Draft green paper could mean a return to grants under the Tories

The Conservative Party is working on a draft green paper that will set out proposals to loosen the ties on charities that receive government money in order to "empower the sector to do what it is there to do more effectively".

Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin

Oliver Letwin, chair of the Tories' policy review, is working with shadow charities minister Greg Clark to draw up the document. The pair hope to publish it before the autumn.

Speaking at the NCVO's annual conference last week, Letwin said there was a risk that rigid contracting arrangements between the Government and sector bodies could turn them into agencies of government without the ability to address need as they encountered it (Third Sector Online, 21 February). He said there had to be a culture shift in Whitehall to allow officials to be less risk-averse.

"Once you narrowly specify the goal that a programme is supposed to achieve, it is inevitable that you lose what is most characteristic about civil society," he said.

He told Third Sector that a move away from highly specific contracts might well involve a significant return to grants. "We are also looking for ways in which we can put a distance between ministers and departments on the one hand and the recipients of grants on the other, by creating intermediary bodies at much more local levels," he said.

Ben Wittenberg, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, said Letwin's speech had been "the best and most succinct summary of what is wrong with government's relationship to the voluntary sector". But he said he was sceptical that a Conservative government would change the culture of Whitehall "simply for the benefit of the voluntary sector".

Clark said the Tories were determined to make the change. "Public funds should be put under greater control of the voluntary sector and not the other way around," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Third Sector said the Government recognised the need for a variety of types of finance for the sector.

"We are looking at ways to ensure the additional benefits third sector organisations bring are recognised in contracts through the social clauses project," she said. "The Government has a duty to ensure that the public gets the best value for money, therefore delivery contracts must be linked to clearly defined outcomes."

Peter Kyle, director of strategy at chief executives body Acevo, said his members wanted support to build the relationships and gain the skills necessary to compete for contracts. He said third sector organisations should "be judged upon the strengths they bring to the table".

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