Voluntary sector umbrella groups have issued a cautious welcome to new guidance published by the Communities and Local Government department that says local authorities should avoid making disproportionate cuts to the sector.
They have also warned that local charities must play a key role in making sure the guidance is followed in practice.
The department’s new "best value" guidance, a single-page document that replaces a 56-page set of guidance introduced by the previous government, says local authorities "should seek to avoid passing on disproportionate reductions by not passing on larger reductions to the voluntary and community sector and small businesses as a whole, than they take on themselves".
Neil Cleeveley, director of policy and communications at the local infrastructure body Navca, said he was pleased that the document included a reference to the overall social value provided by local services and also contained a compulsory duty to consult organisations affected by the commissioning and decommissioning of services.
He said, however, that he was concerned about some of the pieces of guidance that had been removed at the same time.
"It has revoked the two-tier code on workforce matters, which was valuable," said Cleeveley. "The code encouraged employers in the voluntary and private sectors, when they took on local authority staff under Tupe legislation, to make sure their other employees were given the same terms and conditions as the new, ex-council staff. It tended to improve employees’ conditions, so it is regrettable that it has been withdrawn."
Cleeveley said he thought councils would follow the guidance despite the fact that no sanctions have been set out for failing to do so. He said this was because there would be a risk of legal action and reputational damage if local groups challenged councils for failing to follow it.
Nick Carey, a policy officer at the chief executives’ body Acevo, said he would have liked the guidance to have been published sooner since many charities had already been badly hit by local authority spending cuts.
"I would have also liked the wording to be stronger, particularly where it says councils should ‘seek to avoid’ disproportionate cuts," he said. "It suggests the guidance may not have as much leverage as we would hope."
However the principles behind the guidance, such as a consideration of overall social value, were "excellent", said Carey.
"This is a step in the right direction," he said. "The key thing now is to make sure charities are aware of it and are able to use it as a lever when they deal with local authorities."
Steve Wyler, chief executive of the community umbrella body Locality, said he was generally pleased with the guidance.
"There were disproportionate slash and burn cuts for charities earlier in the year. This guidance gives community groups a measure to encourage local authorities and other public spending bodies to behave well and if they don’t it gives the grounds for a formal challenge," he said.
He said the umbrella body would take to task councils that failed to follow either the spirit or the letter of the guidance.