News analysis: D-Day for the new infrastructure bids

The winners of the national support programmes will face a range of challenges. Andy Ricketts reports.

The national hubs' website
The national hubs' website

It is another important week for the ChangeUp infrastructure programme. Capacitybuilders, which administers the programme, will today announce the preferred bidders to run the nine national support programmes that will replace the six national hubs from next April.

Capacitybuilders received 123 bids for the nine programmes from 66 organisations from the voluntary and private sectors. Equalities and diversity proved to be the most popular area, attracting 26 submissions.

The journey to the nine national support programmes has been a difficult one, with the picture changing almost from week to week at various points over the past few months.

First came the decision that the hubs would be dropped (Third Sector, 29 November 2006). Then came the news that they would be replaced by four national support services (Third Sector Online, 11 June), swiftly followed by a furore over volunteering not being given its own programme (Third Sector Online, 25 June).

And then, to most people's surprise, before these even got off the drawing board they were abandoned and were replaced by nine national support programmes, which are centred on collaboration, income generation, performance management, campaigning and advocacy, leadership and governance, responding to social change, equalities and diversity, modernising volunteering and marketing and communications (Third Sector Online, 7 September).

It is against this backdrop that Capacitybuilders will reveal who it will ask to help shape the future of the ChangeUp programme. So how is the new structure shaping up?

Seb Elsworth, head of policy at chief executives umbrella body Acevo, which has been involved in bidding for ChangeUp work, says he is optimistic about the future.

"The nine new streams have a much more specific remit than the hubs did, so there is greater degree of clarity," he says. He thinks this will allow for more of the money to be spent at the sharp end.

"The structures were very important for the hubs, and managing those structures required quite a lot of resources and effort. Capacitybuilders is quite clear that the new emphasis is on delivery."

Ben Wittenberg, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, says the changes will allow a more varied group of organisations to be involved in delivering services.

"One criticism we had of the six hubs and the four national support services was that they limited the potential range of organisations that could be involved in running those services," he says. "With the announcement of the nine work streams, there is the potential for more groups to throw their hats into the ring."

Organisations will be forced to work in partnership to carry out the programmes, according to Wittenberg. "Even some of the organisations with big infrastructures will find it impossible to deliver on their own," he says. "Capacitybuilders will be able to take a more directive role in steering the commissioning process under the new structure and identifying where things have gone badly."

But others are concerned about how any cohesive programme will develop from the nine strands. "It's been difficult for the hubs to demonstrate any kind of overall strategy," said one source, who did not want to be named. "I can see this as being only a bigger problem when there are more programmes."

Bill Freeman, director of development at umbrella body Navca, says collaboration is a concern for its members. "There will need to be some cross-cutting element that enables the lead organisations to talk to each other and make sure their programmes run alongside each other," he says. "Organisations that we work with do not break up their work across nine neat workstreams, so we are keen to see a level of co-ordination."

Simon Hebditch, chief executive of Capacitybuilders, says the organisation is working on that issue. "There is a need for cross-programme co-ordination, and we are looking at how we can do that," he says. "It is necessary for us to ensure the work is co-ordinated with the existing consortia and the local and regional programmes that are going on, because there has been too much disconnection."

The online communications centre, planned by Capacitybuilders as a one-stop shop for all its activities (Third Sector, 3 October), will also help to co-ordinate work, Hebditch says.

Whichever organisations are approved in today's announcement, Wittenberg is hopeful the changes to the programme will have a positive outcome: "It has got an infinitely higher chance of having a greater impact on the front-line organisations than it has ever had before."

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