Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Big Is Bad- Stick To The Knitting

The knitting

The bigger they get, the more difficult it is for them to stick to the knitting.

General Motors, ICI, the British Empire, Nazi Germany.... throughout history, big organisations and their leaders have a built in tendency to take on more and more, straying far from their original purpose, and far from their area of expertise. Hubris and overstretch- it always ends in tears.

Big Government does it all the time, of course, which is one reason it's so pants.

But even more concerning is the tendency of those much vaunted charitable and voluntary organisations to do the same thing. Remembering of course, that they represent everyone's Big Idea for improving public services, and even civil society itself.

This morning we get some particularly distressing news from an organisation of which Mr and Mrs Tyler are longstanding and paying members: the National Trust.

The NT is by far Britain's biggest membership charitable organisation. And I'm guessing most of us want the same thing- the preservation of Britain's great historic buildings, and the best of our landscape.

But the Trust has just reached a new high of 3.5 million members, or a staggering 6% of the population, and with sad predictability it has suddenly decided to invade Russia:

"In what the the conservation charity calls one of the most fundamental shifts in its 103-year history, the trust announced the intention to mobilise this vast public support "to drive conservation and quality of life agendas, and in particular to combat climate change".

From now on, said director-general Fiona Reynolds, the trust will advise people how to adapt their lifestyles to climate change and challenge government to be more ecologically aware. "If we think that public policy is not right, then we will say so."

In a strategy document, the trust said it was in a unique position to help counter climate change. "The biggest challenge of our time is climate change," said Ms Reynolds."

Yes, well, Ms Reynolds, Mrs T and I did not join the NT to campaign for more eco-wibble policies. Not only have you not asked us, that's not why we pay our £70 pa. If we want to join Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or David Cameron's Conservatives, we will.

What's that, Peter Nixon, NT Director? "In the past we have been cautious about expressing our voice loudly. Now we recognise that we have to engage in public debate on a very wide scale. If you have 3.5m members you can go to government with a different kind of authority."

Look, chum, the only reason you have 3.5m members is because they want you to take care of the precious things. Not go off eco campaigning.

One key reason this is happening is that the senior staff of charities increasingly come from a government/quango background: Fiona Reynolds previous job was Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office (and cf Martin Narey at Barnardos). And that's on top of their increasing financial dependence on government (see previous blogs here and here, although note that the NT is not so dependent- so far... well, if you exclude the Lottery, that is.).

So Fiona, this might be difficult for you to understand. But you must forget about invading Russia. Leave eco campaigning to the eco campaigners.

We want you to focus on the job we gave you.

Get it?



PS In case you don't recognise it, the pic shows Tyntesfield in Somerset, acquired by the NT in 2002, and still being restored. Tyntesfield was famously built on bird shit, and if you like Victorian gothic, you'll love Tyntesfield. Strongly recommended.


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