Another Connexions service becomes a charity

Connexions Staffordshire has become the fourth Connexions partnership in 2007 to be awarded charitable status.

The organisation says it swapped sectors to save a "six-figure sum" on business rates and to increase its chances of being awarded the contract to continue operating.

The Government created Connexions in 2000 to replace the careers service for 13 to 19 year-olds, but it faces an uncertain future.

Government funding for advice and guidance services is to be transferred to local authorities in April next year and each council has to decide whether Connexions is the best vehicle to provide them.

Some councils are commissioning Connexions to continue as before, others are contracting out the service and others are scrapping it in favour of alternative arrangements.

Phil Potts, assistant chief executive for finance and corporate services at Connexions Staffordshire, said that when the organisation decided to pursue charitable status in January 2000 it was done partly as an act of self-preservation.

"It's about securing the Connexions contract," he said. "Local authorities are being encouraged both to commission services and to commission services within the charitable sector wherever possible. We didn't think becoming a charity would do us any harm."

Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have since awarded Connexions Staffordshire, whose £13m income comes solely from the statutory sector, the contract to continue delivering its service. The contract was not put out to tender.

Eight of the 47 Connexions partnerships in England and Wales now have charitable status.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "We considered the application and were satisfied that it met the criteria for registration: this would, of course, include requirements of independence.

"Connexions branches can apply to us for registration as a charity, and providing the organisation meets the minimum income threshold, we will consider the application.

"Each application is considered on its own merits, and we will only register the organisation if we are satisfied it has been established for exclusively charitable purposes and for the public benefit."

Belinda Pratten, senior policy adviser at the NCVO, said it was "watching with interest" the growing trend for state organisations to become charities.

"Charities have been seen as something that comes from the grassroots, but now it seems to be top-down," she said.

"The key question is how they are governed. They will have to set their own objectives rather than the Government's in order to be charitable."

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