Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas message to my staff

Let me assure you, there IS a positive message here; you're just going to have to read a little bit more dirge first before you get to it. I'm sure you're used to that from me by now. I’ve been coming to your team meetings with messages of doom and gloom for so long now, that I feel a bit like a Grim Reaper. Apologies for that but my motto has always been to keep you all up to date with all the developments.

I think most of us are glad to get to the end of this year. Although I’m not advocating wishing time away (that would be silly) it’s clear that we're all ready for a well deserved Christmas break.

This year has been a strange one. For Derbyshire, it's largely been business as usual for us. That is up until a few weeks ago when we found out all the services were being re-tendered. There's no doubt we shall be working hard to win all the tenders we can in the New Year. That goes for Notts too.

In Nottinghamshire, the last 12 months has felt like we've all existed in a state of limbo, preserved in amber, unable to plan ahead, all of us collectively holding our breath, waiting for the paymasters to wield the axe. Now that has happened, we're engaged in a thoroughly depressing redundancy process. This for me represents a fundamental devaluing of the work we do by the Government. When times are hard we see very clearly what is really important to those who decide our fate, whoever that is. (Goldman Sachs comes to mind)

Speaking of bankers, picture this:

Right at this moment there is a Hedge Fund Investment Banker sat at their desk, tapping their keyboard, asset stripping a care home provider or betting on failure to make their money. And, as they do this, they will have a gnawing feeling that they weren’t put on this earth to spread misery. They're wishing they could do something worthwhile so they could REALLY feel good about themselves / sleep at night / make their mum smile / whatever...

I can hear you saying "Most of them won't even think about it.. They'll be too busy making their way to the nearest Champagne bar" Maybe true. But they'll think about it eventually...everyone does.

I remember Kay Cutts, the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, once remarked, services like ours were merely "..nice to have". Well unsurprisingly, I completely disagree with that assessment. We're not cake icing, Kay, nor do we provide just tea and sympathy. The services we provide are lifelines. We are the rubber dinghy when the ship's gone down. For many people who use our services who are in dire straits, we're the last chance saloon. We're the ones at the end of the line who has kept a helping hand outstretched, when others are at a sink somewhere, washing theirs.

In short, what we do is vitally important to the lives of people who have fallen through the increasingly unforgiving cracks in our society.

I'm very grateful of the work you all do. And proud that the services we work in are as effective as they are. You should all feel good about yourselves because what you do is completely and utterly worthwhile. You have positively contributed. This is more than I can say for some sections of our society.

I've been a bit too political this year (and worse still I've used some really cheesy metaphors) so it's about time I shut up and just wish you all a Happy Christmas.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Being Ten

Framework, the charity I work for, is ten this month. In some ways this still comes as a surprise to me. It feels like we’ve been around forever. If you went out into the town and city centres of Nottinghamshire and started asking people who Framework are, it wouldn’t take long before you found someone who not only knew who we were, but probably knew someone who had been supported by us.

We’ve grown an awful lot since we emerged from a coming together of ‘Nottingham Help the Homeless’ and the ‘Macedon Trust’ in 2002. I wasn’t around back then because I joined in 2009. I’m a quick study though and the last three years have been an overwhelmingly positive experience. You could say I’m like a (ten year old) kid in a sweetshop.

As far as ten year old go, some are out playing most of the time, suffering knee scrapes or getting bike pedal mud on the bottom of their trousers. At Framework we’re not really that different. For the time I’ve worked here, I’ve seen many of our Service Users in scrapes and our staff knee deep in mud, trying to carve out a path for them.

However, it is worth remembering that some ten year olds are not as lucky as others. We see many families who are in turmoil, trying to keep their heads above the choppy financial waters and dealing with a host of social problems along the way. The ten year olds who live in these households often miss out on the opportunities of their peers. They may be underachievers at school and getting up to things they shouldn’t. They may witness domestic violence and sometimes they may suffer it.

To be ten should mean that your days are filled with making new friends, overcoming difficulties, learning new things and being challenged to find that one thing which you are better at than everyone else.

We’re certainly trying to do all of those things here at Framework but more importantly we’re trying to help others to do that too.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

What a Pickle! Homelessness is on the increase.

A leaked letter from Eric Pickles to David Cameron has cheered me up today. Pickles told the Prime Minister that his welfare policies which are due to come into effect in 2013 risk making 40,000 families homeless. This aspect is far from cheery, but what is heartening is that there are people working at the heart of Government who have a conscience.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the decisions of this increasingly nasty right wing government will increase homelessness and child poverty. The letter warns that:

• 40,000 families will be made homeless by the welfare reforms which spells "some very serious practical issues for DCLG priorities".
• An estimated £270m saving from the benefits cap will be wiped out by the need to divert resources to help the newly homeless and is likely to "generate a net cost”
• There will be additional costs to local authorities (having to provide extra homelessness provision and temporary accommodation)

If you consider that Notts County Council and Nottingham City Council have just used a wrecking ball on homelessness prevention services, it brings the leaked letter into sharp focus. Budgets have been cut by in excess of 50%. This comes at a time when people most need help and support to hold onto their home. The ‘Supporting People’ regime which has delivered a great many benefits to society as a whole, has been unceremoniously gutted by the coalition.

Andrew Redfern, Chief Exec of Framework Housing Association sums it up very well.

“SP is being destroyed by the recklessness of politicians and the incompetence of civil servants. All three parties are implicated.

The decisions taken at central and local level about the future of Supporting People have little or nothing to do with the economy. They are unnecessary, ill-considered changes driven by arrogance and an unwillingness to listen.

The reduction and closure of services is already having a visible impact. Informal street counts show an increase in rough sleeping over the past few months. Hostels are beginning to ‘silt up’ as people have nowhere to go, and more people are seeking immediate help by knocking on the doors of offices, churches and private dwellings.

Disproportionate cuts, targeted at the most vulnerable, do not merely harm those from whom services are withdrawn. They also increase the overall burden on the exchequer – an impact that is masked by the transfer of cost from one budget to another.”

So where do we go from here? Well, given that Iain Duncan Smith will probably resign if there’s a U-turn on the benefits bill, perhaps the solution for Cameron is a less embarrassing backtrack on localism… So I say…. Restore the Supporting People Ringfence. It’s sorely needed, now more than ever before.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I hope I'm wrong.

There's not a lot that prompts a bout of feather spitting for me. Aside from the rigours of everyday life, work and my faltering fitness regime, I'm pretty much all sweetness and light.

Excising me this week is a feeling. I've not had this feeling since I last read Adrian Mole about 28 years ago. This feeling persisted through the years and lasted until just after John Major turned up.

I'll try and explain.

Part of it is the stark realisation that the rhetoric from Dave about caring Conservatism is a load of old tosh. Of course, I knew this deep down but I didn't really want to admit it to myself. To do so would mean allowing 'the feeling' to get back under my skin.

Well it's back. And I don't like it. Rightly or wrongly I hold the following beliefs.

Given half the chance:

--If there's a ladder to pull up, the Tories will do it.

--If there's a choice between supporting communities or big business..

--If there's a problem to solve in society then it will always be someone else's problem (and fault)

--If there's a bothersome state service that requires care and attention there will be Serco waiting in the wings.

After the coalition fractures in 18 months time and Clegg, with his tail between his legs reluctantly supports a no confidence vote, we will have a general election.

Then, Cameron will pull out all the stops and probably win the general election with poxy FPTP. (there will be boundary changes to suit..)

At this point, unshackled by the Lib Dems, the Tories will retreat into their intellectual green zone. We'll then be subjected to their true underhand bile smeared policies.

Now I've got that out of my system, I've got to get back to my faltering fitness regime, staring at the wii fit. Still in the box.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Save Your Excuses

An uncomfortable truth has bubbled its way to the top of my consciousness over the last few months.

As the cuts in public spending start to bite and many local authorities slash costs and services, my logical left brain calmly assures me that this is necessary evil. Fortunately my right brain has gone mental, throwing a dozen or more factors into the equation.

There are plenty of people who have already accepted the 'we must cut' agenda. Most people if challenged would not be able to refute these cuts. UK plc has to cut its cloth. No jam tomorrow as it were.

The trouble is, it's doesn't need to be this way. A green paper, a white paper and some good old fashioned primary legislation by the government can close some gaping corporate tax avoidance loopholes.

Admittedly there is a disagreement about the level of tax avoidance that takes place:

UK Uncut cites a TUC estimate that UK tax avoidance costs £25bn a year.

By contrast, official statistics published by Revenue & Customs estimate that avoidance costs about £7.4bn a year, of which £2.9bn is due to avoidance by big companies.

Either way, these are substantial sums of money. Money that could go some way to offsetting the worst of the cuts to essential services.

The time for excuses has come to an end. This situation cannot persist.

Q and A

1) So will the Government legislate?

Probably not.

2) Will tax avoidance carry on unchecked if nothing is done?


2) Shall I go to a UKuncut protest at NatWest in Nottingham on Saturday?

Yes I probably should.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Reinstate the Ringfence.

FAO: the Department of Communities and Local Government. (Grant Shapps)

I read a response yesterday to an article about Supporting People cuts that said the voluntary sector was corrupted.

The general thrust of the argument; that Government funding of charities was wrong. State funding took away the right of the masses to decide alone which charities prospered or which went under.

Natural selection in the voluntary sector. Get donations from the public or disappear and fold. It is quite a seductive argument.

That is, until you consider the reason why we do not have Capital punishment in Britain. We don't have it because the general public have never been given the opportunity to vote for it. If they were, we'd have state sponsored executions.

Sometimes, doing what is popular is entirely separate to doing what is right. A good political administration would recognise this.

Some of the clients the voluntary sector work with are 'unpopular'. Most people have very little understanding of drug users, offenders and anti social behaviour. Most people wouldn't want their taxes going anywhere near 'these kinds of people'.

This is why the Supporting People ring fence needs to be reinstated. Allow the voluntary sector to keep the lid on the worst excesses and carry on repairing the fabric of our society.

Do the right thing and take your medicine Grant Shapps and we'll do our best to try to cure some of our city and county ills.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Access Denied

I met recently with an official from Newark and Sherwood District Council who told me that applications for mortgage rescue had more than doubled in the month of January 2011.

Several of my workers are reporting a perceived upsurge in the numbers of clients experiencing mortgage difficulties.

So the signs are out there. More people are at risk of losing their home. This is a worrying development. Especially in light of the imminent closure of the Newark County Court in September.

At the moment, individuals can turn up to court on the day their property is due to get repossessed and get help (and representation in court) from our Court Desk Specialists.

At the very least we would secure an adjournment to stop the repossession.

This gives more time for our Floating Support Services to go in and sort the underlying social problems and for CAB to deal with the complex debt issues.

We've saved many peoples homes from repossession this way.

Now though, the Newark Court is closing with all its business being transferred to Nottingham.

Of course we are going to try to carry on delivering this service but The floating support services which underpin the court desk are being cut by 60%. Our partners in the CAB also have an uncertain future.

However you divide this shrinking cake, the most disadvantaged are going to end up with crumbs. In other words..

Reduced access to justice
Reduced access to support
Reduced access to advice