Volunteer centres will not receive any new government funding in the short term and should look for ways of becoming less dependent on government grants, third sector minister Angela Smith said at the Labour Party conference yesterday.
Speaking at a debate organised by Volunteering England and the British Red Cross, Smith said more volunteer centres should buy buildings and allow other groups to rent rooms in them, forming "community hubs" that would provide sustainable funding.
She said they should also place a greater emphasis on winning contracts with primary care trusts and on raising their profile so that local authorities did not cut their funding in the long term.
Kevin Curley, chief executive of local infrastructure body Navca, told Third Sector it was unrealistic to expect volunteer centres to become sustainable by owning buildings and renting them out. "That requires a lot of skills in managing property, and many volunteer centres do not have this," he said.
"It's a huge departure from volunteer centres' core business, which is helping people to get involved with voluntary work," he said.
Curley said the amount of money needed to sustain volunteer centres was relatively small. "I'm disappointed that when local authority budgets are being squeezed, the minister isn't saying that protecting funding for volunteer centres will be a priority," he said.