07 May 2004
The government-backed project set up to inject £125m of public money into the voluntary sector will fail unless public sector agencies get on board, the head of the consortium charged with managing the fund has warned.
Richard Gutch, chief executive of Futurebuilders, which will oversee distribution of the Treasury fund, told Public Finance that persuading public sector agencies to form partnerships with charities in order to deliver services would be one of the biggest challenges over its three-year life cycle.
'We won't transform every public sector purchaser into a model of good practice over the next three years but we hope to find some with a good track record,' Gutch said. 'The Local Government Association is very willing to collaborate with us to try to change minds.'
Futurebuilders will award a mix of grants and loans to voluntary sector applicants looking to strengthen capacity so they are able to compete for public sector contracts on a more equal footing. Funding will focus chiefly on capital projects and will be granted to organisations proposing to work in one of five priority areas: community cohesion; crime; education and learning; health and social care; and support for children and young people.
The independent consortium, whose partners include Charity Bank, the Northern Rock Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, expects to make 250 investments over the next three years but is bracing itself for up to 5,000 bids once the initial application round opens on July 5.
Geraldine Peacock, interim chair of Futurebuilders, said the fund marked a 'sea change' in the importance of the voluntary sector to the government. She dismissed suggestions that the state was using charities to plug holes in service delivery, and maintained that the demand for increased sustainability had come from voluntary organisations themselves. 'This is about the voluntary and community sector coming of age,' she said.
The drive for greater co-operation between the voluntary and public sectors was also due to get backing from former health secretary Alan Milburn. As PF went to press, he was expected to tell the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations conference that the case for reform of public services through the voluntary sector had been made, and to call on both the government and charities to make this a reality.