Editorial: Is the NCVO adapting to sink-or-swim?

The umbrella body seems to have accepted the new political dispensation, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

In the golden years of the noughties, some £230m of government funding was poured into charity infrastructure through the ChangeUp programme.

Projects included the six so-called hubs of expertise, many of them run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations until Capacitybuilders was created. Another £61m over five years went to more than 40 'strategic partners' in the sector in return for them representing sector interests to the government.

ChangeUp and Capacitybuilders are now things of the past, killed off by a combination of austerity and a change in ideology under the coalition government. Whether they produced lasting improvements in the structures and sources of advice that charities need to carry out their missions more effectively is very much a matter of debate. In a year's time, the strategic partners fund will meet a similar fate amid questions about whether it was simply a form of political patronage.

What's clear from our interview with Sir Stuart Etherington of the NCVO this week is that he is very much reconciled to the new dispensation. His view is that the sector is able to create for itself the infrastructure it needs and that such public funds as are available would be better applied to pump-priming local initiatives that will create a stronger civil society.

He also appears to accept the argument of the charities minister, Nick Hurd, that the strategic partners programme was ripe for the cull, even though that has deprived the NCVO of significant funding. Similar acquiescence is not widespread among others who lost partnership funding at a stroke in 2011. Our straw poll of six of them, also on pages 8 to 10, shows that, unlike Etherington, some of them feel they have lost access to government and the policy-making process.

So where does the heart of the NCVO really lie? Is it more comfortable working as closely with government as it did under Labour, or in the current sink-or-swim political environment, where the word 'voluntary' takes on a more literal meaning?

- Read our interview with Sir Stuart Etherington

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