Charity adviser for local agency

A senior figure from the voluntary sector has joined a local government agency to advise councils on how to work better with charities.

The appointment comes just two weeks after voluntary organisations in Leicester resorted to legal action to prevent the city council from cutting their funding (Third Sector, 22 September).

Helen Hughes is the Improvement and Development Agency's first voluntary and community sector adviser. She relinquished her position as chief executive of Gloucester Centre for Voluntary Service, but is still vice-chair of the National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service (NACVS). Hughes will advise local authorities on engaging with charities, which are increasingly delivering services on their behalf.

"Local authorities need to get to grips with the new agenda as much as the voluntary sector does," she said.

"The agenda is so wide I'm spending my first month trying to focus in on where I think a difference could be made."

Hughes' appointment to the agency comes in the same week that ministers bound charities more tightly to local government. Pilots of Local Area Agreements, which give councils more control over their finances, have been launched in 21 council areas.

Under the agreements, councils will receive less ring-fenced funding and will have to work with their partners, including charities, on the best way of allocating money.

Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart said the agreements provided "an opportunity to build co-operation between local councils, the police and the voluntary sector to work together to tackle crime and disorder".

But charities, which weren't consulted on the idea, are concerned the move could threaten budgets and increase bureaucracy.

Neil Cleeveley, director of information and policy at NACVS, said the success of the agreements would depend entirely on the strength of the relationships.

"In some places, councils need to be dragged kicking and screaming to work with the voluntary sector," he said.

"Local authorities need to recognise that small community groups are more likely to be in touch with local people than they are."

Caroline Schwaller, director of Keighley CVS, which is included in the pilots, said: "What I fear is a lot of energy is going to go into structures and mechanisms and we will create more bureaucracy that will make us more remote from local communities."

She is also annoyed at not being consulted. "It always feels like the voluntary sector has to bang on the door to get heard, which means we are constantly in the position of appearing to challenge legislation," she said.

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