Treasury to enlarge sector's role

The Government has drawn up a blueprint to reform the way it works with the voluntary sector, in the form of a report published by the Treasury last week.

It is the result of a year-long "Cross Cutting Review

of the role of the voluntary and community sector in the delivery of public services.

The aim is to give the sector a much bigger role in service delivery, and the Government has promised to implement the recommendations in full by 2006.

It is backing its intentions with £93 million of new funding which will go to the Home Office-based Active Community Unit, bringing the total amount it will have available to spend on the sector over the next three years to £188 million. The unit, headed by former Nacro chief executive Helen Edwards, is to be the lead agency in ensuring the reforms are implemented across central and local government.

In addition, a one-off investment fund of £125 million, called futurebuilders, has been created. It will be channelled specifically to voluntary organisations involved in delivering key public services.

Speaking at the launch of the review Paul Boateng, chief secretary to the Treasury, called it a "step forward in the relationship between government and the voluntary and community sector", and a "roadmap and a call to renewal".

Among the proposals are:

- that all contracts reflect the full cost of delivery, including relevant central overheads;

- to work towards more stable funding relationships (moving away from one-year renewable contracts where possible);

- a fairer balance of risk in contractual relationships (for example in moving away from the "end-loading

of contracts);

- involvement of the voluntary sector in the design and planning as well as delivery of services;

- measures to support the sector in areas such as IT, leadership training, infrastructure and umbrella organisations;

- streamlining of access to government funds, especially for smaller organisations, including simplified application and reporting procedures.

"We are committed to reforming the funding relationship. We recognise that there are costs involved, but we are determined to do it,

said Boateng.

Not all the onus for bringing about change will be put on the Government, however. Comments made at the launch by ministers and Edwards made it clear that the sector itself can expect some reform, restructuring and face difficult choices.

A review of the infrastructure and service-delivery capacity of the sector is to be carried out and an action plan agreed by next summer. Edwards warned that "this is not going to be a comfortable process".

"We will have to ask ourselves how many organisations we can support,

she said. "For every one, there are associated overhead costs.

She has called for "real leadership in the sector

and for a greater willingness on the part of voluntary groups to work together.

News in Focus, p11.

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