This is the second guest article from Fiona and once again deals with issues rarely discussed but of huge importance to society. Once again I found this article to be of considerable educational worth and I am pleased to be able to feature it on this blog.

Charity begins at home

Some years ago at a seminar being run by a disability charity, I confronted a lone civil servant who seemed to have a more sympathetic character than those I’d previously encountered. I told her about the cruel treatment meted out to a family whose autistic son was in a mental hospital. Her response was telling – “We keep seeing the same people.” What she meant was that civil servants, when looking for representation on disability issues, always choose to speak to charities. You might think that that’s just the way it has to be, because these charities pool expertise and act as representatives of people with various disabilities. Some have been established for a long time, so are seen as a fixture, a reliable source of information for politicians, the elected government, the permanent government (the civil service) and associated quangos – those who form the core of the political classes. Indeed, the larger charities that form the bulk of the charitable / voluntary/ Third Sector have become increasingly interwoven with the political classes, ever since Margaret Thatcher decided to make an example of Oxfam, who were audacious enough to campaign to Free Frontline Africa against the military terrorism of Apartheid South Africa. Thatcher was smart enough to know that where she used a stick, she needed to use a carrot as well. She didn’t want Oxfam to criticise her foreign policy, so she decided to use her government’s leverage as well as change the law to make it harder for charities to campaign on `political` issues.

Since that time, and especially since the Blair government, the charitable, or `Third Sector` as it is often called, has been embraced as part of the fabric of government – providing services and policy-making for governments who, in turn, provide them with the funds to run those services and the good press to mollify the public who ultimately provide those funds. In short, the charitable sector has been domesticated and de-horned. But there is another aspect to this relationship, and that is the expansion of jobs in the political classes and the incestuous nature of the relationships that this creates, when careers are dependent on job-hopping from charity to charity to government agency to local authority to civil service to (sometimes) becoming a politician, SPAD or party researcher /assistant. Aspiring politicians have a ready made training ground. Failed politicians can find a home and an income with a charity. Yes, some politicians come from business, the professions and even the unions but, make no mistake, the `Third Sector` is now embedded within the United Kingdom’s body politic and especially so within that of Scotland.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention envisaged that `civic society` in Scotland should be involved in the new Scottish Parliament – but it never defined what that actually meant. That is just the problem, because some charities have essentially become state agencies, through the control exerted by funding and the career paths offered within the political classes. If a charity gleans 89.1% and 98.6% funding through provision of services – as did the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Scottish Autism respectively some years ago – neither their criticism nor their activity can afford to breach certain acceptable limits. 

The definition of `voluntary organisation` is that the majority of the board of such an organisation must be volunteers – it certainly does not mean that the organisation is led or staffed by volunteers. 

Third Sector organisations can often have interconnecting boards – the same personnel can and do crop up in several boards of charities. The requirement to be financially `prudent` has resulted in too many business types undoubtedly spreading their culture within the charitable sector and having far too much influence over the nature of activity and the overall direction of the charitable sector. It is widely acknowledged that `philanthropy` has a distorting effect on charities and the public services they provide. 

In previous years, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has noted the sometimes fierce competition between charities for government funding. Too often, it is the larger charities who can afford to fight off the competition, but not necessarily because their services are better. 

Where charities such as the NAS set themselves up as standards organisations, providing `accreditation`, this brings in more money, but permits the continuing absence of national standards of competence for autism services. Without standards, autism specific services are a pipedream. NAS accreditation is paid for by other service providers, but is largely based on self-assessment.

The Third Sector are not subject to FOI requests, except where specific information is sought about a service they provide. However, they are included in datasharing arrangements under GIRFEC, which means that they are written into the cradle-to-grave surveillance of the younger generations. They know about your children, but you can’t even find out how much their senior executives are paid, nor how much money they extract from the private sector through whatever means, nor what influence they exert on behalf of business (because, of course, they are not covered by lobbying regulation, either). That influence can be as much about what charities don’t say, as what they do. 

The chief executive of Barnardos in Scotland and Northern Ireland was chair of the Scottish Government’s GIRFEC committee, even though Barnardos and other charities have a direct interest in data-sharing through their provision of services, such as Barnardo’s adoption agency services. Barnardos were a main mover behind the Named Person legislation, with their then policy officer, Mark Ballard, persuading the Scottish Greens to back what some party members thought was an `un-green` policy, in terms of its authoritarian potential.  Ballard has since moved on to Children 1st, where he will now have even more scope to influence government policy, when the Scottish Government carries out its promise to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. The Scottish Greens have a disproportionate number of influential activists who are employed in the voluntary sector.

If you are one of the organisations choosing the data to glean from the system, you have an overarching power in how that system is perceived and judged. You can engage in a cover-up that no-one will ever see. You need not even go as far as losing or destroying records of employees which would help to establish criminality, such as child abuse

Indeed, you can always claim that abuse is the result of bad employees, rather than bad practices bred by bad management.

Few of those commenting on the Named Person provision within the Children and Young People Act 2014 were aware that there were already Named Persons in Scotland, but that these were chosen by the parents of children with special educational needs, to support their right to obtain appropriate education for their child. The 2014 Act actually abolished this parental right, in preparation for the introduction of Named Persons for all children. None of the charities raised any objections to the scrapping of this right, nor highlighted the fact that the choice of Named Person no longer lay with parents, but with local authorities – the very authorities that parents must challenge, if they do not believe that their child’s education is appropriate to their needs.

There is another `Named Person` designation, specified within the Mental Health Act. It is a role that is often filled by a parent, especially where the patient has a Learning Disability or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The latest version of the Mental Health Act has downgraded the role of the Named Person, at the bidding of a section of people promoted by the mental health charities, with no thought or consideration for people with Learning Disabilities and ASDs who rely on the support of their parents to fight their battles with the system, and who are overwhelmingly discriminated against within that system, in terms of time spent in it and the damage done to their health and longevity. 

Politicians very much expect to be able to restrict their efforts in understanding disability and mental health issues to communication with the relevant charities. This was perfectly illustrated to me some years ago when I undertook to mount a small protest outside the Scottish parliament. Of the few MSPs that came within range, I managed to engage one in conversation, but he almost aggressively asked me whether I had contacted the 2 big autism charities in Scotland. He took a step back at my response: “My son’s a human being, not a charity case.” I wasn’t insulting charities, but I was offended at the assumption that representation of my son should be filtered by a charity for his consumption. 

I hope that I have given at least a partial explanation above of the means by which policy capture takes place. The closed loop created by those inhabiting the political classes has both enabled and buttressed the bypassing of party democracy. It is perfectly natural to include `stakeholders`, such as charities, in forming public policy, but they should not be included to the detriment of unfunded, grassroots groups and knowledgeable individuals who can make useful contributions independent of the influence of power networks. The dominant public discourse offers unenforceable `rights` to individuals and families as a sop for authoritarian control, whilst colluding to protect public and private institutions from shouldering responsibility for their own actions. It is significant that, while charities may very well give trenchant criticism of temporary review bodies, they never refer to the sometimes egregious behaviour of public servants in local or central government.


Maggie Mellon

To get justice in Scotland, you must be rich or popular

23 January 2019

I am Yours for Scotland

Fiona Sinclair.


12 thoughts on “CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME

  1. Well what an incredibly informative article. Brings into full light concerns felt for years. Might have known that snake Thatcher (sorry snakes) was at the root of it. The charity I volunteer for behaves like a business organisation, goes out and seeks contracts from businesses who donate and the volunteers do their generous work. Saves on HR. Gradually volunteers are being corralled into employee behaviour. It was an eye opener to find, years ago, that Neil Kinnock’s daughter in law had a huge six figure salary to figurehead a well known children’s charity. I hope Alba picks this up one day soon.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your compliments, Ros. What you describe is widespread, and I’ll be posting up some references to back up the article and your assertions. If you’re an Alba party member, please bring this to their attention. We very badly need Alba party to be a democratic organisation, not run by its leadership, with followers giving it their approbation, irrespective of the quality of debate. The SNP of old, as Iain has said, did have some cracking debates, where members who were truly informed in a given policy area stood up and made their case. It didn’t always work, but I know that new technology can actually assist party democracy – and enable the creation of a vision of an independent Scotland that is as honest as it is inspiring to voters.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this very enlightening article. Most of us are unaware of all the political maneuvering that goes on behind closed doors.
    Rape Crisis Scotland (for instance) has been heavily criticised for their numerous interventions and pronouncements during the Fabiani Inquiry.
    Now we know for sure regardless of their good work, they have been used as political instruments and will be again when considered expedient.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. YES when I read this my immediate thought went ‘ah yes’ Rape Crisis Scotland which seems to be a non accountable rabid mouthpiece for the SNP and NS

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Thank you for your comments, nallyanders. There is another side to the use of Third Sector organisations, and I cannot find a better illustration of this, than this blog piece and the quotation I’ve taken from it:-
      – the creation of fake `community groups` who replace the voices of dissent
      `From our perspective the solution to the failings and contradictions inherent in the conclusions reached, and the recommendations made, by ‘West London Citizens’ is for them to either get out of the way and let those who are less naive and compliant confront the Council and hold them accountable, or else master their brief so that they can more competently represent the interests of the social housing communities they claim to represent. Merely being the Council’s lapdogs, and supporting the pretence that the Council is not responsible for the failings of the TMO, will serve only vested interests in Council circles and the developers and property speculators with whom the Council and the TMO are colluding.`

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  3. At last some accurate and impartial commentary on this situation. I used to get invited to the ‘Carers Parliament’ that was basically about promoting the approved organisation. Anything that allowed for any input from actual carers was so tightly controlled it felt oppressive. The observation in relation to the autism charities is absolutely as I experienced it and between this and Autism Network ( the SG’s poodle) there was and is not a chance of real people and experiences being listened to or considered.

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  4. Here are some press article weblinks, with quotes and excerpts, that illustrate some of the ingrained problems with the status quo as regards the Third Sector. Where the weblinks are broken, I have stated as such:-
    – Voluntary sector and the dangers of hype
    The report reveals that voluntary organisations are not as good as the rhetoric would have us believe
    Alison Benjamin Wednesday June 20, 2007 The Guardian
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a government with a public service is in need of a charity to make its delivery more flexible, responsive and customer friendly. But a report today from the National Consumer Council (NCC) blows apart the belief that voluntary organisations show higher levels of responsiveness.,,1955275,00.html
     –  All change – Is the charity sector in danger of losing its voluntary ethos, asks Graham Leigh of Directory of Social Change   Thursday November 23, 2006
    – Government turns charities into multimillion-pound businesses
    · Voluntary sector ‘becomes arm of big business’
    · Contracting out leaves training groups booming
    David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
    The Guardian, Monday 3 July 2006
    Article history
    The government is creating a new generation of multimillionaires and turning charities into multimillion-pound businesses by contracting out services provided by the state, a report commissioned by the Whitehall trade union the Public and Commercial Services union, reveals today.
    The report, by Steve Davies, senior research fellow at Cardiff University school of social sciences,shows a swath of companies set up to provide training for disabled people, the unemployed on New Deal programmes, and young offenders are now multimillion-pound enterprises.
    Mr Davies said: “Far from the third sector being portrayed as a cuddly voluntary sector with people working for modest salaries, it is rapidly becoming another arm of big business, either directly through new private companies or though connections with big businesses.”
    Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “There is a real danger that government plans to increase the role of the private and voluntary sector in the provision of public services will mean a step back to a model of prewar welfare provision. The fear is that this is ‘soft’ privatisation, with the voluntary sector opening up services for contests which can subsequently be won by the private sector.”

    broken weblink
    – From The Sunday Times March 14, 2010
    Charities ‘avoiding information requests’ to stay sweet
    Kevin Dunion says concerns over funding are affecting charity work
    Scott Hussey
    Requests by charities and other voluntary organisations for information about public bodies have fallen to an all-time low because they fear it might jeopardise their funding, according to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
    Kevin Dunion said their responsibility to protect the rights and interests of those they represent may be compromised by funding concerns.
    Voluntary bodies appealed against only 10 refusals to provide information last year. As a proportion of the 421 appeals lodged in Scotland during that period, voluntary bodies accounted for only 2%, compared with 7% in 2008.
    – Civil servants “fear the consequences” of FOI requests
    heraldscotland staff 4 Jan 2010
    Voluntary sector workers are afraid to put freedom of information requests to public bodies for fear of the consequences, research found today. They worry that making the request could damage working relationships or even put their organisation’s funding at risk, the survey found. The findings, in research carried out by the University of Strathclyde, were greeted with “concern” by Scotland’s information commissioner, Kevin Dunion. The research was carried out in a three-year study into the use of Freedom of Information laws by the voluntary sector.
    The study found that about half of the voluntary sector workers questioned said they are discouraged from seeking information because it may harm working or funding relationships.
    The findings were published today to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Scotland’s freedom of information legislation.
    Mr Dunion said: “I am concerned that a substantial proportion of voluntary sector staff think that using their freedom of information rights will harm relations with public authorities, or may even lead to a loss in funding.
    “In passing the FOI Act, the Scottish Parliament’s intention was to transform the culture within Scottish public authorities, making them more open and accountable to everyone, regardless of where they are from or who they represent.“No one should fear the consequences of making an FOI request.”
    The research also found that where information requests by voluntary organisations and campaign grounds were refused, in more than half the cases the applicants were not told of their right to appeal despite a legal requirement for them to be told.
    And where appeals against refusal were made to a public body, in a quarter of cases those appealing were not told they had a further right of appeal to the information commissioner.
    Mr Dunion said: “The good news is that Scotland has become more open in the five years since freedom of information was introduced, with Scotland’s public authorities disclosing more information than ever before.
    “The bad news is that when authorities refuse to give out information, they often still fail in their legal duty to inform people of their right of appeal. The appeal provisions are an essential part of our FOI laws and they are effective: more than half of my rulings overturn an authority’s decision in some way.
    “While I am reassured that most FOI requests are answered in full first time, it is extremely important that public authorities tell people of their right to challenge any refusal to provide information.
    “Keeping the public in the dark about their rights runs contrary to the freedom of information legislation.”

    broken link
    – Charities are warned not to start a war
    Tavish Scott said taxpayers should not be paying for two charities to do the same job.
    Stephen Naysmith 6 May 2010
    Two charities have been warned by the Scottish Government not to go to war over how best to help the nation’s children.
    The London-based NSPCC has appointed a director of services for Scotland on a £60,000 salary to build up a Scottish presence and workforce and lead fundraising north of the Border.
    The move is in breach of a 125-year-old understanding between the NSPCC and Children 1st – formerly the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
    Yesterday, the Scottish Government called for peace between the rival charities in a strongly worded statement urging them to team up “in the interests of Scottish children”. The statement added that the only way forward was for both sides to work together.
    A spokesperson said: “We expect organisations such as this to work together in the interests of Scotland’s children to ensure they get the protection and support they need and deserve.
    This is about providing extra services in Scotland for children who need them.
    Andrew Flanagan, chief executive, NSPCC
    “The Scottish Government supports the invaluable work undertaken by the voluntary sector, which is why we increased funding for the Third Sector in this Comprehensive Spending Review period by over 35%.”
    Lucy McTernan, deputy chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, also called for compromise. She said: “SCVO has always been supportive of collaboration between voluntary organisations. We are also opposed to unnecessary competition between organisations and hope that Children 1st and the NSPCC can find a positive way forward.”

    broken link
    – Rethinking the policy of contracting out Social Services to non-governmental organizations
    Lessons and dilemmas
    Author: Hillel Schmid
    DOI: 10.1080/1471903032000146928
    Publication Frequency: 6 issues per year
    Published in: journal Public Management Review, Volume 5, Issue 3 September 2003 , pages 307 – 323
    The article describes, analyzes and evaluates the lessons and dilemmas resulting from the Government’s policy of contracting out with non-governmental organizations for the provision of three types of services: foster care, adoption and home care services for the elderly. The dilemmas are: structural tension between governmental control and autonomy of provider organizations; power - dependence relations between the Government and the providers, the choice option available to clients; the ethical, moral and professional aspects of contractualism; the myth of innovative programs initiated by provider organizations; service quality versus price of services; and accountability of provider organizations to their stakeholders. Based on the lessons learned, the article highlights the need to rethink the strategy of contracting out and reassess the role of the Government in providing social services.
    – High-minded ambition
    As charities grow, controversial moderniser Adam Sampson warns that their sense of mission may be eroded – and that the people they are meant to help will lose out
    Adam Sampson
    The Guardian, Wednesday 3 June 2009
    But are charities today still in touch with the communities they were set up to serve?
    But for many charities, beneficiaries are passive recipients of services and their needs come a long way behind those of other stakeholders.
    Funders are such stakeholders and, as the contract culture grows, there is a temptation to measure success with reference to delivery of contract performance measures rather than value to the client. As charities age, the needs of the organisation – and particularly of the staff – also play a greater part in decision-making.
    • Adam Sampson was chief executive of Shelter from 2003 until last month
    – target setting attacked

    broken weblink
    – ‘Work for the dole’ plan in Labour benefits shake-up
    By David Perry Published: 19/07/2008
    `Private and voluntary-sector organisations would be paid to train and help people back into work.`
     – the comments are the best part of this
     – Charities afraid to challenge public policy amid retribution fears
    Government must uphold voluntary sector independence or risk silencing most vulnerable members of society, warns inquiry
    Charities most likely to be affected were smaller organisations working with ‘unpopular’ disadvantaged groups, the report says.
    Campaigning charities are increasingly fearful of speaking out on behalf of vulnerable people because of the widespread use of gagging clauses in contracts and attacks by ministers on voluntary organisations’ freedom of expression, an independent inquiry has found.
    Although the coalition government has promised a bigger role for charities in providing public services as part of its “big society” project, it has become increasingly contemptuous of those provider organisations which also speak out against injustice and inequality, the inquiry says. Its chairman, Sir Roger Singleton, a former chief executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s, said the government must take action to uphold voluntary sector independence: “Without this we may see the voice of the vulnerable and marginalised being silenced, democracy being eroded and society impoverished.”
     – What’s the charity group fighting Holyrood lobbying rules up to? Trying to charge for lobbying tips
    Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor
    Sunday 9 December 2012
    The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), the national charity umbrella group leading the fight against plans to regulate lobbying at Holyrood, is under fire for trying to charge its own members for tips on how to lobby MSPs.
    The SCVO, a strident critic of proposals unveiled by Labour MSP Neil Findlay for a statutory register for lobbyists, last week publicised a course on “lobbying tools”, at a cost of up to £230 a ticket.
     – SCVO and BMA oppose Neil Findlay’s Lobbying Bill
     – SUNDAY 13 JANUARY 2013
    Transparency vital on lobbying issue
    Letter to the Editor from Will Dinan of Spinwatch

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These articles are also pretty instructive too:-
    – `It would be interesting to examine the interchange between top charity executives, government and DfID appointments – to review how many civil servants have worked for NGOs and vice versa – to ensure we are not dealing with an aid cartel.`

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d just like to thank everyone who’s commented, shared and re-tweeted this article and to add one more weblink that shows how enmeshed some of the Third Sector organisations are with government. It should be noted that the chief executive of Barnardos mentioned in this document is at the centre of the digitisation of public services and has heavily promoted this in the past. I do not think it is in any way appropriate for a charity boss to be this closely involved in government policy – if you agree, let your elected /electable representatives know!

    Click to access Datasharing-advice-for-Community-Planning-Partnership-Managers.pdf

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