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Editorial: Now the statistics confirm a change

More hard data is emerging to confirm a sea change in the sector, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

It's becoming unmistakeable that a sea change is taking place in the voluntary sector. That change has been predicted for a long time and evidence for it hitherto has mostly been anecdotal and piecemeal. But now, slowly but surely, hard data is emerging.

Last week, for example, we heard that employment in the sector, as measured in the Labour Force Survey, fell by 5 per cent from 806,000 to 768,000 in the year to the end of June. This reverses a steady growth since 1999 and reflects the onset of the severe cutbacks in central local and government spending.

The quarterly Charity Forecast from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations also came out last week, showing that 98 per cent of 80 chief executives, trustees, directors and senior managers who responded to its survey thought that economic conditions would be negative in the coming year. This is up from 90 per cent three months ago.

Another pointer was the merger of No Smoking Day with the British Heart Foundation, prompted by the former's loss of a key government grant. Mergers have long been predicted (and encouraged by many involved in the sector), and now they seem to be happening thick and fast.

Then there's the politics. The government has made no bones about its desire to see the sector transformed, with less direct public subsidy, leaner commissioning with payment by results, and a broadening of the sources of investment and giving. The first two are definite, the third less so.

For its part, Labour is going through a period of navel-gazing, as our analysis on page seven indicates. It has been thrown off balance by the big society and is questioning its dealings with the sector in the latter years of power. One up-and-coming MP, Lisa Nandy, went so far as to say that the party treated it as the third arm of the state.

Add to all this a changing of the guard in the sector leadership - Kevin Curley of Navca retiring, Dame Suzi Leather leaving the Charity Commission next July, others likely to leave before long - and the sea change begins to look like the end of an era too.

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