Sector's true size may be larger

The UK community and voluntary sector could be much larger than previously thought, if a government-funded survey carried out in central Scotland is representative of the true size of the sector.

If the survey turns out to be an accurate reflection of the national situation, it could signify that a huge swathe of the voluntary sector is being ignored by government and funding bodies.

The survey, carried out by the Council for the Voluntary Sector in Falkirk & District, found a sector with a £25m turnover and 1,300 staff in an area with a population of 57,000.

Chief executive Pandora Summerfield said the results were "phenomenal" and could have a big impact on the implementation of Scotland's new community planning legislation. The 2003 Local Government in Scotland Act gives statutory recognition to community bodies, both informal and formal, in community planning processes.

But the NACVS in England says the cost of the exercise - around £30,000 in Falkirk - would make it prohibitive to repeat in England.

Trained interviewers funded by the local authority, Falkirk Council, carried out 5,000 hours of face- to-face questioning, and claimed a 99 per cent response rate.

Falkirk CVS's data development officer, Gordon Kay, said: "It's the first survey of this type that we are aware of. We have sent the results to local MPs and MEPs because we believe it should be taken up in all local authority areas."

The CVS hopes the study will help attract more funding for the voluntary sector at local level.

"We also want to see whether there is a need for different kinds of support and development than currently exist," said Kay. "We are pushing for funding centrally in order for it to be undertaken at a national level."

NACVS chief executive Kevin Curley commented that he thought Falkirk's methodology of face-to-face data collection was "extraordinary" by CVS standards.

"I doubt that the majority of CVSs would regard it as a priority," he said. "They would rather spend the money on capacity-building and training. It sounds like a luxury. It's nice to know that they are so generous in Scotland, but you wouldn't get that kind of support in England."

Summerfield agreed that face-to-face interviews were expensive, but indicated that the project was a worthwhile investment.

She said the new legislation on community planning meant "we have to know our community services in great detail. Who is (Curley) going to capacity-build with? Presumably the usual suspects, because the smaller groups are unknown to him".

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