Newsmaker: The new Guy - Gillian Guy, Chief executive, VictimSupport

Nathalie Thomas

Negotiating the charity's role in new victim care units.

Following in the footsteps of a chief executive who has been in place for 26 years is no easy task. To do so when a charity is undergoing some of the most radical changes in its history seems like asking for trouble. But it's a challenge Gillian Guy, new chief executive of Victim Support, is taking in her stride.

"It's another person, another job, another era," she says coolly.

The Guy era at Victim Support has started with a bang. She has taken over the reins from Dame Helen Reeves during a government review of how the criminal justice system treats witnesses and victims - a review that could see Victim Support take a lead role in the provision of state-funded victim care units, or VCUs.

"With the track record and the workforce that we've got, it's pretty clear we'll be able to play a critical role in taking VCUs forward," Guy says.

The charity is dipping its toes in the ocean of public service delivery at a time when confidence in statutory agencies is at an all-time low.

But after leading the London Borough of Ealing for 13 years, Guy isn't fazed.

"Local authorities have moved into real partnerships with other organisations and are recognising that they can't do everything themselves," she says.

"Central government is also giving more credence to the voluntary sector and reaching a better understanding of its worth."

This hasn't always been the case, Guy admits. During her time in the public sector she got the impression that local authorities didn't quite understand the voluntary sector.

"There was a degree to which the voluntary sector was seen as a poor relation," she says. "I think there's an impression of the voluntary sector being very amateurish."

Most organisations would argue that this is an attitude the public sector needs to address before all the problems of partnership working can be ironed out. Guy suggests both sectors should be "adult" about their respective roles and accept that they will have to work together anyway.

She says: "I don't see that people who don't enter into partnership can do it all themselves or survive in the long term."

But with issues such as full cost recovery and short-term contracts dogging many voluntary organisations engaged in service delivery, what can charities do to ensure their relationship with national and local government runs smoothly?

"We could be much more effective at resource planning," suggests Guy.

"There have to be exit strategies and, if possible, strategies for not becoming dependent on one funder."

This is where the private sector is a good role model, Guy says: "Nobody has a completely secure future, and you have to deal with those risks."

It almost sounds as if Guy is on the side of the public sector, but she's also critical of the behaviour of local and central government. "They have to think about the damage that can be done if decisions made one day are reversed the next," she says.

Despite her eagerness to involve Victim Support in the statutory services and the VCU pilots the Government is rolling out, Guy is adamant that the charity will maintain its independence. In order to reduce its traditional reliance on Home Office cash, it has secured commercial deals with the likes of Direct Line insurance, and began public fundraising 18 months ago.

Reserving the right to campaign and influence government on behalf of victims and witnesses is crucial, Guy stresses, and she is confident that Victim Support's status won't be compromised. "The synergy we have with government around what we want to achieve doesn't mean that we are hand in glove," she says.

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