Report calls for closer ties with public bodies

Information held by charities on the performance of public bodies could be a valuable resource for regulators such as the Audit Commission and the Social Services Directorate in their investigations, according to a discussion paper prepared for Urban Forum.

But regulators need to take the sector's views seriously and include consultation with voluntary organisations in their methodology, the paper written by CVS Voluntary Action Haringey suggests.

"We need a meaningful, recognised working relationship with regulators,

said Voluntary Action Haringey's voluntary-sector development projects manager Jo Wealleans. "Voluntary organisations are a key factor of communications between local residents and statutory bodies. Regulators must show that they have taken our views into account."

The paper suggests that voluntary organisations could act as whistleblowers highlighting problems "that, if unchecked, could cause greater problems for local authority staff and members as well as the people they serve".

Their role in representing hard-to-reach groups, taking on contracts for and working in partnership with statutory bodies makes voluntary organisations ideally placed to comment on the performance institutions such as local authorities and health authorities.

But voluntary organisations are all too frequently ignored by regulators, according to Wealleans. "Their views are downgraded. The voluntary sector is stigmatised and too easily written off,

she said.

The call from Voluntary Action Haringey for voluntary organisations to be listened to by regulators comes as the inquiry into the Victoria Climbie case reopens to look at the role of the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate.

Official inquiries into Haringey Council social services department did not pick up the fact that the department was in serious difficulties despite warnings from voluntary groups about staffing levels in children's services.

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