Expert view: Let's lobby hard to keep small

Many small grants programmes that have supported local voluntary sector activity for the best part of a decade have recently come to an end or are scheduled to end soon.

Two examples are the Neighbourhood Renewal Community Chests and the Community Learning Chests, which provided £100m in small grants between 2001 and 2006. Another major fund scheduled for demise is the Local Network Fund for Children and Young People, which has provided about £190m since 2001 and will end in March 2008.

Increasingly, the budgets for such programmes are now allocated according to Local Area Agreement priorities. These are intended to target funding more effectively at local needs, but it's likely that spending will not include small grants programmes for the voluntary and community sector in most areas.

Published just after Christmas, the report of the Local Community Sector Taskforce went pretty much unnoticed. It contains crucial recommendations for supporting local community sector capacity and funding sustainability in the light of these changes.

The recommendations are aimed at the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review for 2008-2011, to be concluded this summer. This will determine all central government spending for that period, including support for the voluntary sector. If adopted, the recommendations could prove crucial to the future of many smaller local charities - but there is no guarantee that they will be adopted.

The report recommends that the Government set up a community micro-grants programme of between £35m and £50m, to run from 2008 to 2011. It also recommends that the Adventure Capital Fund, which provides loan funding to community groups, should have its budget increased to £30m. There are many other proposals that would go some way towards creating a more secure environment for local community groups.

But charities shouldn't take it for granted that these recommendations will make it into the spending review. Organisations need to put pressure on the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Office of the Third Sector to ensure they do.

National umbrella bodies should be campaigning on this issue on behalf of small community organisations. Smaller organisations should also be involved, if they have the capacity, either directly or by pressuring the umbrella bodies.

Jay Kennedy project manager of www.governmentfunding.org.uk at the Directory of Social Change.

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