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Tory minister praises Labour council shock…

After a 28 per cent cut to the budget for local authorities was announced in the comprehensive spending review, David Cameron warned councils across the country not to cut funding for the voluntary sector first.

His concern, he has said on several occasions, is that some local authorities will “pull up the drawbridge” and protect their own staff by scrapping grants to charities.

But Lambeth Council leader Steve Reed set out a much more radical plan for saving money, in a speech at the launch of an Acevo report on personalisation last night. And the voluntary sector is at its core.

Lambeth is planning to become the first “co-operative council” in Britain and has been in talks about what this means for more than a year. Talks have become more urgent, however, since the council learned last month that of the £80m it will have to save over the next five years, £40m would have to come from next year’s budget.

So, here’s Reed’s plan. The council will set up pilot projects in which charities and community groups deliver public services. Over time, there will be more and more of these until a “tipping point” is reached and most of the council’s social services are being delivered in this way.

When this happens, the council will be a “service enabler” and a “support platform” that the voluntary groups delivering public services will be able to use when they need it. The council will no longer be a service provider.

It’s a big vision, and big questions about funding for the voluntary groups will need to be addressed. But if it works, it could provide a model for councils across the country and a lifeline for the thousands of charities threatened with closure by local council cuts.

And the biggest surprise? The Conservative Nick Hurd heaped praise on Lambeth’s Labour council at the event last night. “I want to congratulate Steve Reed for this really important work,” he said.

Reed responded:”It’s not the first time Hurd and I have shared a platform and said things that are so similar. This is starting to get worrying…”

  • Elizabeth Balgobin

    Richard, spot on as usual. We have fallen into the trap of trying to speak their language instead of speaking our own.

    I am currently running a domestic abuse charity that has three refuges. The local authority is consulting on cutting ALL funding to refuges. There is already a shortage of places for women and their children but LAs are being put in the position of deciding between refuges, adult social care, children in care and everything else. Is this the empowerment of localism?

  • Richard Caulfield

    Elizabeth, my phrase for this has been ‘the centralisation of control and the devolution of blame’