Thursday, November 27, 2008

The third sector – the new rulers?

Yesterday I attended the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s 10th Hinton Lecture. This year’s lecturer was the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins. The central argument made was that a vibrant, self-governing democracy needs strong local government.

In order to avoid (almost) everyone in the room agreeing with him, Simon Jenkins threw in a grenade when he suggested that the organisations of the Third Sector were “the new rulers of Britain”. I think this was a little distracting. However, when he said that the “new localism” seemed to be all about “consulting stakeholders” he had a point. How many people know what local strategic partnerships are? What they do? Do they contribute to accountability and transparency?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Diversity, boards and the financial crisis

While the public and third sectors are (rightly) keen to become businesslike, it is worth noting that they can sometimes be ahead of the private sector. Diversity on boards is one area. For example, a third of FE college governors are women. Colleges and housing associations have been addressing the issue of having boards that have people from a mix of backgrounds. (Of course, they can do better.)

This week a report from Cranfield University School of Management found progress – albeit slow - in women getting onto corporate boards.

One of the authors made an interesting argument for more diverse boards: "We might not be in quite such a dire situation if there had been more females on the boards of banks. The evidence is that women are not more risk averse, but they are more risk aware."

More diverse boards were "less likely to fall into group-think or to accept the status quo," Ruth Sealy commented. "Decisions can take longer to reach, but they will be better."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Light touch or better regulation in social housing and beyond

This week in Inside Housing the new Chief Executive of the Tenant Services Authority tells us that he does not talk about “light touch regulation”.

It’s an excellent sound bite but I was wondering what the opposite of that is: heavy handed regulation? (To be fair, the TSA does not appear to plan to bring a big, clunking fist to social housing.)

It’s a pity that the term “better regulation” has gone out of fashion.

I had a certain fondness for the five principles of better regulation:

1) Proportionality
2) Accountability
3) Consistency
4) Transparency
5) Targeting

There is a real risk that the lack of regulation in the financial sector (or perhaps more accurately problems with what regulation there was) will lead to the rehabilitation of red tape.

Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote in the Guardian recently of his big worry that:

the main message of the credit crunch - that "markets don't work, we need more regulation" - is read across into other arenas like health, welfare reform, education. All areas where, pre-crunch, we were witnessing a rapid shift from 1970s statism to a more nuanced approach in which markets, competition and a diversity of providers are used to drive up standards

On the continent some thinkers used to talk about the “social market” as: the market where possible, the state where necessary. It would be good if in social housing (and public services generally) the regulators used the slogan: competition where possible, regulation where necessary.

I know it’s not snappy. But it is what is needed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Read this before you sack anyone

It may not be Christmas present and it’s not out yet, but if you have some tricky HR issues you may be interested in The Employers' Guide to Grievance and Discipline Procedures. It was written by freelance consultant Mike Parkin. I used to work with Mike so I can vouch that he knows his stuff. (I also proof-read some chapters of the book so know that it is a clear and useful guide for managers.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arguments at CityWest: finding a silver lining

It is disappointing to read about the boardroom problems at CityWest Homes (the arm’s length management organisation that manages council housing for Westminster Council). While I do not know enough to take sides (even if I wanted to), events there do demonstrate that ALMOs are not an example of “privatisation”. For good or ill, ALMOs have close links with and accountability to their parent local authorities.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Lloyds of London, emerging risks and pandemics: be prepared

Lloyds of London have launched a website to "drive the debate on emerging risk". One of the emerging risks is that of pandemic flu.

Lloyds have just published a report on the pandemic scenarios. The report suggests that society should not over-focus on any particular scenario. The report's author notes that much has been said of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which killed over 100 million people worldwide. While Avian Flu is seen as the most likely next pandemic, they suggest that other types of pandemics may require different responses. The writer notes that some of these may have higher rates of mortality than flu.