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."
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."