The writing was on the wall for the Third Sector Leadership Centre from about a year ago, when its chief executive began to voice concerns in private about its chances of survival. Since then, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the main partner in this lesser-known initiative of the Government's ChangeUp programme, has been asserting how useful it has been to thousands of third sector leaders and drawing up a business plan designed to attract further public funding and allow it to earn more income.
Last week, however, the government agency Capacitybuilders - the paymaster of ChangeUp since 2006 - pulled the plug (Third Sector Online, 11 February). It is hard for anyone to assess whether this was a good decision or not, because Capacitybuilders declines to reveal its reasons, thus adding a lack of transparency to the criticisms laid at its door by the National Audit Office report of two weeks ago. Beyond expressing disappointment, the NCVO won't discuss the decision either.
Perhaps the most revealing detail to emerge is that the chief executive of the centre, which received £650,000 of public money between 2006 and 2008, has actually been seconded to another organisation for the past six months, which suggests it has not been doing much for some time. However, it did recruit 100 ambassadors, hold dozens of events and produce a directory of leadership development on a website visited 15,000 times each month.
- Meagre action plan has right approach
The strength of the Government's rather modest third sector action plan is that it focuses not on protecting the sector from the recession, but on widening the help the sector can provide to society in hard times and extending measures to help organisations perform better. The Government has sensibly taken the unsentimental view that the sector deserves support not for what it is, but for what it does. Everyone has to face the fact that there is likely to be an uncomfortable shake-out in the voluntary sector, as in other parts of the economy. It's a shame the plan does not include some of the more radical measures urged on the Government by the sector, but there is still hope that some of these will emerge sooner rather than later.