Community groups hit by a 'contract culture'

Large swathes of the community sector are under threat because of the Government's desire to corral groups into delivering public services, new research suggests.

Traditional grant support is being replaced by a contract culture that is squeezing out small community bodies and the services they provide, according to a survey of 55 members of the umbrella body Bassac.

Fifty-eight per cent said funders had reduced the grants available for community-led activities in the past three years, often replacing them with contracts and service level agreements.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their long-term survival was under threat, and half claimed their independence was being compromised by the pressure to compete to deliver centrally devised programmes.

"The move away from grant funding is reducing the types of work community bodies are able to carry out," said Ben Hughes, chief executive of Bassac.

"Instead, they are becoming service delivery agents designed to fulfil the Government's target-driven priorities."

He said 'soft' community services such as befriending schemes, informal advice or the provision of free community space were withering because of a lack of funding.

Mark Law, director of Bramley and Rodley Community Action in Leeds, which took part in the survey, said: "There used to be a time when our customers were the local people we worked with, not the funders with whom we negotiate contracts. Now we have to target people we are paid to target, rather than working with people who need us."

Bassac is calling for the establishment of an all-party parliamentary working group on the crisis. It has also commissioned more extensive research on the subject by the Aston Business School.

- See Editorial, page 22.

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