NACVS Conference special: Minister under fire over collaboration

Local government minister Phil Woolas was given a rough ride when he appealed for closer collaboration between local authorities and the voluntary sector.

Although many NACVS members support collaboration, they weren't slow to tell the minister of the problems they have encountered.

Sajid Hashmi of Voluntary Action Calderdale claimed Calderdale Council refused to give his organisation £35,000 because "we made the critical mistake of criticising them".

Anne Forwood of North Warwickshire Councils for Voluntary Service, a county councillor, said many county councillors "haven't got a clue what CVSs are doing".

Others were wary of the threat to their autonomy. "Whatever we do we must stay independent," said Nesar Rafiq of Voluntary Action Wakefield District.

Carl Blackburn of Barking & Dagenham CVS said the voluntary sector was inevitably the weaker partner. "When other people hold the purse strings it's always us that has to change," he said.

Woolas told the conference, the theme of which was "Stronger Together", that there was a "once in a generation opportunity" to improve service delivery, but that it couldn't happen without the involvement of the voluntary and community sector.

He described local authorities as "first among equals" in the partnership because of their democratic mandate.

Elizabeth Balgobin, of London Voluntary Service Council, refuted this by comparing the number of people who use local voluntary services with the number who vote in local elections.

She criticised comments made by keynote speaker, Lucy de Groot, executive director of the Improvement & Development Agency, who called for voluntary organisations to speak with "one effective voice".

"The sector is rich and messy, and that's what I like about it," said Balgobin. She added that the needs of groups such as the BME community could not be shoehorned into one voice.

De Groot disagreed. "There needs to be one way for the voluntary sector to organise itself and engage if you want to be playing in the government arena," she said.

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