Office for Civil Society sets out priorities for strategic partners

New responsibilities assigned to the nine groups that will receive £8.2m over four years

Civil society minister Nick Hurd
Civil society minister Nick Hurd

The Office for Civil Society has laid out a detailed set of objectives for the charities receiving money under its £8.2m strategic partnership programme.

The list contains 14 "outcome priorities" and assigns responsibility for each of these to individual charities and partnerships. The priorities include "tracking the progress of the big society", "helping the sector and communities to better understand the opportunities of the big society" and "creating more public service mutuals".

Kevin Curley, chief executive of local infrastructure body Navca, one of the strategic partners, told Third Sector he did not think the new requirements would unduly compromise the independence of charities.

"Of course, the requirement to help charities understand the big society means being positive about what the government is doing, but overall I think the new priorities let the strategic partners continue being critical friends to the government," he said. "We will tell the government where we think it is going wrong."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "This money represents a very small amount of our funding. We do not believe the programme makes any organisation too close to the government."

Steve Wyler, chief executive of Locality, said the charity was responsible for identifying challenges to community groups as well as making sure the sector understood the big society agenda. In an interview with Third Sector he said Locality would campaign for a moratorium on funding cuts to community groups, to give them a "right to reshape" services.

The priorities have been introduced as part of a new version of the programme announced by the coalition. The scheme will give £8.2m over four years to nine groups, four of which are partnerships between charities. It will end in 2014. The previous version, set up under Labour, gave £12.2m to 42 organisations in 2010/11.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, has said that under Labour the programme was "fairly illogical", with little rigour about amounts given and returns expected.

However, in April the Directory of Social Change, the training and advocacy organisation, criticised the new strategic partners programme, saying it rewarded charities for promoting government policy rather than providing impartial advice.

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