Newsmaker: Keeping the local accent - Mike Martin Chair, Navca

Mathew Little

Membership could double, but applicants will be strictly vetted.

Mike Martin has a yellow piece of paper pinned above his desk, cautioning, in large capital letters, that "governance is about creating the future, not minding the shop".

The new chair of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action is careful that he will not succumb to the curse of the interfering trustee and spend his three-year tenure "peering over the shoulder" of chief executive Kevin Curley.

Not that he has the time to mind anyone else's shop. Martin is one of the organisation's sturdy yeomen - for the past 17 years, he has been director of Reading Voluntary Action, a role that he will combine with his new duties.

Navca is about to undergo the most radical change in its 15-year history, so Martin has his eyes set firmly on the organisation's horizons. At the recent AGM in Coventry, members voted to admit local infrastructure organisations.

Navca's core of Councils for Voluntary Service, which provide general support services to the local sector, will be swelled by specialists such as learning and skills consortia, community empowerment networks and BME organisations. Numbers could nearly double from 350 to 700 by 2011.

"There was never any profit in retaining Navca as an organisation that had a restricted membership," says Martin. "I'm expecting a slow but steady increase, but it will change the organisation."

Despite an overwhelming 97 per cent vote for the change, there are concerns among traditional CVSs that their identity may be diluted. Martin expects tensions, but also points to the safeguard that the new influx will have to prove their willingness to co-operate with existing members. "We expect local infrastructure organisations to collaborate," he says. "If one applies for membership, we will go to our existing member in that area and ask if they are a co-operative partner. If it becomes clear to us that they are not, we will think very hard before we let them in."

New members must also demonstrate that 60 per cent of their trustees come from the local area, a move intended to exclude national charities.

"Navca stands for local organisations that are locally owned and governed by people who understand local issues," says Martin.

Stressing the local dimension reflects a desire for continuity amid radical changes. But it also indicates a touchiness among CVSs over the encroachments of national charities. The eclipse of grants by competitive tendering regimes has seen national organisations enter what were once seen as the exclusive preserves of local charities, notably in Manchester, where bitter arguments followed a successful bid by the Scarman Trust to take voluntary sector infrastructure services away from the local CVS.

"The 60 per cent rule gives our members some reassurance," says Martin.

"I've no doubt there are local infrastructure organisations in places not dissimilar from Manchester that are worried by national organisations vying for local contracts."

Martin also sees another potential threat from the state. The public service agenda is irrelevant to many local charities. ChangeUp, he says, has been targeted at "front-line service providers, not front-line campaigners, nor front-line pressure groups".

Martin perceives a change of tack by new third sector minister Ed Miliband towards a more holistic approach. But he is still concerned that the sector ensures its future is of its own making. "My role as chair will be encouraging all trustees and staff to make sure they are reflecting the needs of the local sector and not the Government's needs," he says.

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