Opinion: Hot Issue - Do we have too many charities in the UK pursuing the same goals?

The number of UK charities has grown from 181,434 to 189,552 over the past 10 years, and last week Geraldine Peacock, chair of the Charity Commission, admitted it was hard to regulate so many

YES - DAVID ELLIS, chief executive, Cancer & Leukaemia in Children (Clic)

Charities exist to do the best for the people they serve. But in this increasingly competitive environment, charities have to spend more and more time and resources to compete effectively against other charities working towards the same goal. At Clic, we are committed to delivering the best quality of care to children with cancer and offering the highest level of support to their families, at a very difficult time. We are committed to providing this, and will continually search for even better ways of doing it.

It is for just that reason that Clic and Sargent, the two leading UK children's cancer charities have this month announced their merger.

Our values and services complement each other. Together we will be a stronger voice for children with cancer and their families, able to influence and inform more effectively. We will be able to plan our services more strategically, avoid duplication and respond to children's needs at local level. We will be able to focus on our core business and have economies of scale to deliver more to more children with cancer and their families.

Isn't that what we all want to achieve?

YES - SIMON HEBDITCH, executive director of external affairs, CAF

It is not an easy issue. The whole basis of the UK approach to charity law is that everyone has the right to set up a charity if they so wish as long as such an organisation has clear charitable purposes.

I accept that principle but much more should be done to inform potential founders of new charities of the work being done by others either in their locality or area of interest. It would be helpful to encourage prospective founders to work with existing initiatives rather than start something entirely new with similar interests.

I am not arguing for a ban on new charities - rather that the Charity Commission should be encouraged to discuss with new founders what else is happening in their field of particular interest with a view to ensuring that effort, commitment and funding is channelled sensibly rather than possibly dissipated.

If someone insists on forming a new charity, and such a new development meets the charitable purposes criteria, then she or he should be enabled to do so. It is just that the general public and many donors cannot understand why there appear to be so many charities offering similar services and I sympathise with that concern.

NO - NANCY KELLEY, principal policy officer, Barnardo's

The diversity of the voluntary sector is a strength. Differences in ethos, organisation and practice enable us to meet the real needs of the people we work with, rather than providing one-size-fits-all services.

Of course, there are situations where mergers are appropriate, and certainly the sector has always got more to learn about coordinating its work to prevent duplication of services or campaigns. But it's important that this isn't translated into an assumption that by limiting the number of 'players' in a given field, you improve automaticallythe standard of services offered to vulnerable people.

We should be supporting the sector to develop its capacity to work in partnership; this means seriously addressing the issue of sustainable funding. Without sustainable funding streams, bigger organisations can be driven to compete for contracts, smaller organisations are unable to commit precious staff time to developing partnerships - and often can't survive at all.

In a time when statutory services are increasingly being encouraged to pursue a 'choice' agenda, the diversity of the voluntary sector should be seen as a positive.

NO - PROFESSOR ALEX MARKHAM, chief executive, Cancer Research UK

The Charity Commission lists more than 180,000 registered charities, of which more than 800 focus on cancer.

The reason why there are so many cancer charities is probably because the disease is Britain's biggest killer. Consequently, many people are concerned about cancer and want to do something constructive to help those affected by it. CRUK has shown that charities with similar goals can merge successfully and be stronger together than they are individually, and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. We have significantly increased our research spend year on year since the merger - currently it is £213m per year. Our size means we can be more effective at attracting and retaining world-class scientists and also be more influential over government policy.

There will, however, always be a need for many other cancer charities - for example those offering local services such as support centres for people with cancer or providing a much-needed break for their carers.

We certainly encourage other charities to be open to the opportunities that mergers can bring, but also support fully a diverse charity sector that can meet the varied needs of people across the UK.

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