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Third Sector

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

23. What assessment he has made of recent progress towards meeting the Government's objectives for joint working with the third sector. (149816)

The third sector and the Government are working more effectively than ever before on a range of shared interests, including creating stronger communities, better public services, a stronger social enterprise sector and a more active civil society. Government funding to the sector has more than doubled since 1997 from £5 billion to £10 billion.

Many third sector organisations in my constituency complain that insecurity about funding is impeding their ability to deliver cost-effective, high-quality public services. They welcome the funds for capacity building and pump-priming, but often their funds run out before they have delivered what they want to achieve. What plans does my hon. Friend have to move away from short-term funding to more long-term service level agreements?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that Portsmouth was a pathfinder in looking at the kind of barriers that confront voluntary organisations, and in developing an action plan to overcome them. That way of working is now being rolled out throughout the south-east, so I congratulate Portsmouth on that. My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important issue concerning duration of funding. The present Prime Minister made a specific commitment in the 2006 pre-Budget report to ensure that three-year funding will become the norm rather than the exception for voluntary organisations. I am working closely with my ministerial colleagues throughout the Government to ensure that that is the case at every level—national, regional and local.

I have a new Sure Start centre and two new children’s centres—[Hon. Members: “Good news!”] That is good news, but the problem lies with the funding. It has been withdrawn from the voluntary organisation that used to provide the very services that are now being provided by Sure Start and the children’s centre. Services have closed down and been switched from voluntary status to the state. Is that what the Government intended?

I guess that what the Government did not intend, when they gave extra funding to support children and families, was that the local Conservative county council in Northamptonshire would then go ahead and cut services for young people there.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that although his party’s Front Benchers may say one thing about support for the third sector, I suggest that he goes back to the Conservative leadership of his local council to ensure that it delivers better services to support the third sector in his area.