2008: Our top stories of the year

Age Concern and Help the Aged finally agreed to merge and both Labour and the Tories hinted at their plans for charities after the next election. Tristan Donovan looks back at 2008's top voluntary sector stories.

All change for voluntary sector politicians

The sector gained two new representatives in government and opposition in the autumn after Gordon Brown's ministerial reshuffle.

Kevin Brennan came in as the new minister for the third sector. Labour, he said, would support the sector long-term and warned it to "beware of being hugged by a Tory". However, Nick Hurd, Brennan's opposite number in the Conservative Party, said the Tories wanted to help charities without smothering them and warned against a "creeping dependence" on government cash.

See: Kevin Brennan: 'being in government is about walking the walk'; 'Contracting is a draining and miserable experience for charities'

Clive Booth slugs it out with the Tories

Sir Clive Booth, the Big Lottery Fund's chair, got himself into trouble in January when he accused the Conservative Party of being hostile towards the voluntary sector. The Tories, he said, were "stuck in a time warp".

The Conservatives said Booth's remarks were inappropriate for "a public servant who is supposed to be neutral". In April, Booth apologised publicly and admitted his remarks were misjudged, although he denied Conservative accusations of Labour cronyism.

See: Booth criticises Tories' 'hostility' to the sector; Booth went too far, say Tories; Tories accept Booth's apology

Scouts trustee exposed as BNP member

In November, the membership list of the British National Party was leaked onto the internet. Among the 13,500 people named in the document was a Scout Association trustee from Hertfordshire, who was suspended as a result. The association said its membership policy had prohibited members of the BNP since the mid-1990s.

See: Scout Association suspends trustee over BNP membership

Age Concern and Help the Aged unite

Age Concern and Help the Aged finally agreed to merge this year. It was the charities' third attempt in a decade to join forces. After several months of discussion, the pair announced in July they should merge by April 2009.

See: Age charities inch towards merger - yet again; Age organisations reveal plans for 2009 merger

Preparations for the next election

This year was also one of policy proposals from the main political parties. In June, the Conservative Party released a green paper for the voluntary sector that proposed simplifying Gift Aid, less bureaucracy in state funding and making the Big Lottery Fund a Voluntary Action Lottery Fund.

The Labour Party's response came in November when former home secretary David Blunkett presented policy ideas for the its next manifesto. Blunkett's proposals included recognising unions as part of the third sector, giving statutory powers to the Commission for the Compact and merging Futurebuilders and Capacitybuilders.

See: How the Tories intend to make the third sector the 'first sector'; Blunkett publishes manifesto menu

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