Editorial: The curse of life in exciting times

We are looking at a smaller, leaner sector in which more organisations will deliver public services and fewer get grants, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Yet another indication of the sea change getting under way in the voluntary sector came with the publication last week of More Than Just a Number, the first of a new series of Charity Commission bulletins on themes and trends in charity registrations. It found that 59 per cent of the 3,003 charities that were registered by the commission between April and September were involved in the delivery of public services.

This is a much higher proportion than the 34 per cent of all charities on the register that provide services. The commission's comment on this is almost certainly correct - that the figures reflect the gradual shift towards the service delivery sector in recent years, perhaps partly due to a shift in government funding away from grants to contracts.

Meanwhile, the total number of registered charities in England and Wales seems likely before long to fall below 160,000 from its peak of more then 169,000 only four years ago. In the half year reviewed in the bulletin, the number taken off the register was only 189 fewer than the number that joined. However, the gap between the two would probably have been bigger but for the fact that many formerly exempt charities, such as students' unions and the colleges of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, have recently been registered.

The commission study comes in the wake of the recent analysis of Labour Force Survey figures that show a fall of 5 per cent in the year to June in the number of people employed in the sector. Meanwhile, donations remain uncertain, and a recent analysis by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations indicated that the sector is likely to lose nearly £3bn in statutory income over the next five years.

It seems unlikely that these downwards trends are going to go back upwards any time soon. We're looking at a smaller, leaner sector in which more organisations deliver services and fewer get grants. The Chinese curse of exciting times is upon us, and many more ordeals lie ahead.

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