Review of 2007: The 10 biggest stories of the year ...

From the Government's raid on voluntary sector lottery money to shore up the Olympics, to a review of Gift Aid and the threat of compulsory volunteering, 2007 has been busy and controversial. John Plummer recalls the most important stories of the year - and the most quirky.

Skydivers. Picture: Willy Boeykens (
Skydivers. Picture: Willy Boeykens (

1. Olympics lottery raid

Waiting for the revised London Olympics budget was, for the voluntary sector, like waiting for a trip to the dentist: it knew it would hurt, but didn't know how much. Eventually, in March, the Government diverted £250m from arts, sports and heritage lottery distributors. Big Lottery Fund money specifically earmarked for the voluntary sector was spared. Within minutes of the announcement, Third Sector's inbox was filled with emails praising then third sector minister Ed Miliband for his role in saving sector funds, but these provided cold comfort to many arts, sport and heritage groups. Last week, however, Third Sector analysis of Liberal Democrat research found that the sector will lose between £555m and £648m in BLF grants by 2012 - up to £47m more than previous estimates.

2. Heyday's woes

It emerged in February that Heyday, Age Concern's subsidiary to help over-50s plan for retirement, was shedding 33 staff after falling woefully short of its 250,000 membership target. But the organisation's annus horribilis had only just begun. It was later revealed that Tony Page (above) left his post as managing director last year with an £815,000 payment, the Charity Commission was investigating whether the organisation's activities were charitable and no less than £16.5m had been invested in the venture. Age Concern branches in London and north-east England rebelled.

3. Learning and Skills Council sues tiny voluntary organisation

This was the tale of a merciless big government agency squashing a minuscule voluntary organisation, and of the ineffectiveness of the Compact. The LSC, which has a budget of £10.4bn, sued Kids in Communication, a four-person organisation based in a car park in Wolverhampton with assets of £4,600, for not delivering a contract with "reasonable care and skill". The contract was worth £119,000; the LSC's legal fees totalled £155,000. The NCVO condemned the LSC in unusually harsh terms as "draconian, pernicious and bullying".

4. Gift Aid review

The Government didn't budge an inch on irrecoverable VAT, but in June the Treasury announced a review of the sector's other big taxation issue: Gift Aid. The review provoked a split among voluntary sector umbrella bodies, with most calling for charities to be able to claim a proportion of their voluntary income based on the proportion of donors who pay income tax. However, the Charities Aid Foundation, under its new chief executive, John Low, rejected the idea on the grounds that it went against Gift Aid's original purpose of getting more people to give. Consultation ended in September. The outcome remains to be seen.

5. Charity Commission under pressure

The regulator was far from alone in having a picket line at its door as a wave of strikes hit the voluntary sector. But besides facing industrial action over pay, the regulator is having to find ways to deliver new responsibilities under the Charities Act, such as creating a new licensing regime for street fundraising, on a frozen budget and with 33 job losses in view. Add the tribulations of the public benefit test, setting up a new register of mergers and responsibility for investigating links between charities and terrorists, and you wonder how Andrew Hind, the chief executive, manages to sleep.

6. Bid to change laws on political campaigning

Charities started manoeuvring for change in May, when the Advisory Group on Campaigning and the Voluntary Sector, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (below), published a review saying charities' ability to engage people was being compromised by outdated rules on political campaigning, and calling for charities to be able to dedicate all of their resources to campaigning. The Government appeared to give conflicting messages on its position, and shadow charities minister Greg Clark came out firmly against change as the debate got bogged down in legalistic arguments.

7. Fundraising Standards Board is launched

After its initial launch date was postponed, the Fundraising Standards Board finally got under way in February with a pledge to help people "give with confidence". Three months later the organisation, which deals with public complaints about fundraising, had to change its logo from FSB to FRSB after a complaint from the Federation of Small Businesses. The scheme has since picked up pace with 750 charity members, but its effectiveness probably will not become apparent until feedback on its work emerges in 2008.

8. Department for Work and Pensions 'stuffs' charities

It was supposed to be the next step towards charities delivering public services. But when the Department for Work and Pensions awarded the first 16 contracts of its Pathways to Work programme, which aims to reduce the number of people claiming incapacity benefits, only two went to charities. "The sector has been comprehensively stuffed," said Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo and chief flag-waver for charities running more services. Trade unions, which had warned contestability was a form of back-door privatisation, said "I told you so" as the company WorkDirections UK hoovered up six contracts.

9. Compulsory volunteering looms

Volunteering acquired a political hue in 2007 as the Government attempted to draw charities into its plans to make all 16 to 18-year-olds participate in part-time education in conjunction with employment, self-employment or 20 hours-plus volunteering a week. Those who don't will be fined, which raises the prospect of volunteering charities having to shop any teenagers who prefer to watch Richard & Judy instead. Charities are uneasy at the prospect. "If you force someone to volunteer, it's not volunteering," said John Ramsey, head of volunteering at Age Concern England.

10. London Marathon discontent

Should charities with gold bonds, which guarantee places in the London Marathon, keep them forever while others have none? Race director David Bedford is adamant they should. Bedford made a small concession in 2007 by introducing silver bonds, which guarantee holders one place every five years, but insists there will be no further changes. The malcontents responded by hatching plans to set up a second marathon.

And the six oddest

Oxfam's transgender fundraising night

Oxfam took niche fundraising to a new level when it put on a special night for transvestites and transgendered people at its shop in Leeds. Opening night sales were, however, disappointing, with the charity blaming the media interest for keeping "the more flamboyant types" away.

Children's charities linked to Irish paramilitary groups

When the Northern Ireland Department for Education called for good links to be established between voluntary organisations such as Barnardo's and the NSPCC with the UDA and the UVF, charities weren't best impressed. "It beggars belief," said Dolores Kelly, equality spokesperson for the SDLP. "Barnardo's and the NSPCC protect children: the UDA and UDF beat them up."

Angry Dave confronts Intelligent Giving

Intelligent Giving's trenchant views have riled many people, but one took particular umbrage to the donor information website's figures on how much money Chelsea FC gives to charity. Describing himself as "Dave from Chelsea media", he left a message on the Intelligent Giving answerphone telling staff to get a proper job or he would punch them on the nose. He never left a number.

Salvation Army bans yoga

The Salvation Army banned lunchtime yoga at its national headquarters, citing "irreconcilable theological differences between the spiritual dimensions of yoga and Christianity".

Gordon Brown's easy ride

When Gordon Brown wanted to rouse the voluntary sector for the election that never was, he found an obliging partner in the NCVO, which organised the curious spectacle of a Prime Ministerial speech followed by pre-approved questions asked by pre-approved charity folk in front of a pre-approved audience. Challenging it wasn't.

Quakers take the cash

Quaker Faith & Practice says Quakers should "resist the desire to acquire possessions or income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance". Hence its 35-year opposition to gambling. But Quaker Social Action put need above principle when it agreed to accept lottery money to save projects threatened with closure.

And the best picture

It took them three attempts, but as the sun was going down on a September evening, they finally made it: 68 women sky-divers linked up for a few crucial seconds to form a red cross over an airfield in Nottinghamshire (see above).

The self-styled Brit Chicks broke the previous UK women's record of 60 in a single formation and raised more than £40,000 for the British Red Cross. "It was a fantastic experience," said one participant, Kate Shearer.

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