Audit Commission rounds on grant aid report critics

Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, has hit back at accusations that the public spending watchdog was wrong to claim, in its recent Hearts and Minds report, that there was no evidence of local authorities reducing grant aid budgets.

Third Sector Online reported on 13 September that Navca chief executive Kevin Curley had written to Bundred to dispute the report’s finding, arguing it had been based on data supplied by only nine councils.

However, Bundred stood by the claim, insisting it was backed up by what councils told the commission about their approach to grant funding and on figures showing the overall level of central Government grants administered by councils.

But he admitted the report gave only an overall picture, masking considerable potential variation at a local level.

“We acknowledge that many voluntary organisations, notably smaller ones, are concerned about this issue and believe that there are a number of factors that may explain the perception within the voluntary sector that grant funding has declined,” he said. “These include more alignment of contracts with councils’ strategic objectives and more strategic commissioning, with a greater use of service-level agreements for grants.”

However, Neil Cleeveley, director of information and policy at Navca, pointed to the report’s finding that increased use of service-level agreements had led to a decline in unrestricted grants. He said this backed up Navca’s central concern that less funding is now finding its way to small local voluntary and community sector groups.

He said: “Small local groups will be involved in a lot of good local community action, with plenty of volunteers, but they're just not geared up to deal with disproportionate reporting arrangements linked to relatively small sums of money that are often tied to service level agreements.”

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