News Analysis: Sector welcomes Blears' white paper

The £70m Communitybuilders fund earmarked by the Government to help local organisations to improve their communities was the most eye-catching of the plans published in the Communities and Local Government department's white paper last week.

Communities in Control, launched by communities secretary Hazel Blears, sets out how the Government intends to stimulate involvement in democracy and decision-making at local level and contains many proposals that will affect voluntary bodies (Third Sector Online, 8 July).

The Communitybuilders fund comprises £59m from CLG and £11m from the Office of the Third Sector. It has been claimed that CLG originally set aside as much as £130m for it (18 June, page 1).

CLG has denied this was the case and said no sum had been announced.

"We are confident that the £70m programme addresses current need, significantly expands the market and provides the balance between capital and revenue funding and the type of investment and support stakeholders have told us is necessary," said a spokeswoman for CLG.

Despite the apparent reduction, the £70m has been greeted warmly by community sector sources.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of Navca, said the umbrella body welcomed the Communitybuilders fund but called for clarity over whether it consisted of grants or a mix of grants and loans.

He also said he was concerned at a comment in the white paper that community organisations should not be dependent on grant funding.

"A thriving third sector needs grant funding," he said. "Grants represent mutual trust and respect."

Ben Hughes, chief executive of community umbrella body Bassac, said that £70m for the Communitybuilders fund was "a good outcome".

"It is good that the fund has been focused on local organisations and our type of membership," he said. "There was a danger that it could have been too unfocused to be any use."

The £7.5m Empowerment Fund, set up as a replacement for the ill-fated £6.4m Strategic Partners Scheme, has also been welcomed.

CLG was criticised when it dropped the partners scheme days before winning bidders were set to be announced (16 April, page 1). The fund will help national groups that are working to support democracy initiatives.

Other plans include a new unit to help transfer public assets into community ownership and the removal of barriers that prevent faith-based organisations from getting involved in community services.

Curley said the sector's track record in engaging local people put it in a strong position. "We're more trusted than government bodies and have the local reach and intelligence needed to empower people," he said.

Key points

  • The white paper suggests a Communitybuilders fund of £70m to help local groups
  • It also plans an Asset Transfer Unit to help community organisations take over disused publicly owned buildings
  • An Empowerment Fund of £7.5m would help national third sector organisations boost local involvement
  • It pledges to remove barriers to commissioning services from faith-based groups.

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