Cross-Whitehall funding for third sector action plan

No new money, but £42.5m fund includes savings and contributions from other government departments.

The £42.5m pledged in the Government's action plan for third sector organisations in England during the recession is being taken from existing Whitehall spending programmes, the Office of the Third Sector said yesterday.

The £10m volunteer brokerage scheme for unemployed people will be paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions under a previously announced scheme, officials confirmed at a briefing yesterday.

The £16.5m modernisation fund to help organisations collaborate and merge and the £15.5 community resilience fund to provide grants to small organisations in deprived communities (Third Sector Online, 9 January) will come from three sources, an OTS spokesman said later.

£7.5m will come from "budget re-prioritisation" in the Office of the Third Sector, he said. Details were still being worked out, but no existing grants or contracts would be affected.

The rest will come from the Department of Health and from Cabinet Office efficiency savings  in recent years which the Treasury has agreed to release for the action plan. Amounts for these two elements were not yet available, the spokesman said.

A senior OTS official said at the briefing that the action plan represented "significant new money for the sector" and should be seen in the context of other support available to the sector from across government, such as the Department of Business and Regulatory Reform's loan guarantee scheme (Third Sector Online, 14 January).

Charities minister Kevin Brennan would not be drawn on whether more help to the sector could be offered later in the recession. Sector leaders had cautiously welcomed the action plan but said they hoped for more in due course.

"As a government minister, I could never say we had met every need that had been expressed but in the years that come we expect the sector to continue to grow through our continuing programme of public service reform," he said.

He said the Government had decided not to offer specific help for charities that lost money in the Icelandic banking crisis.

"This package isn't targeted at individual charities," he said. "We thought it was right that it should be a strategic package to support the sector in doing its job supporting the people hardest hit by the recession."

Brennan also contrasted the action plan with the lack of governmental help offered to the sector by Conservative governments during previous recessions. He said: "Previous governments let the economic wind do its damage and then picked up the pieces later. This action plan is about being fair, not laissez-faire."

The action plan covers England because most third sector issues are devolved, but the OTS plans to share its learning and coordinate its activities with the executives in the rest of the UK. Seamus McAleavey, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, called on the Northern Ireland Executive to produce a similar programme of support.

He said: "We cannot simply wait until services break under the pressure."

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