No 18 - Summer 2012
Competition and Cooperation...
Joe Kitson interviews St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser
JK Thank you for coming Mr Fraser.
CF You're welcome, it's a pleasure.
JK I think you might be Dr Fraser maybe - are you a Doctor of Philosophy?
CF No no, I'm not a doctor!
JK Right – here we go: Do you think that charity has any enemies or false friends in the wider society?
CF I don't understand the question.
JK Do you think there are any obscure brotherhoods or sisterhoods who are totally opposed to donations to charity?
CF No, I don't.
JK OK, number two: Do you believe that charities compete with each other, i.e. Salvation Army, Red Cross and food banks?
CF Well, you've got to be precise. In our sector, where we work in St Mungo's, contracts are competitively tendered, we're made to compete with each other. So yes, we do. What we try to do at St Mungo's is to find opportunities to move beyond that with some organisations, and collaborate with them as well. So the answer is, we're made to compete, but we, and a few others, try to also have a relationship where we collaborate for the greater good. Does that make sense?
JK Right, very good answer. So it's sort of self regulating competition, voluntary competition and voluntary cooperation. . .
CF No, it's compulsory competition, but voluntary cooperation.
JK Right. Next one: Do trade unions, whether on strike or not, rely upon your charity?
CF You mean do we fund trade unions?
JK Do you house trade unionists when they are on strike?
CF Not unless they are homeless.
JK Next question: are most charity case persons the net products of a retribution system casting them as villains?
CF There is always an argument about whether policies serve the deserving poor, not - what is presented as - the undeserving poor. We don't make that distinction at St Mungo's - we look at people's needs. But in wider society there is a tendency to separate people in some way into deserving and undeserving poor.
JK Yes, very good answer Mr Fraser. Do you want total tax exemption for all the costs of St Mungo's?
CF G. . yes!
CF But we pay VAT for example. .
JK I didn't know that.
CF Yes, we pay VAT on most things. But we don't pay corporation tax, we're not a company, we're a charitable organisation.
JK So philanthropists who have donated to St Mungo's, they would have tax deductible rights wouldn't they?
CF May be, that depends on their circumstances, but we just get the money.
JK Right. Is there a real St Mungo alive today?
CF You, Joe!
JK No no, not me! Thank you, but I think all the saints get persecuted and martyred!
CF St Mungo was the sixth century bishop of Glasgow, patron saint of wandering Celts, so he's not alive now, no.
JK There was a Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, he got lost in Africa, he disappeared before Stanley met Livingstone I think. . .
CF Something like that.
JK This is number seven, seventh question: the hostel system does not seem to make a profit out of it's staff's executives, does it?
CF What are staff's executives, what does that mean?
JK Like staff members here. . .
CF No no, we get money with which to run the service. If we can make a very small surplus, fantastic. Usually, we break even. It depends on the circumstances. But if we can make a surplus, then that's wonderful because we can use the money on other things.
JK Expand to new premises maybe?
CF Well maybe, it's one of the possibilities.
JK Second part of this: should the hostel system be making a profit? To expand for instance?
CF It would be good - if our services make a little surplus, that's good. It's helpful these days, because we don't get the money from anywhere else.*
JK I think this is the last question from me: Do you, Mr Fraser, have a degree in economics or political economy such as an MBA?
JK Next question (these are questions I didn't write): There is widespread indignation at the growing gap between executive and workforce pay – what are your views on this?
CF Well I think that you don't want to have too wide a gap – an unequal society's not a good thing. That doesn't mean. . I don't think everyone should be paid exactly the same, that's unrealistic. But when you see the excessive levels of pay that are around these days I think that's quitedivisive – and I don't think it's justified.
JK Right, thank you very much. When residents at St Mungo's have visitors do these visitor's ID's need to be photocopied? Does this apply across all St Mungo's hostels?
CF I've no idea, you have to ask John that. It's an operational question.
Jen Burnham: Esther Wangui's group at Pound Lane contributed this question. When someone arrived to visit a resident, staff at the hostel demanded not only to see his ID but to photocopy it. When the visitor refused to have it photocopied he was barred from entering and visiting the resident.
CF Which hostel was that?
Jen B: I'm not sure as the question came from a group at Pound Lane.
CF Well, I don't know the ins and outs of it, but it sounds ridiculous – why would we want or need a photocopy of somebody's ID, it sounds like a bank, it's just nonsense. Why would we want more paper! I've never heard of this, but we'll look into it, I'll get somebody to look into it.
JK Next question: Can clients and staff have short holidays and how can this be done effectively?
CF What does that mean?
JK I think it means short breaks, two or three times a year. .
CF Each project has a resident welfare budget, and can spend that more or less as it sees fit, and that can include trips to – like Paddington Farm was for many years a favouritedestination in Glastonbury, so there ought to be the possibility for that to happen. How that can be done effectively has to be sorted out locally as it depends on the demands of the various projects.
JK Right. This is the last one I think: If I offered you 10 million pounds. . .
CF Oh, yes please!
JK . . . how would you use it?
CF Well, there's so many things we could spend it on. I think it would be good to spend more money on health – giving people access to health including psychological therapies. Education would be good, and helping people get back to some form of work, because we know that the work programme, the government scheme, doesn't seem to be working for our clients. . that's probably about 20 million already I've just spent!
JK Right, yeah!
CF There's so much, so much.
JK Well, that's about it I think, that's the twelve questions. You survived the ordeal!
CF I did, didn't I?
JK The charge of the Light Brigade! Does anyone else have a question?
Fikade Assefa: I wanted to ask you, some hostels a long time ago had a referral system to the council housing list, so the hostel has rights to refer two people every year to the council and those two people get housed on the council's register. Is that still the case now?
CF No. Those were called quotas,and they used to come to St Mungo's and we would effectively choose people depending on how long they'd been at the project and so on. That's all out of our control now, it's all down to the council. So people are referred into say Endell St for example, through the council's routes, and they take responsibility for rehousing them. So it's all changed – all changed for the better I'm sure.
Fikade A: Thank you very much.
Reza Parto Azam: Do you think it's successful what has gone in the Homeless Diamonds magazine, what the members have contributed, their work, has it been successful?
CF Yes I think it's a tremendous success, it's a great advertisement for what people can do and their creativity.
Reza PA: Diamonds it's called and it's priceless I think. I wonder if individuals are satisfied with what we've done, with their work in the magazine. I'm happy but I wonder about the other contributors, if they are happy with the magazine?
Jen B: It's nice to hear that Charles is happy with it. . .
CF I think it's tremendous, a tribute to everybody's creativity.
Jen B: Homeless Diamonds started right here in this room, so we're very proud of it.
CF And you should be!
JK Thank you very much Mr Fraser.
*About 6% of St Mungo’s income comes from individual and corporate donations.
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