Editorial: Conversion from quango to charity

The five organisations spared the quango bonfire to become charities have joined the voluntary sector at a very difficult time

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor
Last week's bonfire of the quangos was a cause of pain and uncertainty for many people and organisations. As predicted, the sector lost – in diminishing order of importance – Capacitybuilders, the Commission for the Compact and the Office for Civil Society Advisory Body.

Reassuringly, the OCS has not abandoned capacity-building altogether and is consulting on different future approaches, including greater use of online methods and links with the private sector. It's a fair bet, however, that there'll be less public money for it.

Meanwhile, five organisations have been spared the bonfire and are to join the voluntary sector as charities. They are British Waterways, the innovation body Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), the Design Council, the Schools Food Trust and the Alcohol Education and Research Council.

This move gives substance to the big society message, in that it devolves power and responsibility from government. Most of these organisations will sit comfortably in the sector. British Waterways, which has been wanting to make the move for some time, will become the country's 13th-largest charity and a major player in the heritage, landscape and leisure sub-sectors. Nesta, which has a solid endowment and does not need public money, said it was delighted.

There are many advantages to being a charity rather than a quango: you escape the rules and restrictions imposed by the Treasury and Whitehall, you don't get visits from the National Audit Office and you don't have ministers breathing down your neck. A new freedom and flexibility beckons.

On the other hand, some of the new charities will face the challenge of raising more voluntary income against stiff competition at a time when most donors and supporters will be tightening their belts. Some organisations might need to be restructured or slimmed down. Freedom can be a mixed blessing.

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