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Community Organisations

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

Small community organisations are an essential part of a strong local voluntary sector—indeed, they are a key part of a strong and thriving community—and support for their work is a Government priority. The office of the third sector has created the £30 million community assets fund, which will help community groups to take on the ownership and management of assets. It is also introducing a new £80 million programme of small grants for small community and voluntary organisations and a £50 million programme of endowment grants to help local foundations to provide an enduring source of funding.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In Hove and Portslade in my constituency, the Sussex multiple sclerosis treatment centre, a charitable organisation set up and run entirely by MS sufferers, was charged VAT on its building work to enlarge its centre. We were eventually able to get the VAT written off, but does my hon. Friend agree that it would be of particular benefit to all charitable organisations if there was VAT exemption for such third sector organisations?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on achieving the write-off. In any application for a local authority grant to pay for refurbishment or repairs, third sector organisations are very much encouraged to include the costs of VAT, so that every such organisation gets the full cost recovery from grants of that kind. On the wider question, there is a generous package of tax relief and tax exemptions for charities, but broader questions about VAT are a matter for the Treasury. I shall bring her point to the attention of my Treasury colleagues.

Areas in my constituency rank in the top 10 per cent. of deprived communities. Last Friday, I discussed one particular project that is seeking funding both to develop volunteers to help others and to help alleviate deprivation in Skelmersdale by increasing access to advice and skills by way of information and communications technology facilities. How will the Government’s investment in the third sector help such organisations?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her excellent work as a champion of voluntary organisations in her constituency. Through Capacitybuilders, the Government are providing some £85 million-worth of investment over the next three years to local and national organisations to give advice and support, including on administration and skills, on making use of computers and on the internet. I would recommend that as a first step the organisation that she mentions goes to the Capacitybuilders website or contacts its main switchboard. We can provide her with the details about that. Many local authorities and businesses often provide surplus computers and equipment to voluntary organisations, and she might like to pursue that avenue too.

Will the Minister join me in condemning Manchester city council’s decision to undermine local community groups by choosing to increase rent massively on its buildings?

I am afraid that it is not my position to condemn one council or another. This Government have made it clear to local authorities that we expect them to provide sustainable, long-term, three-year funding in compliance with the Compact, which applies across the country. They should also ensure, as part of the local government performance framework, that local third sector organisations thrive in every local area across this country in line with this Government’s objective of ensuring that we have a modern, 21st-century third sector that delivers, and stands up and campaigns for the needs of people in communities.