Editorial: Some testing times lie ahead for the new chief of Capacitybuilders

The appointment of Matt Leach as the new chief executive of Capacitybuilders completes a process of restaffing and beefing up an organisation that has gone through turbulent times recently and faces the likelihood of more trouble ahead.

Leach, a career civil servant who is currently director of policy and communications at the Housing Corporation, will need a well-honed set of handling and presentation skills to deal with some of the questions that await him.

To recap: Capacitybuilders was set up as an arm's-length public body to run the Government's £88.5m ChangeUp programme, designed to give a significant boost to the sector's infrastructure. Before the Office of the Third Sector was set up, ChangeUp was run by the Home Office and a significant slice of its resources given to the so-called national hubs of expertise, run by consortia of sector organisations.

The first task of Capacitybuilders was to dismantle the hubs, which were in many cases proving more popular with their providers than their intended beneficiaries, and replace them with nine new national support services. That process involved considerable uncertainty and blood-letting and, once it was complete, Simon Hebditch, the first chief executive of Capacitybuilders and a stalwart of the sector, left the organisation.

Capacitybuilders is chaired by former minister Chris Pond, and over the summer several safe pairs of hands have been recruited to its board, including Sir Rodney Brooke, with his extensive knowledge of local government, and Stephen Dunmore, former chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, who is a also a consultant to the Office of the Third Sector.

It now remains to be seen whether the new support services will be better received and more effective than the hubs. In another aspect of Capacitybuilders' work, it emerged last week that Plymouth Community Partnership, which has received more than £340,000 from Capacitybuilders and was due to receive a further £240,000, has abruptly ceased to exist, offering no explanation of what has gone wrong. Initial indications are that an internal power struggle led to the departure of the organisation's chief executive for the past eight years. Sooner or later, Capacitybuilders will no doubt explain how it came to put so much public money into an organisation that appears to have imploded.

There is also the question of the much-delayed National Audit Office report into whether Capacitybuilders and Futurebuilders are providing value for money. The report by the independent watchdog was due to be published in April, but was postponed first until July and now until later in the year. The excuse that the delays are merely routine will no longer wash, which is no doubt why Conservative charities spokesman Greg Clark is putting down a parliamentary question about the report.

It is fairly clear that an extended conversation is taking place between the NAO and the OTS. Neither organisation will go into detail, but informed sources suggest the NAO inquiry has raised questions about Change-Up, particularly in its early phases. No doubt the report will eventually be cleared for publication and the picture will become clearer. So it looks as if Leach will have plenty to chew on when he takes up the job in January.

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