Dependence Day

untitled (21)It seems clear to me that our nation depends on other nations to be an effective part of the world. Just because we are an Island nation does not make us self sufficient. The EU is far from an ideal body to be in partnership with, but our decision a year ago to leave the EU is one that makes no sense to me. As we progress towards the exit of a collaborative agency which we have shaped enormously, its tragic that we will pay a much higher price to be on the outside looking in than we would to be on the inside looking out.

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Has the Charity Commission sold out?

imagesCVTY3IHVEvery few days the e-news from the Charity Commission appears in my in box offering a range of information. Sometimes it relates to reports on charities that have gone off the rails and are being investigated, sometimes they provide a reminder of things that Trustees or charities as a whole must do, and why. Occasionally it provides an update on the Charity Commission itself. One of these appeared on Tuesday and it informed readers of some agreements that had been reached between the Charity Commission and three other statutory agencies. These are the Information Commissioner, Oxford City Council, Broxbourne Borough Council and a body I had never heard of before, Kent Intelligence Network which is perhaps the most disturbing of all. It is a shared, primarily software based agency between the various District, Borough and County Council and its role is to ‘achieve savings by identifying fraud through data matching in council tax, business rates, social housing and procurement for all partners’.

The agreements between these organisations and the Charity Commission is referred to as Memorandum of Understandings. As as far as the public information goes the purpose of these MoU is:

This memorandum of understanding (MoU) provides a framework for closer working between the Commission and ………… to assist in their respective regulatory functions.

It is intended to:

  • promote a common understanding of the Commission and …………. responsibilities, working procedures, legal powers and constraints
  • promote co-operation between the Commission and …………… staff at a strategic and operation level
  • facilitate effective investigation with the objective of prevention, detection, and remedy of misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities or charitable funds and/or abuse of a tax relief against …………
  • ensure the effective disclosure of information in compliance with all relevant legislation
  • ensure appropriate consultation on matters of relevant and significant policy initiatives to ensure that charities fully comply with their legal obligations and adopt best practice in governance and accountability

The Charity Commission has gone through a number of changes over the last two decades. At one point it was deemed to be as much a support for charities who are obliged to register with it, as it was a regulator with investigatory powers, although it was not always very effective. I recall a meeting with the Commission in 1999 over a dispute with another charity that related to an agreement that had been entered into by the previous Trustees who had then left the charity. As a new Trustee who had been elected as the Chair I was hoping the Commission would assist in bringing the two charities together so the dispute which had both legal and financial ramifications could be resolved without obliging the charity to resort exclusively to paid advisers. However the only advice we received from the Commission was ‘to take professional advice’. Yet this advice was given after all of the papers had been submitted to the Commission and the representative had sat through an hour long meeting as we explained the issues. They could have sent us that advice at the outset and avoided wasting everyone’s time.

The current culture and purpose of the Commission is now much closer to a body that challenges and investigates charities rather than a more extensive and wider remit for support and advice that acted as the second half of the agency. This came about as a result of the austerity measures introduced by the coalition and also by a tactical decision to move the Commission into the mainstream of the Government rather than it being treated as an Arms Length agency. The current Chair of the Commission, William Shawcross was a deeply political appointment by his friend David Cameron, even though Shawcross had almost no knowledge or experience of the work of charities outside of the Art History genre.

These MoU’s are matters that should concern all charities. The Commission itself is already linked to party politics like all government agencies, unlike the old format of the agency which was at arms length from whichever government was in power. However by establishing a MoU with local councils, the new arrangement runs the risk of politicising the work of charities at a local level. If there was a way of restricting the exchange of data and other information to matters that simply related to law breaking or false accounting then that would be perfectly acceptable. However there is a risk that local councils will utilise the relationship created through the MoU to ensure that their funding only goes to charities which they support politically as well as socially. There is a good reason for charities to stay at arms length from councils and governments. However by triangulating the understanding of charities between councils and the Commission in this way, the freedom of charities is potentially being placed at grave risk.

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The Irish nights are drawing in

DB4jZ8TXcAIkRE2On the longest day of the year throughout the UK, although we still have most of the Summer ahead of us, we all know that from this evening, the nights will begin to get longer. That is as true throughout Ireland as it is on the mainland. On a political level the impact of  the false promises in recent weeks by both the Tories and the DUP is beginning to show on the day selected for the Queens speech. This speech is being promoted as the Westminster agenda for the next two years, not one, even though it is clear we will have an election within 3-18 months, just as soon as the Tories have found a successor to Theresa May and judge they stand a chance of increasing the number of seats they currently have. The voters of Northern Ireland gave the DUP a clear mandate and part of that mandate as this poster shows was to ensure that they offer an alternative to the Tories. That an agreement is still unresolved is hardly a surprise given the rumours of demands over additional money for the region and marching agreements. These both indicate why such a deal would be toxic for the Tories, even though it might make their electoral calculations a bit easier. A further complication is the idea that was expressed very clearly by the Conservatives throughout the campaign and by the Government of Southern Ireland, that they would keep the border between Northern Ireland and Eire open and clear. This is a key element of the Good Friday agreement which granted rights to all residents of the Ireland to Irish citizenship. The first days negotiation with the EU gave a clear signal that they will not tolerate such a grey area in an final agreement. If they agree to a soft border in Ireland it will then become even harder to address border issues in mainland Europe which lie at the heart of the reasons why some people in the UK voted to leave the EU. We cannot seriously expect Europe to open its borders just to give us a good settlement or to protect the Good Friday agreement. Those are our areas of responsibility, not theirs.

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A busy Thursday ahead for Dex

DCvbKreWAAELxvYOver many years in my previous occupation I had the privilege to meet and spend time with a range of senior and middle tier managers from the fire service, primarily in East Sussex as well as a small number in West Sussex. Those I met were all people who I found inspiring, not just because of what they do when they are faced with a burning building, but because of their willingness to think out of the box when there is no fire present and we need to focus on preventing fires, traffic accidents, drownings and indeed any event that can lead to death or injury. The company I am part of currently works with a small team of people from within East Sussex Fire and Rescue whose role is to carry out visits to Schools to help educate and inspire young people not to go near open water without the right safety provision, and also to be aware of the danger of traffic and other risks. However when fire fighters retire from active service, they sometimes continue to work in the same area of expertise. One of my friends, Dexter Allen who retired from East Sussex Fire and Rescue a year or two ago is now running a private business giving advice to organisations and people regarding a range of hazards related to fire risks. I see on twitter this morning that he has been planning for some time to hold a free event in Ovingdean this Thursday on ‘Managing Fire Safety in Residential Blocks. I suspect after the tragedy that unfolded on Wednesday Morning in Grenfell Tower that the Winter Garden Rooms at UK Blind Veterans will be full to capacity and that Dex will have a busy day.

The importance of reassuring residents that their homes are a place of safety has suddenly become rather more substantial in the case of people who live in properties that have a number of floors. Whilst all of us would rather that the fire had not broken out in Kensington last week, thank goodness for the hard work of people like Dex in trying to address fire risks for people living in vulnerable locations, which is particularly timely. I hope that this will spur on some of the people who work for the Council and other agencies that run high rise blocks of flats to take the time to attend the CPD.

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The beginning of an adventure?

_96508508_davisbarnierThe following is from my column in The Argus Newspaper: Today marks the beginning of an adventure for a number of mostly unknown people who are working on our behalf. If all goes well, they will be able to dine out on this adventure for years to come and some may even get to write best-selling books and earn vast sums as speakers at conferences. This adventure has its origins many months and arguably years ago but most recently goes back 10 days to the General Election results were announced and it became clear who was going to participate. In that sense these people have had little time to plan for the negotiation of our departure from the European Union which will take place in exactly 648 days time.

David Davis is leading the team for the UK. He was born in 1948 in Tooting, has been a Conservative MP in safe seats in Yorkshire since 1987. He was appointed to his role on 13th July 2016 but he and others spent a lot of time arguing against the need for Parliament to approve the process.

Michel Barnier is leading the team for the EU, he was born in 1951 and is from the Savoy area of France, He was appointed as the EU team leader on July 27th 2016 although he did not take up his post until 1st October.

Any deal that is reached by the teams led by these two men must be approved by a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament. A qualified majority means that at least 55% or 16 of the EU states must approve it, but a second qualification is that the approval must also reflect at least 65% of the population of the EU. What is not clear is if the UK will be part of that approval process. However that is a minor detail. The time taken for this approval process will come out of our 648 days and so David and Michel probably have around 550 days left. Taking into account holidays they maybe have 475 days left or 68 weeks. Take out the weekends and assuming 10 hour days and we are now working with about 3,400 hours. Of course if this was properly thought through we would also need time for a rejection of the deal to be heard and for the negotiators to return to the table, come up with a different set of ideas and for the qualified approval process to be retried. That would drop the time available to around 2,800 hours which would include the time needed to develop plan B.

The fact that the EU is obliged to approve the decisions taken by Michel Barnier explains why many people including myself believe that not only should our own Parliament approve the decisions taken by David Davis but actually so to should the British people. This is not as some Brexiteers have whinged, a desire to reject the decision taken on June 23rd 2016, but it is a legitimate expectation that our view on what the future relationship with the EU should look like, matters. As someone who enjoys rare visits to Europe I have a right to express my view and as someone who helps run a small business I also have a perspective on what a good agreement will look like. I also have a view regarding the issue of our borders, as I have a number of friends in the UK who are EU Nationals who will not get to vote but whose views count and I would wish to take them into account in my decision.

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Is Gove set to be our next Prime Minister?

GoveI must has spent too long in the sun yesterday, these are the thoughts I came up with after a question from a friend regarding where the Tory Party is trying to take us. The return of Michael Gove to the front bench has been something of a surprise to many people, bearing in mind he and Theresa were not seeing eye to eye back in July. However nine months is a long time in politics. He came third in the leadership contest and if the party wants to avoid the risk of rerunning the whole process again, the two top contenders from the last contest are now in the front bench team. Both able to speak whenever it suits them or the party. The fact that Gove has been given the same Cabinet role as Andrea Leadsom had for the last 9 months means that the party has a direct comparison between the two of them. If he is seen to adapt to this Ministry more effectively than Leadsom, then the contest is all but over. The issue of timing is more complex. If the Party goes for a September or Conference election process, they will then be faced with the issue of when to go to the country to attempt to gain a proper mandate. The obvious time would be October but the risk is that Brexit will still be unclear comprising a set of notes from the first lot of negotiation meetings. If they leave the internal contest till the Spring conference, they could then go to the country in May 2018, that would ensure that there is a clear set of Brexit proposals to put before the electorate, and so they can avoid a second referendum but claim the same sort of mandate. They can also use the second election to argue for another year for the completion of Article 50, and it will put them in a similar position to the one that Theresa May was aiming for when she called this election, except that by then they will have a fully formed manifesto and in effect they will have had nearly a year of negotiations behind them and nearly two ahead before we depart in the new period to May or June 2020. It will be much easier to argue that the Tories are the only ones capable of finishing Brexit by May next year and so some of the arguments that did not work last week, will have much more resonance amongst many voters.

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Are we at a tipping point?

downloadThe property inequality in the UK reminds me of the visit I made in the mid 1980’s to Monaco. As we observed the amazing boats in the harbour, many of which were empty at the time, the high rise towers at the back of the city stood out in stark contrast as places of deprivation. In between were the even more opulent mansions and homes of the very rich and some famous people. The tower blocks reminded me of the homes of friends in Liverpool that I was familiar with. The people needed to service the Casinos and clean the boats needed somewhere to live. Few people I know would ever want to live in a Russian type Communist state, but few would be able to tolerate the inequality I observed in Monaco. Yet the obscenity of sick and mourning people being forced to sleep on the floor of a leisure centre a short bus ride away from some of the wealthiest, empty properties in the World cannot continue. The scenes outside the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall may not be repeated as the social services system begins to address the needs of these very vulnerable people. However if this is not a tipping point, the risk is that inequalities will continue to grow and then at the next point of crisis or the one after that something will have to give. We need to see leadership emerge at both a National and City level so that the disparity between local residents whose lives have become intolerable and the absent property investors begins to diminish. Indeed I would choose to see an end to absentee investors in places where property is in short supply and where investors wealth is being used to push up property prices as though it was simply yet another index on the stock market. The real risk is that if we pass the tipping point it may take decades to restore order and address the chaos that will hurt many more people than are hurting at the moment.

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