A talk by the world’s first ever green ombudsman, a Hungarian called Dr Sandor Fulop.
Officially his title is the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Future
Generations which sounds beautifully sci-fi. His role is to scrutinise
legislation to ensure that it doesn’t damage the right of Hungarian citizens to
a healthy environment.
This might sound duller than watching the English rugby team, but was in fact
fascinating. The highly entertaining and engaging Dr Sandor made it clear from
the outset that he fights for the rights of citizens to a healthy environment.
This is far different from the UK’s view of an ombudsman who invariably act
as honest brokers in disputes. It was also interesting that he has to consider
the environmental rights of future generations. This inter-generational
responsibility is a whole new area for environmental law to address and is
fraught with complexity.
Finally, it was clear that Dr Sandor’s team are highly effective and deal
with a huge variety of cases. He gave examples of how he helped residents deal
with noise pollution from a local bar right the way through to fighting an
unsustainable new power station which had massive corporate backing.
From the presentation it was obvious that the Hungarian political parties
have created a role which is far more challenging and effective than they had
ever imagined and that Dr Sandor has to tread a very fine line to ensure that
his department is not closed.
Will UK political parties ever have the courage to create a similar role? It
is very hard to see, unless there is a highly effective campaign by pressure
groups which is how the Hungarian role was created.
One of the common trends in UK society recently has been a gradual loss of
trust in previously respected institutions such as politicians, the church and
Charities have also suffered, but not to the same extent as other
institutions. Safeguarding the credibility of charities obviously depends on all
of us who work in the sector, but the ultimate responsibility rests with our
watchdog the Charity Commission.
Bearing this in mind I was horrified to hear the opportunistic
headline-grabbing comments made by Christine Pratt from the National Bullying
Helpline revealing the contents of confidential calls to her helpline.
Intrigued, I looked up details of her charity on the Charity Commission’s
website. The last time the charity submitted accounts was September 2007 when
the income was £1,818 and the expenditure was £852.
On Friday, we spent most of the day interviewing auditors for our accounts.
This was an important decision as the charity audit process is incredibly
complex and designed to provide the level of transparency required for funders
and the wider public.
In order to maintain the credibility of the sector, I think that it should be
an absolute minimum that all charities post their accounts on-time on the
Charity Commission website as is legally required.
The public should know which charities haven’t fulfilled this basic function
and it should be the Charity Commission’s role to do this. If this level of
scrutiny had been in place we might never have had to listen to the unwise
uttering’s of Christine Pratt.
The Bigger Picture
On Wednesday, our “Lunch and Learn” session consisted of a presentation from
Sky’s Bigger Picture Team about the work that they are doing and specifically
the excellent new Rainforest Rescue campaign they are running with WWF. The
presentation was part of our three year charitable partnership with Sky and was
designed to keep staff informed of the work of the company.
There is scepticism about corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives
with many people seeing them as a way that companies can retain a positive
external image without having to undergo fundamental change. This is certainly
the case with some companies and we have seen many CSR teams being drastically
cut as a result of the recession.
The Sky presentation demonstrated a very different approach. The work of the
Bigger Picture Team is completely integrated with the needs and ambitions of the
entire company and is seeking to make fundamental change.
Particularly impressive is that training programmes for future leaders place
the Bigger Picture activities at the core of the learning programme. In short,
the CSR objectives seem to be an integral part of the DNA of the company which
might explain why it won Most Admired Company in a recent Management Today
One of the great challenges for Global Action Plan is how we can, on a very
limited budget, successfully encourage large numbers of people to live more
Over the past year we have invested in a range of new websites designed to
make it easier for people to act. We have also created new projects – such as
Climate Squad – targeted at specific audiences. Whilst these are clearly
important and do persuade large numbers of people to register an interest, they
are insufficient on their own to translate intent into action.
Overcoming this inertia needs the support, encouragement and help of
enthusiastic and informed people. To provide this element of the equation we
have started to recruit and train Ambassadors who can support the delivery of
our programmes across the country.
The first training course took place a few weeks ago and a number of the
Ambassadors are already actively delivering support in the communities. I feel
sure that this element of our work will grow over the next year.
Trewin Restorick is chief executive of environmental charity and advisory
body Global Action Plan
This article first appeared on his weekly blog