WELCOME TO ALL FELLOW CAMPAIGNERS for DISABILITY RIGHTS - a pan disability blog connecting my work with, EQUAL LIVES, the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) and the Survivor History Group.

Protest, Norwich Job Centre

Protest, Norwich Job Centre
Fatso Gets Militant!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Trouble at the NSUN Mill?

NSUN Governance and Administration

A discussion document for the NSUN board

1. After our last meeting, without quite knowing why, I felt some discomfort about the direction our discussions had taken and some of the content of our discussions. As most of our focus was on our new charity status and NSUN’s future needs I decided to give this more thought and to do some individual research.

2. It was easy to pin down the broad underlying reasons for my discomfort:

2.1 The first is to do with personal ideology. For me, financial considerations have, apart from the necessity of daily existence, come bottom of my list of priorities with cultural, inter-social, artistic and consideration of others having far more value than money. So I find I have little patience with business and finance matters - and a great deal of distrust.

2,2 Separately but in parallel, as a long standing campaigner for user involvement and a sometime advocate alongside other users I have a healthy dislike and disrespect for corporate wheeler dealing, business sleight of hand and commercial activity which values financial gain way above and beyond human care.

2.3 I am an ordinary service user working to further service user involvement in health and social care, particularly in mental health (although I do have a belief in integrated disability involvement). Many of the subjects discussed at our last meeting were underpinned by models derived from corporacy, business and commerce. I believe these models are incompatible with service user involvement.

3. Yes, I know that as an incorporated charity we have to comply with certain requirements - I have read our incorporated status constitution, the Charity Commission guidance ‘The essential trustee,’ Hallmarks of an effective charity,’ ‘A guide to conflicts of interest for charity trustees,’ and more.

4. However, included in my wider research was a report by an academician which I found excellent for wider and off-the-scale thinking about NSUN governance. I have attached this full report: ‘Managing non-profit organisations: Towards a new approach.’ by Helmut K. Anheier, but would like to draw particular attention to these extracts (my parentheses):

4.1 “The challenge of non-profit management, then, is to balance the different, often contradictory elements that are the component parts of non-profit organisations. How can this be done? In a first step, management has to locate and position the organisations in the complex push-and-pull of divergent models and underlying dilemmas and choices. Following such a position analysis, management can ask: “Is this where we want to be? Are we too much like a palace (a jargon term meaning the following), too hierarchical, too technocratic and too outer-directed? Should we be more tent-like, (the antithesis of 'palace') more organised as networks, with a socio-culture emphases and our own resources and capabilities?” “In this sense, we can easily see that non-profit management becomes more than just cost-cutting and more than just the exercise of financial control. Management becomes concerned with more than just one or two of the numerous bottom lines non-profit organisations have. In other words, management becomes not the controlling but the creative, enabling arm of non-profit organisations.” “...organisations as networks emphasise decentralisation and bottom-up approaches in decision- making, and encourage work groups as well as horizontal relations among staff and management. Notions like cluster organisation, circular organisation and concepts of organisations as overlapping groups are prominent approaches that treat organisations as networks rather than hierarchies.”

5. My other serious concern is that we are, at present, completely focussed on the needs of the organisation and I have too often seen this happen to the detriment of the needs of service users. In this context, I hope any finance for the development of the organisation will not be taken out of grants awarded for attention to the needs of users and our networking objectives. I think the excuse that the development of the organisation is beneficial to the needs of users is a spurious one.

5.1 I note that in the agenda for the Human Resources Sub-committee agenda, in both 3.2 and 3.3 it is stated “(money identified in the budget).” As a trustee, I would see this as a misuse of charity funds and I formally object to that. I fully agree that the demands of NSUN’s objectives are much more than our current staffing is able to reasonably deal with but funding for more staff should come from grants specifically for organisational development.

5.2 I also wonder about the staffing proposed. Yes 3.1 and 3.2 (maybe with less jargonistic titles) but why on earth do we need a ‘Chief Executive’ (another business concept). I see that position as a false proposition - in our case the would be functions of a CeO are essentially collective and bottom-up. We do need to get away from trying to squeeze ourselves to fit into business models and think for ourselves. In the context of NSUN purposes I would think communications expertise is by far the biggest priority.

5.3 The last point on this matter is that one of the important principles coming out of the Birmingham Conference was the possibility of service users being employed in what was then called the ‘On Our Own Terms’ organisation. I think we have (hopefully temporarily) lost sight of NSUN being an organisation owned by and for service users. Is being a service user an essential item in our job description person specifications? I recall too that the Birmingham Conference said: “There are two elements which will ensure that the network is sustainable in the long term. -Adherence to core principles, activities and structure. - A flexible structure.”

6. As a trustee of NSUN I have to bring up two points of order from our incorporated charity constitution (I did mention these to Tina shortly after the last meeting):

6.1 The constitution strongly suggests paid employees should not be Directors of the charity and indeed the Charity Commission guidance “A guide to conflicts of interest for charity trustees” tells us that would be a conflict of interests. We need to revisit these circumstances.

6.2 The constitution stipulates Directors should be elected at the first AGM and thereafter.


15th June, 2010.

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