Editorial: Service delivery could undermine sector attributes

Lucy Maggs

Voluntary organisations are rightly proud of their innovation, independence and passion and these attributes haven't gone unnoticed.

Politicians including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and lately Alan Milburn have all lavished praised on the sector for these qualities. And they have argued that it is these very qualities that make voluntary organisations so well placed to take on increased running of public service delivery - and the voluntary sector seems to be embracing this ambition wholeheartedly.

But no-one seems to be clear exactly what the Government means by "increased running" of public services. Does government envisage that charities will be running schools and hospitals, or does the role not extend beyond the ancillary, but no less vital services, such as shelters, hostels or advice services?

There is also the issue of what the Government really wants to get out of its burgeoning partnerships with voluntary organisations. Voluntary organisations are in many ways very well placed to run public services; they operate on a more grass-roots level than the public sector and have dedicated staff committed to their clients. But because of this dedication, charities often find themselves running under-funded contracts that they are unwilling to relinquish because they don't want to let clients down.

For organisations eager to grow, taking on the new government contracts is appealing - the pool of funds available from trusts is ever decreasing and fundraising from the public is expensive. But, before rushing ahead, organisations need to think about the implications of running public services for individual organisations and for the sector as a whole.

See News in Focus, p12.

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