Are small charities better than big ones? Few questions provoke more ire.
Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, says it is a “senseless and divisive argument”.
But the new government seems to be following the path trodden by Iain Duncan Smith five years ago when he contrasted “bureaucratic and risk-averse” big charities with “the instinctive understanding” of small, local groups.
It was noticeable that small groups, rather than the sector monoliths, were invited to Downing Street to discuss the big society last month.
This month, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the new Communities First fund would be “super-local, seriously neighbourhood-based and almost microscopically granular”.
I’m not quite sure what he meant but it didn’t sound like an invitation to Cancer Research UK to apply.
Yet charities still face pressure to get bigger and more centralised if they want to tango with the government.
The Alzheimer’s Society is a high profile example. It has tightened control over local offices, which has upset some volunteers but was done to improve accountability and enable the charity to win more contracts from the government.
I interviewed Jeremy Hughes yesterday, who, it was announced this week, is leaving Breakthrough Breast Cancer to become the society’s chief executive. He thinks cancer charities’ model of closer collaboration with government is the way to go if you want to win contracts and influence people.
It’s difficult to argue with that, yet it’s hard to see how it squares with the ‘big society’.
Like it or not, I suspect the size issue will be one of the key themes of the years ahead.