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‘Right to challenge’ demand ‘underestimated’

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Demand for a scheme to help community groups challenge councils under the Localism Act is likely to be higher than the Department for Communities & Local Government has predicted, third sector groups have warned.

The department has set aside about £33m for a three-year programme to promote advice and funding for local groups that want to use the ‘right to bid, right to build and right to challenge’ provisions in the localism Act.

LGC has obtained the tender documents for the programme, which show the department has estimated that if there was a “high level” of interest in receiving funding to use the right to challenge, 400 groups would apply for grants, of which 200 would be successful.

The department has also estimated that, under a “high level” of demand, a support service for local groups considering using the new right would receive 750 queries per year.

The right to challenge allows community groups, council staff and parish councils to bid to run local authority services. It also allows local groups to propose small-scale developments.

Ralph Michell, director of policy at the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, which is in a partnership that has bid to deliver the right to challenge support programme, said: “We bid on the expectation that the levels of demand would be at the DCLG’s highest predicted levels or higher.”

Mr Michell said this expectation was based on figures from Acevo’s partners on the bid - the Social Investment Business and the charity Locality - which have delivered similar programmes in the past.

He said that within the voluntary sector, levels of interest in the new rights were high.

Toby Blume, chief executive of the charity Urban Forum, which is part of a group that has bid to run the support services for the right to build, said demand for support in this area was also likely to be higher than the 840 queries per year that the DCLG had predicted as a maximum figure.

Mr Blume said the total number of groups that would challenge councils using the new rights would be much higher than the DCLG figures on demand for the support services, because many groups would use the rights without applying for this support.

But Mr Blume also said that Urban Forum research involving 400 community groups showed scepticism that community groups would benefit from the right to challenge, with 69% believing it was likely to result in more services being run by the private sector.

A DCLG spokeswoman said: “The government is determined to ensure people can make the most of the new Localism Act rights. We expect to announce details later this month.”

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