Richard Caulfield, chief executive of the regional network Voluntary Sector North West, has called on the government to extend the time that organisations have to spend money allocated under the Transforming Local Infrastructure programme so it can be used more effectively.
The Cabinet Office announced last year that 72 partnerships had been awarded a share of £30m from the fund. The fund was set up to help infrastructure organisations work together more closely and is being administered by the Big Fund, the non-lottery funding operation of the Big Lottery Fund.
Successful bidders were told that they had until September this year to spend the grants they were given. But in a letter to Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, Caulfield said there was a strong case to push back the deadline for spending the money until March next year.
"I have worked closely with several of the projects and have a working knowledge of the rest of the 16 north-west based projects, and I believe action is needed now to ensure that the government’s investment has maximum impact," wrote Caulfield.
He said the deadline was counterintuitive and did not support sharing among organisations. "The way grant funding with a short timeframe works is that it doesn't reward collaboration and efficiency very well," he said.
It was only now that organisations were starting to trade knowledge, he said, but there was no incentive for TLI partnerships to try to save money by engaging in cross-partnership collaboration, because they needed to get on and spend their grants.
Caulfield told Third Sector that he did not believe organisations would have any trouble spending the money by the September deadline, but it could be used more effectively if the cut-off point was pushed back.
He said the fact that the extended deadline would still fall in the same financial year meant that it should not be too difficult for government to comply.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said that although flexibility was built into the programme to allow for changing circumstances, most projects were on track and the timetable "cannot be changed at this late stage".
He said: "The successful TLI applicants put forward ambitious and achievable plans for transformation and the timetable for the programme has been clear from the outset.
"TLI projects should always adopt the best-value approach: if objectives can be met in a more cost-effective way, for example through collaboration, then they should be, and the reallocation of any money saved should be discussed with their grant officer."