Blair to assign NHS role to the voluntary sector

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to approve a proposal by the RNIB, the RNID and the British Red Cross that they should take over delivery of community equipment such as wheelchairs from the NHS.

The announcement is one of several that Blair, third sector minister Ed Miliband and care services minister Ivan Lewis are expected to make at a summit on public service delivery tomorrow as they try to bring public services closer to communities.

"Community equipment services have not been delivering what they have the potential to deliver for older and disabled people," said John Low, chief executive of the RNID. "It could be done better, in a joined-up way."

The Government will also offer an insight into its forthcoming Third Sector Public Service Delivery Action Plan, which could herald the introduction of standard three-year contracts when it is published in the autumn. Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said three-year contracts would still not be enough. He said: "Real progress is contracts for five to seven years. That's what we want to get into the plan."

The Three Sector Summit, to be held in London, is expected to rouse fierce discussion on the relationship between the voluntary sector and local authorities.

According to Sir Michael Lyons, who led a government inquiry into the future of local government and who will speak at the event, there is great antagonism between local voluntary groups and local councils.

He told Third Sector it was in everyone's interest to work together, but this should not be artificially enforced by government.

He said: "I find it extraordinary that some in the sector appear to be arguing for more central intervention."

A second summit to improve relations between councils and the sector is expected later this year.

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