Government is not giving the voluntary sector 'proper recognition', says shadow civil society minister

Gareth Thomas says some government departments are failing to collect basic data about the sector

Gareth Thomas
Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas, the shadow civil society minister, has questioned whether some government departments are taking the voluntary sector seriously enough.

Thomas’s comments came after he received answers to a series of parliamentary questions that he tabled last month after succeeding Roberta Blackman-Woods as shadow to Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society.

The Harrow West MP told Third Sector the answers showed that some departments were failing to capture basic data about the voluntary sector.

He referred to three answers in particular. He asked how much funding the Department for Transport had allocated to civil society organisations and was told by the transport minister, Norman Baker, that the information was not available other than at "disproportionate cost".

Thomas directed a similar question to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and was told by a minister, Greg Barker, that the department did not record whether funding recipients were civil society organisations.

He also asked Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what his department had done to encourage the development of mutuals. Grayling said it was "not the appropriate time to consider mutualisation as a service delivery option".

Thomas said the responses "suggest the government is not yet shifting gear to give third sector organisations proper recognition".

"If you don’t even know if you have given a contract to a civil society organisation, it doesn’t suggest you are taking it very seriously," he said.

A spokesman for the Office for Civil Society said: "Data on central government spending is not routinely split out by type of organisation. Departmental business plans, published in May 2011, required departments to report spend on the voluntary and charitable sector, including both grants and contracts, in 2009/10.

"Latest figures for 2009/10 totalled £1.27bn and the Cabinet Office is working to support the capture of equivalent data for future years. However, changing the systems we have would be expensive and our priority is to get as much resource as possible to front-line charities and voluntary groups."

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