Communities department consults on third sector engagement

The Department of Communities and Local Government has published a discussion document about how it can improve "effective engagement at all levels" with the third sector, especially smaller community organisations.

The publication of the Third Sector Strategy for Communities and Local Government coincides with a ‘third sector month’ at the department, aimed at encouraging greater awareness of the sector among civil servants.

The proposals, drawn up following discussions with a “key group of stakeholders”, include a commitment to eliminating all Compact breaches by raising awareness, involving the sector in policy formation and giving it ample opportunity to respond to consultations. The department also intends to stipulate a three-year cycle for grant funding in its guidance to local government.

Another idea is to develop and fund a network of “strategic partners” to advise the Department of Communities and Local Government and provide effective links between national and local action.

The department will discuss with national umbrella bodies how the sector can organise itself to maximise its representation in Local Strategic Partnerships. The document reads: “While recognising the sector’s independence, we want to encourage the sector itself to contribute fully to the new local government landscape.”

Following up on the recent Quirk Review, the department is also considering how to develop “community anchors” such as community development trusts to promote enterprise and administer transferred assets on behalf of smaller community groups.

Toby Blume is chief executive of Urban Forum, the umbrella group for community and voluntary groups involved in regeneration, welcomed the document.

“For some years the department (in its previous guise as ODPM) refused to accept the need for a voluntary and community sector strategy,” he said. “The adoption of a corporate level strategy must be seen as a very positive step towards mainstreaming third sector engagement across the department’s varied policy areas, which should help improve consistency of approach.”

He particularly welcomed the commitment to eliminating Compact breaches, but warned it would not be easy to implement the “significant culture change” across the department that would be needed.

The Department of Communities and Local Government will be staging regional consultation events throughout July. It will be running an online discussion forum at http://forum.communities.gov.uk/thirdsector; comments can also be emailed to thirdsector@communities.gsi.gov.uk. The discussion document can be downloaded and hard copies can be ordered by calling 0871 226 336 or by emailing communities@twoten.com.

The final strategy document will be published in the autumn following the Comprehensive Spending Review.

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