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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