Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Voluntary Sector Is So Important

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Voluntary Sector Is So Important

Article excerpt

Byline: By oe Hughes

Voluntary groups have often been branded the Heineken sector of Britain ( they can reach parts of the community Government just cannot reach. However thousands of organisations are facing their greatest challenge to date as vital funding from Whitehall and Europe comes to an end. Political Editor Zoe Hughes speaks to Communities Minister David Miliband about the pending crisis.

The impact of the voluntary and community sector in towns and cities up and down the country cannot be underestimated.

From community centres specialising in helping long-term unemployed get back to work, to youth centres providing outdoor activities for disadvantaged children, the role of the voluntary sector is literally vital to the continued success of Britain.

It would cost the Government billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to take over the work done by these groups ( with most ministers conceding it would be an impossible task to achieve.

As Communities Minister David Miliband himself said just after taking his seat at the Cabinet table: "The third sector reaches parts that we simply cannot reach. It promotes innovation, tackles distrust, engages communities in ways that we in the statutory sector often talk about and often fail to do."

However, as 2006 approaches, the voluntary and community sector faces a massive challenge when various European, national and Lottery funding programmes come to an end.

The North-East alone is expected to lose pounds 50m a year from 2006 with campaigners warning the vulnerable and disadvantaged are most at risk.

Two of the reasons for the loss of funding are the expansion of the European Union to take in 10 new member states and the decision to create a single pot of cash for regeneration and community projects allocated through regional development agencies.

Critics though have warned that voluntary groups are being squeezed in gaining access to the RDA funding, with regeneration the priority.

It's a challenge Mr Miliband accepts is foremost in many people's minds, as he stressed: "The voluntary sector is a very important part of our future not just our past. …

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