Voluntary sector fears losing say on funding under new area agreements

    Fears have emerged that voluntary groups in deprived areas could be
    marginalised by the new local government funding arrangements
    announced last week.

    Regeneration umbrella body Urban Forum believes the voluntary and
    community sector (VCS) in the 88 neighbourhood renewal fund areas
    will lose influence over funding decisions because of the proposed
    amalgamation of several government grants under local area
    agreements (LAAs).

    Under existing arrangements, funds such as the Community
    Empowerment Fund, Community Chest and Community Learning Chest are
    given directly to the VCS to help them participate in local
    strategic partnerships (LSPs) and run their own projects. Under the
    new arrangements, however, local authorities will make final
    decisions about how money is spent.

    Although LSPs, which include voluntary and community groups, are
    expected to be involved in developing LAAs, they will ultimately be
    agreements between central government and local authorities.

    Rupa Sarkar, LSP project officer at Urban Forum, is concerned this
    could see the VCS frozen out of decision-making.

    She said: “This has been based on the working assumption that the
    VCS has a decent relationship with LSPs and can access some of
    these funds. Very few people feel they have that.

    “This will be much harder now that the money has gone from the VCS.
    It feels like it is going back to the beginning and seems quite
    pointless if the government wants the VCS to be more involved [in
    shaping local services].”

    However, she said the changes could benefit non-NRF areas because
    it could allow them to bid LAAs for money previously only available
    to the 88 most deprived areas.

    The government hopes LAAs will give councils greater flexibility to
    shape services around local need by pooling resources from
    different funding streams, so reducing red tape. They will be
    judged against local public service agreement targets, with further
    cash being available if these are met.

    LAAs will be piloted in nine councils, testing joined-up funding in
    children and young people’s services; safer and stronger
    communities; and health and older people services (news, page 10,
    29 July).

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