Action plan: did it deliver?

Leading figures in the voluntary sector deliver their verdicts

Homelessness
Homelessness

For all the polite applause given to the Office of the Third Sector's £42.5m recession action plan last week, it fell well short of what many had been hoping for.

It was always unlikely that the call by chief executives body Acevo for a £500m emergency fund would be heeded, but some felt there might be some new money.

There was also speculation about a significant extension of the £130m Grassroots Grants scheme and an embryo social investment bank created by a merger of Futurebuilders, Capacitybuilders and the Department of Health's Social Enterprise Fund.

Discussions with the Treasury, however, yielded a more modest plan. There is no new money: the £42.5m is coming from existing budgets in the Cabinet Office and two other Whitehall departments. This includes £7.5m from the OTS spending programme, which will be "reprioritised" with no loss of existing grants or contracts.

One main plank of the plan, the £10m volunteering brokerage scheme for unemployed people, is part of an existing Department for Work and Pensions programme and was not high on many sector agendas.

But the two other main strands were on the wishlist of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations: the community resilience fund is a kind of Grassroots Grant scheme for causes in the most deprived areas, and the modernisation fund will back mergers and collaborative working.

The £15.5m for community resilience is £30m less than the NCVO had asked for, but the £16.5m for the modernisation fund is £4.5m more. The OTS does not proactively encourage mergers, but officials say a survey last year showed that 84 per cent of respondents were willing to consider collaborative working.

The NCVO and Acevo gave the plan a guarded welcome and hoped there would be more to come, including reform of Gift Aid. Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, lamented that the resilience fund would be open only to organisations with incomes of less than £100,000. Trade union Unite contrasted the action plan with the "vast sums" lavished on the banking sector.

Third sector minister Kevin Brennan said the plan was strategic, not targeted at individual charities, and had to be seen in the context of other help available to the sector, notably through the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform's loan guarantee scheme.

Five strands in the plan

1. Volunteer brokerage scheme for the unemployed The Department for Work and Pensions will spend up to £10m over two years finding volunteering opportunities for about 40,000 people who have been unemployed for at least six months. One aim is to give them new skills.

2. Community Resilience Fund £15.5m invested in small organisations in the most deprived areas. A grants scheme will be targeted at organisations addressing recession-related need such as debt and family breakdown. Available from April, the fund will be for one year. The delivery method is yet to be decided.

3. Modernisation fund £16.5m fund for specialist advice to organisations that want to merge or collaborate. It will be delivered by Capacitybuilders and Futurebuilders and is available from this summer for one year.

4. School for Social Entrepreneurs This will get £0.5m to help it increase to 800 the number of social entrepreneurs it trains to set up sustainable community enterprises in the next three years. The SSE was founded in 1997 by Michael Young.

5. Other measures A pilot accreditation process and independent ombudsman to oversee the DWP's code of conduct for commissioning of its welfare-to-work programme; a national campaign to raise awareness of the Government's commitment to pay invoices within 10 days; an independent review of the incentives for investment in social enterprise; and information for charities about the impact of the recession on pension schemes.

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