The £130 million grassroots grants programme provides much-needed support to small voluntary groups that are doing vital work in our communities across England. In the first 14 months, there have been more than 13,000 grant awards to small charities and voluntary organisations totalling more than £33 million. I am delighted that in County Durham alone grassroots grants has invested more than £487,000 in small grants to local voluntary groups. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Some £51,000-worth of grassroots grants have gone to community groups in my constituency such as the Ferryhill 2000 committee, Fishburn kurling club and Thornley Homing club. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows the Government’s commitment to local people and communities, and makes an important contribution to the front line?
Yes, I do. There are often small community groups in communities doing first-class, important work. A small amount of money can make a huge difference to their impact on the local community, and that is why the Government have invested so much money in the grassroots grants programme, which gives grants ranging from £250 to £5,000 to small local groups. As some of us who speak to those groups know, that makes a real difference in those communities.
In April, the Department launched a programme of grants for small campaigning charities. In October, it sent out grant letters offering the funding. In November, the Minister withdrew the money that had been promised without any consultation. Of course, that has generated real anger in the sector, because with that one decision, the Department that is meant to champion the sector has made a mockery of the compact and has sent out a signal that it is okay for public grant makers to treat charities in that shabby way. I welcome her apology today, but is she really aware of the damage that she has done, and what will she do to repair it?
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he heard the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) raise this issue. I regret any damage that has been done, because it is important that people understand my commitment to the compact and to voluntary organisations. I refer him to my earlier comments. At this time of recession, and given the comments that have been made to me by organisations up and down the country, the priority had to be given to organisations that deliver services to communities on the front line. Having said that, I deeply regret the concerns that people have raised, and I assure him that my commitment to the compact is strong.
Often, when funding organisations are looking to provide grants to voluntary community organisations, they pay too much attention to the involvement of statutory bodies when they look at those organisations’ financial viability. May I urge my right hon. Friend, when she is handing out grassroots grants, to ensure that the money is going to genuine grass-roots organisations in local communities?
The grassroots grants programme is administered in constituencies on behalf of Government by the Community Development Foundation. I think that I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance he seeks on this matter, but I will send him a list of the organisations in his constituency that have received such grants so that he can make an assessment himself and talk to me further if he wishes to do so.