Editorial: Why reshuffle Phil Hope at this stage of the game?

Phil Hope got a lukewarm reception when he was appointed Minister for the Third Sector 15 months ago: some doubted he could match his predecessor, Ed Miliband.

But Hope's great strength was his genuine experience of and commitment to the sector, and over time he won over many doubters and settled well to the job of implementing the Third Sector Review. In our feature last week, some sector leaders said he was proving to be an excellent minister.

But now he has been reshuffled to a more senior job in the Department of Health, where he will probably spend the time between now and the general election getting up to speed and worrying about the tiny majority that could easily spell his departure as an MP. Where's the sense in that? It would have been better for the sector, and probably for him, if he had been allowed to continue with the job in hand until the country votes again. It may be that his successor, Kevin Brennan, will be an outstanding minister who will more than make up for the loss. His third sector credentials are good, but the pace of progress is bound to falter. This is a decision that contributes to a growing impression that the Government's commitment to the third sector is wavering as times get hard - which is exactly when that commitment should strengthen.

In 2005, Futurebuilders gave a loan of £1.8m to Catz Club, the charity that provides after-school clubs. It was not the happiest of arrangements, according to informed sources, and early this year the decision was made to terminate it. For reasons as yet unexplained, Futurebuilders and Catz Club made a legally binding agreement not to disclose the terms, including how much of the loan was repaid. This confidentiality clause applies to others, so Third Sector is prevented from publishing the details.

The current regime at Futurebuilders is not comfortable with the arrangement, made by its predecessor, and the shadow charities minister rightly says there should be transparency over the use of public money. Catz Club responds to inquiries about the loan with solicitors' letters. This charity has already been in trouble for making a political donation and shows a large imbalance between income and expenditure in its last published accounts. Why does it decline to give a proper account of itself?

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