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THIRD SECTOR UNDER SCRUTINY

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Minister told to help, not pillory, over charity work...
Minister told to help, not pillory, over charity work

By Nick Golding, political editor

Government plans to encourage voluntary organisations to run more services have failed to quell local government concerns about accountability and capability.

Although ministers' Action Plan for Third Sector Involvement has largely gone down well, councils, unions and staff are worried that services and assets could fall into the hands of incapable or unrepresentative groups.

The plan reveals that 2,000 public sector workers, many in councils, will be trained to better commission services from the sector. Chancellor Gordon Brown announced in his pre-Budget statement that£30m would be set aside to help community groups take over and run 'community assets', including council buildings and facilities. The plan also confirms voluntary organisations will benefit from the stability of three-year funding settlements.

Speaking at the launch event, Jim Murphy, employment and welfare reform minister, told third sector groups to report councils that were not helping them get more involved.

'If there's a door to a local authority leader that's not open, let us know,' he said.

But authorities remain uneasy about how they can ensure charities and social enterprises do not underestimate the cost of provision in order to win contracts.

Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community & Youth Workers Union, asked: 'What can we do to ensure that the history of poor employment practices in the sector can be addressed?'

Fiona White, head of community involvement, empowerment and development at Portsmouth City Council, said: 'I want to hear how ministers can help, rather than make us feel like we are being pilloried for what we aren't doing [with the third sector].'

Barry Quirk, Lewisham LBC chief executive, is compiling a report on how to ensure groups will operate in the interests of entire communities if they take over council-owned facilities.

Romilly Rogers, a Local Government Association policy consultant, questioned whether the£30m was sufficient to compensate councils for the loss of assets that could raise large sums on the open market.

She also wants ministers to work with councils to identify a framework to ensure extremist groups do not control services.

LGC Conferences: Strengthening the case for third sector involvement, 29 March 2007, lgcconferences@emap.com

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