Editorial: The sorry saga laid bare by Carrington

Stephen Cook, editor

No one emerges with much credit from the report by independent consultant David Carrington into the long-running dispute about how the information technology national 'hub' should be set up as part of the Government's capacity-building ChangeUp programme for the voluntary sector.

It contains strong criticism of many of those involved, including officials from the Active Communities Unit at the Home Office and chief executives of leading bodies in the sector who should, says Carrington, "have anticipated that the development of the ICT part of the ChangeUp programme could create problems and reputational risk".

Essentially, the Home Office accepted a bid by the ICT Consortium for funds to draw up a business plan, rejected a bid by a rival group called Citra, and charged the Consortium with drawing in other organisations with relevant expertise. Citra, which was described as "having merit" despite being rejected at first, wanted to join in. But the two groups couldn't agree on terms, the ACU failed to intervene decisively and what followed was, in Carrington's words, " a sorry and exceptionally time-consuming and energy-sapping saga".

Whether the report will move things on remains to be seen. Because it both criticises and vindicates the key parties to some extent, the danger is that all will feel justified and the dispute will continue. The ICT Consortium is now proposing a meeting with the ACU and Citra to decide on the best way forward and - who knows? - sweetness and light might yet prevail in a somewhat poisoned landscape.

There could be another way forward, however. Do we need these national hubs at all? Some senior figures in the sector, and many at grass-roots level, say privately that they are unnecessary, and that there is already plenty of advice and expertise available on those areas the hubs are meant to address - performance improvement, workforce development, governance, finance and IT.

What they say they want is better information about such help, not more national organisations with all the costs, bureaucracy - and, it seems, infighting - they bring. Perhaps voluntary sector minister Fiona Mactaggart and the Active Communities Directorate, which is already putting the viability of the hubs in question by delaying announcements about financing, should take a hard look at this aspect before deciding what to do next.

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