Like many organisations in the sector, Leonard Cheshire is happy to have the opportunity to contribute to the further consultation into the proposed merger of the Community Fund and the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) recently announced by the Government. But in response to Diana Brittan's call for sector feedback on the Community Fund, I think that it might be useful to repeat some of the reservations that we, and many others, expressed when the merger was first mooted and to lay down again the reassurances that we would expect the Government to provide as part of the merger's terms.
The principal concern must be that the independence presently enjoyed by the Community Fund will be put at risk. With the NOF twice as large as the Community Fund in terms of giving capacity, the fear must be that their coming together will not be a merger of equals and that the NOF and its policies will dominate the new structure. This must not be allowed to happen and, if necessary, the Community Fund's independence from the Government's agenda needs to be enshrined in legislation.
We cannot fault the Government's wish to achieve greater efficiency and increased value for money in the distribution of lottery funds. The Community Fund's independence must not be sacrificed, however, to achieve these aims. This independence has allowed the fund, among other things, to support a wide range of causes and organisations, both popular and unpopular.
This ability must be preserved.
It is also worth making the point that following a number of changes to the Community Fund in recent years, a period of stability would now be beneficial. Merger or no merger, further changes affecting applicants should be avoided, if at all possible.
The Government's decision to proceed with the merger of the two distributors, in spite of the apparent weight of sector opinion against it, is still to be regretted. Many voluntary organisations devoted a good deal of time and effort to the consultation process but might have chosen not to had they known that their views would seem to count for so little. The Government now has an opportunity to regain some of the credibility it lost following that initial consultation. It is to be hoped that ministers will grasp that opportunity with sincerity.