Editorial: Bizarre pre-election minuet over the hub

Stephen Cook, editor

Peculiar things happen during election purdah. There's a clumsy minuet going on between the Home Office and the Charities Aid Foundation about whether a consortium led by CAF has got the funding to run the finance 'hub' that forms part of the Capacity Builders programme announced just before Parliament was dissolved.

Can't make an announcement during the campaign, says the Home Office; doesn't mean it's not happening, says CAF. Meanwhile, other public bodies cower in the shadows, not only over relatively trivial matters like this, but also over subjects of such importance that they would make a big splash at any other time. The exception is that Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, gets away with pronouncing himself in favour of identity cards without much protest from the politicians, probably because Labour are in favour and the Conservatives wouldn't dare declare themselves against. Purdah is clearly a flexible concept.

Back with the finance hub: a total of £2.5m has been earmarked for more than 20 bodies, led by CAF, that will offer financial advice to frontline organisations nationally, regionally and locally. The extensive co-operation required by such a venture appears to have happened with none of the recriminations that bedevilled the ICT hub. But the sooner we see some action, the better.

The impatience with the whole 'hub' business expressed in recent letters to Third Sector will best be allayed by practical experience of the benefits.

Meanwhile, an interesting challenge over Capacity Builders is likely to hit the desk of whoever arrives in the Home Office as minister for the voluntary sector in the next government. When Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the body to take forward the business of ChangeUp would follow the example of Futurebuilders and be run by an independent board recruited by a public appointment process, there was widespread approval. It is expected that some members will come from the voluntary sector, some from local government and some from the private sector. The main restriction is that no one can be on the board if their organisation is a potential beneficiary of its £70m funding, which is likely to rule out the umbrella bodies. Some voluntary sector veterans are concerned that few people of the right calibre will be interested in joining such a board - which would be a great shame, because there is clearly interesting work to be done.

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