Two stories I have worked on this year have generated considerable feeling.
One is the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged into Age UK and its subsequent attempts to persuade local Age Concerns to become ‘brand partners’.
The other is the decision by the Alzheimer’s Society to merge local branches into a new regional structure.
In both cases the changes have been perceived by opponents as attempts by big, bureaucratic London-based charities to impose their will on local charities.
Whether or not this is true, certainly there has been increasing pressure on large charities to bend to the government’s way of working if they want to retain their influence and funding. For many, this has meant becoming more business-like and centralising their structures.
But now the coalition government is talking about a smaller state and a big society.
Small community groups may have displaced large, heavily state-funded charities in ministers’ affections but the large scale radical reforms the government is introducing, such as the Work Programme, are only fuelling the pressure on charities to get bigger and more professional.
What the government wants and what it needs seem to be two different things. It’s difficult for charities to know how to respond to this.