Editorial: Big beasts should unite, not fight

Acevo and the NCVO might achieve more if they worked together, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

A message went round on Twitter last week that Stephen Bubb, leader of the chief executives body Acevo, had applied to become chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, a post now being advertised.

There was a brief fluttering in the dovecotes: if true, it was quite a story. But it was, of course, a joke, and everyone had a little snigger and went back to work.

The amusement was derived from the open secret that the two organisations are like chalk and cheese and do not find it easy to work well together. Bubb and the NCVO's Stuart Etherington, the sector's two top leaders, bring to mind the gunslingers' cliche from the old Westerns: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us." There have been times when the relationship has been little better than undeclared war.

Does this matter? The two organisations have differing agendas and outlooks, and much of the time they do their own thing, rather like two trains speeding forward on parallel tracks. They both have talent and ideas, and separately they achieve a lot. From time to time the terrain gets rough and the carriages rock about and knock sparks off each other; by and large, there is co-existence.

But how much more could they achieve together? With the election coming up and spending cuts looming, it is more important than ever that the sector should speak with one voice whenever possible. Disunity plays into the hands of a Whitehall only too ready - as recently over Gift Aid reform - to divide and rule.

Maybe there will be no progress on this until one of the big beasts moves on. Ultimately, however, this is a question of governance. Acevo has a strong chair in Lesley-Anne Alexander, and maybe this uncomfortable issue should be high on the agenda for her first meeting with whoever does take over in the NCVO boardroom in November.

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