Funding story: Community groups

Community funding reforms have meant fewer grants going to small ethnic minority and young people's groups.

Funding for community groups and networks has been seriously affected by the shift to Local Area Agreements, a new report from Urban Forum says.

This backs up concerns that umbrella body Navca has been expressing for some time, in particular about the loss of the earmarked Community Chest fund.

The background to this is as complicated as government funding tends to be. It dates back to the three funding streams established by the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for areas covered by the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund: the Community Empowerment Fund, the Community Learning Chest and the Community Chest.

In 2003 these were amalgamated into the Single Community Programme. Significantly, the new scheme was, like its predecessors, a fund for which local groups applied directly to national government. The following year, a National Audit Office report about the programme concluded: "Providing funds directly to the voluntary sector is building the confidence of community groups. The grants are helping small groups that have not previously benefited from public funding."

Since April, however, money has been directed through the "safer and stronger communities" block of the Local Area Agreement. Kevin Curley, chief executive of Navca, says: "Now it's up to the local authority and the local strategic partnership as to whether and how it runs a community grants scheme."

In some areas, such as Bolton, where the local Council for Voluntary Service remains in charge of funding, this has worked out fine. As a report by community group umbrella organisation Urban Forum shows, however, funding for community empowerment networks has decreased. The main impact has been on their capacity to do outreach work or provide training for small and disadvantaged groups. There has been a reduction in the number of small grants of the kind that used to be extremely valuable for small ethnic minority and young people's groups.

Toby Blume, chief executive of Urban Forum, says: "We are calling for funding for community empowerment throughout England, and funding that goes directly to community groups. We want them to sit at the table with their own resources."

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