Focus: Policy and Politics - Question Time - Andrew Turner, Conservative spokesman on the voluntary sector

How do you view the sector's role in the delivery of public services?

It's a balance, as so many of these things are. Voluntary organisations can bring a new way of looking at things and many people in the sector have a passion for responding to a particular need or providing a particular service. That's not always the case in public and private employment. Because people in the sector can experiment, they are more likely to achieve their objectives.

What about regulation?

If the Government or the Charity Commission constrains too heavily the methods by which charities achieve their objectives, it can frustrate volunteers and irritate those working in the sector. It can also divert them from what they want to achieve and push them down the wrong road in terms of process. The Government has to accept that, if we are going to use third-sector organisations as effectively as possible in terms of delivering public services, it mustn't interfere too much in the way those services are delivered.

Many voluntary organisations are concerned about funding. What's your view on this?

It's no good contracting with the voluntary sector in a way you wouldn't dream of with private or public sector organisations. I have heard a lot of stories of voluntary organisations not getting the contract until they are a third or even halfway into the year for which the contract is meant to apply. That's simply unprofessional and totally unacceptable.

Are funding periods too short?

Voluntary organisations need longer-term funding if they are really to gear up to deliver public services. That applies to the private sector as well, but they have more access to risk capital than voluntary organisations. The Government has to realise that borrowing for a voluntary organisation is a risk that many trustees are not willing to entertain.

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