Scope’s acting chief executive, Jon Sparkes, tells Amy Taylor about his plan to tackle the charity’s debts and his commitment to disabled staff
As acting chief executive of financially troubled disability charity Scope, Jon Sparkes (pictured) is unfazed about the challenging time ahead of him.
Scope was expecting to finish 2005-6 with a deficit of £10.1m but trimmed this to £9m. Sparkes says it aims to reduce this further to £7m by the end of 2006-7, and have a small surplus by 2008-9.
After previous chief Tony Manwaring departed abruptly, Sparkes was appointed to take charge for 12 to 18 months before a permanent successor moves in. He was previously Manwaring’s deputy and the charity’s executive director for organisational change.
Sparkes says Scope has already cut overhead costs in areas such as human resources and IT. The charity’s shops are to be overhauled to reverse dwindling profits, and fund-raising is another area earmarked for improvement.
Sparkes says financial recovery is his “number one priority” followed by implementing a reform programme across the charity.
“It’s one thing turning finances around in the short term, it’s another making it sustainable,” he says. “The programme is about what we need to do commercially and financially to become a sustainable organisation, and an innovative organisation that can change things.”
Many of Scope’s financial problems arise from its inability to recover the full cost of its services from councils. Sparkes says the charity now needs to stand firm about the resources needed.
“We must be clear and confident on what it costs to deliver the kind of services that we deliver,” he says.
He adds that the charity is looking for new contracts where it will be able to exercise this approach.
“At the same time we are looking at the services that we are operating. Where we can negotiate for increases we will, but we are realistic.”
The National Centre for Independent Living, which represents service user-led groups, has recently expressed concern about the number of groups forced to close because they have lost out on contracts to larger organisations. Sparkes says this needs to be addressed.
“It’s fundamental that they are supported,” he says. “While understanding that people are seeking cost-effective solutions, they need to ensure they are the right solutions – and the right solutions are community-based and often user-led.”
He says there is a role for national organisations such as his own and local service user groups, to which Scope sees itself as an ally.
One goal of the charity’s Time to Get Equal campaign, launched in 2004, was to increase its proportion of disabled employees to 20 per cent from 3.7 per cent. Sparkes says it is now 17.9 per cent, putting the charity on target.
Manwaring has been quoted as saying that a measure of Time to Get Equal’s success would be whether his successor was disabled. Sparkes is not, but says this could be a requirement when the charity recruits for the post in about a year.
The charity’s challenge now is to go further than the 20 per cent target by increasing the diversity of its disabled employees.
Sparkes says: “Improvement doesn’t necessarily mean numbers but how we can involve people with a broader variety of impairments and how we can involve people with high support needs.”
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