English councils make charities a priority

Phil Hope, the third sector minister, hailed news that almost two-thirds of English councils are prioritising the voluntary sector in their Local Area Agreements as a "defining moment" for the Government's efforts to support charities.

Under the new system of agreements, top-tier councils are required to prioritise 35 out of 198 new national performance indicators, in accordance with their area’s particular needs for the next three years.

The Communities and Local Government department launched the scheme yesterday.

Of England’s 150 councils, 61 have chosen national indicator 7, which requires them to create an environment in which voluntary sector organisations can thrive.

Forty-three have chosen national indicator 6, which commits them to promoting high levels of regular volunteering. Eleven have chosen both 6 and 7.

Councils will be given annually allocated reward money by CLG if they meet their targets.

Their performance will also be assessed in a national survey of sector perceptions by the Office of the Third Sector. The survey will be carried out every two years, with the first one to launch in the autumn.

Hope said: "Neither of the third sector national indicators are easy options, but investment in them will be paid back many times over.

"A strong third sector will be a powerful partner in tackling other local priorities, from reducing social exclusion to promoting sport."

A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector added that the support of local authorities was crucial if central Government’s efforts to promote the sector were to be successful.

He said: "This is a turning point: it is giving the sector the role the Government said it wants for it."

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of chief executives body Acevo, described the number of councils prioritising voluntary organisations as remarkable.

He added: "This has to be a good thing, because local government is the source of so much of the sector's funding."

Kevin Curley, chief executive of local umbrella body Navca, said it was great news.

He said: "Without a thriving third sector, it will be impossible for councils to meet many of the other targets."

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