Interview: Jacob Tas

The new chief executive of Nacro tells Annette Rawstrone that the crime reduction charity is planning to expand its successful projects following a period of declining income

Jacob Tas was previously interim chief executive at Action for Children
Jacob Tas was previously interim chief executive at Action for Children

Similarities between Action for Children and the crime reduction charity Nacro might not be obvious, but Jacob Tas, who last month moved from the former to become chief executive of the latter, says they have more in common than one might think.

"Both organisations work with relatively large public sector contracts and they both work with the most vulnerable in society," says Tas. "Action for Children helps people from pre-birth to adolescence; Nacro covers the whole spectrum. So if Action for Children does its work well, there is less for Nacro to do."

As executive director of operations and, latterly, interim chief executive at Action for Children, Tas was responsible for the funding and delivery of a wide range of projects. As a consequence, he is well placed to lead Nacro's four main activities: offender management, supported housing, the tackling of substance misuse and education services.

He also has 16 years of experience in the commercial sector and is keen to show evidence of the successful projects Nacro delivers, especially against a "backdrop of finite resources".

Nacro made a loss of more than £4m in the financial year ending March 2012 and was £118,000 in the red the following year. Tas acknowledges that declining income streams have made Nacro reassess its work over recent years, but he insists it is no longer struggling financially.

"The charity finances are OK," he says. "We made a small surplus last year, with the unaudited figures of more than £500,000, and will make a surplus this year again.

"Before I joined, the organisation had to scale back certain elements, such as education. There has been a lot of work to get Nacro in good shape, and I am joining at a time when it is ready to expand.

Tas says that 15 education centres were closed in the past year because they were in the wrong place or had the wrong configuration. "But we have worked at getting the quality right in the 38 that remain," he says. "We now have a model that is robust, of good quality and replicable.

"We're at the bottom, and I'm hired to grow and build on those foundations rather than sort out a situation. I plan on working through our portfolio of services to define what works, evidence those outcomes and see where the market is. I want to look for the opportunities and gaps in provision and match them with what we're good at."

Tas is already asking why good projects he has visited in his first three weeks as chief executive are being run only in one town. "There is a natural drive within charities to innovate, and that is great," he says. "But I'm focusing more on replication of what works and how we can roll it out.

"But if I talk about growth, this is not purely financial growth - it is that we want to reach out to more people. Profit is not what drives us; it is changing lives."

He feels passionately that voluntary sector organisations are better placed than commercial organisations to provide vital services.

"In all my charity experience we have always delivered over and above the contracts because our basis is value, rather than a focus on shareholders," he says. "When I worked in the commercial sector I aimed for more staff engagement, but in the third sector you find that the level of staff engagement is already very high. People want to focus on doing good work."

Currently Nacro gets most of its funding from the public sector, but Tas is considering corporate partnerships. "We don't have a fundraising manager, but we might in the future," he says. "Traditionally, people would say that fundraising and work with offenders is not a good combination, but I'd say that's not necessarily true. Many corporations have social responsibility budgets. Why not engage them and show them all the good work we do?"

Contracts such as the government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme, in which Nacro is planning to play a big role, involve payment by results. This does not worry Tas, who regards himself as an "advocate for focusing on outcomes and evidencing them".

But he urges caution in areas such as social care and offender management, where it is difficult to measure impact. "An extra level of sophistication is needed - it can't be all 'yes or no', or counted," he says. "Our society has become too focused on capturing data to satisfy funding streams and contracts instead of spending time with people.

"Measurements also need to focus on the ability of the front-line workers. We need to set their boundaries and then give them the room to work so they can deliver the outcomes that fit the individual or community."

CV: Jacob Tas
2014: Chief executive, Nacro
2011: Interim chief executive, executive director of operations and
deputy chief executive, Action for Children
2007: Director for England, the Prince's Trust
1990: Director of operations, Royal P&O Nedlloyd

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