This week I have participated in a two national events; a meeting of consortia leads in London and a Chief Officers Forum. Both were hosted by senior Citizens Advice staff; an indication I think of their willingness to engage in network development and thinking.
The consortia meeting, the first for at least 18 months only had 10 of us there we worked out that in total we represent over 50 Local officers. The day was very useful and for me showed the many benefits of forming consortia in the Shires. We have agreed to continue to meet.
The chief officers forums are held twice yearly and I try to make at least one. I am careful about wasting time and more to the point money on something that does benefit us. It was good to meet with some Hampshire colleagues and others around the country. There can be the odd CO who likes the sound of their own voice but most thankfully possess humility and a huge amount of knowledge of the service, passion for helping clients and commitment to continuous improvement.
The conference was opened by Vicky Browning, CEO of ACEVO. She was asked to outline her view on the state of the charity sector and likened it to a military phrase used by the US military in Afghanistan: VUCA meaning…Volatile Uncertainty Complexity Ambiguity. She pointed to the current political volatility with Brexit, a falling trust in the charity sector (kidscape etc), a lack of confidence by public sector, changes in the regulatory environment changing (including a new chair for charity commission) and constant changes in funding arrangements that include shorter contracts with more conditions.
She is right. The charity sector is under attack from all sides it feels. The solution? Nothing that is rocket science but Vicky pointed to doing more with less through partnerships, strong governance, smarter ways of using technology, innovation and being able to adapt to change. The sector also needs to be open and transparent. Leadership is key, leaders need to be motivational and inspire others, tell people the why not the what to do.
This chimes with the people I have met in Citizens Advice. Staff, volunteers and leaders (local/national) have a passion helping clients. Its the stories of people who have been helped through difficult situations that keep us going and provide Citizens Advice with a Common Purpose. Vicky concluded by pointing to leaders; its by their resilience during periods of VUCA and strength of character that will help facilitate change.
Gillian Guy talked about progress in the national change programme and her future thinking through the following strategic themes:
- Funding and understanding our cost base
- Keeping hold of talent
- Support for Local Citizens Advice from citizens advice
- Commissioning and competition
- Reputation needs defending
- “Live up to our brand not rest on it.”
There is a limited window to get ahead; work is already well underway and will be shared within the next 6 months.
What have these two events shown? That we are a huge organisation; one that moves slowly, but purposefully. That we have the skills and know how to make a difference; this needs to be harnessed by strong leadership and clear direction. But most of all, we have a common purpose; to be there for those that need the help the most.