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Public Services (Third Sector)

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2010

9. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the use of third sector organisations by local authorities in delivering public services. (18056)

As I mentioned in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), the Government believe that the voluntary and community sector has a huge role to play in providing public services. Indeed, our intention is vastly to enlarge the potential for that to occur.

Newcastle city council has reassured me of its commitment to using the voluntary sector, but what will the Minister do to ensure that the severe cuts to local authority funding do not mean that the big society is just an underfunded big con?

We are extremely conscious of the fact that there may be a gap between when we introduce the new reforms that I described and when the effect of the expenditure cuts is felt. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have very much to say on that when he makes his statement, and I would not want to pre-empt what he will say on how we will handle that situation.

Suffolk county council was recently part of the body that commissioned drug and alcohol treatment services in Suffolk. Unfortunately, a very small, excellent charity in my constituency—the Iceni Project—was excluded from that process because of its size. What can the Minister do to ensure that the Iceni Project will be included, and will he agree to meet it and me?

I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the charity in question. As we restructure contracts in the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office mentioned—away from hugely prescriptive tender contracts and into payment by results—I hope we will find that there are huge opportunities for charities such as the small one in my hon. Friend’s constituency to participate and deliver excellent results. We should not have the huge bureaucratic burdens that prevent the smaller voluntary and community organisations from participating.

I am sorry to say that the Minister sounds rather naive. I went to visit Crisis in Sunderland. Three quarters of its money comes from a combination of housing benefit and local government grant. When both those are cut, how can it maintain its services?

I think the hon. Lady is ignoring the extent to which our programme of structural reform will enlarge opportunities for people to participate in services from the voluntary and community sector—[Laughter.] Opposition Members may not believe that, but that is because they did not try to find ways to deliver services on the basis of payment by results, or to find ways that actually work. We know that voluntary and community organisations are capable of that. When they do it, they will find that there is access to a large amount of revenue that is currently denied to them.