Friday 7 December 2012

Beau Geste

Last week I attended the annual conference of my "trade union", that is the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. You might expect this to be a gathering of progressive, bleeding-heart liberals but actually they are quite business-like - and literally look and sound like business people as I suppose we are. ACEVO's eccentric but effective Chief Exec Stephen Bubb was knighted a year ago adding to the Establishment feel of the organisation.

It is valuable to catch up with colleagues as you can learn from the successful ones and discreetly take selfish comfort from listening to the ones who have come a cropper - and take note how to avoid the same pitfalls.

My Mum had been talking to me the night before about the recently-published Counting One's Blessings: Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother edited by William Shawcross (I think my Mum thinks I have been a bit rude about the late Queen Mum - see this post - whereas the letters apparently show she had some sense and sensitivity).

Anyway, at the conference the same William Shawcross shows up because he's the new Chairman of the Charity Commission. In his speech he suggests that the Commission is going to desist from taking a look at whether certain religious groups actually do society any good. I don't agree at all as I think the Commission should indeed take a long, hard look. I'm not thinking of the poor old embattled C. of E., Catholics, Muslims, etc but those disturbing cults you can't name because they sue on the least provocation.

He also indicates he wants to reestablish the principle that charity is essentially about private philanthropy. When he takes questions I challenge this because he ignores the modern phenomenon of charities using statutory funding to deliver services when they are the best people to do this, especially if led by their beneficiary group (like the exemplary Welsh mental health charity Hafal). He replies reassuringly about "just taking a look" but we must keep an eye on this. Of course there are great charities which depend on private donations but also suspect ones which spend too much on seeking those donations. Charities are not morally superior because privately funded. Good to see Sir Stephen agrees with me - see this link.

We also hear an amusing speech on "Leadership Under Pressure" from Corporal Johnson Beharry VC. I'm not sure if his compelling story of derring-do will help me much practically when I come under pressure in my job but I now have some tips about what to do if I ever find myself driving an armoured car into a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan - unlikely in terms of risk management but it's as well to be prepared.

Beharry's story is not the stuff of classic, one-dimensional Beau Geste nonsense but truly a tale of redemption following a startlingly misspent youth. He has also spoken out frankly about his mental health problems and the need for better mental health care for soldiers and veterans.

The conference is next to the Tower of London, enabling me to take this picture with the Shard behind...