Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Actuaries, pension deficits and saving public money

This week’s Accountancy Age carries an article about actuaries and their assumptions. It might not be fascinating but it is interesting as well as relevant for the public and not-for-profit sectors with their pension deficits.

Perhaps surprisingly the author encourages finance directors to challenge actuaries despite being an actuary himself. While it is unusual for a professional to suggest that their profession doesn’t always know best, it should be remembered that any debate or correspondence is likely to result in fee income for actuaries. (Call me a cynic but I know from recent experience when I tried to do it for a client.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Industrial disease? The corporate culture of some charities

Last week the Guardian carried an interesting article by Richard Burdett, the editor of Pavement – a magazine for homeless people. The main argument of the article was that there was a growing “homeless industry” with an industrial scale and culture:

These organisations see running charities as dog-eat-dog business … a charity when it needs to pull on heartstrings, but a business when it cones to selling services to local authorities.

Similar arguments are made about other charities as well as not-for-profit and public sector organisations involved in seeking success in contracting and commissioning. (Particularly when contracts are packaged up on large scale as a result of the "efficiency agenda" pressures on central and local government.)

I accept that there can be problems – smaller and specialist organisations being squeezed out; staff being demotivated. But I would suggest these issues are not an argument for turning the clock back on choice, competition and contestability. The challenges are to:

1) government to protect and promote smaller organisations – particularly in better regulation and intelligent commissioning; and

2) boards – who need to make sure that not-for-profits don’t lose sight of their mission when seeking growth and surpluses.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Being Board - a free resource for board members

Few things are in life are free. But board members with not-for-profits, FE colleges, housing associations, etc may be interested in free “On Being Board” downloads from Board Star.

The downloads are about 10 minutes each and give an introduction to aspects of governance and management for not-for-profits. I’ve just listened to the downloads on the work of Finance Committees and the use of consultants. They are intended for charities and have an American accent but they are still helpful and relevant to the “Third Sector” (in its broadest sense) here.

All you have to do is visit the website (or use Itunes) and put the downloads on your pc or Ipod.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good news for social landlords and their tenants - a new regulator

Inside Housing reports that the government has agreed to set up a new standalone social housing regulator. So the regulatory role will not be handed to the Audit Commission.

Its good news for all sectors of social housing which will be regulated by the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords. Even for the ALMOs, whose representative body had made the case for the Audit Commission. The inspectors are good at being inspectors but that never meant they necessarily had the skills or aptitudes for regulation.

Moreover, there is a strong case for new regulator to focus on regulating on finance and governance while allowing using tenant voice and choice to increasingly “regulate” service delivery.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A future for council housing

Some good news in this week's Comprehensive Spending Review was the announcement that the obstacles to local authorities building new council homes were being removed.

However, local authorities have to learn lessons from the success of the arm’s length management companies (the ALMOs). While some have struggled, most have been successfully transforming council housing where they have been given operational freedom from council bureaucracy.