Minister warns voluntary sector it must innovate or risk losing funding

Delayed plans for how £80m will be used to build the
infrastructure of the voluntary sector have been unveiled, with a
warning that money must be used innovatively.

Launching the consultation document at the National Association of
Councils for Voluntary Service annual conference, voluntary sector
minister Fiona Mactaggart told groups: “If all you do is use the
money to tackle the same old problems in the same old way, I am not
convinced you will get continued funding.”

The document, originally expected in May, sets out details for
increasing the capacity of the sector so it can take on a bigger
role in the delivery of public services by 2006.

A £2.4m development fund and a £3.8m exemplar fund were
also announced by Mactaggart to “kick-start” the strategy.

But delegates raised concerns that the money and time allocated to
make the changes needed were inadequate.

Mactaggart admitted there was a risk that local authorities would
see the new money, allocated within the Treasury cross-cutting
review published last September, as an alternative to local
authority support and choose to stop providing infrastructure
funding to the sector. But she said she had been working with the
Local Government Association to try to prevent this

Full details on the how the money will be spent have not been set
out, but £10m has been allocated for information and
communications technology, £3m for a review of skills in the
sector, and £2m for improving performance.

Fears that the voluntary sector will lose its cherished
independence if it becomes more involved in the delivery of public
services have also resurfaced.

Many of the 400 delegates expressed concern at the Leicester
conference that the consultation document did not focus enough on
developing the sector as a whole, only with developing it in
relation to delivering public services.

A group of leading voluntary sector organisations has joined forces
to challenge the government’s agenda. In their report, A Model for
the Future, they argue that the government must provide a long-term
strategic plan for the sector otherwise the cash provided by the
Treasury review will be wasted.

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for
Voluntary Organisations, said: “Government support for the
voluntary and community sector infrastructure must be sustainable
and be built upon a long-term strategy, otherwise it could be
wasting £80m of taxpayers’ money.”

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Objectives of the infrastructure review

Support for diverse voluntary and community organisations (VCOs)
delivered as close to the point of need as is economically

  • Effective local, regional and national tiers of generic
    infrastructure organisations better able to provide advice and
    assistance to individual VCOs, be a voice for VCOs and act as a
    channel for cross-sector communication. This may be supplemented by
    activity at a sub-regional level.
  • Accessible, high-quality support covering volunteering, ethnic
    minority and other diversity issues, social and community
    enterprise, community development, rural needs and information
    technology available across the VCOs.
  • Strengthened specialist infrastructure organisations operating
    nationally – ideally complemented by regional structures where this
    meets sector needs – covering thematic areas of VCO activity and
    service delivery such as child care and vocational training.

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