Editorial: Hard-nosed approach to strategic partnerships

The coalition has slashed the programme and is being more businesslike and demanding, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

To understand the sea change in the government's approach to the voluntary sector since the coalition took office less than a year ago, you need look no further than the recent decisions about the strategic partners programme.

Under Labour, there were some 40 partners receiving £62.9m over five years. The list was loose and baggy, but indicated a concern to listen to and support organisations that championed minorities, women, youth and community organisations.

Most did not have to do much for their money – it was, in effect, core funding. Did the subsidy muzzle them? To an extent, no doubt, but not entirely. The NCVO, for example, spoke out strongly against Baroness Smith's blatant disregard of the Compact when she was charities minister.

Now we have 17 partners receiving £8.2m until 2014, when the programme will close. Youth and minorities have been cut out altogether, and the only community organisation being funded is the one that recently won the government contract to train community organisers. Partners have been told they must develop the big society agenda, and it's been made clear they'll be given lots of homework.

It doesn't look like core funding any more, and one suspects there won't be much speaking out against the government. The approach is altogether more hard-nosed and businesslike.

Many organisations losing funds will struggle, and some will close. Many are infrastructure organisations in the sense that they help or represent a range of other organisations.

The government says it recognises the need for infrastructure but has only got as far as a consultation on what it plans to do instead. The lack of continuity is most unfortunate and will, like most things, be blamed on the need to cut the deficit fast. But some may also discern a hint of political vengefulness in these cuts.

The wholesale removal of organisations representing minorities is perhaps of greatest concern, and some of them, quite rightly, are not going to let the matter rest.

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