Opinion: Hot issue - Are hubs the wrong approach to infrastructure?

The founder of the Directory of Social Change, Luke FitzHerbert, said last week that infrastructure spending through Futurebuilders, ChangeUp hubs and the Big Lottery Fund may not be the most effective use of money.

NO - DIANE LEYLAND, director of development, NACVS

Although the voluntary and community sector is lauded for its diversity and flexibility, it is also often criticised for its complexity, duplication and consequent potential waste of resources.

The aim of the national hubs of expertise is to make better use of these resources by improving co-ordination and sharing of good practice across the sector. The hubs will improve access to support for front-line voluntary and community organisations, and will enable infrastructure organisations of all types and at all levels to work more effectively. The investment in hubs will build on the best of what exists and extend it further, simplify and foster links between organisations and help to fill gaps in support where necessary.

It is wrong to say that the hubs exclude specialist bodies: they are welcome to join in at various levels and a number have already done so.

For example, the National Housing Federation is a member of the governance hub's advisory group, and the finance hub will support further development of the Community Accountancy National Network.

Specialist organisations will be welcome to use and contribute to the services of all the hubs; the effectiveness of the hubs will be enhanced by their participation.

YES - SYLVIA BROWN, chief executive, Acre

The notion that all front-line voluntary sector organisations have the same support needs has been stretched too far and we have lost our appreciation of the diverse needs of the customer base at the grass-roots.

Small all-volunteer organisations, working hard to provide specific services to their users, want an all-round support service tailored to their particular needs and which delivers a seamless mix of specialist as well as generic advice. A plethora of different generic advisers, websites and toolkits, each based around the different national hub functions, is not only confusing but expensive and ineffective in delivery at grass-roots level.

We welcome the recognition by the Home Office that the focus should now be on coping with the diversity of needs rather than pursuing only that which is common within infrastructure services. The national hubs need to increase their focus on supporting and improving the services of specialist infrastructure bodies. This means dropping the assumption that all grass-roots organisations will directly access and make use of their hub services via websites, toolkits and networks of generic advisers. Only then will the hubs create the added value that would make the ChangeUp investment worthwhile.

NO - ANDREW WATT, deputy chief executive and head of policy, Institute of Fundraising

Hubs have the potential to be a great innovation. They could be an effective bridge for voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes to access the information they need - from government, from the trade bodies and umbrella organisations, and from their peers. But one central London-based hub isn't necessarily of much use to smaller, regional charities.

Many smaller charities won't even know that these hubs exist or about the specialist voluntary organisations that are there to support them.

And from the perspective of a trade body, the challenge is how we can make our services relevant and accessible to these smaller organisations.

Hubs could be a cost-effective solution.

Hubs have to be accessible on a local level. The infrastructure should enable them to act on a regional basis as a one-stop-shop to the full range of expertise that is available from organisations such as Acevo, the Charity Finance Directors' Group, the NCVO, the institute and many more.

There is the danger, of course, of being caught up in the bureaucracy of government funding - but, if made available locally, the infrastructure could be instrumental in bringing appropriate levels of advice, support and training to charities.

NO - BEN KERNIGHAN, director of services and development, NCVO

The purpose of infrastructure is to enable front-line organisations to work more effectively. Rightly, most government support for infrastructure is being spent locally. The hubs are the right approach to providing the advice and support that it makes sense to provide at a national level.

This approach was established after an extensive consultation that heavily involved both front-line and second-tier organisations.

The hubs represent some of the most extensive cross-sector collaboration to date. They bring unparalleled expertise and reach into this very large and diverse sector. They are also well placed to learn about best practice in other sectors and other countries.

The hubs build on existing work and make linking up with local initiatives a priority. They are sector-led, meaning they can provide support to all organisations and have a real understanding of the issues they face.

The hubs will be a valued source of practical accessible resources on governance, leadership, staff development, improving performance, ICT, funding and volunteering.

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