Editorial: ChangeUp must refuel to stay on course

Stephen Cook, editor

The person in the Home Office who dreamed up the name ChangeUp deserves one of those obscure sets of initials that come towards the end of the honours list. It is a name that evokes positive, optimistic images: you escape to the open road, change up into fifth gear, and all your difficulties fall away as you head for the horizon. "Poop, poop," as Mr Toad would say. ChangeUp is the perfect snappy tag for a policy designed to take the voluntary sector to the next level by modernising and streamlining its infrastructure.

One of the most crucial components of ChangeUp, which was announced by the Government last June, is the set of five 'national hubs of expertise' in performance improvement, workforce development, governance, information technology and finance. Last summer's announcement declared they should be "beacons of good practice and gateways sign-posting frontline organisations to sources of support", and since then a wide range of umbrella and infrastructure bodies have been trying to fulfil that brief.

It hasn't always been an easy process, especially in the ICT hub where relations between the contending bodies became so deadlocked that they had to appoint an adjudicator, paid for by the Home Office, to move matters on. It remains to be seen whether that particular conflict can be satisfactorily sorted out and the deadline met to produce a business plan. There are grants involved, and everyone wants their share.

Some of the bad feeling from that episode has tainted some of the other hubs, and the most disillusioned participants will tell you privately that the whole concept is a muddle and we should actually change down a gear and go back to the drawing board: making people work in partnership is a contradiction in terms, they argue, and getting participants in a forced marriage to present a united image to the world will be equally difficult.

But the latest news is that the other hubs have more or less gelled and are on course to submit their business plans in time for the imminent deadline. There will be relief all round if that comes to pass. These are business plans that run for a minimum of two years, however, and attention is now switching to the fact that the Home Office's £72m allocation for ChangeUp comes to an end in March next year. The calls are growing for the funding commitment to be extended to coincide with the timescale of the business plans. Changing up has not been easy, and a fresh round of finance would oil the wheels.

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