Guidance by the Communities and Local Government department intended to protect charities from disproportionate cuts will help local voluntary organisations, but also contains several "retrograde steps", umbrella bodies have warned.
A consultation closed last week into the one-page, "best value" guidance for councils, which says that a council must:
- Tell voluntary and community sector organisations three months in advance if it intends to end funding
- Ask organisations about the effects of funding cuts on service users and the community
- Give organisations the opportunity to propose new ways of delivering services.
If local authorities failed to obey the guidance, they would be liable for judicial review. In extreme cases, the communities secretary could direct the local authority to change its decisions, or could appoint another agency to exercise council functions.
Robert Beard, policy officer at the local infrastructure organisation Navca and author of a joint response from his organisation, the chief executives body Acevo and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said he felt the guidance would benefit the sector.
He was worried, however, about the removal of a "statutory duty to involve" voluntary groups in delivering policy, in favour of a weaker intention "to encourage authorities and civil society to collaborate more".
And he said the sector opposed another change that would remove the requirement for voluntary sector representation on local strategic partnerships. Both requirements were included in earlier guidance which will be superseded by the new "best value" rules.
"We're pleased that the government is keen to be more explicit about the importance of social value, but we feel it needs the input of community organisations, and the removal of these two requirements is a massive retrograde step," he said.
Ralph Michell, head of policy at chief executives body Acevo, said: "If I had to summarise this guidance in a single word, I would choose 'good'. It won't solve the problem of cuts, but it's a big step in that direction."
The guidance, which has statutory force, will come into force at the same time as the Localism Bill - expected to be next year.