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Voluntary Sector (Government Funding)

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010

Q7. What recent representations she has received on the effect on the voluntary sector of changes in levels of Government funding. (313357)

I regularly meet third sector organisations to discuss various issues, including any potential changes to the levels of Government funding. Owing to the third sector’s value to the community, public funding increased to £12 billion in the most recent financial year, an increase of more than £3.5 billion over seven years. The Government have further increased their support to the sector with a recession action plan, which is worth up to £42.5 million, and the £17.4 million hardship fund provided additional support. We have also funded a website that provides a one-stop shop for information about funding and financial opportunities, including advice and guidance on sustainable funding opportunities.

I am very grateful to the Minister. Whoever wins the next election, there are likely to be spending cuts in national and local government, and that will inevitably reduce the amount of funding for the third sector just at a time when its burden of social care is on the increase. How does the Minister intend to square that circle?

The issue of local government funding has caused the third sector considerable concern, and we have been working with local government and those who commission services from the third sector to ensure that commissioners are aware of the value of the third sector and how they can best apply for the work that it undertakes on behalf of local government. In terms of social care, that is the most crucial consideration.

There are issues with Government funding, but council budgets are under huge pressure, too, and, in the drive to enable the third sector to undertake core social services, that is leading to a double pincer movement for many local charities. What will the Minister do to ensure that councils do not simply say, “We cannot fund you,” and that we do not lose the core social services that councils used to run?

If third sector organisations are undertaking core social services, they will be doing so on behalf of the local authority, which will fund those services. I say to all local authorities, look for the third sector’s value for money and its contribution to the overall objectives of the council and the overall benefits of the area. I am convinced that, when those issues are taken into account and councils see the value that the third sector brings to their area, it will impact on their funding decisions.

Surely the Minister accepts that the voluntary sector makes a vital contribution to the well-being of our society. Therefore, in these difficult financial times, financial support should be strengthened rather than diminished.

It is gratifying to receive so much support for Government funding of the third sector; it has not always been forthcoming from the Opposition. We have addressed those funding issues. During the recession, the Government have given an extra £42.5 million to the third sector, and that support has been absolutely crucial. We want to ensure that we still support the third sector, but we will not regard it as a cheap option for the provision of public services. It is a quality option that deserves to be properly funded.