HL Deb 16 February 1982 vol 427 cc451-3
Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps can be taken to prevent charities in the social services sector from closing down or curtailing their work due to lack of use by local authorities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Elton)

My Lords, it is for the local authorities themselves to decide how far they will use the facilities provided by voluntary organisations; voluntary organisations do consequently need to know what facilities the local authorities require, and how they might adapt to the growing need for non-residential services. As a first step we have offered the services of the Department of Health and Social Security to help the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations to mount a conference on this. We are considering what more we might do to help other groups.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, despite the very good work done by many voluntary organisations, the local authorities, by virtue of the cut-back in expenditure, are finding themselves unwilling or unable to use the voluntary sector and, therefore, in many cases clients are not receiving the best kind of service that they might otherwise do? Can my noble friend comment on that?

Lord Elton

My Lords, in general local authorities do share our perception of the importance of the contribution of voluntary agencies. I would direct the attention of my noble friend to the report of the Association of Directors of Social Services published last October. Also, in 1980–81 grants by local authorities to voluntary organisations were £22½ million as against £l5½ million the year before. It does not sound entirely like cuts to me.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, in view of the Minister's reply, can he inform me why, at a time of economic difficulty, the local authorities are not making greater use of the charities in this connection?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the answer to that question—if it were full—would be extremely long and complex. But I did try to hint to your Lordships in my principal Answer that sometimes voluntary organisations are not adapting themselves to the changing needs of local authorities. Some of them are doing so. I think that I shall not single out for mention individual charities, but some of them have made great progress in the changes in the provision they make, and they do not have these difficulties.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that VAT is an unfair tax on charities, because commercial companies can recover their VAT on their expenses and local authorities do not pay VAT on the same kind of services as provided by the charities?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am well aware of the issue to which the noble Lady refers. It is an issue, of course, for Treasury Ministers, but it is also much too close to the Budget for me to give any reply which would colour her expectations.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in the light of what has been said, will the noble Lord say more about the conference to which he has referred and which may, in view of the questions which have been put to him by noble Lords, assume a rather greater importance? When is this conference to be held? Will it be representative of the whole of Britain, or will it be restricted to England? Who will be represented in the conference and what will be its terms of reference?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his interest. It is intended to bring all agencies concerned with this problem, both voluntary and local authority, together with the help of the department, so that we can assist them to adapt their provision to the changing needs of local authorities. It will take place early in the summer. I can be more precise to the noble Lord in a week or two when I shall write to him.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the charities referred to in the original Question have to work with the staffs of local authorities? Indeed, they work as a team. What is really happening is that because the local authorities are being, in my view, unjustly hurt by, and have to endure, cuts in a very sensitive area, their staffs are reduced and there are not enough to liaise with the local authorities.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord always introduces a predictable perspective into the problem he sees. I did say in my second answer that the local authorities themselves had provided £7 million more last year than the year before. That may have been more or less difficult for other reasons, but it still represents an increase.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he could bring to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, the fact that, for instance, the Minister reported in the House last week that the NSPCC were to have a grant of £250,000, but in VAT they are paying £130,000 to £140,000. Moreover, from the point of view of the partnership with local authorities, would he not agree that, for instance, Dr. Barnardo's pay £500,000 in VAT and if they did not have to pay that they would be able to supply the local authorities with a better service?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have already declined to follow that fascinating avenue so close to the Budget. However, I would correct my noble friend. I think that the grant to the NSPCC was £200,000. Perhaps my noble friend will recall also the grant to Mencap of £100,000; to MIND of £100,000, to the Spastics of £100,000 and to the National Schizophrenia Fellowship of £10,000. Your Lordships sometimes tend to concentrate only on the shortcomings of the Government; I think that in this respect we have not done too badly.

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