Thursday, 2 September 2010

Thinking ahead

Just back from holiday. It is good to get away from the things which fill every day at work and take a little time to think about the future for Children North East.

The next six months are going to be extremely tough. For the last decade or more like other children's charities Children North East's income has mainly been from Public Sector grants and contracts which will be severely reduced. It is inevitable that some services funded this way will end and unfortunately some staff will lose their jobs. Even staff who keep their jobs are likely to lose some hours. A few services are funded from grant making bodies such as the Big Lottery, they will be safe for the time being. Competition for new funds from those and bodies such as charitable trusts will be very fierce and cannot be relied upon. They are more likely to fund new ideas based on solid research rather than existing projects. Income from charitable giving has only ever been a small part of our income (10%) and is unlikely to increase. We do not have large reserves we can fall back on to fund services.

The future has to be in social enterprise - offering useful, effective, value for money children and family services for sale to schools, GPs, local authorities and others. We have begun to package and market many of our existing services in this way. I am confident that this will work however I fear it will take time to establish, sadly more time than we have before the cuts come at the end of March 2011.

We still don't know what the Coalition Government's 'Big Society' actually means in detail but it certainly supports the role of volunteers. Children North East has an advantage here because we already know how to recruit, train, deploy and support volunteers to provide good services. It would be nice to have an accreditation like 'Investors in Volunteers' to demonstrate excellence in this. I am sure there is an important future for volunteers in Children North East.

But what about the longer term? What should Children North East be like in 3 years time? As a social enterprise I am certain that we will grow and in time we ought to be able to make a small surplus, how should we use that for the benefit of children and young people in North East England? The answer is in our aims: 'to promote the rights of children and young people and counter the effects of inequality on them, their families and communities'. We should be speaking out on behalf of children, young people and families. What if in three years time Children North East were in effect the 'Children's Commissioner for North East England'? Publicising our knowledge of the crucial issues affecting families and empowering children and young people to make their own voices heard about the things which effect them to the public and policy makers.

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