Rivals clash over web site costs

Emma Maier

The Government-funded GuideStar initiative has been criticised by voluntary sector experts who are concerned about the high cost of the project and the lack of consultation in its planning.

GuideStar UK is developing an internet service providing information about charities' performance after the Government's Strategy Unit raised concerns about the lack of publicly available information on the sector.

Critics from the Henley Management College have questioned the £2.9 million Treasury grant awarded to the project and have suggested that a full database could be set up for as little as £150,000.

GuideStar and its working partner the Charity Commission have hit back, saying that critics have misunderstood the initiative and the Treasury's funding system. They stress that the sector has been involved from early on, and will continue to be part of the ongoing review of the project, which will be conducted through an assurance committee monitoring the data quality on the site.

They also argue that most of the criticism has emerged from people involved in the development of a rival web site funded by the Institute of Fundraising and the Charities Aid Foundation.

They have been working with Henley Management College since 2001 on a benchmarking project to examine charities' fundraising and direct marketing performance.

"According to my research, a database of the type GuideStar will be using would cost up to £150,000," said Adrian Sargeant, chair at the Centre for Voluntary Sector Management at Henley Management College. "The question is, 'is GuideStar value for money?' and the simple answer is 'I don't know.' "

"Everyone is concerned about the long-term sustainability of the project," said Cathy Pharoah, director of research at CAF.

GuideStar UK stands by its budget. "We have done a careful costing which is constantly being reviewed," said project manager Jocelyn James. "We are not looking to spend money unnecessarily and would be interested to hear how it could be done cheaper."

Ray Jones, policy accountant at the Charity Commission, added: "The bid does not cover just set-up costs but a contribution to operating and running costs of the organisation over a three-year period.

"It is a significant venture and one that could not be achieved for the costs being suggested. The Treasury bidding process involves careful consideration of costs but, most importantly, the return to the sector that such an information source will provide."

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