Kaye Wiggins canvasses opinion on the distribution of Transforming Local Infrastructure funds
Last week, 140 consortia of voluntary sector infrastructure and support groups across England were told the results of their bids for government funding under the £30m Transforming Local Infrastructure programme. Only 72 succeeded.
The fund is designed to help local support bodies - mostly councils for voluntary service - to work more closely with similar groups and to forge better relationships with the private sector. The face of local infrastructure seems set for change.
The biggest winner is Ealing CVS in west London, which will get £965,000 for a partnership that includes groups in the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow.
Andy Roper, the organisation's chief executive, says the money will fund three new community resource centres, a merger-matching service for charities across the five boroughs, a shared bank of statistics and a "collective voluntary sector offer" to businesses. "Our logic was that if you work across boroughs there is more opportunity for savings and innovative work," he says.
Ealing Council has pledged £95,000 in matched funding, and Hounslow and Harrow councils have agreed to provide some capital funding. "I think the matched funding is part of why the Office for Civil Society liked our bid," says Roper.
Not far away in Westminster, however, the picture is very different. Voluntary Action Westminster will be hit hard after its bid for £760,000 failed. "We will make eight of our 35 staff redundant, and we will have to reduce the organisational development support we offer to charities," says Bernard Collier, chief executive of VAW.
It bid to extend an employee volunteering scheme for firms based in Westminster and the City of London, and to develop other support services VAW charges for. Collier says this would have made his organisation more self-supporting in the long term and increase understanding of the importance of paying for infrastructure services. "We felt this was in line with the government's agenda, so we are shocked," he says. "It has left us almost entirely reliant on state support. I'd like to think we can find new funding, but it is going to be very tight."
Questions have also been raised about the regional distribution of the funds. Jo Curry, chief executive of Vonne, which represents voluntary groups in the north east, says the decision to reward just one bid from parts of the region outside Tees Valley was damaging, and she has written to the department to ask why it has done this.
"It is a massive area and there has been a major reorganisation of local government," she says. "The new Durham and Northumberland local authorities would like to have one point of contact for the voluntary sector, but because the pattern of CVSs still matches the old local authority geography, there are many. It was ripe for reform. We need to pressure the OCS for a plan B, because this does not seem like an intelligent decision."
Voice4Change England, which represents black and ethnic minority groups, has also raised concerns. "Many of our members have struggled to get involved in partnerships, and areas with high BME populations, such as Bristol and Barking and Dagenham, lost out," says Vandna Gohil, the organisation's director.
The infrastructure group Navca has offered to help unsuccessful applicants, but Collier says the programme's design, and the intentions behind it, were wrong from the start. "The fund wasn't asking what the sector's needs were locally," he says. "Instead, it was asking how you could restructure organisations so that they no longer need grants from the state. There will always be some small groups that do."