OPINION: Hot Issue - Does the third sector have too many small cancer charities?

Cancer Research UK is feeling its way through its first year since the merger of Imperial Cancer Research Fund and The Cancer Research Campaign. And with more than 600 registered cancer charities in the UK, some argue that other bodies should follow suit to prevent confusion and fundraising saturation

Peter Vicary-Smith, director of fundraising and marketing, Cancer Research UK

YES

What is important is not what I think but what the public view is when told there are more than 600 UK cancer charities.

A recent survey showed that 70 per cent agree or strongly agree when asked the question "are there too many charities doing similar work competing with each other?"

It was this information and the desire to improve scientific and clinical benefits which fuelled the debate on the merger between the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and The Cancer Research Campaign.

This was achieved in February this year, although it wasn't a process without problems (I'm told mergers never are).

It is for other charities to decide whether they can be more effective by going it alone or by teaming up with like-minded organisations.

It is still early days for Cancer Research UK but, remarkably, eight months on costs have been reduced and income is up.

This means more money for our scientists to help cure cancer faster, which is what our donors, volunteers, staff and the public told us they wanted from the process.

Peter Cardy, chief executive, Macmillan Cancer Relief

NO

There are more than 200 cancer diseases and one million people with cancer today and the numbers are rising inexorably.

The right to set up a charity for a cause is one of the jewels of British democracy and cancer produces strong passions among everyone directly or indirectly affected.

There would have been no Macmillan Cancer Relief today if an ordinary man, Douglas Macmillan, had not seen his father die from cancer almost a century ago and realised that much of his suffering could have been prevented by good nursing care and information.

If we force mergers and take-overs, which great charities would be stillborn as a result?

Centralisation is the dream of restless control-mongers. There are better ways of working without agglomeration. The emerging alliances, forums and coalitions help to cut duplication. Published guides and electronic portals navigate us to the charity of our choice. Would we want every shop on the high street to be Wal-Mart?

Nicolette Shaw, major donor manager, Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres

NO

There are a million people with cancer in England and Wales and as many again in Scotland. Some people prefer smaller locally based charities and support groups while other people prefer to assist larger established brands.

Some people support cancer care charities and others support research.

Thanks to advances in the treatment of cancer there are more and more people living with cancer than ever before so is it a false public perception that supply outstrips demand?

Economically, I doubt that banning smaller cancer charities from operating would create a proportionate rise in larger charities income but I'm happy to be proved wrong on that one.

Maggie's Cancer Care is a one-stop shop for cancer services. Breast Cancer Care, CancerBACUP and Roy Castle all have a presence in our centres as well as other smaller cancer care local groups. At the heart of our service is the best cancer care and we are happy to pull on other charities' expertise to deliver it.

Jane Hatfield, head of services, NCVO

NO

The vast majority of charities play a vital role in their particular field. In some cases, mergers will bring great benefits to the participating organisations and their users but there is no all-encompassing argument that recommends mergers in the sector as a matter of course.

The main reasons for merging should be to broaden the range of services that an organisation can provide or broaden the range of users who will take advantage of that service. A successful merger can also result in the rationalisation of resources and reduction of financial pressure on each of the participating organisations.

But mergers should not be regarded solely in terms of a cost-cutting exercise.

It is also important to remember that merger is only one solution to the perceived duplication in a particular field. There are other forms of collabor-ation and partnership, which may bring far greater benefits to organisations and their stakeholders.

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