Search This Blog

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Tunnelling to freedom

Last week I had a coffee with a couple of senior public sector managers. Enthusiasts of 'Big Society' they had long held plans to take their whole department out of the organisation to create a dynamic social enterprise. With several hundred staff and many vulnerable service users, this is no small step. However the plan is robust and the benefits plain to see. A new organisation, focused entirely on meeting the changing needs of its service users, flexible enough to adapt, collaborate and innovate. Free of the crushing bureaucracy that so often stifles creativity in the public sector.

A bold timetable for devolution has been created and the plan is widely supported. However, in the public sector, things have to be done by the 'rules' and change is never rapid. What does this mean? Well the timetable has already been scuppered because of the infrequency of meetings at which the plan can be discussed and approved by the people at the top.

I'm reminded of that very unhelpful tactic employed so often by those in the public sector faced with unwelcome change. They simply slow the process to the point at which it stalls, or those behind it just give up and leave the organisation.

My friend described taking her organisation out of the authority as 'tunnelling under the wire'. Isn't it a shame that those manning the watchtowers, patrolling the fence and setting free the dogs are actually on the same side? I've promised to encourage community groups to start tunnelling in from the outside, hopefully to meet those escaping half way.

Are you ready to start digging in to your County Hall to set free the social entrepreneurs being held almost against their will? Go on, I dare you!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A tale of two cities

The new Government of an ancient nation decided to trust its citizens and let them decide how they wanted things organised. The bureaucrats were put out to grass and each Provincial administration encouraged to stop wasting money, to stop creating pointless structures and systems and instead to put control of public services and resources with the people who matter; the citizens themselves.

In the far east of that nation sits two halves of a once even older kingdom. Today it comprises two provinces, one the North Folk and the other the South Folk. The local politicians and officers in both administrations listened intently to what the new Government was suggesting. Both decided they knew the answer and both hurried to their capital cities to plan their exciting new future.

The North Folk had already created a wholly owned trading company. Someone suggested that if public services were transferred to this convenient organisation costs could be saved, public needs met and the whole thing done without the need for too much consultation or debate. The officers were after all the professionals here and providing the elected members saw change and cost saving, all would be well.

The South Folk had a very different idea. They decided to take the Government at its word and pass ownership of all public services back to local community groups. They reckoned this would save money and enable communities to mix and match services to get the best possible use out of every resource. So the library in a small town could become the hub for training courses, community group meetings and even host service providers looking for a base in that town. Flexibility, local accountability and innovation, supported by a core team of professionals was the answer they thought.

And so it came to pass that the North Folk saw little real change, although to be fair their administration did make the money go further and that everyone agreed was good.

The South Folk saw tremendous change. A host of exciting new partnerships and initiatives emerged as each community blended services and resources to meet their own local needs. The elected members and officers of the provincial authority ensured fair play, kept things compliant with the remaining sensible national legislation and everyone become very, very happy. Here, people felt they belonged, had a say and were part of something good. When they visited the North Folk they saw how little had really changed and marvelled at the progress they had made. Big Society had arrived in both provinces, but only in the South had it become real.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . .

When you look in the mirror every morning what do you see? Do you see the face of a person eager to confront the challenges of the day, or the face of someone tired of the same old work life work routine?

Now look out of the window. What do you see there? Has anything changed? No, I don’t mean the new car at No. 16 nor do I mean the tantalising glimpses of flesh as the Johnsons prepare for the day with their curtains open – yet again!

What I want you to see is not visible to the eye, but is certainly there and different all the same. You see your street, your town and indeed the whole nation is now covered with a thin film of new opportunity. That opportunity is called ‘Big Society’.

We all know the principle behind it. A cash strapped new Government deciding to peel away the layers of bureaucracy, over-regulation and rules to clear the ground for local people to take back control of local services. Individual communities can now design and develop the things they want and need. It’s no longer one size fits all, but a tailor made approach to public service delivery.

But what about the sad face that greets you in the mirror each morning? What does it mean to you? Well for those willing to rise to the challenge and seize the opportunity, it’s the chance of a lifetime to follow your heart and do what feels right, rather than the same old thing.

For some this means adapting their job to help their organisation meet the challenges presented by ‘Big Society’. For others it’s the chance to go it alone and replace the sad face in the bathroom mirror with an excited one, as each day brings with it new opportunities.

For Peter, James and Dean that meant starting Ethecol, the first truly ethical merchant services provider. Fed up with corporate life and excited by the new world they can clearly see, they’ve started a unique social enterprise that does business in a very different way to its established rivals.

For the small business paying through the nose for the now vital opportunity to accept card payments Ethecol is a godsend. They enable you to get a better service at a lower cost. This is achieved simply by introducing you to a bank that wants your business; rescuing you from one who sees your modest turnover as nuisance.

Next the clever bit. Banks usually pay a small commission to the introducer on retailer’s card transactions. Ethecol’s mission is to help charities raise cash, so in your area, that bank commission would be paid direct to your local Community Foundation. Here it joins commission from all the businesses Ethecol signs up in your part of the world. Collectively, you are now building a significant fund from which grants will be made to emerging and vulnerable community groups.

So what do the Ethecol lads see when they look in their respective bathroom mirrors each morning? They see happy faces. Happy because they have a business that saves customers money and generates income for charity. It’s what ‘Big Society’ is about; it’s the future and it’s here today!