Lord Ashcroft has in the past attracted attention mostly for his contributions to the Conservative Party and his offshore taxation arrangements. But he's in the news now for his Veterans' Transition Review, which contains an uncompromising analysis of the armed forces charity sector.
It takes us straight to the Chairman Mao question, which always lurks in the wings of the charity stage: is it better to let a hundred flowers bloom or to seek a more ordered and rational approach, cutting out duplication and unproductive competition?
The number of forces charities is 2,050, according to Ashcroft, who calculates that, even among the group of 380 welfare charities he focuses on, there is one of them for every eight service leavers who are likely to need their help each year. He likens the sector to a maze and recommends more cooperation, collaboration and consolidation.
His report, however, receives a lukewarm response from a number of senior figures in armed forces charities who are quoted in our analysis. They point out that charities can't be forced to merge, that the recommendations would cost money and that change would need backing from the Ministry of Defence.
These are all good points. Most of the main services charities do sterling work, there is some effective collaboration already and some of the more niche or local organisations are said to fulfil a real need. But this is not to say nothing should be done.
Ashcroft's two strongest recommendations are producing a comprehensive directory of forces charities that meet quality criteria; and setting up a 24-hour, seven-day contact centre with a single phone number and web address. There is a ready source of funds for the expense involved: the fines imposed on banks involved in rigging the inter-bank Libor lending rate. The government has, after all, already earmarked these for forces charities.
Meanwhile, with a likely reduction in voluntary income post-Afghanistan, it behoves all military charities to shelve organisational pride and look for greater opportunities for consolidation.