It's a shame to hear Professor Peter Alcock, director of the Third Sector Research Centre, talking gloomily in our interview with him about his organisation's prospects for receiving renewed funding from the government when its initial grant runs out next year.
Academic research isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the organisation has made some important contributions in its four-year existence and any reduction in its output would leave a gap, particularly at a time when it seems to be getting into its stride. Its recently begun Third Sector Futures Dialogues project, a series of debates on the future of the voluntary sector, is one of its most ambitious and will tackle some central themes, such as whether charities have special characteristics and how the sector is being affected by its changing relationship with the state.
And the long-term project Real Times, which is examining the fortunes of 15 sector organisations over time, is bound to throw up some fascinating insights into the reality of voluntary sector life at a particularly turbulent time. Not all of its research has hit the mark for everyone in the sector, and some wish that it could be lighter on its feet and respond more quickly to developing issues - but there is a feeling that the work it has been doing and the areas it has been focusing on have been broadly right and are worth supporting.
The need for the sector to have access to good data was exposed by the tax cap row, when charities argued that the plan to limit the amount of relief higher-rate taxpayers could claim on donations would have a significant effect on charitable giving but had little immediate evidence to support that claim. Alcock talks about wanting the TSRC to be seen as an Institute for Fiscal Studies for the third sector - something that will not happen overnight. The TSRC has been going for only four years, but the IFS for more than 40. If this ambition is to be realised, some persuasive arguments will need to be made to the Office for Civil Society and other funders in the coming months.
- Read our interview with Professor Peter Alcock