2006 Review: Was it the Annus Mirabilis? 2006

Uncertainty and unfinished business dominated the start of the year: would the Charities Bill ever get through? Would the Government deliver on its manifesto pledge to the sector? When would self-regulation of fundraising begin? What about the promised Compact Commissioner? Twelve months later, what a difference: an Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office, a bright young minister, a new Charities Act, the Fundraising Standards Board, a Compact Commissioner and a new chair of the Charity Commission. The only omission would seem to be a promise of VAT reform. Third Sector writers review a year when all the machinery was put in place and the question became: will it work?

THE PEOPLE

DAME SUZI LEATHER - The state of near permanent revolution at the Charity Commission under the leadership of Geraldine Peacock changed in August, when Dame Suzi Leather took over as chair. Peacock had departed after only two years because of health and personal reasons. The appointment of Leather, previously chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, seemed to signal a period of consolidation. The first hot potato dropped into her hands in November with the passage of the Charities Act, which requires charities to demonstrate 'public benefit' and tells the commission to work out what that means in practice. Leather has suggested fee-charging charities should "assess and report the value of the tangible benefits they bring, as well as the value of their tax breaks".

JOHN STOKER - In a year of key appointments, John Stoker played the part of comeback kid. He had been Peacock's predecessor at the Charity Commission and had recently run the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund. In August, he became the first Compact Commissioner, a much-delayed appointment intended to give some bite to the agreements meant to smooth government-sector relationships. Angela Sibson, formerly head of relationship support charity Relate, became his chief executive.

CAMPBELL ROBB - The former policy director of the NCVO went in March on a one-day-a-week secondment to the Treasury from his NCVO policy job. Six months later, he became director-general of the new government Office of the Third Sector. This drew jibes in the Commons, but was welcomed by sector leaders, who challenged him to show he was no longer an NCVO man. "I think I have shown that I can work with a range of organisations in a proactive way," he said.

ED MILIBAND - Charles Clarke's sacking from the Home Office in May proved a blessing in disguise for the sector. Tony Blair finally took the chance to move its affairs out of the Home Office, where it had always struggled for profile, into the small but powerful Cabinet Office. The similarly low-profile voluntary sector minister Paul Goggins was moved to the Northern Ireland Office and Ed Miliband, rising star and brother of environment secretary David Miliband, was appointed to the new Office of the Third Sector. A former aide to Gordon Brown and Harvard lecturer, he declared that "every government department is a third sector department" and threw himself into the job of Whitehall culture change, pausing only to oversee the passage of the Charities Bill. The sector seems delighted to have a thoughtful, energetic minister, but he might not stay long if Brown becomes PM.

JOHN GROGAN - As the Charities Bill reached its climax, John Grogan, MP for Selby, led a small group of Labour and Lib Dem backbenchers in a last-ditch attempt to insert a bit more detail about how fee-paying charities should demonstrate public benefit. The move was defeated, as it had been in the Lords, and Grogan was upset to be deserted at the last minute by the NCVO. "I've never seen a major organisation do a U-turn so fast and for so little," Grogan complained. "It was very weak negotiating."

ANGELA SARKIS - The year's most counter-intuitive appointment was Angela Sarkis, who took over as national secretary of the YMCA - the first female and first non-white leader in its 162-year history. Her appointment came shortly after a Third Sector survey showed that only one of the chief executives of Britain's top 50 charities was non-white. "We are top-heavy with men to an extent," said Sarkis. "And there's a real job to be done on race. We should be at the cutting edge on this."

THE QUOTES

'Are we so blinded by Government love and attention that we have lost the ability to speak for ourselves?' - Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

'Beautiful turbot. He paid' - Stephen Bubb , head of Acevo, on dinner with an unnamed Cabinet minister to discuss the third sector

'I want a Compact that elevates the third sector as partner, not as a cut-price alternative to government' - Gordon Brown at the Labour conference

'The 19th century was the age of capitalism, the 20th the age of socialism. The 21st will be the age of charity' - Simon Jenkins, Guardian columnist

'Most observers felt that the old place needed a shake-up - and it got one from Hurricane Gerry' - Journalist Tash Shifrin on Geraldine Peacock's two years at the Charity Commission

THE DATES

FEBRUARY - Jon Scourse and Colin Lloyd are named chief executive and chairman of the new self-regulation body for fundraising. Initial hopes are for 1,000 charities to join up fast.

MARCH - Gordon Brown's Budget contains measures to protect tax-effective giving from abuse. He also announces a new look at the sector's long-term future: this is intended to feed into the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review and support action plans for boosting social enterprise and the sector's contribution to public service delivery.

APRIL - Capacitybuilders takes over the ChangeUp infrastructure programme. Chief executive Simon Hebditch launches a national hubs review.

APRIL - A new online lottery called monday is launched, promising to give millions in unrestricted funding to 70 chosen charities. More than £8m is spent on advertising the launch, but the first game is hit by technical problems and within two months Chariot, the lottery's operator, is asking charity partners to accept lower donations and help with marketing costs.

APRIL - The Fundraising Standards Board unveils its 'tick' logo. The public launch is scheduled for October, but is later delayed until early 2007.

JUNE - More Government initiatives. The Prime Minister talks up the role of the voluntary sector at the Three Sector Summit on the reform of public services. In July, the Lotteries Act is passed, giving ministers powers of direction. Meanwhile, CAF's Charity Trends shows the super-charities are increasing their incomes while smaller outfits struggle.

OCTOBER - Drama at the Charities Aid Foundation as a series of resignations culminates in that of chief executive Stephen Ainger. "A clash of outlooks," says a source.

NOVEMBER - After three years, three Queen's Speeches and 80 hours of debate, the Charities Bill is passed. It brings in new definitions of charitable purpose, new powers for the Charity Commission and new arrangements to license public collections. The Government resists calls for clarification of how the new public benefit test will apply to fee-charging charities.

NOVEMBER - Environmental charities criticise goat-giving as virtual gift catalogues multiply. Meanwhile, the Social Enterprise Action Plan is launched with an £18m fund.

DECEMBER - Capacitybuilders announces a slow death for the hubs, with the coup de grace due in 2008. A consultation on the future of ChangeUp is announced. In the Public Services Action Plan, ministers call for the third sector to be more involved in public services. "There is no alternative," says Ed Miliband.

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