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Situation Vacant - John Lydon during filming for a butter commercial
Last updated June 2016

Situation (Pretty) Vacant

Recent departures at the top of charitable organisations leave big gaps to be filled, says Dominic Fox.

It is 40 years since the release of the Sex Pistols' debut single, Anarchy in the UK. To mark the anniversary of the movement, various London institutions are organising programmes for 2016 under the header Punk London. Always more than a musical genre, punk allowed a generation to “express themselves without deference, to invent without fear, and to create without boundaries”.

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s son, Joe Corré, plans to burn his entire £5 million punk memorabilia collection in Camden on 26 November to make a protest. “A general malaise has now set in amongst the British public. People are feeling numb. And with numbness comes complacency. People don’t feel they have a voice anymore,” he says. “The most dangerous thing is that they have stopped fighting for what they believe in. They have given up the chase”.

Which had me pondering the departure of several people from the charity scene this year and who and what will fill the gap left by a generation of baby boomers rapidly approaching retirement.

Whilst the departure of Stephen Bubb from ACEVO was not entirely unexpected, the speed of it was. He did a very good job in repositioning the charity leaders’ organisation even if it did seem at times like a one-man show. The organisation had problems in the past and is once again facing a difficult task in retaining members and replacing government funding.

Sir Stephen’s departure leaves a gaping hole in the role of a senior figure prepared to go onto the Today programme and shoot from the hip on the day’s hot policy topic. I hope and pray for his successor that a period of silence will follow, but that wouldn’t be much fun would it? His by necessity will be a big pair of boots to fill and whether ACEVO will take a change of direction has not, to date been forthcoming.

Bubb and I have the common experience of Lambeth Borough Council in the early 1980s, where an innate anarchism came in very useful I found. He was a politician when the Labour group protested against rate-capping by refusing to set a rate, and was among 32 Lambeth councillors who were surcharged for causing the council a financial loss by wilful misconduct.

Travelling to work at Lambeth Social Services in the morning I was not greatly reassured by giant signs proclaiming “Lambeth; a nuclear free zone.” Whilst council leader Linda Bellos was being criticised in the national press as a “looney leftie”, the local trade unions denounced her for imposing tory cuts and promptly went on strike.

It was at times difficult to know who was in charge and left a strong impression that the political posturing caused real misery in the deprived borough. It left a legacy of weak management, poor financial controls and failure to get value for money.

Another sector leader, Julia Unwin, chief executive at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is to stand down at the end of 2016 after 10 years in the role. Unwin, a former charity commissioner has overseen the development of a new anti-poverty strategy, JRF’s largest programme to date, which will be launched in September. The strategy will be the first to provide an all-age approach to tackling poverty in the UK’s four nations.

David Bull, outgoing chief executive, Unicef UK, reminds us why working in the voluntary sector is among the best decisions one can make. He says: “I've been able to advance many causes, including campaigns to end apartheid, the death penalty and torture. I've also been involved with causes such as HIV/Aids, climate change and its impact on children, and the plight of refugees. I've visited about 70 countries and seen much suffering but much more joy, courage and determination. I've been inspired by the belief, commitment and positive power of young people.”

He is right, much has changed for the better: apartheid is over, the Berlin wall fell, democracy replaced dictatorship across Latin America, under-five mortality has halved. So it was cheering to see the Trussell Trust’s chief executive recently challenge the government to do more to tackle poverty and reduce the growing reliance on foodbanks.

David McAuley had been presented with the overall winner award by Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, at the Charity Awards which are organised by Civil Society Media. McAuley spoke of his frustration with the government over its record on poverty and its refusal to meet with the charity to discuss the rising need for foodbanks across the UK.

McAuley said when accepting the award: “I want to thank you for putting me in front of a government minister. We can’t get in front of government ministers because we are so vocal and we give the people a voice. And we actually put people up to say that this has to stop happening in the fifth most powerful economy in the world.”

There will always be a place for awkward and dedicated individuals trying their best to make a difference and make the world a better place. As vacancies appear let’s hope there is no shortage of ambitious characters to fill the job with dedication, personal flare and prepared perhaps to inject a little bit of anarchy in the UK.

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