Support service decision 'marginalises volunteering'

Capacitybuilders has been criticised for ignoring calls to give volunteering its own support service under plans to slim-down the current ChangeUp hub structure.

The organisation announced last week that it would proceed with proposals to replace the six hubs with four national support services, which would involve moving volunteering into a theme called ‘people and skills’ alongside workforce issues (Third Sector Online, 13 July).

Justin Davis-Smith, acting chief executive of Volunteering England, which fronted the campaign to reinstate a dedicated volunteering support service, said the decision devalued volunteering.

“Volunteering England is very disappointed that Capacitybuilders appears to have ignored the voice of the volunteering sector by not reinstating volunteering as a national strategic lead,” he said. “Many organisations and individuals came together to lobby for recognition of the unique nature of volunteering at the heart of the third sector, and we maintain that volunteering will be marginalised and undervalued through the absence of a strategic voice.”

Volunteering England will continue to run the existing Volunteering Hub until all the current hubs are replaced by national support services in April 2008.

A Capacitybuilders spokeswoman said the organisation could understand volunteering organisations’ disappointment, but the decision had to be made. “We have to be realistic and recognise the fact that we need to streamline,” she said.

Volunteering would play an important part in the people and skills support service. “It will still comprise of a quite major investment programme within people and skills,” she said.

Handover concerns

Meanwhile, Ben Wittenberg, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, warned that Capacitybuilders’ plans to extend the current hub contracts to ease the handover process could be “chaotic”.

“The fact that they could be extending some of the existing hubs means there is potential for that to become chaotic,” he said. “If you are funding the same organisation to hand over to itself, where is the incentive for that to go smoothly?”

The Capacitybuilders spokeswoman responded that each handover case would be managed on a case-by-case basis. “Where there are existing providers handing over to themselves we are going to have to be strict,” she said.


Time to get on

Colin Nee, chief executive of Charities Evaluation Services, which is the accountable body for the Performance Hub, said Capacitybuilders had to balance a big reduction to its budget.

"Everything depends on whether the new national services can succeed in working creatively with existing national and local infrastructure organisations,” he said. “If they succeed, there will be a better range of support available to the frontline of the sector.

”No one will pretend that the model they have come up with is perfect, but it's time now to get behind it and work with Capacitybuilders to get the best from it,” he added.

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