Extra regulation a 'heavy burden'

Many charities, especially smaller ones, are finding it difficult to comply with the increasing requirements of government regulation, according to research on the skills needs of the voluntary sector.

The report, Futureskills 2003, from the Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation, says that the demand for new skills resulting from the introduction of new regulations has not been fully addressed by the sector.

"A number of organisations point to the burden that changing legislation is having on them, and the impact on skills needs that such change has," says the report. "Government and its agencies should recognise the compliance cost in terms of skills needs that this is having on the sector."

Janet Fleming, head of the VSNTO in England, said that new regulations such as the requirement from the Department of Health that all front-line staff in care charities must obtain an NVQ in care by 2006 were causing serious difficulties to many charities.

"It is a phenomenal burden in time and resources in a sector that finds it difficult to recruit," she said. "A mandate that organisations adopt minimum standards of care would be much less of a burden."

She added that some smaller organisations were finding it difficult to comply with all aspects of employment legislation, partly because they did not have the resources to find out about their obligations under new regulations.

"There is a rather higher proportion of charities than there should be coming before employment tribunals," she said. "There has to be a culture change. Twenty years ago there was the notion of giving service by working for a charity - you didn't have rights. That's not acceptable now."

The report, based on the experiences of 1,000 voluntary organisations across the UK, argues that one solution to the problem is a bursary scheme for young managers in not-for-profit organisations. Fleming said the idea could "potentially be expensive" and a partnership of government departments and charitable foundations would be needed to set it up.

She said existing training programmes such as the Volprof courses at City University in London were not available to managers whose organisations could not afford to subsidise their fees.

A bursary scheme - which provided half of the cost of training fees - was one way to allow managers in smaller organisations to develop. Training would have to be based on a "blend of different learning" - distance learning, peer groups, and action learning sets.

The report also says that lower salaries in the voluntary sector compared with the commercial and public sectors are a "barrier to recruiting new skilled staff".

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