Being made a fool of by Peter Mandelson … and other thoughts on the third sector and recession
Peter Mandelson has made a fool of me once again. There I was in yesterday’s blog, and in a short clip on Newsnight, praising his speech and willingness to address head on the challenges of being in government in recession. It was only after I had gone on the record that I found that Peter had removed some pre-briefed sections of his speech – presumably as a result of a ticking-off from Downing Street!
Generally, I try to avoid being clipped for TV programmes – you are never sure which bit of the interview they are going to use and whether it will give a balanced impression. In fact I did say something controversial to Newsnight which wasn’t used: referring to the argument about bonuses, I suggested that this might be another example of the Government making a decision which would have made sense a year ago, but may not now. The bonus culture was a huge problem in the days of excess, but now, arguably, we need more people willing to take risks to keep valuable businesses afloat and back new ventures.
Far be it for me to use my blog to try to bounce my Trustees but the case I am trying to make to them at the moment is that the RSA continues to be ambitious despite the hard times. Not surprisingly, the recession is putting pressure on our Hospitality business and we are finding it harder to retain Fellows, but overall we are not doing badly. I hope we will have the confidence to continue the process of the reform of the Society.
The dilemmas facing the RSA are typical of the third sector as a whole. In a piece with the irresponsibly depressing headline, ‘The worst is yet to come’, David Brindle, Editor of Society Guardian, today makes some gloomy predictions about the voluntary sector. It is true that only a small number of charities have substantial endowments or reserves, but I hope these organisations will be generous and brave in the coming period. After all, what are those reserves for if not to be used at the time of greatest need? Of course, if the recession deepens into a depression and goes on for several years, then all bets are off, but in the short to medium term we need as many people as possible to do what they can to help keep activities going and stimulate new initiatives. It will be the behaviour of the private and public sectors that determines when we pull out of these dark days, but the third sector needs to show courage and leadership too.