Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, today announced a new fair deal for voluntary and community groups, wrapped up with cutting reams of red tape on local councils.
Mr Pickles is proposing a ‘social responsibility’ deal which will ask that councils give greater support for local community groups, including:
seeking to avoid disproportionate reductions in funding
giving at least three months’ notice if they plan to reduce or end funding or other support
working with the organisation to shape the future of the service; and
speaking to the organisation and community about other ideas about how the service could be continued in a different, or more efficient, way
Central government departments will be signing up to the same principles.
This follows a call in a tough talking speech to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in March when Mr Pickles challenged town halls to resist any temptation to ‘pull up the drawbridge’ and pass on disproportionate reductions in funding to the voluntary and community sector.
In order to reduce bureaucracy for councils Mr Pickles is scrapping 56 pages of statutory guidance on local priorities issued under the previous Government. The guidance spells out how councils should engage with the people in their area, how they should feed back information, and even a definition of what a ‘local person’ is. The change will remove barriers and burdens which Ministers believe currently forces councils to focus more on working to top down priorities than on serving their local communities.
Many councils are already working well with the voluntary and community sector. For example, Reading council is increasing the money it gives to voluntary groups, Worcestershire is publishing online all details about grant awards and payments to the voluntary and community sector to increase transparency, and Hampshire using ‘microlots’ to make it easier for small groups to bid for opportunities. The new ‘Fair Deal for the Voluntary and Community Sector’ will help ensure that all councils will give voluntary and community groups the opportunity to work together to provide services in new ways.
Mr Pickles said:
The Government is reducing the burden of bureaucracy and removing red tape from councils, local firms and the voluntary sector.
I’m offering a social responsibility deal for town halls: I’m tearing up the unreasonable Whitehall red tape that costs them money and wastes their time. In return, local councils should treat local community groups with the full respect they deserve.
I’m not asking councils to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself, so all central government departments are also signing up to these fair new standards.
Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:
This guidance is a welcome step forward, as it makes clear that councils need to avoid making disproportionate cuts to the sector and sets out what voluntary and community organisations should expect from working with local government. In the current climate, it is more important than ever that local authorities and voluntary and community organisations work together effectively, to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals and communities.
Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said:
It is essential to ensure the right actions are taken by some recalcitrant councils before irreversible damage is done to the voluntary sector in their area.
However we now need to move towards more positive engagement between councils and the sector, both at a local and a national level. We need a relationship where councils work in genuine partnership with the sector in order to reshape public services so that they deliver the best results for service users.
Greg Clark, Decentralisation Minister, said:
We are returning powers from central government to local authorities, but we expect councils in return to devolve downwards to voluntary and community groups.
We are determined not to decentralise in Government only to see local authorities centralise services in the town hall.
Notes to editors
1. The new best value guidance can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/bestvalueconsult.
- The current guidance being withdrawn is Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities. This contains 56 pages of guidance on a range of duties and associated issues around how local authorities should agree their priorities, engage their citizens, lead their communities and commission public services. Ministers also plan withdrawing two associated statutory duties. It follows withdrawal last month of other detailed guidance (21 pages) on workforce matters in local authority service contracts, such as terms and conditions of employment - this includes the ‘two tier code’. Taken together, this will result in nearly 80 pages of central government guidance being withdrawn. The Local Government Association has called for the revocation of such guidance (www.lga.gov.uk/lga/publications/publication-display.do?id=14334815 - external link).
3. The new guidance, taken together with measures such as Community Right to Challenge in the Localism Bill, reduce the barriers that often prevent voluntary organisations competing for local authority contracts. Both measures aim to promote local authority leadership in providing a level playing field for all, including local voluntary and community groups and social enterprises.
4. A number of local authorities are already working with the voluntary and community sector to deliver cost-effective, innovative public services. These include:
Gloucestershire will transfer more than 30 buildings or assets worth millions of pounds to communities across Gloucestershire in bid to make services more local. The Big Community Offer will include attractive peppercorn rents and up to 50 per cent asset share. The council will be offering one-off small grants from a pot of £50,000, which will be available to small groups to help kick-start their local projects. (Source: Gloucestershire County Council)
Hampshire is pursuing use of ‘microlots’ to make it easier for small and medium enterprises and the voluntary and community sector to bid for opportunities. For example, the Hampshire and Isle of White Small Project Framework small and medium enterprise builders was set up in 2007 in the Hampshire area for construction project with values between £25,000 and £500,000 and was made up of 15 small and medium enterprise builders. These frameworks have carried out over 220 projects in Hampshire with a total value of £25m, cashable savings £1.7m, helping them achieve average savings of 11 per cent. (Source: Hampshire Council)
Reading has set aside £100,000 to fund capital projects for the voluntary and community sector. All groups in Reading will be able to bid for a share of the money to help pay for their key projects. This new money is in addition to the £220,000 the council has confirmed this year to bring the Central Club back into community use, working in close collaboration with the Reading African and Caribbean Community Group. (Source: Reading Council)
Walsall is maintaining funding to the voluntary and community sector for this financial year, amounting to £6m annually. The council are exploring with local and national third sector organisations how they can develop a greater role in the delivery of vital services. (Source: Walsall Council).
Worcestershire is publishing all details about grant awards and payments under contract to the voluntary and community sector to increase transparency. Close involvement of communities is a key priority in planning for change. A pilot Community Model project is now underway which explores maximum potential for collocation of both statutory and voluntary sector services. (Source: Worcestershire Council)
7. Once published, the new Best Value Guidance will apply to all best value authorities, which are councils plus a range of other authorities including Police, Fire, Broads, Waste and Transport authorities. The full list is:
- Local authorities (including county, district and Greater London Authority)
- National Park authorities
- Broads Authority
- Police authorities
- Fire authorities
- Integrated Transport Authorities
- London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority
- Waste disposal authorities
- Joint Waste Authorities
- Transport for London
- London Development Agency
- economic prosperity boards
- combined authorities
8. Further details on the Communities Secretary’s speech to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations can be seen at: www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/1855041.
9. Further details on the transparency code for the voluntary sector can be seen at: www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/1836144.
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