The Office for Civil Society is about to launch a consultation on the structure of a new fund, expected to be at least £40m, to support voluntary organisations that deliver valuable services to vulnerable groups but are in danger of closing because of financial pressures.
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, has persuaded the Treasury of the need for the fund, which will be available in the financial year 2015/16. It is expected that the structure of the fund will be decided by the end of this year so that applications and decisions can be made early next year.
The first awards will be made from the end of March 2015, shortly before the general election in May. Successful organisations will be offered advice as well as grants, and the possibility of building in pro bono and peer support will be explored.
The fund is intended to ensure that key service-delivering organisations become sustainable in the longer term. The size and reach of those eligible, and the maximum amount of individual awards, will be among questions in the consultation, which will last 12 weeks, as stipulated in the Compact.
Hurd told Third Sector: "For a while I’ve been concerned that a significant number of often medium-sized organisations delivering valuable services that have struggled on, maybe eating into their reserves, are financially vulnerable – perhaps more vulnerable than they have admitted to themselves in their desire to keep going.
"My concern for some while has been the risk of losing those types of organisations, so in the past year, when we’ve been bidding to the Treasury for the 2015/16 budget, we made and won a case for some money to structure a fund to try to respond to that need. We’ve now got a bit of time to really work with the sector to structure this properly, and I’m determined to do that because it’s quite complex.
"We need to be absolutely sure that we focus it on the right type of organisations and that it’s structured in a way that will underpin their long-term resilience. I don’t want it to be just about money – it will be money plus advice. I’ll be disappointed if it’s less than £40m."
A spokeswoman for the OCS said it was aware that some organisations of the type the minister had in mind had already closed, but did not want to name any. "A fund like this could have helped," she said.