A ‘community budgets’ policy being trialled by the Communities and Local Government department will allow charities to become more involved in local public sector decision-making, sector bodies have predicted.
Community budgets allow public bodies, including local authorities, police, fire and health authorities, to collaborate in allocating budgets from a single combined pool. CLG announced last month that they were to be tried out in Manchester, west London, Cheshire and Essex.
Robert Beard, policy officer at the local infrastructure body Navca, said that ideally a voluntary sector representative would sit alongside the public bodies when funding decisions were being made.
"Signs from the four pilot areas are very encouraging," he said. "Local voluntary sector organisations have been involved in service design and we think they’ll be able to have much more influence on funding decisions.
"The involvement of civil society was one of the key things the government looked at when selecting pilot areas," said Beard. And in one case, a voluntary sector worker actually chairs the local strategic partnership that is making the decisions.
"If this is rolled out, we don’t know how many areas will have a voluntary sector representative at the table, but it should at least encourage local authorities to think again about involving the sector."
Alex Massey, a policy officer at chief executives body Acevo, said his organisation believed the scheme would help public bodies to "co-design" services with charities. "It will encourage councils to involve service providers and service users in setting priorities," he said.
He said that he thought it would boost funding for charities that provide early intervention services for groups such as drug users, ex-offenders and children in care.
He said that local authorities were reluctant to fund early intervention services because, although they saved money for the public purse, any savings accrued to other public sector budgets. But with community budgets, all savings would accrue to a central pool shared by many public bodies.