Opinion: There's no romance in this relationship

Like lovers after a tempestuous affair, the signs are that more and more third sector bodies are feeling unwanted in their relations with government.

Less Rick Blaine in Casablanca than Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, but without the stewed bunnies, some of the darlings - including darlings who thought they were indispensable - are starting to feel neglected, betrayed, even abused. Perhaps it was always a doomed affair.

There's been the controversy, sparked by chief executives body Acevo, about a Department for International Development fund that bans recipients from using its funding to lobby against government. Then there's the Charity Commission smarting because the Government has reduced its income by 5 per cent a year for three years running. Not to forget the bizarre tale of the Communities and Local Government department dropping a £6.4m 'partnership' scheme with a clutch of umbrella bodies led by the NCVO ...

"All this guff about partnership," said Andy Benson in an interview with The Guardian. "It's a conceit. We don't have any partnership with the Government." Benson, founder of the National Coalition for Independent Action, which opposes the co-opting of charities by the state, isn't short of case studies. Commenting on Richard Gutch's broadside against the Office of the Third Sector's handling of the Futurebuilders contract (Third Sector, 2 April), he bemoaned the "depressing description of the direction of travel".

Far from being a model of excellence, according to Gutch, the OTS exhibits many of the characteristics of statutory bodies routinely slammed by charities. Outlining a lack of coherence, for instance, he explained how "there was no institutional memory ... and we constantly had to explain things from scratch". Odd, too, that no clear explanation was offered as to why Futurebuilders lost the tender.

Ministers rightly say the sector must be accountable for its use of public money. But it's just as important for government not to waste taxpayers' money through shabby bureaucracy and absurd decision-making processes. In the interests of a fuller picture, please email me your stories about government.

- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist: nptseddon@hotmail.com.

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