EDITORIAL: Local authorities obstruct path to the public sector

STOVIN HAYTER

The Government is staking a lot on the voluntary sector. It needs a sector that is far more active in the design and delivery of public services than in the past.

To do that, it needs the charities, social enterprises and community organisations that it wants to work with to feel confident that getting involved in contracting relationships with the public sector will further their respective missions. In the past, the opposite has often been the case.

Why should any charity pick up work that the taxpayer has been funding, only to end up subsidising that service out of voluntary income? That is why the Government has promised to transform the funding relationship between the public and voluntary sectors. It doesn't stand a hope of succeeding in its broader mission if it fails to achieve this.

Listening to the discussion following the launch of the Treasury's Cross-Cutting Review, however, it quickly became clear that the Government has a tough job on its hands.

It's not that the sector is against it. Far from it. By and large, the sector welcomes the belated recognition that this represents. It is the local councils and health trusts, which control most of the statutory funding to the sector, that are the problem.

There is a great deal of scepticism about whether the Government will be able to get these bodies to fund the full cost of services, to cease practices like the end-loading of payments and to share risk fairly. But this was the point, frankly, upon which ministers were least convincing.

And if the Government wants to retain the confidence of the sector that it can deliver the promised reforms, it will have to act quickly to stamp out some of the worst abuses. The abysmal way in which hospices tend to be treated by local funders might be a good place to start.

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