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The Chief's Blog October 2020

Thu 15 Oct 2020

Last month I promised to give you an update on our Team Staffordshire meeting with MPs which finally happened on 29 September. You can view our follow up letter here which outlines our proposed next steps. We had good discussions with those MPs in attendance, particularly Theo Clarke (MP for Stafford) and Jo Gideon (MP for Stoke Central)  as well as the convening MP, Aaron Bell (MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme). Jonathan Gullis (MP for Stoke North & Kidsgrove) also attended the meeting. A number of other MPs sent representatives to listen in to the conversation. Taking into account communication received during the lockdown this means all MPs, except Gavin Williamson (MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Education) have been in contact with me either as chair of Team Staffordshire or directly as Chief Executive of Support Staffordshire in recent months; I guess he is a busy man.

As can be seen from the letter, we view this as the start of what we hope will be more regular dialogue with our elected representatives. The relationship between the VCSE sector and central government has variously been described as strained, broken and one of mutual disinterest in recent years. This is in a small way a sliver of light that the relationship can be fixed. We have committed to produce an initial proposal of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent VCSE ‘asks’ which we believe we can formulate based on experience to date. Not because we don’t want to consult you, our members, further (and we will if this proves to be a fruitful route), but rather because we know you all have a lot on in your day to day at the moment and we want to go back to MPs in a timely way to keep up the momentum. That said, if there is a burning issue you think needs to be included then feel free to email me and I will see how we can work it into our thoughts. Take it as read that fairer funding and commissioning will be in there.

Our response will need to be clear and realistic if our elected members are to come together and advocate it on our behalf to their otherwise engaged, and ever more distant, ministerial colleagues. Yet the scale and scope of our sector and the challenges it faces is potentially huge, never more so than in current times. I can’t help thinking that mutual understanding and respect lies at the heart of what is a necessary foundation stone. Government has shown time and again during the pandemic that it thinks it knows best, imposing national solutions that are then implemented on a spectrum from incompleteness through to incompetence. And its own reaction to this tends to be to seek to control even more – if only we could just control everything then everything would be under control!

This is of course utter folly.

In truth, VCSE organisations, along with many colleagues in local government and even to some extent local NHS providers, feel misunderstood, ignored and mistrusted by those who hold power and make decisions in Whitehall. The tiniest silver lining in the Covid cloud is that more, and more senior, people are now willing to say so. There is little sign yet that central government is listening to this line of thought, let alone considering seriously any policies that might genuinely reverse the command and control mantra. However, we can hope (and vote in due course) and establishing lines of regular communication through our back bench MPs in particular is a crucial piece of the puzzle; indeed, something that ought to be mandatory for all MPs!

We will keep you posted on progress.

Garry Jones | Chief Executive | Support Staffordshire