Volunteer centres and councils for voluntary service in Scotland fear they could be forced into mergers because the Scottish Government is prepared to fund only one point of contact in each local authority area.
The government is setting up 32 Community Planning Partnerships with the aim of improving public services. They will bring together representatives of charities, businesses local authorities, the police, and fire and health services.
It has set a deadline of 1 April next year for third sector organisations to decide on a 'single interface' for each partnership, which means one point of contact with the third sector in each area. But sector representatives believe it wants to force mergers between rural CVSs throughout Scotland.
"The Government said it would allow us to find our own way to a single interface, but the reality is different," said Niall Smith, development officer at Caithness Voluntary Group. He said the government had taken several steps to force CVSs to merge, such as putting pressure on local councils, threatening funding cuts that would shut down local services and writing to CVSs to question any proposals that did not include mergers.
Smith said his offices in Wick were 50 miles from the next-nearest CVS and a merged office could not serve communities properly.
Angus Hardie, director of Local People Leading, a representative group for community organisations, said he felt the Government's plan was simplistic. "It doesn't take into account the complexity of the third sector," he said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are not forcing CVS mergers, but instead encouraging close discussions between intermediaries to strengthen the third sector and enable it to play an effective part in Community Planning Partnerships."
'Talk to us too' - Senscot puts down marker
Senscot, the network for social entrepreneurs in Scotland, has said the Scottish Government should stop acting as if the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations was the only central interface with the country's voluntary sector.
In an open letter to the SCVO, it said a recent joint statement issued by the umbrella organisation and the Scottish Government suggested that the government believed the SCVO "legitimately represents all sections of the third sector in Scotland".
It said: "The SCVO provides many useful services to its members, but the ethos and philosophy of its primary constituency is quite different from that of the social enterprise sector," the network said.
Martin Sime, chief executive of the SCVO, said it was necessary for a single organisation to speak to government, but it was not trying to "occupy the space in some kind of territorial way".