Editorial: Back to the drawing board with ChangeUp

Stephen Cook, editor

Capacitybuilders has decided, in effect, to pull the plug on the ChangeUp national hubs.

It doesn't put things quite so baldly, of course: it pays tribute to what they've done so far, and calls for better co-ordination of their work in the time remaining. But the bottom line is that budgets are going to be scaled down and will dry up entirely in early 2008.

This is a decision that is likely to be welcomed by many. The hubs may have created 50 jobs - more than half of them at the NCVO - and set in motion some potentially useful initiatives, but Jo Durning's recent research confirmed what some in the sector had felt from the start: that the hubs were a flawed enterprise that would not carry conviction among the kind of organisations they were intended to help.

They were flawed because those in charge at the Home Office decided to hand the resources over to organisations it was used to doing business with. These groups were confident they knew what should be done and would be able to deliver, and ministers and officials wanted a simple solution.

The idea was that 'the sector' would take ownership of the project and collaborate constructively to implement it. The reality was some unseemly tussles over sharing out the cake and a delayed programme of services that were often unfocused and duplicated things that were already being done.

Capacitybuilders has decided to take control and go back to the drawing board with a wide-ranging consultation to find out what kind of national infrastructure development the sector actually wants. Once this is completed, it plans to draw up a programme of work and put it out to tender in the middle of next year. It may be that the hubs or some of the organisations involved in them will bid for and get some of work as the result of an open and transparent process. No one could fairly object to that.

The potential misfortune is that, by the time all the new arrangements have been put in place, the money could be drying up. All over Whitehall you can hear the gasps of pain as belts are yanked tighter by the Treasury.

When the figures are finalised for the next spending round, with the election-winning spending departments having first call, how optimistic can we be that voluntary sector national infrastructure development will get the same serving that was planned in the free-spending days of 2004?

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