Transparency

In general the Community Organisers team was happy with last night’s TV coverage. This was no thanks to Newsnight, but all credit to the community organisers themselves, to Stephen Kearney and the Re:generate team, to my excellent team at Locality who deal with the practicalities and relationships in a complex programme, to the exceptional officials at OCS and to Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society and certainly the most civil and sensible Conservative I’ve ever met.

The questions to the minister were much more serious and respectful than the rest of the treatment. In return he was refreshingly clear about the challenge of this “radical new programme”, the fact that the Community Organisers “are not working for the government, they are working for the community” and the fact that even the biggest issues that face some of our poorest communities could be tackled by local people working together. Why does Newsnight think that it’s easy to get a new playground but impossible to address Canning Town’s exclusion from the well-paid jobs within spitting distance of the estates? Why do we leave all the most important things to government? Might it be so we can carry on blaming them for everything that’s wrong and enjoy their shredding in Paxman-land, while we stay powerless and blameless below the parapet?

Twitter was its usual self last night – critical, questioning, sharp and affectionate. Some important queries raised, especially by @RTaylorUK, that I want to answer here.

First of all: I believe strongly in the Freedom of Information Act but I think it should hardly ever be required. Just ask…

The ‘Cheshire mansion’ where the organisers did their introductory training is Trafford Hall, the National Communities Resource Centre, rescued by activists and a very wide range of supporters who are listed on a large board in the training room. Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly from ‘deprived’ communities, have been trained there over the years. It is neither Downton Abbey nor a country hotel. The rooms are clean but Spartan, no TVs or posh toiletries. The food is basic but good. There’s no swimming pool, duck pond or croquet lawns, just an old table football set out in the sunshine, plenty of caffeine and the space to learn together and build bonds that will keep people safe and sane in the challenging year ahead.

The smartphones we gave to the community organisers, after lots of research and negotiation, are Orange Barcelona sets on a deal with no tie-in which will cost £100,000 for 500 organisers during their training years. The phones are free, we get 20,000 minutes and 5,000 texts a month, free calls between the organisers and half a gig of data each. We’re not buying them laptops or tablets so these phones will be their main way of blogging, tweeting, facebooking, emailing and keeping up with the www.cocollaborative.org.uk site (their cupboard of stories and resources). If any other supplier wants to make us a better offer, feel free!

Newsnight introduced the crazy idea that these people are ‘volunteers’. We are very clear that they are trainee community organisers receiving a one-year learning bursary worth £20,000 plus a unique training experience. Anyone who has read my previous blogs will know that both Government and the programme team wanted this to be a grant to the organiser but have been tripped up and tied down by the tax system so it has to be split into a £15k training wage, a £2k tuition cost for their Go Deeper training stage and around £3k of expenses to meet the costs of organising locally. Perhaps the confusion is that each of these 500 senior community organisers will identify, recruit and support a further 9-10 part-time unpaid organisers (known by the programme as ‘mid-level organisers). Even for these I would replace the term ‘volunteer’ with ‘activist’ since their motivation is not the selfless altruism of traditional volunteers but the burning pride and fury that drives activists to collaborate to make change happen.

We have been asked for the CVs of the team. I need to ask each person if they want to make these public. In the meantime mine is available here.

I have been asked to break down the £15m programme funding. The original competitive tender bid, of course, had a detailed breakdown of all costs. We were advised that this should not be made public though we have shared it widely with partners. In such a dynamic, experimental programme we have to be flexible so we can respond to the needs of the organisers and their communities so there has been plenty of movement between individual budget lines. Approximately, the 4-year budget breaks into the following headings.

  • £10m – training bursaries at £20k for each of 500 senior community organisers
  • £1.5m – direct delivery costs of 14 cohorts of 12-month training programmes, including annual Action Camps
  • £1m – to hosts for recruiting and supporting organisers locally
  • £1m – programme management and delivery, evaluation, development of legacy body
  • £600k – training development including accreditation
  • £500k – networking costs, digital hardware, software and support
  • £300k – contingency

We won the tender on both quality and price. We have a reputation for integrity and flexibility, rootedness and big-thinking. We are ambitious for communities and optimistic for the potential of a home-grown movement of neighbourhood-focused broad-based community organising in cities, towns and villages all over England.

@RTaylorUK said “looks like Locality picked up £15m of taxpayer’s money about as easily as COs got their 15k”. Maybe that’s right because it has certainly been equally hard work all round. Locality’s bid competed with more than 10 others through a very strict procurement process. In terms of profile, logistics and sensitivity the programme is no walk in the park. The 47 COs from this first cohort were chosen by their hosts from over 1,000 applicants through extensive selection processes. They’ve all been through interviews with Re:generate and the gruelling 3-day introductory training. They face personal, local and wider society challenges ahead that would scare most people back to the sofa and the comfortable position where your thumbs work harder than your brain.

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8 Responses to Transparency

  1. The paragraph on the smartphone contracts was been non-transparently edited on Saturday the 8th of October at about 22:50. It originally stated:

    “The smartphones we gave to the community organisers, after lots of research and negotiation, are Orange Barcelona sets on a deal with no tie-in which will cost £100,000 for 500 organisers over four years. The phones are free, we get 20,000 minutes and 5,000 texts a month, free calls between the organisers and half a gig of data each.”

    I noted via twitter this would equate to an amazing £4/month. Jess Steele then explained the each community organiser’s phone would only be funded for one year, so the cost would actually be more like £16/month.

    The Twitter exchange leading to the edit can be viewed via:

    and

    • jesssteele says:

      Bit unfair Richard! Your tweet alerted me to a potential misunderstanding in the way I’d written that sentence, so I clarified it as you suggested (you left out the copy of your own tweet (.@jessDTA I’d suggest a correction/clarification “a deal ..which will cost £100k for 500 organisers over four years”<-Doesn't say 1yr/person.) By describing it as 'non-transparently edited' you make me sound sneaky, when I am trying very hard indeed to be transparent and responsive.
      The deal that we've got from Orange is good though not as amazing as £4 per month. As I said in the blog if any other providers can offer us a better deal we're happy to talk.

  2. snagger says:

    Any chance to stick the knife in is leapt on by some. What value does this small-minded sniping add? Are people such as Richard Taylor really so challenged by this? Thankfully, I don’t see Locality following your example Richard. I guess that perhaps the trainee organisers should not be fed whilst training, or provided with access to a building, or sanitation, or running water… ‘Organisers eat food and use phones outrage!’ Do you work for the Daily Mail, Mr Taylor?

  3. Pingback: Corporate enthusiasm and Newsnight’s tired cynicism | Beanbags and Bullsh!t

    • jesssteele says:

      David, Thanks for this piece which helped my mood enormously!
      You sum up my frustrations perfectly –
      “you would think BBC editors would understand that the challenges facing deprived communities as the state withdraws and the private sector doesn’t pick up the pieces are anything but a joke… It’s a shame that BBC’s quality news programme seemed more interested in getting a few cheap laughs that doing its research and asking those questions properly.”
      Best wishes, Jess

      • jesssteele says:

        And, to give credit where it is definitely due, Giles Edwards of Radio 4 demonstrated exactly how the BBC should behave. I’m sure his programme when it airs in the new year will be hard-hitting about the challenges and limitations. But I believe it will be fair and it will certainly be based on a respectful, trust-building approach with the organisers, the trainers, the hosts and Locality.

  4. Re : In general the Community Organisers team was happy with last night’s TV coverage – can this be viewed online anywhere? Is there going to be an online video and podcast resource for everyone to see how their local community organisers are doing?

    • jesssteele says:

      Dear Jermone. The Newsnight programme that covered Community Organising was broadcast on Friday 7th October which means it is no longer available on iPlayer and the BBC are generally very protective of their broadcasts so it’s not possible for us to make it available. In terms of how local community organisers are getting on – we will shortly be adding Profiles to the website at http://www.cocollaborative.org.uk so you will be able to find out about and follow the activities of local organisers.

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