Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a
topic in the news.

Home Secretary David Blunkett’s
announcement of a £500,000 emergency fund to shore up the voluntary sector came
with a sting in the tail. The government stumped up the cash when it became
clear that a number of voluntary groups faced collapse because local authorities
had cut their funding.

Blunkett warned that the money would
be a one-off contribution and councils would have to honour their
responsibilities to the voluntary sector in the future. If safe and strong
communities were to become a reality, he said, “local authorities should look
at how to do more to fund voluntary and community organisations.” The Home
Office and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are
writing to councils reminding them of their responsibilities, perhaps a measure
of the government’s impatience with those that have failed to put the voluntary
sector at the top of their priority list. In the meantime, the £500,000 will
provide a much-needed boost to the voluntary sector but many are asking for how
much longer the government’s approach can sustain it.

programme manager, Children’s Society
“The 1990s saw a rash of reports on the voluntary sector, all praising its
contribution to social care.  Only one,
by Barry Knight, called for radical overhaul, dispensing with tax perks for fat
cats and revitalising voluntary action as championing social justice. The
report, sponsored by the Home Office, was buried. Blunkett’s emergency relief
and exhortations to hard pressed local authorities are of little value. We need
serious reappraisal. But then that would include proper funding for mainstream

Warwick, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s

“Having an emergency fund is merely
a sticking plaster response to a deeper rooted funding crisis. As an employee
of a voluntary sector agency I have experienced negative responses, on
occasions, from those employed in the statutory sector. There remains the view
that voluntary groups provide only supplementary services and are therefore
dispensable and not entirely credible. I know from experience that this is an
outmoded view and the voluntary sector now make up a massive percentage of the
social care workforce. When this is recognised, funding may be easier to

Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the Elderly

“The money that was announced will
do nothing to sustain the voluntary sector in the longer term. What the
government needs to do is ensure local authorities implement the Compact for
the Voluntary Sector and offer proper funding, particularly for core costs. The
relationship between the voluntary sector and some local authorities is still
full of inequalities and double standards and some authorities see the sector
as an easy target for cuts when they have failed to manage their own budgets.”

Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers Association

“It is not surprising that council
funding for the voluntary sector is inadequate. Local authority budgets to
provide for first class front-line services are woeful. I would welcome any
serious government commitment to mainstream funding for council and voluntary
sector provision. Full support to Gordon Brown if he goes ahead with plans to
close the £5 million tax loophole for the super-rich and redirects the money
into voluntary and council provision for the children and older people in their

Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute for Health, University of

“The time is well overdue for a
proper review of the role of the voluntary sector. The increased dependence
upon funding from the state, the shift to a direct provider role, along with
the rise of the private sector, have taken place without any real exploration
of what we expect from voluntary organisations. Without such a review and
strategy, this sort of bailing out will be an annual event.”

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