Craig Dearden-Phillips: We can take a chance on the future - or play it safe

Trustee boards will soon be meeting to decide whether to stick, twist or fold following the comprehensive spending review, says our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Well, the wave is about to hit. The comprehensive spending review is upon us. Letters will soon go out and trustee boards will be meeting in draughty halls to decide what to do.

Each will face the same three choices: do they twist, stick or fold? To twist means to take another card - a gamble that could take us to safety or tumble us off the cliff. To stick means doing the same things and sticking to the routine, hoping this will be enough. And to fold means we call it a day - or get taken over.

As a social entrepreneur, my hope is that boards decide to twist rather than stick. My fear, though, is that most will stick, more fearful of the consequences of a punt gone wrong than the less conspicuous risks of carrying on with business as usual. In many of these situations, fear often trumps hope.

But when we're deciding to twist or stick, we need to think about the kind of long-term future we're heading for - and what this means for our organisations. The likely shape of this future is set out in a brilliant report recently published by the 2020 Public Services Trust.

It predicts that there will very soon be a new and different settlement between the state, the citizen and civil society organisations; one in which resources - and responsibilities - are more evenly shared out.

This will mean we no longer merely pay in our taxes at one end and extract services from the other. 'Pay and play' will no longer be the way. Instead, the public sector will evolve into a great big bring-and-buy, in which all of us - the citizen, the state and charities - are doing a bit of everything.

- What has this got to do with us, this autumn, sat in that draughty hall?

First, in the medium and long-term, there is definitely going to be more space for us. We have long passed what one commentator calls 'peak state', that high historic watermark of state expenditure. Second, there is a bigger role in helping citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, to navigate this new world of bring-and-buy. Third, there will be opportunities to provide new services as the economy improves.

So whether you twist, stick or fold, your one duty as a chief executive or trustee, when the spending review wave hits, is this: climb the mast, look into the distance and assess whether you can successfully steer to calmer waters. Because however bad this week might seem, everything passes - and clearer, calmer days will return.

- Craig Dearden-Phillips is founding chief executive of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk

- Read what policy officers from Acevo, NCVO, Heritage Alliance and Navca have to say on the spending cuts

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