Bob Holman: Are charities getting to big?

The creation of yet another large youth charity threatens to draw needed funds from the small voluntaries that make a difference

As from July, the two charities Rainer and Crime Concern will become one. With an estimated income of £38m, Rainer Crime Concern will be the fourth richest youth charity. As the top super voluntaries become more like private corporations, more amalgamations can be expected but I have doubts about the creation of ever larger charities.

For a start, the salaries of their top managers mean they are now counted among the seriously rich. Yet they have the gall to express regret over the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. Joyce Moseley – the able head of Rainer – will become the head of the new charity which, she says, will gain a stronger national voice. But it is the leaders of the super charities, not representatives of poor people, who already have access to government ministers, influential civil servants and media contact.

The aim of Rainer Crime Concern is to create one powerful charity. I share the hope that its preventive work will become more effective. But is a powerful charity the best means of promoting prevention of social difficulties among young people?

The overlooked voluntary bodies are small projects, run by residents and where staff and volunteers tend to come from the neighbourhood. I followed up 51 former vulnerable young people, associated with a local project, after they became adults. Far fewer became unemployed or criminal than predicted. They gave two explanations. First, the project’s many activities, even on bank holidays, diverted them from trouble. Second, when in need of help, they had immediate access to trusted staff who lived locally.

In addition, the project continued long-term, it was no three-year wonder. The Smith Institute and the Centre for Social Justice – think-tanks of different political persuasions – have come together in agreement that successful preventive intervention may take up to 12 years.

Unfortunately, the local projects are in financial decline. The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action found 68% of 14,000 small agencies had suffered cuts with some closing. A major reason is that the big charities are taking ever more of the grants from government and charitable trusts.

I admire the work of many front-line staff in the national charities. I am appalled that their leaders are so obsessed with growth that they do not consider that their gain is to the loss of groups at the hard end.

Bob Holman is an author and voluntary neighbourhood worker in Glasgow

Bob Holman

“It is the leaders of the super charities, not poor people, who have access to ministers and the media”

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