Monday, February 09, 2009

Heyday R.I.P.

Heyday is no more – it has ceased to be - it has expired and gone to meet its maker – it is bereft of life!

The final nail in Age Concern’s venture was thumped home by the Charities Commission. The press release announcing its demise doesn’t make happy reading.

The full report is now available on the Charities
Commission site - not for the faint hearted.

The commission accuses the charity’s trustees of falling short of expected standards and said its 34-strong board (that is thirty-four) was too large. No kidding.

"The trustees are unable to demonstrate that they exercised a sufficient oversight and critical challenge in making relevant decisions against a clear and robust risk framework."

The commission questioned whether there was enough evidence of a need to justify setting up Heyday and also raised doubts as to whether the Heyday activities were clearly charitable. Well one thing that is certain is they behaved as a not-for profit.

Finally, the Commission said the trustee’s decisions should have been made in a transparent and "informed manner". Clearly they weren’t.

What the Charities Commission doesn’t appear to have done is highlight the catalogue of basic marketing errors that Heyday’s management made from day-one.

Should you want to read the sad catalogue of errors you can follow them on my blog. Here is a selection of the comments.

The venture is born on the 16th December 2005.

1st Feb 2006 the first problems become apparent

30th May 2006 – Heyday sort of launches. My comment at the time: "Having blown its launch budget the best they could come up with was a message on the Web site saying that the real site is coming “in June”. It wasn’t until the end of June that it finally launched."

The mistakes kept on coming until on 7th Feb 2007 the organisation was folded into Age Concern.

Gordon Lishman, the director general of ACE, who retires next month, said: "I accept my full share of responsibility for the failure of Heyday to meet its objectives." He goes on to make that statement we hear after every child’s death in local authority care: “staff and trustees were committed to learning the lessons from its failure.” As you would expect there have been no resignations at the charity.

What really, really infuriates me about the Heyday mess is that there are thousands of poor souls working at the sharp end of this worthy charity, trying to do the best they can on limited funds and watching £22 million of costs for only £0.7 of membership fees. They must be livid and deservedly so.

Fortunately the one lesson that Age Concern has learnt is to get a new Chairman and MD who have the task of repairing the mess left behind by their predecessors, whilst guiding the organisation through the current economic ills. I wish them the very best of luck.

For non-UK readers of the blog you might be wondering why there is a dead parrot
attached to the Heyday logo. Don’t worry it is a long story. Dick Stroud


Leon said...

Gordon Lishman was not solely responsible for the HeyDay debacle. He was ably assisted in the HeyDay debacle by senior members of the staff of Age Concern England and critically by a compliant and complicit Board of Trustees noted for organisational conflicts of interest.

None of those involved can plead ignorance. They were warned of the flaws in the concept at the outset and repeatedly during the botched execution. I am one of those who is not speaking out of hindsight. My criticism, as was that of others, was made in public and from the outset. The Age Concern that I chair did not invest any money in the HeyDay project. Others did and no doubt they may now feel that they are entitled to their money back.

Rather than engage with the critics in an open dialogue, ACE preferred to hide behind a cloak of alleged commercial confidentiality and attempted to “rubbish” those individuals and organisations that sought to discover the truth as to what was happening.

The upshot was the huge loss in both the finances and reputation of ACE and resulted in its rush into merger with Help the Aged. While Help the Aged may have felt that saving ACE from itself was the right thing to do, it should have first ensured that the dysfunctional nature of the relationship between ACE and the many hundreds of local Age Concerns was being properly addressed. It was not simply poor governance of ACE that was to blame; the difficulties were inherent in its convoluted and manipulable relationship with the other members of what is known as the Federation. It was because of that relationship that there was a board of 34; effectively no Board at all.

Unless this relationship is sorted out, the merger of the two organisations at a time of major recession looks fraught with risk.

Lessons may not have been learned. The charity being formed by the merger of ACE and Help the Aged, os already talking about "a new and exciting approach to how it engages with older people” as a replacement for Heyday (Third Sector February 6 2009). It was exactly that sort of marketing gobbledegook that got ACE into trouble in the first place.

Enough older people are in enough difficulties as it is, even before the full extent of funding cutbacks manifest themselves, to keep the new charity busy. A return to fundamental charitable instincts may be considered old-fashioned , being neither new nor exciting, but it may be the right approach for the new charity and could well be in the best interests of vulnerable and needy older people.

Anonymous said...

Who is going to claim the assets that has been written off? Ithink AGE UK shoul claim it fully if not I want my share!!

=Mashud Haque=