OPINION: Thinkpiece - See the strings attached to the fund of £125m

In his July Spending Review, the Chancellor paid tribute to the vitality and independence of the charitable, community and voluntary sector, and announced details of a three-year fund of £125 million, which voluntary organisations can draw upon for their public service work.

The voluntary sector has lobbied successive governments for increased assistance from Whitehall and can be satisfied to have made some progress this year. But it would be a mistake to think that Gordon Brown will be a Santa Claus for the sector in the coming years. Whether giving extra money to schools, hospitals, transport or to the charitable sector, the Chancellor is issuing cash with strings.

The pressure on Labour to deliver results in its second term means that every pound of new money given out by Number 11 will be audited for the extent to which it has contributed to the Government's agenda.

This means three things. First, that with new funding in their back pocket, charities are going to come under increased political scrutiny. Second, that they must understand the Government's political priorities. And third, that during this period, professionalising external communications to public affairs audiences is essential.

Scrutiny will come from a media that is sceptical of how wisely public bodies spend their budgets. It will also come from eager MPs and Peers.

As the NSPCC found during the Climbie inquiry, the sector cannot rely on goodwill. If not properly prepared, charities too can take a public mauling by the press.

Understanding where the Government is coming from will help build friendships and secure contacts. The voluntary sector must demonstrate to local Labour Councillors, to Labour MPs, and - through its professional bodies - to the Treasury, that their increased budgets are being put to good use.

The Government will be especially keen to hear of new initiatives in social regeneration, education and public awareness.

The sector must work hard to build case studies of success, tailor its messages to political audiences, report back regularly to political stakeholders, and build political friendships.

In a political world of few certainties, the sector can be sure of one: Gordon's watching you.

JO GIBBONS, associate director, Edelman Public Affairs

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