Future of Empowering the Voluntary Sector scheme in doubt

Funding for the programme that gives free training and advocacy to charities on public law is due to end in November

Navca: One of the scheme's backers
Navca: One of the scheme's backers

A programme that provides voluntary organisations with free training and advocacy on questions of public law faces an uncertain future, despite a sharp increase in demand for its services.

The Empowering the Voluntary Sector initiative helps organisations challenge decisions by public bodies, such as spending cuts made without consultation.

It is a joint scheme between the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' Compact Advocacy programme, the local infrastructure group Navca and the legal charity the Public Law Project, which each provide different aspects of the programme.

At an event in London yesterday to celebrate the scheme's fifth birthday, Oliver Reichardt, head of the Compact team at the NCVO, said there had been a 50 per cent year-on-year increase in demand for its services in the second half of last year.

But funding for the programme is due to end in November when a £700,000 grant by the Big Lottery Fund expires. The BLF Basis, which funds infrastructure projects, has since closed.

Reichardt said demand for the service was likely to increase for at least three years due to ongoing government spending cuts.

"It's getting more difficult to fight public bodies that make bad decisions because they just say 'it's due to the recession'. But cuts don't have to be done in a bad way, as plenty of public bodies have shown," he added.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of Navca, said: "We're determined to sustain this project because it's important that more people in the voluntary sector know how to use public law to challenge contentious and sometimes illegal decisions."

The NCVO and the Public Law Project provide free advocacy on public law, such as using the Compact, complaints procedures, ombudsman schemes and judicial reviews.

Navca has run 180 one-day public law training courses in the past year.

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