In 2004, Home Office civil servants and ministers decided to hand over more than £16m of public money to six partnerships of voluntary organisations.
Christened the hubs, they were asked to identify the sector's infrastructure development needs in a range of areas, decide what should be done to address them and choose who should carry out the work. They chose to commission some work from other organisations and do much of it themselves. This inevitably led to the kind of infighting and suspicion that played a large part in prompting Capacitybuilders, established earlier this year to get a proper grip of the ChangeUp programme of which the hubs are a part, to set up an immediate review.
The resulting report by the consultant Jo Durning suggests the hubs will never, with their current remit, attract the support they need from the sector. It says: "The perception and the gossip is, and seems likely always to be, that decisions are influenced at some level by the interests of the partners, that there is trading of support, or that partners will not be interested in new approaches that challenge their own programmes. This damages the credibility of the national programme."
Durning's most radical option is to seek better leadership and integration by making Capacitybuilders into the commissioning body and the hubs into slimmed-down centres of excellence, advising rather than deciding on courses of action.
Capacitybuilders won't make a final decision until November, and there is now likely to be intensive lobbying by some of the hub partners in favour of a modified status quo. One of the arguments will be that giving the strategic role to Capacitybuilders hands power to a government agency at the expense of the sector.
The strength of Capacitybuilders, however, is that it is a body that operates at arm's length from government and has a wealth of sector experience and expertise on its board. It should also be remembered that the hub partnerships that own and lead the project at the moment do not, as Durning makes clear, represent the sector as a whole.
The hubs have never looked or felt right to many in the sector because their basic formula was fatally flawed. The Durning report offers the opportunity to build on the good work they have managed to do and move to a new dispensation that would give them a different role but create a more appropriate separation of powers.