Councils should 'treat voluntary sector fairly when setting budgets'

A joint letter from Navca (Joe Irvin, chief executive, pictured), Acevo and Compact Voice calls on local authority leaders to engage with the sector at all stages of the commissioning process

Joe Irvin
Joe Irvin

Local authorities must treat the voluntary sector fairly when setting their budgets, charity representatives have told council leaders.

A joint letter sent out to all council leaders in England before last week’s local elections from the local infrastructure body Navca, the chief executives body Acevo and Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, urges local authorities to avoid "salami-slicing" budgets.

The letter reminds councils of their duties under the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Best Value statutory guidance and under the Compact, which both set out standards on how councils should work with charities when making budget decisions.

"At a time when local councils face the biggest cuts in living memory, it is still important to abide by these legal precepts, but we must also move beyond this simple approach," says the letter, signed by Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca, Simon Blake, chair of Compact Voice, and Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo.

"We understand the pressure local councils are facing due to central government finance decisions, so want to help you understand how the voluntary and community sector can help you maintain vital support for communities in these tough times.

"Salami-slicing will mean doing nothing well, so we have to find new approaches," the letter says.

It sets out how the voluntary sector is assisting local authorities by providing early interventions for vulnerable or disadvantaged residents, thereby saving councils money in the longer term.

It champions the ability of charities to maintain community assets, such as public libraries, and deliver services from them where councils have been unable to continue doing so directly.

The letter suggests how councils could help their local voluntary sector by engaging with it at all stages of the commissioning process and by bearing in mind the principle of social value when charities are employed to deliver services.

The authors also suggest giving grants to charities to deliver services as a more flexible alternative to contracts.

Asked to comment on the letter, a spokeswoman for the Local Government Association said that councils were finding innovative ways to continue working with the voluntary sector and the LGA recognised the important role charities played in communities.

"As the most efficient part of the public sector, councils have managed to protect charities from many of the cuts passed down by Whitehall," she said. "Although some voluntary groups have inevitably seen their budgets reduced, every effort was made by councils to avoid this happening."

But she said the voluntary sector must also innovate and make difficult decisions.

"It is important that charities challenge the status quo as councils already have," she said. "For instance, this means forming larger groups to bid for funding, or making tough decisions to refocus their own organisations."

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