10 June 2004 | Andrew Golder
The government has set up a £125 million fund to support voluntary and community groups that want to compete for public-sector contracts.
The government-backed consortium FutureBuilders expects to invest in 250 organisations in the next three years with loans and grants ranging from £10,000 to several million pounds.
The cash will enable organisations to bid for contracts that are usually taken by local authorities and hospitals such as meals on wheels or rehabilitation services for the elderly.
FutureBuilders was set up in December 2003 to help voluntary organisations increase their services. It is made up of specialist lenders Charity Bank and Unity Trust Bank and includes the Northern Rock Foundation and the National Council for Vol-untary Organisations (NCVO).
Geraldine Peacock, interim chair of FutureBuilders, said: "We want to help the sector to deliver better service to sections of the community who deserve to see an improvement."
Campbell Robb, director of public policy at the NCVO, warned that groups would have to compete with other organisations to show they could deliver clear benefits.
"Talk of initiatives that will enable the wholesale handover of large sections of services to the voluntary sector is dangerous," he said.
"It represents a misunderstanding of the reason why the sector welcomes the current government's efforts to lift the barriers to more service delivery by voluntary organisations."