GOVERNMENT: A £125m shake-up

PAUL BOATENG

The Government has set up a fund which promises to modernise the voluntary sector. Paul Boateng, chief secretary to the Treasury, outlines how it will work

There has been some speculation about the new £125 million investment fund, futurebuilders, since it was announced in the Spending Review. As this fund is a "first" for the voluntary sector, I can understand the eagerness to know more about what it is for and how it will work.

I too am excited about the fund. Now we need to take the time to get the design of it right and with the help of the sector, I know we can do that.

First, it may be helpful to recall what the fund is for. Its genesis lies in the cross-cutting review of the role of the voluntary sector in service delivery which I chaired. One recurring problem we saw was the lack of long-term investment in the sector. If the sector is to play the part that it is capable of, it is only right that we work with it to tackle the investment problem.

Long-term vision

futurebuilders is focused on modernisation for the long term. The schemes it funds will showcase the best of the voluntary sector and will demonstrate, in terms of ideas, commitment and style of service delivery, why the sector is such an important partner in our pursuit of first-class public services.

And this is no more than people in the sector itself say they want. When I visit organisations and see their excellent work at first hand, I hear repeatedly how people on the front line would like to do more if only they could. They want to embrace change but do not have the resources to make the first steps. There are many exciting ideas out there.

The target service areas for the fund are closely linked to key Government priorities. So the fund will be available to enhance service delivery in health and social care, crime and social cohesion, education and learning and in services for children and young people. The test of success will be whether the projects deliver improved services for users. After all, that is what it's about.

During the cross-cutting review, ministers and officials worked closely with the sector to agree the approach and recommendations. That process was unique in my experience in Government - and uniquely successful. We were able to harness the expertise of those actually engaged in service delivery to shape the report. I want to develop the futurebuilders fund in the same spirit of partnership. I can now announce details of how we will develop the fund.

Stowe to lead futurebuilders

We have been working through the Compact Working Group to arrive at a consensus on how the sector can be involved. Sir Kenneth Stowe, the outgoing chair of the group, has played an important part in that process, and so I am delighted to announce that he has agreed to lead the work on futurebuilders.

Sir Kenneth's reference group will be responsible for overseeing the process and submitting final proposals on the fund to me next spring. This is something that we have not done before and we shall all learn much along the way. Our aim, though, is to put the words of the Compact into practice and be assured that people will have ample opportunity to have their say.

Between now and next spring there is much to do and the work will be taken forward on three fronts.

First, five experienced individuals from the voluntary and community sector have agreed to lead small task groups to examine themes for the possible use of the fund. They are Geraldine Peacock, from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, who will tackle how to make the money go further; Victor Adebowale, from Turning Point, who will examine how large and small organisations can work better together; Clare Thomas, from Bridge House Estates, whose group will come up with ideas for modernisation; Erica De'Ath, from the National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations, who will lead work on ensuring that good practice is adopted and Nicholas Young, from British Red Cross, who will explore increasing scope of service delivery.

Second, we will be working with colleagues across government to identify where there are opportunities for the voluntary and community sector to play a greater role in service delivery.

Finally, we will be appraising the options for the management and administration of the fund; this will lead us on to decisions about how resources will be best allocated.

Draft proposal due in January

The result will be a draft set of proposals by the end of January 2003. These proposals will then be issued for a full period of consultation so that everyone has a chance to comment before final decisions are made.

We will continue to work closely with the sector wherever possible. The umbrella organisations in the sector will also play an important part - in getting information out and gathering responses back in.

Of course, we need to strike a balance between the need to spend time getting this right, so that the resources can be spent wisely, and the need to get the fund off the ground and operational - so we can start to make a difference. I sense a real excitement about this fund and the unique way in which we are establishing it. The challenge for all of us now is to channel that energy towards making the fund a success and working together to deliver our shared vision of public services we can be proud of.

For further details,

see http://www.hm- treasury.gov.uk/Spending_Review/spend_ccr/spend_ccr_voluntary/ spend_ccr_futurebuilders.cfm.

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