Headlines: February 13th, 2006

There is a new claim that a move away from grants for community groups towards contracts for the provision of services is threatening the effectiveness of voluntary and community organisations. The warning comes from Bassac, the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres following research among its members.In a survey it found that that grants from local authorities and other statutory agencies were being replaced by competitive tendering. The organisation believes the grants had enabled community-based organisations to design a wide range of local services.

More than half of 55 members interviewed by Bassac reported that in the last three years funders had reduced grants for community-led activities. Of those, 56 per cent said they had seen grants replaced by commissions, contracts and service level agreements. Half of the groups in the study said the new approach had compromised their independence and almost three-quarters said it was making them less secure. Many said that instead of their designing tailor-made solutions to local problems they were obliged to compete for contacts to deliver programmes that were devised centrally.

Bassac chief executive Ben Hughes said: “Against the backdrop of the need to diversify income, for which Bassac has been very supportive, we’ve been hearing disturbing stories from our members, some of which are among the longest standing community groups in the country. The results from our research go a long way to confirming our fears about the funding environment facing today’s community organisations.”

He added that the switch away from grants was limiting the types of work community organisations could carry out and they were increasingly becoming service delivery agents fulfilling the government’s target driven priorities.

Following these findings, Bassac has commissioned a further study from the Centre for Voluntary Action Research at the Aston Business School. This will explore the role and contribution of community-based organisations to public service delivery and is due to be completed in six months.