There are too many infrastructure organisations in the UK and many need to "shrink, merge or close", NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said yesterday.
Speaking yesterday at the launch of a Big Lottery Fund programme, the Beacons for Change initiative, in Manchester, Etherington said too many infrastructure bodies provide "similar services in similar ways".
There are currently around 800 voluntary sector infrastructure organisations in the UK, according to Etherington. But he said in the changing landscape of dwindling funds, that figure was too high, with infrastructure bodies competing both with each other and frontline organisations "for a slice of a much smaller funding pie”.
“True champions of infrastructure recognise the need to shrink, merge, form a partnership or close”, he said.
“The pressures of today mean all of us must all be willing to work in closer partnership with one another, as well as with government and funders. It is only by so doing that we will ensure the potential of the voluntary sector ecosystem is both preserved and realised for future generations.”
'Status quo is not an option'
Etherington said his "tough message” was not a pessimistic one.
“Political, economic, social, technological and structural transformation is taking place on an unprecedented scale, and at a pace that is faster than ever before,” he said.
“The status quo is not an option, and infrastructure organisations must adapt.”
Etherington said government cuts and funding shortfalls were the biggest challenges faced by infrastructure bodies today.
“While the rest of the economy has grown, income to the voluntary sector has flatlined since 2009,” he said.
“Income from local government continues to fall and neither the public nor the private sector is making up the shortfall.”
He said that although NCVO continues to push for government funding of infrastructure bodies, it was “deeply unrealistic” to expect the government to restore core grant for infrastructure to their historical levels any time soon.
Etherington said infrastructure bodies have three methods of survival – to charge for services, build a consortia of frontline groups or turn to contracting.
“The best infrastructure organisations recognise not only challenges, but also the opportunities inherent in the newly localised world of public services commissioning,” he said.
In a statement today, chief executive of NAVCA Neil Cleeveley, said it was “refreshing to hear Sir Stuart celebrate the successes of infrastructure organisations in adapting their approach to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve”.
“Of course Infrastructure needs to continually improve but it is important that we recognise and learn from the progress that so many have made,” he said.