Friday, 27 May 2011

Supporting Community Action In Trafford

It seems like everything has gone quiet on the Big Society of late. Granted the Government have had elections and the reformation of the voting system on their minds, but does that mean that nothing is happening to advance David Cameron’s plan that we should be doing more for our local communities?

THT haven't been resting on their laurels though – word is starting to filter out about the fact that something I've been working on for a while looks like it's coming to fruition. That is, that we may be able to lend our support and strengthen the brilliant work that Voluntary Community Action Trafford (VCAT) have been doing.

As an organisation VCAT has an umbrella role which is to give support to voluntary and community action organisations in the area. They give them advice about setting up, about constitutions and governance arrangements, fund-raising and that sort of thing. On top of that they have a range of projects they are funded for, so for example they have a mental health advocacy project, they run a 50+ project for older people in conjunction with the PCT and they run FASNET - a forum for groups working with children and young people. Across the country, infrastructure organisations like VCAT have run into tough times as a result of the economic situation – but this is precisely the time when we need them most.

The reason that I've invested time and energy in this personally is that I really think that this is a brilliant opportunity to help and support the work that goes on in the Borough. The political point-scoring surrounding the Big Society has threatened to obscure the fact that regardless of what it's called, or who is proposing it, volunteering is an essential part of our communities. Beyond that it's also about returning power to the local communities and giving them the resources to do something about the issues that concern them. We already do this to the tune of £700,000 per year – local budgets distributed by local people (if you'd like to get involved in the Community Panels just get in touch), to priorities identified by the local community. VCAT has a proud history of this too and I think that it should be able to go on giving that help to community groups.

The great news is that we've got a very exciting opportunity to make sure that the voluntary and community sector is developed in Trafford with a sound mix of public and private support. We have a six-figure charitable donation from Barclays which will be used to develop a resurgent VCAT and obviously THT will be using our existing back office set-up to support them too. And we will need a new Board with public, private and third sector representation to guide this new area of our work - if all goes to plan that’s quite a powerful team that hooks into all of the right places. It remains to be seen whether this makes sense from a business point of view, but when it comes to the wider issues regarding the work of VCAT, we know there are more things that have to be taken into consideration than finances alone. Watch this space…

Friday, 20 May 2011

Landlords Targeted By Electronic Con

This isn't an easy blog entry to write, but our values - being open and honest - require me to share something that others might conceal.

You may or may not already know that THT has been the victim of fraud. I am pretty disgusted that a well organised, criminal gang could target a charitable organisation that works so hard to provide modern, affordable homes for its tenants, some of whom are among the most vulnerable in our society.

I am sorry this has happened. This was tenants' money and, even though the criminals were clever in their approach, its our job to make sure that even the most plausible fraudster doesn't get his hands on their money. We didn't do this as well as we should have done and I'm sorry about that.

We weren’t alone, others in both the public and private sectors have been defrauded in the same way and, yes, we are working to get the money back through the Proceeds of Crime Act. But even if we manage to do this is it will be no consolation.

As soon as the fraud came to light, we acted diligently and took swift action, working with the police and the courts. It was the leads that our action gave to the police that led to the identification, arrest and charging of an individual.

You know we pride ourselves on embracing our values and reflecting them in everything we do. It would have been easy not to tell you about this and to hope you never read or heard about it. But that’s not the THT way. I want to be completely open and honest with you.

Rest assured, we’ve audited our processes and I’ve personally spoken to staff to reinforce the importance of following our procedures.

I need our tenants to know that this will not affect their rents, services or repairs. Our partners and staff need to know it doesn't change in anyway the underlying strength of the organisation and makes no difference whatsoever to this years plans or budgets.

Lessons are often hard learned and this is one of them. I am very angry about it, but this is a case of ‘don't get mad: get even’ and I will channel all that anger into doing everything possible to get the money back.

And for you readers, double check that this could never happen to you.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

When Exec Meetings Take To The Streets

Walk To Work Week (runs from the 9-13th May, so there's still time to get involved!) is a great initiative that encourages greater levels of activity at work and a more environmentally-friendly approach to commuting and we've been doing quite a lot of activity around it this week. There's been organised walks (and runs), Nordic walking and to do our bit we held this week's exec meeting on the move and the rain held off, don't believe me? I can prove it!

They're meeting notes, not a map in my hand by the way...