OPINION: Thinkpiece - Local funding is failing those not in the know

John Bateman, chief executive of UK Youth

Devolved funding runs the risk of disempowering national voluntary organisations and failing their local members, along with those most in need on the ground.

Since 1998, devolution has had an increasing impact on the distribution of public funds to the voluntary sector. Increasingly, money is allocated via regional government offices and regional development agencies which allocate money to local agencies such as Connexions which, in turn, tender out contracts to voluntary organisations.

Previously, central funding was available to national bodies such as us that act as both umbrella and service delivery organisations. This recognised our ability to add value to programmes through training and evaluation and to co-ordinate, and sometimes even subsidise, delivery by local members. National organisations also had an overarching view of funding opportunities across the sector that could be passed on to local organisations.

Cutting national voluntary organisations out of the loop has made it difficult for them to provide support for the development of programmes and means that individual network members must bid on their own for programme funding at a local level.

This is a drain on their limited resources and often doomed to failure due to the unfair tendering process which too often favours those 'in the know'. For example, a local member might not get to hear about a tender at all, let alone have the time available to respond. What this means, of course, is that funds are less likely to reach those most in need.

To tackle this problem, voluntary organisations must be able to find out about the contracts that are on offer and be encouraged to bid on a level playing field. The NCVO and other national voluntary organisations such as ourselves must work more closely with regional government to achieve this.

Further, if the Government agrees that national organisations should play a larger co-ordinating and capacity-building role and sees the sector as a key part of its vision for improving public services, clearly it should provide the funds to do this. Otherwise, with devolution set to increasingly affect other potential revenue streams, such as the lottery, the distribution of funding to the voluntary sector could become ever more unfair and ad hoc.

All rather ironic given devolution's stated aims.

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