Data from the Charity Commission suggest that the gross income of registered charities grew in 2011, but we all know that the sector is going through a very difficult period. We are putting in place plans to help it through this very difficult transition period, and to open up new funding opportunities over the medium term.
In the north-east, funding reductions are forcing 48% of voluntary sector organisations to close services and 28% to reduce the number of beneficiaries they support. What impact does the Minister think such losses will have on the Government’s plans to increase the role of the voluntary sector in delivering public services?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern and that is why we have pressed the point, from the Prime Minister down, to local authorities that they should try to avoid making disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector and why we have put in place funds to help manage the transition. I have to say to her that for the Labour party to keep talking about cuts to the voluntary sector without recognising why those cuts were necessary in the first place, and without recognising that Labour councils are doing some of the heaviest cutting while saying absolutely nothing about the future of the sector, is fooling no one and disappointing many.
In County Durham, the local authority has had to reduce its grass-cutting service because of the reductions in its grant, so I rang the local Community Service Volunteers, thinking that that might be something it could take on. It said that it could not, because it did not know whether it will have core funding after the new year. Does the Minister not understand that far from creating a big society, he is destroying the society we have?
We are investing in the infrastructure that supports the voluntary sector, with some £30 million already invested through the transforming local infrastructure fund. Yet again, I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that that cut to that grant has not come from the centre but from the local authority, which is accountable for that decision.
Anyone lucky enough to have gone to the Olympic games or the Paralympics will know just what an important role the volunteers played in making them an enormous success. My hon. Friend is right that we clearly have a big opportunity to build on that, which is why we have committed another £40 million for the social action fund to back exciting new campaigns to inspire volunteers, such as “Join In”, which inspired a quarter of a million people to get involved with their local sports clubs in August.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward new proposals to support the voluntary sector, but will he join me in condemning Labour-run councils that are cutting the voluntary sector, decimating services and then blaming the Government?
My hon. Friend and neighbour from Harrow makes a good point. Locally, we have the contrast between Conservative-run Hillingdon council, which is increasing its investment in the front-line voluntary sector, and Labour-controlled Harrow next door, where that investment is being reduced.
Ministers’ huge cuts in funding for charities mean that volunteer centres across England are losing, on average, 25% of their income, according to Volunteering England. With so many Olympic and Paralympic volunteers wanting to continue to volunteer after the games are finished, why are Ministers so determined to make it so hard for them to do so?
We are not. The hon. Gentleman has never let facts get in the way of shameless opposition and he has not disappointed today. We are investing in the infrastructure to support and inspire volunteers, with £30 million for the transforming local infrastructure fund. We are doing our bit from the centre, but the point I would make to local authorities across the country is that they should recognise the value of the volunteers in their community and not cut the investment in the local infrastructure that supports them.