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Garry Jones's Blog

Garry Jones

Mon 4 Oct 2021

Last month I committed to some big picture thinking and I came up with the following suggestion in answer to the question – what are we trying to achieve?

Personal fulfilment of all citizens, living in compassionate and convivial societies, within a flourishing biosphere

Its been interesting to observe the ongoing Political Party Conferences and whether this kind of an ambition is articulated consistently, passionately and with conviction and authenticity by our country’s leaders? Then this week, we have also seen yet another round of revelations about the activities of the super-rich and powerful; showing the myriad of ingenious, yet cynical and morally questionable ways they gather and hold onto wealth. Thus I come to chapter two in my big picture...

What are we (or rather the decision-makers) assuming about the nature of people and are those sound assumptions around which policy and resources should be wrapped?

Perhaps predictably, I think not…

It seems to me that the working assumption of government, particularly central government, is pretty similar to the working assumption of most sales and marketing executives – the average person is trying to get as much as they can for themselves, occasionally their nearest and dearest, for as little input as they can. This is broadly reflected in the widespread assumption that the so called market is best for driving up quality and driving down prices. That consumers will choose the best on offer, and thus drive prices to be lower and lower, so long as the quality (or at least the state) of goods and services is sufficient for their desires. It’s also consistent with the assumption that paying taxes is a bad thing, to be avoided unless absolutely necessary; as the earner is better placed to decide how to spend their own money – no matter how much it is they earn. This assumption also seeks to put a price on pretty much everything. Of late for example we have started to see terms such as ‘eco-system services’ place £ values on nature, water and such like. There is also the murky world of social return on investment, where we see calculations such as ‘x’ investment now, saves ‘y’ persons from a life of crime which costs the state ‘z’ pounds over a lifetime; and as such we have proved this service is worth bothering with.

It’s all a bit tiresome, but not only that, everything I’ve experienced in my career and especially in the last 12 months, tells me it’s a wrongheaded assumption on which to be basing our social and political discourse. It may possibly work for some goods – I can probably given enough headspace (which for many folks is a rare commodity) work out the balance between the quality and price of a selection of cream cakes, at the local bakery and assuming there is more than one purveyor, judge which one to favour with my custom. But truly if it gets even a bit more complicated than that (which it almost always does), then this market structure, with ‘selfish man’ is a kind of nonsense.

My career and life tells me, what people want and need and seek, directly, or indirectly. What they feel and avoid feeling and behave in ways to feel and avoid feeling, is not really at all about ‘value for money’, wealth accumulation or even in most cases basic financial security. No, most people, most of the time value and continuously seek connections with other people – be they joyous, excitement filled or concerned with shared sadness, consoling of fear, or practical assistance for good or mitigation of the less good. If instead of assuming all folks wanted to earn more money, buy more stuff, do better than their friends & neighbours; we were to assume most folks were quite happy to give in accordance with their abilities, gaining connection in return, and that most folks could rightly expect to be helped and supported in accordance with their needs, perhaps the above Utopia would seem a little more in reach?

What’s that got to do with the VCSE sector, I hear some folks frown?! This is a bit political isn’t it?

Well yes and no. I’m not siding with any one Party here, I think all the mainstream parties need to consider the alternatives to an economy focussed on perpetual (ultimately unachievable) growth – an economy focussed on ever improving population health and wellbeing for example (aligned to my suggested vision above). But also that this has direct implications for how much we value the VCSE sector, its employees, its trustees, its volunteers. For under the current paradigm, all those people are second class citizens, acknowledged yes, patted on the head intermittently; but compared to the true workers, the bosses of the FTSE100, the wealth generators as they are termed; we are insignificant. Three weeks ago now, the Minister for Civil Society was reshuffled out of existence – who even noticed in the public at large? Nobody because we are told such things don’t really matter.

I argue here that the people to make my opening aim, a reality, are not those currently in charge of our country, but those currently entwined and with open hearts, working every day in our VCSE sector… so how can these folks with this aim be the main event, instead of a political side show? That’ll have to wait, as I haven’t an answer yet.

Garry Jones

Wed 4 Aug 2021

Back in 2010, there was much fanfare as the then new coalition government began to dismantle and reorganise the NHS, from the top down (it didn’t really follow any calls from the grassroots) – exactly the thing they had promised during the election, not to do. Fast forward 11 years and a major reorganisation of the NHS is well underway once again, not that you would know this from the absence of discussion in the public eye. This time its driven more by the change that local NHS bodies, and perhaps even patients want, but its going to be no less important and perhaps it’s even more dramatic than last time round.

The draft Health and Care Bill 2021 has already been presented to parliament and will now make its way through the processes of statecraft until it receives ‘royal assent’ some time later this year or early next – likely unchanged in substance from its current format, given the large majority that this government has. The Bill paves the way for the creation of Integrated Care Boards, which will replace the role of the current Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in commissioning of local NHS services, from general practice to community care, mental health, and hospital care to simplify and name only a few. These Boards unlike CCGs will be made up of parts of the NHS beyond Primary Care (from which one would have to conclude that a GP-led system didn’t quite work after all) including the so-called ‘provider trusts’ (in our patch this means the two main Hospital Trusts – UHDB and UHNM, Midlands Partnership Trust and Combined Healthcare). Like the last incarnation, there will be independent lay members – it will be interesting to see if they gain more clout in this new version where they are less diluted by the dominant voice of GPs. Of particular interest is the required role for the two social care local authorities (Stoke and Staffs Councils) to have a seat and the independent Chief Executive and Chair – this is all new and in theory should lead to a more balanced debate and the opportunity to genuinely think about the health and care system as a whole, rather than from one specific viewpoint or other. The Chair designate has already been announced, Prem Singh, who already chairs the Stoke/Staffs Partnership of health and care providers; and I like what I see and hear so far, with much for the VCSE sector to welcome. The independent Chief Executive will be appointed in around the autumn, and will be critical to the outcome in our place so watch that space…

Around this Board will sit an Integrated Care Partnership, that should involve a wider group of stakeholders including the VCSE sector and the patients & residents we also serve. Its sole purpose, they make it sound easy, its to produce an Integrated Care Strategy, which the aforementioned Board must then implement. As yet its unclear just how big and broad, or tight and focussed this partnership might be in Staffs & Stoke. Its also not yet easy to tell how detailed the strategy will end up being and what teeth or powers of persuasion the Partnership might have at its disposal, should it not be implemented to their desire. Suffice to say that we will be pushing for genuine involvement of the VCSE sector in the Partnership and for our voice to be heard as service providers, a route to the seldom heard, a partner with a unique perspective on our statutory colleagues and a source of ideas and innovation. I hope this voice is stronger and listened to more effectively after the year of hell that this nation (and all) have experienced – that the unarguable role the VCSE sector has played in protecting both the NHS and social care from potential disaster can be assimilated into the mainstream. I see cause for optimism and good people at play in this emerging new dawn of the NHS.

Finally but perhaps most importantly, this new setup comes with the tantalisingly vague ‘Place-based Partnerships’ – its an acronym that is even hard to say ‘PbPs’. The Bill itself says little about these, other than they can come together to deliver health and care locally and they should involve all relevant local partners (which must of course surely include VCSEs). In our patch, these ‘places’ will be organised on council boundaries, North (Stoke, Newcastle, Moorlands), Southwest (South Staffs, Cannock, Stafford) and Southeast (Tamworth, Lichfield, East Staffs). Some will, with reason, argue this isn’t nearly as local as we need, and even the existing district council structures are more local. However, I am entering into this with an open mind as even on these footprints, I believe there will be far more room for good and open dialogue with NHS colleagues, for example in the Southeast, with UHDB who run the three local hospital sites, with the three district councils and with local teams from MPFT. There is good recognition that much work will happen more locally in districts and indeed towns and villages, and much harmony between local GPs and VCSE groups about this - so I’m willing to work with this NHS bureaucracy – we all have some after all.

Once again, my commitment here is to ensure VCSE involvement, and where possible to lead the conversations – we have a seat at these three tables already and will aim to keep you up to date and engaged as they develop. For now, be aware that times are changing and try to be open-hearted to the possibilities, in spite of the litany of new acronyms!

Enjoy your summer breaks.

Garry Jones 

Garry Jones

Mon 5 Jul 2021

Many are feeling optimistic and effervescent about a return to some kind of normality in the coming weeks. For some, the easing of draconian restrictions on our personal behaviours – mask wearing and social distancing, can’t come soon enough. Modern, democratic societies, they argue, simply shouldn’t be dictating personal habits in this way for any longer than is absolutely necessary. I have some sympathy, as the history of the world, or Europe at least is dotted with ‘reasonable’ impositions, that are then extended, built upon and abused by those in power. It’s a good thing that we have politicians able to exert force upon Government Ministers to give up, rescind and row back upon power and control.

Yet I’m nervous.

Too much of the public debate here has centred on foreign holidays, international business travel, and the impact upon the economy. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognise that some industries rely upon occasional trips to visit partner organisations in the flesh and that in the broadest sense, our economy is a major factor in the health and wellbeing of the nation. Yet, for me this does have a whiff of the elites. Most people, workers and business owners alike can get by very well without international travel. Even those of you who have become used to annual (or more regular) holiday trips to foreign climes, must ultimately admit that your need for sun and sangria is a second (or third) order issue here – its very much not a necessity of life. And whilst I’ve no more desire to see swathes of job losses in service, tourism and travel industries, than anyone else, neither do I think that a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, is the only option on the table, or especially desirable (there could have been mass investment in retraining workers in some of these industries for example, into renewable energy sectors).

Yes we must learn to live with the virus, but does that mean a return to how things used to be, plus some personal choice about mask wearing and keeping your distance? If you must use busy public transport to get to your work, then distancing isn’t an option, whether you live alone or return each evening to three generations with vulnerable elders or sick children. If you work in a so-called low skilled, low paid job, a call centre for example, can you wear a mask amongst your hundreds of colleagues in a building with poor ventilation during freezing winter temperatures? And if you do get a sniffle, will you self-isolate on sick pay, or keep quiet to ensure you can put a meal on the table back home?

It just isn’t that simple. Removing all restrictions is a noble ambition for noble times. It’s also a policy based upon a single potential point of failure – a high functioning vaccine – which is not a perpetual given. And doing it now could be a recipe for inequality on a scale we haven’t seen in generations.

Alas, it seems we are left to personal choice and action to curb this potential inequality ticking time bomb. When a year ago we all put aside our personal risk and freedoms for the greater good, to protect our NHS from being overwhelmed it was an immense and collective act of self-sacrifice, of societal altruism. What is needed now is a more day to day kindness, to achieve the same end, to protect our fellow humans from the life changing impacts of a disease we are just barely getting to know. Just because, in a few weeks’ time, we can stop wearing masks in shops, it doesn’t mean we should. Just because the government no longer dictates that it’s the law for you not to breathe on other people closely it doesn’t mean your germs are suddenly no longer your responsibility.

Both for this ongoing challenge to humanity and others yet to feel their full force (climate crisis to name the big one), we must continue to care enough about one another to behave in ways that are kind and compassionate, especially to those who can least protect themselves. If we don’t do this, Covid-19 will become the poor societies’ disease in a matter of months and exactly where that line falls is an unknown for most of us.

Garry Jones

Tue 1 Jun 2021

I have spoken on several occasions over the years about the value of local. This month I want to pick out a specific reason that local is so much better than highly centralised, top down programmes: learning from mistakes.

But first I will say that I am prompted to write about this, at this time because of the recent start of Covid-19 inquiries and some of the associated revelations.  Reflecting on the explosive evidence given to MPs by Dominic Cummings last week, we learnt that:

1. Central Government didn’t have robust plans for a pandemic emergency.

2. When that emergency hit it was ill-prepared to play the core role of convening across government departments and between central and local government.

3. It was overly preoccupied with what the public might think, what it might tolerate and how people would behave, to the detriment of laying out clearly and confidently what was needed from the public.

No doubt many will think it too early or too scant evidence from which to draw firm conclusions, and they are right, but we must begin to review and learn lessons sooner than later, lest we repeat those errors in the near future. We don’t need to wait until a final report is produced in several years’ time to know that mistakes were made, lessons can be learnt and change implemented.

And so my central point, is that in all complex systems mistakes are made – they are made all the time in fact. The question isn’t how to stop them. The ambition shouldn’t be to get it right first time, all the time – that would be arrogance verging on stupidity. The aim and the question should be – how can we design systems that flag mistakes early and quickly and obviously: so that changes can be made, and systems and outcomes made better (not perfect). And the answer is to short circuit the pathways from decision makers to the impacts of decisions. The answer is to by default make things as local as they can be.

A system that is designed for a Minister to be assured by a junior minister, to be assured by an adviser, to be assured by a senior civil servant, to be assured by a junior civil servant, to be assured by multiple regional politicians/officials, to be assured by multiple local officials, to be assured by frontline workers, to be assured by their interaction with the public….. (and I could have made that 10 times longer) – is a system that is designed to hide mistakes, to ignore learning, to prevent improvement. It is a system designed to fail.

And so in that regard, Mr Cummings revelations, despite all my natural scepticism and cynicism, in actual fact rang absolutely true for me – it aligned absolutely with my experience of the early days of the pandemic – local officials waiting to be told by central government what to do (because that’s how the system works) – indeed, even I can remember saying ‘we’ve downed tools – what do you want us to do?’ Thankfully after a few days, we all realised locally that the answers were not going to come from central government, or at least not in any real world timescales or with any level of confidence or consistency, so we got on with it – and local government colleagues in my view did an absolutely fantastic job (as well as local communities and VCSEs).

So my message to local government and politicians is to fight tooth and nail to retain your hard won respect and independence from central government. You need to push on and secure more power and independence from them and then share it with local communities. The case is won – make the most of it.

And to Central Government and local MPs – if you were to butt out of local affairs, trust local people and institutions and stop micro-managing what is better done locally, you would find that things worked better, mistakes would be noticed and fixed far sooner, people would be healthier and happier.

And perhaps you would then also have the time and capacity to do the actual job of a central government – plan for the big stuff, coordinate complexity, give the public confidence and lead when necessary, and ultimately keep us safer than you’ve done in the last 12 months.

Tue 4 May 2021

It’s About Race (ism)

I have been pondering over when to write something about Racism and Discrimination for a while. This month I have run out of other subjects so I have to face up to it, it’s now!

My uncertainty comes from a few places. Probably at root cause is me being a white, middle class, not quite middle aged, male. This makes me awkward, as I will explain below when it comes to anything relating to equalities as I have little to no direct experience of prejudice and am the main demographic benefitting from privilege on most counts. Secondly, I live in Staffordshire, where accounts vary slightly but perhaps 98% of people are white. Thirdly, it’s a subject that seems unavoidably to trigger very strong reactions from people, and whilst I don’t generally avoid controversy or speaking out, I’m not so clear in my mind as to what purpose, seeking a strong reaction can be applied to, in this case; usually when I poke a hornet’s nest I have in mind whom or what I want them to sting! Nevertheless, it is a subject that we have been grappling with at Support Staffordshire, and as a sector leadership body we need to start sharing our thoughts. Its also a subject that is triggering some worrying actions from political and supposedly apolitical leaders close to our sector, currently on a largely national stage, but for how long before that turns local?

So, within Support Staffordshire. We have made a start, and I do not claim much more. We have formed a small and voluntary group of staff and trustees who have started to look at the subject, with a focus on ‘disrupting racism’ as we have termed it. Its not that we don’t care about other equalities issues, we do, but we wanted to really focus on this so overdue to be consigned to history, form of prejudice. We have sought some external training, in our case from The Diversity Trust, and aim to build on this with some more bespoke advice and action planning in the coming month. We also plan to start spreading the work at an upcoming all staff day. We have added to our staff handbook to give more direct, explicit and unequivocal support to staff, encouraging them to challenge racist and discriminatory behaviour with the organisation’s backing, including microaggressions – the best example being: ‘so where are you from originally?’ a polite question targeted at a non-white person with the perhaps unintended but completely discriminatory undertone, saying, ‘you’re not one of us are you’… I admit I might have done this myself. And indeed, this is probably the biggest thing we have been doing, understanding more about the issue, about our own , inherent, learnt, unintentional racism. We have learnt a little about our white privilege and how from the age of perhaps 3, we have all been conditioned to behave in racist ways. Not to overtly abuse or discriminate but everyday things, almost all white people do that undermine, demean, reduce and diminish non-white people. One on its own, probably nothing, but experienced all day, everyday by our Black, Asian, Chinese, Arabic and more, friends, colleagues and neighbours have made their lives so much harder on average than ours. This too, is a lesson, nobody is saying your challenges as a white person haven’t been tough, that you haven’t had it hard, but boy, would it have been tougher if you had also not been white. So, this is one reason I do, and perhaps always will, find the subject a tough one, but I must face that anxiety and so must you. We need to get over our whiteness, stumble if we must, make mistakes, but with the unwavering aim of passing down to the next generation a less racist society than the one we were born into, because this challenge will be a generational one.

And before someone says racism isn’t a problem in Staffordshire. I say, then why do so few non-white people appear to wish to move here, or manage to move here if they do want to, or manage to stay here and prosper, if they can? Just asking.

Now, the nationals. A few weeks ago The Charity Commission finally agreed that the National Trust had done nothing wrong after a lengthy investigation of its own review of the Trust’s historical links to slavery and colonialism – to sum up, all the old buildings and old stuff it owns and displays have quite strong links to colonialism and slaves and as such racism and abuse. The National Trust, and I think they are brilliant for this, decided to start that conversation and throw open the truth through its displays and education programmes. The Charity Commission investigated whether this was straying beyond its charitable remit and becoming overly politicised due to the number of complaints they had received… yet this number was revealed to be just a handful. Thus, the Commission have never adequately explained what prompted the investigation in the first place. More recently, a group of Conservative MPs have lobbied the Charity Commission to investigate and come down hard on the charity, the Runnymede Trust for what they described as its ‘worthless, weird and woke’ ideas when it dared to publicly criticise the recent government Sewell, Race report, which had concluded that the UK no longer experienced structural racism. Both are examples of politicians, one explicit and one behind closed doors, trying to pressurise the sector away from addressing the highly political, but also highly charitable work of equalities. I truly hope (and believe actually) that no such pressure would ever arise from local politicians and I for one will speak out openly if any local MPs leap on that bandwagon. More than that, I am hoping that the local elections this week might throw up one of the most diverse group of local politicians we have ever seen, and that this will be reflected in the arising leaderships of local councils, and thus in their decisions and future plans… time will tell.

I have a feeling I’ll be writing on this subject again now I’ve broken my duck.


Filed under: Support Staffordshire  

Thu 1 Apr 2021

The local elections are in a month’s time and it will be one of the biggest local democratic processes ever, because its two years’ worth of elections in one. Locally this means the Staffordshire Commissioner election (Police, Crime and Fire – I always thinks its odd that crime is in this title?), plus all out county councillor elections postponed from 2020 plus many district councillors. So some of us will end up with 3 ‘new’ representatives in the corridors of power. Now, I am going to tell you exactly how to vote! Cue big intake of breath…

Ok, calm down, I am about to be very political, but not party political. And this is a good time to remind you all that you CAN and SHOULD be political too. Its your duty to have a view on the things that impact the residents you work with. Please get off the fence. Also, its legally absolutely proper to be political, as long as you don’t get party political. Charity rules outline that you cannot use charity funds, resources or platforms/status to advocate for a particular Political Party. Generally this means steering clear of endorsing a specific candidate and not affiliating too much with the policies of one party such that it begins to look like you only support them. However its ok to give an opinion on individual policies of individual candidates and to support individual candidates’ stances on specific issues – especially where those issues are directly linked to your charity’s purpose.

I won’t go into detail here on the truly awful Lobbying Act which means that if you are going to spend any significant funds on lobbying prospective politicians or for/against their political causes, in close proximity to an actual election, you have to register and jump through various bureaucratic hoops, even where those causes are and have always been your charity’s purpose. Its bad legislation that some have promised to repeal, but you do currently need to be aware of it, if thinking about actively lobbying.

No, what I want to do here is to tell you to vote local.

It is so tempting at local election time to vote based on your perceptions of national politics, to either support Boris for the wonderful job he has done during the pandemic or to give him a kicking for the terrible job he has done during the pandemic. Truth is, your local vote changes very little about national politics; you are better to wait for the general election. But your local vote does change who runs local services and how they are run: children’s services, social care, police, bins and grass cutting (plus so much more).

So my ask of you is to vote for the candidates who appear to be the most locally connected. The ones who are present all year round. The ones who take the time to engage with and listen to residents. The ones who are part of community groups and charities. The ones who get involved in community problems and themselves help find solutions. Please don’t vote for the ones who turn up at election time only, who live miles away from the places they are standing to represent, who comment on everything but help solve nothing, who have no real lived experience of the issues your community is facing.

I don’t really care if you vote Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, Purple or Rainbow. But PLEASE VOTE LOCAL.



Garry Jones

Chief Executive


Tue 2 Mar 2021

In January I wrote a blog that exalted the complexity and variety of our sector, in which I challenged the powers that be, not to tinker with things they don’t fully understand. Last month I talked Rainforests and Zoos as metaphors for our sector and how we can be (mis)treated by commissioners of public services in particular. This month I must continue the theme, but will keep it short in the hope that you might take the action I propose at the close.

One of the most frustrating and frequently disappointing parts of my role is to challenge when we perceive that competitive tender processes have gone awry. A recent example that has hit very hard has left me pondering the root causes of these scenarios. Is it the inexperience of commissioners? Yes to some degree, they often move on or up before the next tender comes around, leaving few cases of the same commissioner working on the same/similar commission more than once. Yet the engagement and consultation processes ought to compensate for this, and in some instances they do although practice is highly variable. Is it that the rules that govern procurement of public services get in the way? Again, I would have to conclude the answer is yes, both the commissioner/provider dichotomy that limits dialogue and makes it all highly transactional, plus the all too frequent risk aversion and misinterpretation of rules that can go hand in hand. Local provision is the most common casualty of this factor, with procurement officers convinced that anything ‘local’ can not be given credit for fear of being seen as unfair to national providers… even when the service specification lays out the need for these localisms?!?! IS it the process by which we can challenge what we perceive as poor decisions? Again, a definite yes, particularly the apparently all encompassing ‘commercial sensitivity’ clause which perversely protects the economic interests of one successful provider over the public service interests of all service users.

However, what I must conclude is not that this part or that needs to be tweaked or rewritten, not that commissioners or bidders need to be better educated. Rather that the system as a whole is completely unfit for purpose. A system designed to buy the best loo roll, or even PPE (how well has that been working?) just isn’t the same system that is best for investing in person-centred services, for which there is a limited ‘marketplace’ and into which many other stakeholders may be contributing in a myriad of ways. If you needed 12 other providers to come forward and supply complementary services or advice or engagement with the best loo roll maker, in order to get the best out of your loo roll, then you wouldn’t make it a competition would you? Why do that where there are several other stakeholders that are truly needed to make the best of your person-centred service, be that for children in poverty, frail elderly, ex-offenders or unpaid carers?

So, here is the ask – right now, Central Government is re-writing the rules on Public Sector Procurement, and I am sorry to say they have made a massive missed opportunity out of it thus far.

Please can I ask you to spend just 10 minutes writing to your local MP about the post-Brexit Procurement Green Paper which in its current format won’t do anything to help our sector to help communities in the recovery from Covid-19. You can find our more here. Perhaps like me, it wasn’t on your radar or if it was it sat in the ‘boring’ pile? However, my recent wakeup call has changed that, so even if you haven’t time to fully engage in all the detail – please write to your MP and tell them your own example of competitive tendering gone wrong, and just ask them to make the case for a re-write, bearing in mind person centred services are not loo roll.



Garry Jones, Chief Exectutive, Support Staffordshire


Fri 5 Feb 2021

We often hear about the fragility of natural habitats or ecosystems, such as rainforests, which gives us the impression that by comparison to our man made world, these wild places are some how sub-standard, teetering on a precipice, where at any moment they could collapse. Sometimes the motivation for such descriptions comes from those who probably should know better, those who are actually trying to shock us into action to support these places, or at least to give money to their organisation in the name of ‘saving the rainforest’. Anyone with any ecological training or knowledge knows this is bunkum.

Rainforests and other complex ecosystems (savannahs, coral-reefs, even good old British Forests, in fact all large natural ecosystems) are actually extremely resilient and strong. It is self-evident that rainforests must be very tough, for they have survived the most horrific assaults upon them by humanity, from logging and hunting to pollution and fossil fuel driven climate change. Their survival is precisely because of there complexity, not in spite of it. They depend not on any one individual, and rarely on any one species or family/genus (group) of species, but on an intricate, superbly complex and interwoven network of species all of whom hold dependencies for and upon others within the ecosystem. This is characterised as making them fragile or weak, unable to stand on their own two feet, but in fact it’s the very reason that the system doesn’t collapse when it is disrupted, even when that disruption becomes extremely destructive. Alas, that pressure is now, all too often, becoming so pervasive and extensive that collapses are being observed; for even a system that is inherently self-protective and regenerating can’t keep going forever in the face of unrelenting power.

By this point you may well be checking the title of this blog, website or e-news piece to check what you are reading. And whilst I do have a background in biology, I must now turn to what this all has to do with the voluntary and community sector. First I note unusually, I am using that phrase, rather than including social enterprise under the acronym VCSE. This is really because social enterprise is to a degree in its infancy and as such I personally don’t feel confident that what I am about to say can be guaranteed to hold true for SE in the same way I think it does for V&C (though instinctively I think it will). So here is my claim: The Voluntary and Community Sector is a Rainforest – its complexity is its strength. Again we often hear commentary, that we are hard to understand, difficult to navigate, even harder to work with. We hear that we are unsustainable, too dependent on government funding or ‘grants’ (assumed to be negative) or worse still ‘hand outs’. And yes we are sometimes said to be weak and fragile, at risk, unreliable. I have to say that most of this generally comes from statutory organisations, rather than business (except the handouts bit, where it is assumed we haven’t really earned those funds in the way a ‘proper’ business does – but I will leave that myth for another day). And in this we can perhaps understand the partial and ill-judged perspective, as by comparison to the state funded, tax-guaranteed income and legislatively agreed institutions of the state, any one VC organisation does look rather puny and vulnerable.

And so the metaphor stands – any one organisation perhaps, but a sector, a system, a network of support, interwoven with other organisations, formal and informal, integrated and rooted with service users, beneficiaries, patients, residents – its not fragile at all – its sustainable, its resilient, its bloody marvellous. And it’s a fact: the Voluntary and Community Sector is not the third sector, it’s the first. It existed way before the state, by several hundred years at the least. And no political whim or power grab can sweep it aside unlike what may befall statutory bodies from time to time. In all likelihood it pre-dates the private/business sector too. Mutual cooperation, driven by good purpose, facilitated by exchange of resources but with people and progress and fairness and inclusion at its heart. Like I say, it’s a Rainforest.

And so, to take the metaphor just one further step. Public Sector Commissioning treats the sector not like a Rainforest but like a Zoo. It chooses which individual species, even individual specimens of species, that it is going to support. It even makes them perform a merry dance to justify why they are worthy of being included in the Zoo (you know you’ve walked straight past whole sections of more enlightened zoos where ecologically important but dull animals are either asleep, brown or hiding – they tend not to last when the Marketing Director has their say). It sucks them out of their ecosystem, forces them to live in unnatural conditions, eat the food they choose to feed them, perform at pre-arranged visitor times… anyway you get the general idea.

My point is, Commissioning is on the whole a bit like poaching, when it should be more like conservation. It should treat the sector like the Rainforest it is and all its intent and purpose should be turned to supporting, restoring and even increasing complexity and relationships, because these are the things that ensure any ecosystem flourishes. If Commissioners really do want communities full of self-supporting networks, independent mutual aid, services funded from multiple sources, supporting all members of a community, they must change and they must support the ecosystem above all else. Zoos are controlled and you know exactly what you’ve got, you can measure it, photograph it, literally stick it on a T-shirt, but whatever amount of marketing it will only ever be a poor imitation of the real thing and like real zoos, state commissioned services are totally dependent on their ‘wild’ counterparts. Without the Rainforest, ultimately there are no Zoos, so Commissioners, please become conservationists and leave your zookeeper fantasies behind, because if you don’t change your ways then one day when your Zoo has run its course and you turn to check on the natural habitats that must now suffice, they may no longer exist.


Garry Jones, Chief Exectutive, Support Staffordshire


Tue 5 Jan 2021

Happy New Year and welcome to this our first new look E-bulletin of the year, now focussed upon news, jobs and features – with our other ‘member support’ bulletin coming separately around the 25th of the month instead.

I hope that our members, partners and supporters got a rest over the Christmas break, spent some precious time with loved ones and feel at least a little renewed for the year ahead. With developments over recent days its not going to be an easy start and the VCSE sector will once again continue to play its key role supporting children and families struggling to meet the challenge of school closures and income insecurity, young people doing their best to keep positive as their mental wellbeing is rocked time and again by changes to their freedoms and education, older people anxious about leaving home at all, people who are unwell, disabled or otherwise vulnerable, cut off from their usual support networks of family and friends, those still in need of urgent affordable transport options, and those speaking up for others whose own voice is quiet or ignored.

And those using their creativity to break down social distance and return it to what it is, just physical distance, through art, befriending, nature and more. To those supporting people with learning disabilities, difficulties and autism, dementia, and sensory impairment where all this is even more incomprehensible and frightening. To those offering counselling and bereavement support for those who have suffered the greatest loss. To all those supporting carers, who continue to put their loved ones needs above their own on a daily basis. To the food banks, churches, parish groups and community organisations sharing food and supplies with the most vulnerable. To those supporting victims of domestic abuse to escape their perpetrators and rebuild their lives, whilst often losing their only ‘safe’ havens of home. To those getting folks off the streets, out of insecure housing, and others into drug and alcohol support schemes.

To the outdoor and open space groups keeping our now essential green spaces accessible in time when nature is one of the few things we can rely upon for connection and calm. To the community facilities whether in emergency use or being kept going until we can use them to renew our community connections again. To the organisations supporting already marginalised and seldom listened to groups, those tackling hate crime, supporting veterans and supporting diversity and freedom of expression for all.

Every day of every year these volunteers and employees, trustees (and most of their often overlooked family and friends in support), work to make life better, in some cases bearable, for all of us. If they were all to stop for one day, only then might we truly understand what our hidden sector does. But we won’t, we will keep going, so my New Year Resolution Request is to those who hold power and decision makers – those who have the ability to support, financially or otherwise, and the power to withdraw support, or even hinder or cripple these efforts…

Tinker at your peril, for do you truly understand what you are tinkering with?



Garry Jones, Chief Executive, Support Staffordshire


Tue 15 Dec 2020







I’m sure that most people will on the whole be rather glad to see the back of 2020 and with a vaccination programme rolling out over the next several months there is now a solution in touching distance to this otherwise intractable crisis.

Many of us will have lost loved ones during 2020 and I want to pay tribute to all of the wider VCSE family of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent who have experienced loss this year. Your loved ones should be remembered for all they have done either within their communities, our wider voluntary sector or to support you in your own endeavours.

For those who can, I am sure we will want to remember to pick up the phone to those who aren’t lucky enough to be surrounded by family, a little bit extra this Christmas, in place of all those mad dash visits to friends and relatives.

We have made the hard decision to not take advantage of the Christmas relaxation window in our household despite a yearning to let Nannies and Grandads see the kids and vice versa. It is of course a personal choice, but we have agreed that with light at the end of the tunnel, a crisp winter walk in the lovely Staffordshire countryside will do for now and help to ensure we truly put Covid behind us in 2021.

May I wish you all a peaceful and safe Christmas period and a happy, healthy and at the right time, a more sociable 2021.


Garry Jones, Chief Executive, Support Staffordshire