balance global consumption, and use good enough technology and encourage low key (frugal) innovation not just high tec. Also read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell; in support of the small guy/organisation- similar theme to Leadbetter.   I’m currently reading Business Start Up Handbook on recommendation from my eldest (MBA) son, and my “Third career” plans are well on the way. Now at the stage of putting surgical spirit on my feet every day (to dry them out and toughen up against  blisters) and doing “serious” walks every week-end now. Feels like the endgame is upon me. Enjoy your holidays!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Social Finance - Jury Out?

I go on holiday shortly so, as ever, one has to work twice as hard to get away, particularly when there is a forthcoming Trustees meting with a long agenda to get out. 
However, I was asked to brief some colleagues from a charity in Surrey that is considering expansion of its work by means of social finance, which made me revisit my various papers on this.

I wrote the first paper on Social Impact Bonds in Nov 2010, and with a member organisation pitched a really brilliant SIB proposition to Surrey CC, which was declined.

There are now some 22 SIBs underway in local authorities, and the momentum seems to be gathering….slowly. There is a Cabinet Office team working on social finance generally, and SIBs in particular. There are number of funding sources.  There are a stack of organisations working in this field : Big Society Capital, Social Finance, CAF Venturesome, Triados bank  and so on. Moreover the development of social finance fits exactly with my contention that the three sectors (public/private/charity ) are blending together.

Yet progress is still quite slow and the Peterborough Prison SIB has not been extended, which is telling. The advantage of SIBs is that the risk is off-loaded by the commissioner to the 3rd party funder – could be bond market or just a market loan, and innovation is supported, so there are real advantages, but on balance the jury is out as they seem to be overly complex.  

My holiday reading includes “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell of “Outliers” and nudging fame; “The Frugal Innovator” by Charles Leadbetter; a book on business start ups and Karl Barth’s “Dogmatics in Outline” – no, not the 14 volumes that costs £600 but the simple version! One of these is an outlier…..for otherwise there is a theme about start – ups…I wonder why ? Career no.3. calls! I will report on the reading soon…there are some novels too….compulsory! 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Time present & Time Past

If you can’t beat them join them, so having run another business planning session at 40Degreez in Farnham I have come home rather than battling the Guildford traffic on a hot day…much nicer! Here we go:-

"Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past."

The T.S. Eliot quote (from Burnt Norton) reflects the fact that I have been with one of our Member organisations this morning – 40 Degreez in Farnham, assisting them in long term thinking about their next five year strategy. I remember that before I started work with Surrey Council for Voluntary Services as we were then called, and during my handover period from my predecessor, David Cox, I went to our AGM at 40 Degreez. This would have been in about Sept. 2007. I didn’t have a clue about what was happening during the AGM but I guess I have learnt since! Anyway, it was good to be helping a charity working directly with young people and facing familiar issues relating to volunteers, and funding, but also being brave enough to address the “what business are we in?”  question.  It was also good to be congratulated on my work (when Head of Community Development for Surrey CC in the late 1990s) in starting the original work on the Sandy Hill estate in Farnham and hearing that very positive changes have happened there over the years, with the work still continuing in that high need estate. So in my beginning was my end. 

Otherwise, this has been a week for producing reports for my last Trustees meeting, and in particular proposing how we demonstrate our impact as a support services (membership) organisation. This is a notoriously difficult area, for outcomes are of little value unless accompanied by performance  measures. The experts on this are New Philanthropy Capital, The Young Foundation, and the Charities Evaluation Service, the promoters of Pqasso. NPC’s work in particular is very impressive. To be practical we have just agreed the terms of the funding Agreement with SCC for a grant to us …and the outcomes we will achieve. No go with the flow….  

Two other important matters to report this week; first that Surrey CC Services for Young People has published its draft commissioning document for services for young people…some £32million services. I think this is a really impressive piece of work by the Council and represents opportunities for the sector.  

Secondly, a big "thank you" to Allianz’s Routes to Success team for their pro bono work with us in uprating our marketing database and advising on outcomes/impact. The team reported back to their bosses on the finished work which has been a great help to us, and their “going the extra mile” help to me in wrestling through the Impact work is much appreciated. What was particularly heartening was to hear how the team had enjoyed working with us (mostly Kate Peters and Su Freeman) and learnt about the voluntary youth sector. This is exactly what must happen in future – business citizens developing  through a collaboration between the sectors, the boundaries of which are becoming  more blurred in a positive way.  

Preparing a Powerpoint this weekend to give to our Deanery Synod on Wednesday (ie some 22 churches) about the disconnect between the values of the church hierarchy, people in the pews, and the wider, secular world (eg on women bishops, homosexuality, end of life issues). That apart I have to buy my holiday reading, via Amazon of course, so I’ll tell you what it I’ve bought next week before we go off for R&R in Pembrokeshire. Enjoy the sun!