Wednesday, 9 December 2009

European Governance, Carrots and Sticks

On Friday Euclid Network is holding an event in Paris to compare third sector governance in the UK and France. This event is part of a significant project led by Euclid Network to define the common principles of governance across the EU. The commonalities in Anglo-French governance will later be tested against standards in Scandinavia, Germany and Mediterranean countries.

I have been delighted to be part of the steering group for this project. It is important for a number of reasons. If the sector doesn’t lead on defining high standards of governance then it is only a matter of time before these standards are imposed by regulators or governments. The European Union is the largest funder of civil society in the world and so has an interest in how the organisations it supports are run. Equally important though is the way codes which outline universal principles and best practice can be a major catalyst for improving governance and raising the profile of organisational performance.

The Code of Good Governance in the UK has been a crucial part of improving governance standards in the UK. Created in 2005 by ACEVO, NCVO, ICSA and Charity Trustee Networks, the code is very well known across the sector (88% of ACEVO’s members knew about it by 2007) and forms the basis for many governance assessment tools such as ACEVO’s own governance review service. The Code’s principles are currently undergoing a refresh to ensure that they are universally understandable across the sector.

The relationship between the Code and the Charity Commission as the regulator has been one of the keys to the code’s success. The code was created by the leading sector support organisations rather than the regulator, but the Commission has warmly endorsed it. This balance means that there is a clear standard which the sector, funders and regulators can all agree upon but the sector also feels complete ownership of the principles. Achieving this at a EU-wide level will be an important step.

Why does this matter I hear you ask?! Well the sector faces a number of significant challenges and we still have a long way to go to improve our governance. 70% of ACEVO members think that this is a priority for the sector. Only half of those who are aware of the code are actually using it regularly. We know that the public don’t understand us, and we know that we need be better at demonstrating the impact that we bring, and make the case for it, if we are to play a more significant role in transforming the public realm. Improved accountability and performance management are key elements of improved governance. You cannot meet the principles of the Code without understanding your stakeholders and effectively communicating with them, and without measuring your performance and improving what you do as a result. Well governed organisations are pretty much always effective organisations which deliver for their beneficiaries, and that is no coincidence.

It is true that governance is not a particularly sexy subject. Much more attention has been given to issues such as chief executive pay and expenses in the sector press over recent months. But as ACEVO argued strongly in our response to the consultation on expenses, all that fuss is an attempt to solve a problem that isn’t there. Any board no matter how incompetent can spot a fraudulent expense claim. Cost control is important in all organisations but we’re not prescriptive about how a charity chooses to buy its envelopes, or even its computers, so why should we need rules about expenses? Good governance and effective internal controls take care of all these issues, but they also take care of the real issues about accountability and performance and that is where we should we focusing our attention.

So what’s next? I hope that the eventual outcome of Euclid Network’s work will be a standard of good governance against which organisations from across Europe can seek accreditation; a passport for funders and other stakeholders to know that the organisation is properly run.

I hope too that we can move in that direction in the UK. This is something for which ACEVO has been calling for many years since our Rethinking Governance report in 2004. The steering group for the Code of Good Governance has more immediate priorities but we will need to revisit this ambition soon. It may be that accreditation is appropriate for some of the larger organisations in the sector. A combination of carrots and sticks may be what is needed to get the whole moving on improving governance.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The "New" Circle Line

Anyone who knows me well might want to stop reading right here because all of their fears about my geekiness are about to come true.

Seriously though, what is the point in the “new” circle line? As far as I can tell the Circle line will now run in a spiral from Edgware Road via Victoria and Liverpool Street to Hammersmith. Exactly whose journey is going to be made easier by that? The problem with the shallow lines (Circle, Hammersmith and City, District and Metropolitan) is that they are running the oldest infrastructure and are beset by delays and signal problems. The modernisation programme is therefore very welcome. But that programme should actually seek to make journeys easier.

I think TFL should get rid of the Circle line all together. There isn’t any part of it which doesn’t share track with another line. And unless you are actually on a pub crawl no one wants to go round in a big circle. If the Circle line wasn’t there you could run more trains on the District line and the Hammersmith and City line, thus actually connecting different destinations.

Let’s compare a few journeys:

If you want to go from Hammersmith to Liverpool Street you can take the new Circle line, but you can also take the existing Hammersmith and City line. All that matters here is how frequent the service is. More trains on the H&C line would do the same job.

If you want to go from Hammersmith to Victoria, you are not going to travel all round the Circle line via Aldgate to do so, you’ll take the District line straight there. More trains on the District line would help improve that.

If you want to go from Wood Lane to Barking you can get the Hammersmith and City line but you might have to change trains if you get on a Circle line train by mistake which would only take you as far as Aldgate. More trains on the H&C line would obviously help that journey.

If you want to go from Latimer Road to Earl’s Court then you can go via Hammersmith but you will have to cross the road to go to the other station to get on the District Line, just as before. Noting gained there.

I could go on but I think you get the idea. See if you can find a journey made easier by these new arrangements rather than scrapping the Circle line all together?

While we’re on it, if I was Boris I would also change the name of the bit of the District line which runs from Edgware Road to Wimbledon. It doesn’t share any of the route with the main bit of the District line and is just confusing. I would call it the Baysdon line and make it very dark green.

And I would also change the name of the bit of the Northern line which runs from Kennington via Charing Cross to Edgware, and then have all the trains running from Morden via Bank to High Barnet. That would make things much more simple. People may need to change at either Camden or Euston but people need to change anyway if they get on the wrong Northern line train now. So nothing lost. I would call it the Kenware line and it would be black and white striped.

It’s OK friends, you can come back I have finished. Anyone still reading?...