Monday, May 19, 2008

Admiring the colourful housing in Albania

Interesting colour schemes in Tirana.

Temporary interrupton in service

Over the next couple of weeks, there may not be any postings. I'll be back on June 4th.

Are colleges open for business?

I have spent much of today trying to speak to colleges about them providing construction training for a client. While some FE colleges are enthusiastic and accessible, others offer unreturned emails, labyrinthine websites and ringing-out phones. I am lucky to escape the loop of one college’s telephone system.

It will be a challenge when they are assessed on their responsiveness to customers under the LSC’s Framework for Excellence.

Maybe choice and competition will sharpen up their act.

The NHS, Polyclincs and progress

As the NHS awaits the July report from Lord Darzi with its likely promotion of polyclinics (where several GPs’ surgeries are brought together linked to other services), I thought this quote was worth pondering:

We tend to meet any new situation by reorganising [to create] the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

Usually attributed to Roman Consul Petronius but possibly dating from a British Army officer after the second world war.

Better integration of primary services makes sense. The fact that the medical profession does not like polyclinics could be seen as positive as the BMA has always opposed change including the foundation of the NHS.

On the other hand there is a risk that polyclinics will make primary care more distant from the individual – at least geographically. Nevertheless, we should all be conscious of the investment of time and resources (including the reserves now being accumulated in parts of the NHS) - will it be value-for-money?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Data, community cohesion, equality and diversity

Last week’s Public Finance has an interesting article by Professor Ted Cantle of the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo for short).

On this blog I have expressed a certain wariness of some of the thinking behind the community cohesion agenda. In particular, I am uncomfortable with the hostility to multi-culturalism and the shift towards an emphasis on inter-cultural ignorance rather than inequality and discrimination. (I would add that I also believe that the public and third sectors need to treat this agenda seriously and connecting it in a progressive way to work on equality and diversity.)

After that caveat and caveat to my caveat, I would recommend Ted Cantle’s article. While talking primarily about the variety in the Muslim community (or communities), he notes more widely:

There is a real need to refine the crude total population data from sources such as the census to reflect the turnover of population and to map the complexities within communities. This would allow a move beyond a uniform approach to engagement and service delivery.

Too often organisations adopt a simplistic approach to using data in these areas – sometimes narrowly focusing on “targets” for “BME” (black and minority ethnic) access to services rather than thinking about what level of use would be expected and by which communities.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Double whammy for social housebuilding targets

The impact on social housing of the credit crunch and property market is at last getting some attention in the mainstream media. On Monday's Radio 4 PM programme, the chief executive of Southern Housing Group warned that the reticence of lenders was making it hard for housing associations to plan new developments. Combined with a likely decline in homes earmearked as affordable coming through Section 106 planning agreements, this adds up to a double whammy.

Can and will the government increase grant rates from the Housing Corporation to provide more socially rented and other affordable homes?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

One Plus governance issues equals organisational failure

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (pronounced Oscar for those of us south of the border) has issued a report into the collapse of the Scottish charity One Plus: One Parent Familes (no relation of One Parent Families/Gingerbread or its sister charity One Parent Families Scotland). One Plus went down with an overdraft of £2m plus – as well as other debts. OCSR’s case study report found “important lessons”.

The section on governance issues reads like a visit to a chamber of horrors. This is even sadder as the board were interested and enthusiastic.

1) “The Board did not appear to contain adequate skills and independence of thinking to reflect the needs of a multi-million-pound business” - including poor arrangements for recruitment and development, a finance committee that had difficulty meeting, the Board did "not seem capable and willing to hold the previous Chief Executive and Senior Management Team (SMT) to account".

2) “The lack of timely or full financial information being presented to the Board” - including tabled papers, out-of-date and insufficient information.

3) “The scale, skills and leadership of the finance department seems not to have been adequate for the size of charity”.

4) “The apparent lack of independent third party advice sought by the Board” - "The charity and the directors tended not to seek advice nor engage with the external auditors between audits", no internal auditors and no audit committee.

5) "Both the Board and the SMT appear not to have taken responsibility for making decisions to resolve difficulties when they were identified".

The other sections of the report, including those dealing with broader funding issues, are worth a read too.

Its worth noting that the same themes recur in so many organisational failures in the public and third sectors. The sooner those lessons are learnt, the better.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Codes of conduct and the bad behaviour of board members

The Charity Trustees Network is drafting a model Code of Conduct for charities. This recognises the difficulties that can arise from problem board members.

Its worth remembering that having a code is one thing; having the ability and willingness to apply it is another. I know of at least one college that had a code of conduct but did not know how it was going to use it when a governor was accused of breaching confidentiality.

The CTN would like to hear about:

1) the kinds of trustee behaviours that have caused concern and difficulties

2) experience of putting in place and using a code of conduct

Blue Avocado on governance: abolishing board committees

There is a new blog and website for not-for-profits, Blue Avocado. It comes from across the Atlantic but a lot of the issues are the same.

Blue Avocado has just posed the question: Abolish Board Committees?

It goes on:

Too many boards are bogged down by committees that are inactive or maybe even semi-fictitious. And board members can feel compelled to be on three or four committees each!

It suggests time-limited, task-orientated taskforces or working groups. I do not have too much of a problem with that (especially for small community and voluntary groups) although I have seen working groups end up blurring the management-governance dividing line.

It is also noteworthy that Blue Avocado answers its own question by saying:

One permanent (standing) committee you'll probably need is the Finance Committee, which must oversee financial performance on a continuous basis.

I would also urge any organisations with internal audit (or some too small to have it) that an audit committee is fairly essential in good governance.