…as opposed to “uncivil society”? Not quite – it’s the Government’s new term for the VCS – the Voluntary and Community Sector.
Much as I’d like to have a vote on who our next head of state should be, and much as I have issues with its over-friendliness with vacuous celebrities, the first recommendation goes to the people at The Princes Trust. I was a bored underemployed post-graduate in need of a challenge almost a decade ago and threw myself into one of the Prince’s Trust Team programmes. University was a walk in the park in comparison. If you are under 25, unemployed and in need of a challenge, get yourself on one of these. For the time that you are on the programme (three months) you can still keep your JSA payments. Looking at wider employment/unemployment issues is Will Hutton’s Work Foundation.
I’m also throwing in The Student Room – oh how I wish we had something like this at school and college in the mid-late 1990s! I used to be a volunteer moderator for them, though most of my posts have been in their public sector careers forums, along with a small bunch of current and former civil servants.
Closer to Cambridge is Flack Magazine, a project run for and by homeless people. In a similar vein are CrisisUK, Centrepoint and Shelter who are charities that have been going after housing and homelessness issues for quite some time. Paul Palmer has gone after a particular aspect of the homelessness problem, the scandal that is empty properties. The Priced Out campaign has been going after the issue of high housing and rent prices. At a more ‘institutional’ level on housing issues is Abi Davies at the Chartered Institute for Housing. Those of you living in social housing may want to keep an eye on the National Housing Federation – the trade association of housing associations.
Some of you will be familiar with Dr Christian Jenssen and his public health TV programmes – in particular “Embarrassing Bodies”. We still have a long way to go to break a number of taboos on health issues. Moving onto mental health, I keep tabs on AnxietyUK, Mind UK and Time to Change because I still have my anxiety demons to put back in their boxes.
On disability issues The Creative Crip is where I get a huge amount of updates – mainly on things like welfare reform, disabilities rights and all the things that ATOS are doing. Contracting a foreign IT company to deal with health assessments…what could possibly go wrong? Sue Marsh could write a book about it. By the way, has anyone done a comprehensive research report finding out when and where contracting out the provision of public services provides better services in terms of prices, outcomes, costs people-satisfaction and value-for-money for the tax payer? Just a thought…you know…evidence-based policy-making and all that.
On a campaigning/protesting side, I keep tabs on Libcom in part because they have some really useful guides for grassroots activism – the most useful of which I think is their media and publicity guide. Staying with the activism theme, there is also the Open Rights Group who keep tabs on people’s rights in a digital age. Ditto the Government Accountability Project (which is US-based)
In previous tweets through Puffles I’ve mentioned the impact that London’s pollution can have…on your bogies. It turns them dark & sooty. (Ick). Hence Clean Air London and Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity – of which Eleanor Besley is one of their number.
When things go wrong or organisations have disputes, ACAS are normally there to try and sort things out. We normally only hear of them when a trade union threatens to go on strike but they do much more.
On the ‘developing countries’ agenda is the work that the Department for International Development’s research unit does. You pay for it, you can use the data and research. I can’t pretend ever to have been happy with the definition of developed and developing countries. An economy that consumes far more resources than its environment can provide isn’t really an example of ‘development’ in my book. Hence why on the flora and fauna side are the WWF – which I always thought stood for World Wildlife Fund rather than World Wide Fund for Nature. Sort of linked to this is Compassion in World Farming – because I don’t like animals having miserable lives only to be slaughtered to appear on our plates. Hence why early on I got into the habit of buying organic/free range or not at all. On the ‘people side’ of things is Alex Cobham of Christian Aid, who has been going after issues such as international debt in poorer countries.
The recent economic crises have brought about a much greater focus on transparency and accountability. If transparency and accountability is so good for governments (greatly helped by the Campaign for Freedom of Information), why not the large corporations too? FACT go about asking such questions, as does Transparency International UK, Open Democracy, Open Corporates which is doing a very interesting data project on big corporations, and Aid Transparency – which sort of goes without saying. Corruption has hit the heart of the beautiful game, which is why the people at ChangeFifa want to do something about it. At a closer-to-the-consumer level, Which? go after shoddy products and services. The results of transparency can be seen at Leveson’s inquiry, of which the Hacked Off campaign is watching closely. The people at MySociety on the other hand are keeping an eye on, and have developed a host of really useful tools to help you keep tabs on what’s happening in Parliament such as Write2Them, WhatDoTheyKnow and TheyWorkForYou.
Libraries are one of the most visible signs of a civic society (I think) and the big one on these islands is the British Library. Its sister organisation is the National Archives who, years after stuff has happened gives you the inside track of what was really going on inside the corridors of power. (Assuming records were made at the time). Another one for historians is the BBC Archive. London-based historians may also be interested in London Historian too.
Investigating stuff that those with power don’t necessarily want you to find out about is Channel 4’s Dispatches.
At a closer-to-Whitehall-charity-engagement level is Fiona Sheil of the NCVO. Ditto Toby Blume and Urban Forum. Charity Sector and The National Community Activist Network periodically send out tweets and updates about who’s been doing what and facing which challenges. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is the mother of all foundations on social policy. When they publish major research, people listen. The British Humanist Association are one of the few voices campaigning against the moves for faith groups to be further involved in the delivery of wider public services. My personal view is that public service delivery should be secularised, but also acknowledge that it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime.
Trying to do things around innovation and startups is NESTA – formerly a government body it was spun out not long after the election. They do splendid seminars for those of you in and around London. On London talks there’s also the Bishopsgate Institute and the Hansard Society – the latter keeping an eye on Parliament.
On the crime and disorder side of things are the Police Foundation and the Howard League for prison reform…because since I took my GCSEs in the mid 1990s, prisoner numbers have doubled. Is this rise sustainable? In a sort-of related link, Liberty, LegalAware, The Frontline Club, The Media Standards Trust and City Journalism are also useful at keeping an eye on similar issues – especially with propriety and not breaking the law.
On the history side of things, we have the quango English Heritage – because it’s our heritage too. (Their chief exec is also on Twitter). We also have the National Trust and the RSPB for bird watchers. The Science Museum also falls into our heritage too. Moving sideways on is the Wellcome Trust. I like the Trust but I’m not a fan of big pharmaceutical companies.
On the education side of things is Teach First – which aims to get talented graduates from top universities to spend a few years in teaching before going into corporate world. The amount of talent that has been sucked into the world of investment banking is depressing…and look where it has helped get us.
And on general citizens’ advice is…Citizens Advice!