HL Deb 03 February 1993 vol 542 cc227-64

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal rose to call attention to the opportunities for and constraints on local authorities in funding charities and voluntary organisations; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, voluntary organisations have been encouraged by successive governments to take on tasks which were previously carried out by central or local government. The days of completely voluntary organisations are waning very quickly. They are gradually being taken over by professional organisations. They need to be professional in order to conform with all the different Acts of Parliament, the different rules and regulations of the EC, and so on. Although there are still many hundreds of people throughout the country who do work which is completely voluntary, the administration is carried out in a truly professional way by paid people.

We can see effective local democracy taking place because local authorities are working very closely with the voluntary bodies. Local authorities and the voluntary bodies see the real needs of people because they live among those people. Therefore, they are aware of the problems and are most easily able to help.

However, that assistance can only be given if the Government clearly recognise their responsibilities and maintain active financial assistance to local authorities which can then be passed on to the voluntary bodies. Unfortunately, this Government are rigid as regards local authority budgets. Year after year we find that new kinds of words are used to describe cutbacks. Those cutbacks have a very serious local impact.

I wish that the Government would be rather more gracious and accept that in many cases local government knows more than national government about the economic situation which people face. I instigated this debate because of my involvement with three charities in Birmingham. I am not saying that Birmingham City Council is unhelpful; in fact, just the opposite. Nor am I saying that the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind, St. Basil's for the Young Homeless or the Rathbone Society, with which I am involved, are incompetent. However, whenever I visit those charities, the same subject is always raised. They say that they would like to start a project or that they have a good idea but they do not know where the money is to come from. Therefore, many of the projects which local authorities wish to undertake with the charitable organisations cannot be funded. As a result, there is no spread of new innovation.

I thought perhaps that it was only Birmingham—and I know that this Government do not like Birmingham City Council at all—which had to suffer in that way. However, since I tabled this Motion I have been inundated by letters from charities and voluntary organisations telling me about their problems and the problems of the local authorities with which they are working. I mention only a few —MENCAP, the Spastics Society, Age Concern and Relate. This problem applies not only to cities but also to rural areas. The Village Hall Forum has contacted me. With such high levels of unemployment, the work of charities and voluntary organisations increases. Unemployment can cause marriage breakdowns. I remember clearly that my mother used to say, "When the money stops coming through the door, love flies out through the window". Obviously, Relate is dealing with many such cases and it was one of the organisations which contacted me. It has an increasing workload.

Unemployment affects children in families. Families are trying to make ends meet. The children's societies are being inundated with more and more work. Unemployment causes constant worry and depression so that local initiatives are taking place. Drop-in centres are being established where you can talk to people who may be sympathetic, even if you do not have a job.

Unemployment causes financial problems; for example, mounting debts and mortgage arrears. People are in arrears with their gas and electricity payments and water is cut off. The settlement organisations and the CABs have many, many requests for help. Obviously, the more help that is given, the more revenue is needed.

The achievements of those organisations are reflected by the fact that society would be poorer 'without their help. In their wisdom, or otherwise, the Government seem to perform tricks with finance. We all know that that means that less money is available. We are used to that now. Members of the Government try to bamboozle us but we recognise the truth. The loss of the Inner City Partnership money and Urban Aid, the cutbacks in Safer Cities funding and, most important, Section 11 funding, which is particularly helpful to black and ethnic minorities, have meant that local authorities are in a cleft stick. The Government are saying that they must cut back, and to make sure that they do that they use the blackmailing technique called capping.

Therefore, the voluntary bodies are told by the local authorities "Look, we have had to cut back. There is no alternative. You will have to suffer the cutbacks with us because the funding is no longer available". Therefore, with the loss of many inner city partnerships and with Urban Aid almost gone, we are finding that all charities have to employ what they call "the fundraiser" and a fund raising committee to keep many of the projects on the road.

That creates its own difficulties because capital is more easily obtained than revenue. Many trusts and people who try to raise money do not believe it to be correct to use that kind of money which should be given to them by the Government. The public are becoming more resistant to providing funds for services. Consequently, voluntary bodies are finding they cannot extend the work they wish to do.

I wish to say a few words about the national lottery. I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the lottery was an initiative of the Home Office. I thought that in that case voluntary bodies would be all right. However, it now appears that the Department of National Heritage is in charge of it. I wish to place it firmly on the record that I believe the heritage of Great Britain is all of its people rather than ancestral homes and columns of stone. We should recognise that fact when discussing the funds that should be allocated to voluntary bodies.

I hope I have drawn attention to some of the problems that are facing voluntary organisations, particularly due to Government funding policies. I know many other speakers in this debate will reinforce that point. I hope the Government will not be tempted to brush aside the fine system of voluntary bodies we have in this country. Everyone admires the work of voluntary organisations and admires charitable effort.

For a country of our standing it would be quite wrong to brush voluntary work aside just because the Government feel they need to cut back on local authority funding. I believe they do that because they feel spiteful towards local authorities but the Minister may not agree with that point of view.

The Urban Programme needs to be improved. Perhaps it is not too late for it to be resurrected because it has certainly proved to he one of the most equitable ways forward for voluntary organisations over the past 20 years. I realise I have not spoken for the whole of my allotted time but I feel that my comments have been sufficient to encourage other speakers to reinforce the points I have made. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, for introducing the debate. We thank her not only for bringing the topic to your Lordships' attention but also for having spoken with a good degree of Midlands realism, if I may say so. I am interested in the evolution of the title of the debate. I believe that originally it was something like the impact of local authority budget cuts. It has now become the opportunities for and constraints on local authorities in funding charities. I hope that that will not be taken as a signal to talk about challenges to the voluntary sector in the way that the word is often used as a euphemism for obstacles.

As regards opportunities for local authorities, many would say that the options have been reduced almost to nil because of the regime of capping expenditure. In my borough we have for many years asked residents what they would like us to raise in tax and, simultaneously, what would they like us to spend on services. That question cannot now be put because the capping regime applies to the level of expenditure.

Local authorities of all types are making severe cuts in their budgets. They may not see the present as a time of opportunity. It is not just a matter of the level of the poll tax or council tax: it is also a matter of constraints on capital expenditure. It seems to me, as one of those trying to apply democracy at a local level, that those constraints arise because central government are jealous of local power and believe that a capital base means power. It is also a question of holding out against new forms of raising finance such as bond issues. But this two and a half hour debate should not be devoted to whingeing about there not being enough money to spend locally. That may be true, but it will not take us forward. However, it is well worth reflecting that as local authorities are affected, so also are voluntary organisations.

Local authorities constitute a significant part of the grants scene. In London, of an estimated £264 million given to the voluntary sector by the 90 largest private and public sector grant makers, 60 per cent. comes from local authorities. However, those who provide services know that that is not enough and that demand far exceeds supply. At a time of growing unemployment and the development of an increasing gap between rich and poor, that is bound to be the case.

My local CAB service undertook a recent survey. The staff commented that nearly one in four of the CAB's clients were unemployed and one in three were receiving income support. They stated: You are twice as likely to have a disability if you are a CAB client". Although borough residents living on their own make up a third of the population, one half of the CAB's clients live on their own. I mention CABs because they present perhaps one of the starkest examples of an organisation in the voluntary sector picking up the pieces when a local authority falters or perhaps fails under strain. The CABs are under extreme strain themselves, particularly, I suspect, in urban areas. CAB staff are clearly unhappy that they are unable to provide the level of service they would wish and that time and energy is absorbed not in advising but increasingly in fund raising. They, too, are suffering from reduced funding as local authority budgets diminish.

There is a danger in talking as if demands themselves do not change. Local authorities want to respond to new needs and provide for new developments. That is in the minds of local authorities when they consider calls to support new government initiatives. Homelessness is one example. In London, local authorities, through the London wide committee, provide grants of almost £9 million to 150 voluntary organisations, many of which the Government rely upon to provide services under the rough sleepers initiative led by the Department of the Environment. That is the kind of funding that is threatened.

In a different area the committee provides £3.2 million a year for the arts under joint funding arrangements with the Arts Council and the London Arts Board. Local authorities are aware of the need to undertake good housekeeping. I wonder how much there is a failure these days to attend to the good maintenance of properties and assets because that is something that can be put off. We shall all bear the penalty of that in years to come.

Not the least of new initiatives is that of community care. I am sure other speakers will refer to it. At a time when community care becomes fully operational, funding cuts to local authorities may threaten the stability of existing provision or indeed help to destroy it. The clock is against me in giving examples but I shall mention homelessness once more. As fast as the Department of the Environment may be trying to take people off the streets, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security may be putting them back. It is no defence for the Government to say that community care legislation gives local authorities the duty to meet all the care needs in their area. The funding is not adequate to do so. Community care problems are particularly sad because so much of the strategy for that care has its origins in good working relationships between local authorities and the voluntary sector.

This debate has its foundations in local authority funding, but that is not the whole of the issue. We talk a good deal about enabling people to take their own decisions and to live their own lives. I prefer the concept of empowerment in a society where the skills, the expertise and the views of each one of our citizens are important. Power should not remain in a few hands. We in our extraordinary constitutional position should be particularly aware of that.

Over the years I have become increasingly aware in local authority work not just of the difficulties of stretching every pound to make it do the work of £2 but also of decreasing job satisfaction among members, officers and those in the voluntary sector. If job satisfaction disappears so will those who are willing to do the jobs. There are real risks to the work of the voluntary sector as well as to the whole democratic process.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, it is difficult to say all that should be said in answer to the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, in introducing the Motion—which I welcome—in a mere seven minutes. Most of her speech must represent a welcome change of attitude on the Benches on which she sits compared with a more grudging attitude towards voluntary organisations and charities 10 years ago. I say that delicately, and I welcome that change of attitude because over the centuries the voluntary organisations and charities have initiated most of the services which we now regard as indispensable. They still serve that purpose because of their power of initiation and their perception of the needs of the subjects of this land.

No matter how well intentioned and how effective the public services provided by local government, most of which are very well intentioned and effective, there will always be a need for voluntary bodies and charitable organisations. That is why I for one very much welcome the Motion tabled by the noble Baroness this afternoon.

However, your Lordships should remind yourselves that a charity is not a charity if it raises all of its money from the taxpayer. The slightly grudging attitude of the noble Baroness towards the role of the fund-raiser ignores the fact that the fund-raiser represents an indispensable reality, for charities are not simply users of taxpayers' money.

That having been said, I shall also try to convince your Lordships that there are some charitable and voluntary activities which it would not be seemly for the Government to provide. I take as an example a particular interest of many noble Lords, including myself. That is the concept of preparation for parenthood—although I do not know whether or not that is practicable. Take also the concept, with which I am also deeply sympathetic, of helping parents who want help with coping with their children. I have often spoken in this House of the invaluable and effective work of a charity called Home-Start. I also pray in aid some of the services of the charities associated with children. I shall not list them because they are well known to your Lordships. They often provide services which it would not be seemly or proper for the Government to provide. Those are sensitive charitable organisations, manned and womanned—if I may create a verb—by people who are not officials, do not have powers, do not have authority but are able to achieve the purposes for which they were designed.

Turning to a more politically tendentious point, I suggest, even in criticism of my own side of the House, that many problems are severe today because governments of both parties have obstructed the natural provision of services which would, via the market, have provided relief for some of the problems we see today. I instance here what I believe both sides now recognise as a grave omission in our economy, namely the provision of rented commercial housing —at every level of rent and every level of value for money. Those who have read George Orwell's notable book, Down and Out in London and Paris, will remember his lament for the loss of dosshouses—and I hope that noble Lords will not misunderstand me —in the wake of the good intentions of the planners and all of us who legislated for their abolition. That has left many people in our society worse off, with fewer options available to them, whether they are afflicted with an addiction or trying to recover from having lost their resources or their jobs.

Therefore, while I sympathise with the Motion of the noble Baroness, I believe that we have to face the problem of where extra money for charities and voluntary organisations from local authorities would come from. There are problems associated with just putting up public spending. There is the problem of the threshold for taxation, which both parties in their times in government have extended downwards so that even at poverty levels one is burdened by high levels of personal taxation. That demotivates the people concerned and raises all the traps of which we are aware—the poverty trap and the "why work?" syndrome.

It is not possible, as the noble Baroness implied, for the Government simply to provide more public money without considering where that money would come from. There is the burden of raising taxation at all levels of income and the danger of excessive government borrowing. I therefore draw the conclusion from the Motion that there is indeed a role for local authorities. I do not envy their decision-makers the job of choosing between the myriads of worthy charitable causes which approach them. There is a duty on local authorities to search thoroughly for economies which can be made without damaging the effectiveness of the services they provide to their constituents. Perhaps some of those savings could be transferred to the charities to do jobs which need to be done or which they can do better than the public services. I support the Motion, subject to those comments.

3.36 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, for initiating this debate. It is very timely as we draw near to April, when the National Health Service and Community Care Act becomes operational. The voluntary sector is a key partner in the provision of community care with local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and I served on the Phoenix House board. We witnessed at first hand the tremendous anxiety of all those concerned with organisations which provide residential drug rehabilitation services when they realised that Department of Social Security funds would be transferred to local authorities. During the passage of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill through your Lordships' House I moved an amendment, which was supported from all sides of the House, to ring fence money for residential services for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The Minister then announced the good news that that would be done in another place. There was great relief among all the providers of those services because they knew only too well that drug and alcohol services were likely to land at the bottom of the pile of the services provided by local authorities.

To establish a drug rehabilitation residential home like one of the Phoenix House centres is a most difficult task. Nobody wants it in their locality, yet if those people are to be rehabilitated, to become responsible members of society and given a chance to kick a disastrous habit, that is the only salvation. Accordingly, there was great disappointment and despair among providers when the Minister announced that those at-risk rehabilitation services would not be ring fenced but would be lumped in with all the other vital services provided by local authorities. Does the Minister believe that they will survive the contract culture?

St. Anne's detoxification centre in Leeds provides a crisis service. Last year I visited police cells here in London. The doctor on duty said that he needed detoxification centres like the one in Leeds as an alternative to prison. Are the Government going to allow all those services to disappear? I heard last week that St. Anne's is at risk.

Are charities losing out? I heard that last year £4 billion was given to charity, nearly half of it in response to collections, advertisements and appeals. But charities were denied £500 million because people did not take advantage of tax incentives. If that is so, will the Government help to give some directives and publicity to the matter?

This country has an amazing number of charities and voluntary organisations. People's expectations have risen. Voluntary agencies have become more efficient and professional. With the Charities Act, trustees have become worried about their liabilities. With so much change and financial constraint on local authorities, many charity workers have been under immense stress, with the threat of charities closing down.

I have received letters from users of services provided for disabled people which state that these people no longer receive a good service because key members of staff have been made redundant. Because disability spans so many government departments, my letters often bounce between departments.

I have just received an appeal letter asking for donations to build and furbish flats for homeless young people in Ripon, a small city in Yorkshire. Many people across the country are most concerned about so many homeless young people. My first reaction was this. Should not local authorities be providing such accommodation? I ask the Minister —he is young with lots of energy—for his thoughts on a scheme that I should like to see developed. If local people provide homes for young people who receive social support on which to live, could those young people give some voluntary service until they manage to obtain a paid job? If they do not work, many young people get into a very bad habit of staying in bed all day, getting up to drink in pubs or clubs at night. They are at risk with the rise in illicit drug-taking and that goes hand in hand with the increase in crime. In the past two years there has been a 46 per cent. increase in crime in North Yorkshire. Surely we cannot allow this appalling situation to continue.

I hope that, as 1993 proceeds, local authority managers will realise that there has to be joint co-operation between themselves, health workers and voluntary agencies if the people in need of services are to be helped. Even with voluntary agencies, one has paid staff. Volunteers are often unpaid. Staff have to work with each other. It is not always easy. There has to be mutual respect for each other.

Last week I visited the Griffin Project. That is Turning Point's project for drug users with HIV and AIDS-related illnesses. It is closely integrated with other relevant services to ensure high quality comprehensive care for clients. The service network includes hospital in-patient and out-patient units, home support services, DDUs, local authority services and other non-statutory voluntary agencies. It is a small project but it is a good example of the importance of co-operation between agencies.

The Government have announced that drug and alcohol services will be monitored and that there will be a "fast track system". Perhaps I may ask the Minister what is meant by "fast track". If it speeds up the system, then the services for severely disabled people, who may be blocking beds in hospitals because their homes need adaptation, also need a fast track system.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Fisher for raising a matter which directly affects the lives of millions of our citizens. Charities are in deep trouble these days. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, reflected on the role of people on this side of the House who have given a lifetime of service to charity. He was a Member of a Government who were firmly in support of a Prime Minister who had the audacity to say that there was no such thing as society. I believe that we are entitled to complain about that observation. I hope that the noble Lord will reflect upon that.

The gravamen of the charge that we make today about the Government is that more and more during their lifetime they have sought to replace the role of statutory bodies, first, by moving issues from central government to local government, and then by transferring responsibilities from local government to charities and asking local government to finance the charities. We now have this madcap scheme of denying local government the money with which it can support those absolutely essential charities.

Charity is a proper objective of all of us. I am tempted to say to the House that the Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about this Government when 2,000 years ago he said, "Charity suffereth long". Fortunately he concluded by saying that charities endure. Those of us connected with charities are determined that they will endure, despite all the difficulties. I am sometimes tempted to believe that the Government take comfort from that fact.

It is not just central and local government. The Government's economic policy has laid low charities. At present I head a charity—I must be crazy—which is seeking to raise £1 million for a cancer research project in Birmingham. Time and again the great firms in Birmingham write to me saying, "We shall give you what we can but it is nothing like what we would previously have given". We then turn to the public, bless them, who are doing their best. But with more than 3 million people out of work and a lot more on short time, they cannot make up the missing amounts. I therefore hope that at the end of the debate the Government will reconsider the role of charities in society.

As a dedicated volunteer in a charity, I fully accept that money given to charity by a local authority is likely to produce a much greater return for society than if the statutory body undertook the work itself; and I am a great believer in statutory bodies. But the Government have got themselves into a terrible mess.

I seek to give some illustrations in the short time available. We have already referred to a new disaster of gigantic proportion which now faces us as a result of the Government replacing the Inner City Partnership with the new Urban Programme. Under that programme money can be spent only on capital projects. Have the Government not yet learnt that every capital project has a revenue consequence? Where on earth is the revenue money coming from?

I am attached to St. Basil's, as is my noble friend Lady Fisher. That organisation looks after 154 homeless men and women. I am a member of the committee of the Trinity Centre, Bordesley, which has 113 single homeless men. We take those people off the streets. They have all been financed by the Inner City Partnership. That money is stopping. Will the Government tell us where the money will now come from? Alternatively, will they be happy if we cease trying to do our duty, and cease trying to help them, leaving those people at the risk of going back on to the streets? That is the problem we face.

We then have the crazy system by which European funding ceases to be available to many charities because of such actions. Perhaps I may take one illustration. The Women's Video Training Workshop in Birmingham will now lose its city council funding because it has lost its partnership funding. In consequence it will lose its European funding. Have the Government thought the matter through? One cannot believe that they have.

The Birmingham Voluntary Service Council tells me that as a result of that change the following schemes are at risk: 50 child care day schemes, money advice schemes, residential and day care schemes, citizens advice bureaux, debt management schemes and drug rehabilitation schemes. All are at risk as a result of the change. The Minister appears amused. When he replies to the debate I hope that he will tell us in a more serious vein where that money will come from if not from the Inner City Partnership. Where does he expect the Birmingham City Council or the charities doing all the work on behalf of society to find the money? And it is not just the charities in the accepted sense and the voluntary societies; what about the sports bodies, which are also badly affected?

I wish to refer to the vexed question of discretionary rate relief which is a serious matter. I could give the House a long list of local authorities which are now writing to charitable bodies. Only this morning I received a copy of a letter from the Malvern Hills District Council to one of its cricket clubs, telling the club that the council has had to decide that all its discretionary rate relief for sports bodies—28 in Malvern alone—will have to cease in order to save £39,000. Most of the bodies will now have to find, on top of everything else, between £800 and £1,000. They are doing good work, attracting young people and getting them engaged in their enthusiasm for sport.

The Rugby Football Union has written to us, as has the Central Council of Physical Recreation, about Solihull Council and the Camp Hill Football Club, which attracts 200 youngsters to play football every Sunday morning. Although it is Conservative, Solihull Council happens to have a good record in sports provision. I know that it is driven to take such action by the financial situation in which it finds itself.

I conclude, appropriately, with the fact that Manchester—the nation's Olympic-bid city—has had to decide that, notwithstanding that it wishes to build 24 Olympic sports facilities, it must close swimming pools and sports halls because it can no longer afford to make its contribution to sport in the community.

I very much hope that the Government will realise the parlous situation they are putting society in as a result of the difficulties they have created for charities. I hope that they will find and introduce a new philosophy which will enable charities effectively to do the job in the community which I can assure the House that this side of the Chamber endorses just as much as the other side.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was good enough to reassure us that the party opposite, to which he belongs, is keen on charities and local voluntary organisations. However, I remind him that that was not always so. In the days when I was very interested, both as a junior Minister and later as a Back-Bencher, in civil defence and civil preparedness, the party opposite were not encouraging towards local volunteers. As the late Sir Winston Churchill used to say, the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us. Along with my noble friend Lord Joseph, I rejoice that both sides of the House are on the side of charities and volunteers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, was right when she said that people's expectations of local authorities have risen. Let us face it: people expect local authorities to give ever increasing financial support to more and more good causes every year when local authorities themselves must necessarily, and in the national interest, have their spending limited. It would be an irresponsible government — whether Labour in the past or Conservative now and, I hope, for a long time to come—that decided that despite the national economic interest and the prevention of inflation we could allow local authorities to spend unlimited sums on everything.

We are faced with the fact that decisions on many different matters of expenditure in detail rest with local councils and not with your Lordships—nor with Members of another place. It is best left to local authorities, with their knowledge of local circumstances, to decide which cause to give greatest support. The needs of causes vary from county to county and from year to year.

Local authorities have done exceedingly well in exercising their discretion—for example, in protecting the heritage —not merely by listing ancient buildings effectively but also in providing grants towards their restoration. That is within my own knowledge and experience in East Anglia and has enabled English Heritage to reduce some of its commitments to the benefit of the taxpayer.

Another example is village halls. In the past Cambridgeshire County Council and the former Huntingdonshire County Council did extraordinarily well in helping to provide halls for our villages. So much so that in the last financial year Cambridgeshire County Council did not find it necessary to provide any grant at all for a village hall or community centre. It had enough. Bedfordshire County Council, which did nothing in that respect in the last financial year, is this year reinstating the grant programme because it finds that there is a need. That is how it should be —varying from time to time. One cannot get away from that.

As to charities in general, many have suffered financially through the recession. We hope that things will improve through the taxation help which charities now receive and which they have received increasingly from Budgets during the past 10 years. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister made a big concession with regard to gift aid sums which have enabled charities to get in more money. His successor has brought about a good change: he reduced the original £800 to £400. That is a tax concession from which charities are benefiting. I do not say that it reduces the demands on local authorities; it does not. But at least it is some consolation.

I am especially involved with the mentally handicapped. MENCAP is one of our largest and most important charities. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will not be offended if I call him my noble friend. I am glad that he will be speaking later so I need not take up time on the subject.

The most serious social problem with which local authorities, especially urban authorities, have to deal is homelessness. All local authorities have some homes and hostels. Alas, a number of homeless people—this has been the experience in London—refuse to live in them. They prefer to have the cardboard shacks that they have built for themselves in open spaces. One shack in Lincolns Inn Fields last year had a "To let" notice on it. We should realise that a little persuasion is needed to help local authorities overcome homelessness. Where there is not enough local authority accommodation for the homeless I suggest that local authorities regard it as the highest priority of all. There is no cause more important, more touching, than homelessness. We should be thankful when local authorities deal with it, and we should encourage them to do so.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, many speakers have referred to the development of partnerships between voluntary organisations and local authorities. Partnership has much to offer in terms of service to the community. However, the partnership must be genuine. It must not be used as a method of imposing on voluntary organisations burdens which they cannot carry and cannot be expected to carry.

I want to refer particularly to child care and family support services. I shall perhaps concentrate on the National Children's Homes, because that is the association I know best. However, I know that what I shall say is also applicable to such bodies as Barnardo's and the Children's Society. An especially valuable feature of the voluntary charities working for children has been the pioneering of new and more appropriate ways of working with children, young people and families in need. Recent examples include the development of independence training, intermediate treatment, alternatives to prison for young offenders, family conciliation services and treatment centres for sexually abused children. It is often easier for voluntary organisations than it is for local authorities to pioneer new approaches by the use of voluntary funds until the stage is reached when they can win support from local authorities and local authorities can become the main providers.

Now, however, there is a serious threat to innovative work of this kind. It is in danger because of the need to use voluntary funds to sustain services where one could reasonably expect local authorities to be the main providers. Partnership is certainly nothing new for the NCH. For many years we have been using voluntary funds to provide purpose-built or adapted buildings and also to provide trained professional staff while the local authority finances the revenue costs. In that way last year we turned £11 million of voluntary income into £40 million of expenditure on social provision. The value which local authorities have attached to partnership arrangements with the NCH and other voluntary organisations is shown by the fact that local authority funding for the NCH last year increased significantly, even though the times were difficult. But also last year we closed down 25 projects. Some had come to the end of their natural life and some had failed to reach the necessary levels of performance; but too many projects had to be closed, in spite of the continuing and acknowledged need for their services, because of the withdrawal of local authority funding. In addition we failed in many attempts to open projects to meet needs which were known to us and acknowledged by local authorities. Many were in deprived areas where we concentrate our main efforts.

In Salford, for example, because of the withdrawal of funding we had to close a project providing programmes as a replacement to custody for juvenile offenders aged 14 to 16 years. The project had been welcomed and was valued by the local authority; nevertheless, it had to withdraw its funds. This is happening more and more.

Another area to which I should like to refer in the limited time available is the over-rapid contraction of residential children's homes and special schools. Those are subjects with which your Lordships will be familiar. We all agree that we shall need to form a strategy of developing care and support in the community. That enables a contraction of residential provision to take place. But the contraction which is taking place is far too precipitate.

Under the pressure to cut expenditure, one of the few easy and fairly quick savings that a social services department can make is to withdraw a child from a voluntary home or decide not to place one. The child is returned home or stays there inappropriately. Senior social services staff acknowledge privately that it is lack of finance which leads to these decisions rather than an assessment of the child's needs and the child's best interests. In the past eight years the NCH has closed nearly 40 residential homes, including residential special schools. That has meant a loss of nearly 1,400 places. Some of the closures would have taken place in any event, but in a slower and more orderly way. And of course they should have been accompanied by alternative plans for care in the community.

Under pressure from the withdrawal of placements by local authorities the NCH has had to divert scarce funds to propping up or closing projects that should have been sustained by local authority funds, or perhaps closed more slowly over a longer time. At the same time there is no incentive for a voluntary organisation to pioneer if it is clear that funds will not in future be available to implement projects which are based on the outcome of often very costly, albeit successful, experiments. There is no point in a voluntary organisation using scarce resources to prime the pump if the well of local authority resources is going to run dry. In any event, as my noble friend Lady Fisher, to whom we are all indebted today, has said, the providers of voluntary funds, trusts, business sources and personal givers, are increasingly reluctant to provide money for what they believe state agencies should be doing.

The Government's attempt to shift away from local authorities and on to voluntary organisations a bigger part of responsibility for social welfare will reduce not only the quantity but also the future quality of care for children, young people and families in need and at risk.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, there has been much unanimity among the speeches today, many of which have been excellent, about the importance of this particular issue—that is, the work that was being done and was growing very strongly, with the help of local authorities, to deal with those people in varying degrees of unfortunateness. However, the trouble is that nobody except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has tried to say anything about who is going to pay for the care which is needed. I am not going to say anything about that either: I will only say this, that of the various emergencies presented to the Government at the moment almost the most serious is the fact that everything good in the way of charitable work from top to bottom is decreasing. It is almost incredible that that should be so, but it is. It is not necessary for me to give examples, because so many have already been given.

The point I wish to underline, and which I believe is behind what everybody has said, is that this is not a question of wondering why the Government are so mean. It is a question of saying to the Government, "We all know that the whole state of the nation, particularly at the lower level, is in a desperately difficult situation and nobody knows quite how to deal with it". Some things are absolutely certain. First of all, wrong behaviour derives from childhood and therefore the first thing is to look at families.

What is happening to those charities or local organisations that are looking after families and helping to give advice to them and look after them? I will give one instance, which I happen to know very well. It is only a small one but it is worth giving. I refer to the family service units. I once served with them. They take, mostly from local authorities, those families who have got themselves into difficulties with children and are not getting out of those difficulties. They have an enormous amount of success with very detailed work. Ten years ago they had 23 units and now they have 20, of which half are facing cuts. This is the wrong way round. That particular example—and there are dozens of others of the same kind—is dealing with the real issue. It is not a question of economy, or anything else, but a question of "must be done".

The Government must think again very carefully. I wish to say that this is not really a political debate because I believe that both the Labour Party and my own party would find getting enough money to do this properly just as difficult as the Government do. Therefore, although I have a political point I should like to make before long, that is not the main one.

I draw attention to another point. Nobody has spoken about the local authorities themselves and so I took the trouble to talk to my own local authority, which on the whole is a jolly good one and really tries to do its best. I told members of the authority that I was going to speak in this debate and asked for their views. Roughly speaking, the local authority acknowledges a very clear regional expectation that it should develop and enable the independent sector to provide more services. It is positively anxious to do so. But it finds that the contract culture—substituting detailed contracts for the old method of a limited subsidy for a particular purpose—works against the smaller enterprises; and voluntary organisations tend to be lightly staffed and not particularly well equipped for drawing up rules and accepting contracts. Therefore, they tend to be squeezed; and the local authority, which cannot do all the things it wants to do, is apt to squeeze them out first. It is very sorry about that.

The authority also gave me an instance of one splendid scheme. It had a good empty hall and a voluntary body which had some money and volunteers. It intended to set up, in a densely crowded and poor area, a place for young people's recreation. The scheme had to be dropped. The authority could not do it. At the same time I was told of a similar case where Brighton, again with an existing local charity, was well advanced in establishing a scheme relating to drug abuse, and similar problems, which it thought eventually could be self-supporting. Unfortunately, it had to be dropped because there was insufficient money. That is happening all over the country. I gave two instances; one from the rich South and probably a better one from the poorer North. While people regard such schemes as projects which they can choose whether or not to implement, we are not moving in the right direction at all.

As an example, I take something that is very near to my heart, mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. The arts are part of all this local subsidising. Every single local subsidy towards the arts is decreasing. In 1972 all limits were lifted; the local authorities were allowed to do what they liked but everything was lifted out. I have said all that I shall say on that matter, but I should like to make one political point. I want to stop Ministers in this Government, or the next Government, getting up and saying: "I think this is an absolutely splendid scheme; I am absolutely behind you; I shall do everything I can to help you", when round the corner in the next department the local authorities that are supposed to be implementing the scheme are being rate-capped. It simply will not do. Ministers must say: "I don't think this has the priority which I can afford to give". It is no good approving projects while at the same time cutting them at the other end. I have made only a brief contribution, but I think the debate has been a very good one.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Holderness

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, has given us a valuable opportunity to look again at the relationship between voluntary societies and charities on the one hand and the Government and local authorities on the other. We are very grateful to her.

In my experience, successive governments have been fulsome in their praise for the work of voluntary bodies—no doubt sincerely so. I think that all those connected with voluntary work, including all who have contributed with great wisdom this afternoon, would feel that such praise was highly justified. But at the same time they might be convinced that its main justification is precisely the voluntary nature of the services provided.

Local and central government give support in many instances to voluntary organisations. I believe that it is very often right to do so. But I believe that there are dangers implicit in this involvement. There are grave dangers if voluntary bodies become too dependent on such funding. There is a great deal that central government can do in the field of taxation. Noble Lords will no doubt be aware of the activities of the Charities Tax Reform Group, which I hope will soon be rewarded by success. But this is certainly neither the place nor the opportunity for such a discussion, which would carry us a good deal wide of the noble Baroness's Motion. But funding is the subject of the Motion.

In my view, funding can be provided either by government or local authorities in more than one way. Frankly, the prospect of direct financing on a very extensive scale by local authorities gives me some cause for alarm. Apart from all the other difficulties, local authorities have to undertake a rather delicate examination and make rather controversial judgments between the merits of different voluntary organisations. Many decisions, I suggest, may be swayed by particularly enthusiastic experts or by a momentary popularity with the local electorate, which, like most electorates, may rapidly come to change its collective mind.

Certainly in some cases—possibly in a great many cases—support may remain constant. But in others, the decision to provide direct financial help may at any time be quickly swept away by the wind of change. Frankly, as every voluntary organisation would agree, funding that is changeable is of very little use to charities.

I suggested earlier that there was already in existence a possibly more reliable means of funding voluntary bodies by both local and central authorities. It is quite easy to explain. It takes the form which has recently been made more familiar by changes in the National Health Service and consists of the choices which local authorities in particular have to make of the services that they want to procure from those who provide them.

I have been closely connected for a number of years with a certain foundation which provides a wide range of services from holidays for the very severely disabled to vocational training for those who need it. All those services cost money to provide and need careful planning. But in this case, it is up to the foundation in question to make sure that it provides services for which a demand exists and that the buyers of those services receive full value for what they spend. That involves local authorities in a choice very different from a possibly capricious priority which they must assign to a charity with momentary or exceptional glamour. That is the choice of a buyer under obligation to purchase certain services and consequently keen to discover where he may do so most effectively. Not only, in my opinion, will the purchaser/provider relationship point to the proper direction of local authority support; it will also help local authorities to get the services that they need and must have in a more economical way.

I should like to give one example of what I mean. The county of Surrey (where my foundation happens to be based) is, like other local authorities, required to provide a range of information for disabled people. Surrey discharges that obligation by buying the service at what I think is a reasonable cost from the information service which the foundation set up a few years ago. I suggest very seriously to your Lordships that the purchase of that service produces a much more satisfactory result for ratepayers in Surrey than an attempt by the local authority to provide it in any other way.

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal for introducing the debate. Like her, I am extremely concerned about the overall level of funding for voluntary sector agencies and charities throughout the country. I too have received many letters and briefings from voluntary organisations and have been extraordinarily alarmed to see how well-established, prominent organisations, which have offered services for many years, are now under serious threat of their funding. For example, I find it disturbing to be told in a letter from the director of Relate that he expects his grant to be cut in real terms by £25,000 this year.

However, as well as expressing anxiety about the absolute sums involved, I should like also to call attention to the new methods of funding the voluntary sector. The noble Lord, Lord Holderness, explained some positive features but I believe that, in the words of the Motion, the change from grant giving to contracting creates more constraints upon, than opportunities for, effective voluntary work.

The intended purpose of the switch to contracting —again, the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, drew attention to this—was both to bring the voluntary bodies and charities into the early stages of planning and developing local services and to put the finances of those agencies on a more secure footing. However, so far there seems to be little evidence of early consultation between the statutory and voluntary sectors about community care plans. Many voluntary agencies to which I have spoken report that they are being offered only one-year contracts with local authorities which makes it as difficult as it ever has been to plan confidently for the future.

In 1990, when the system was introduced, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations wrote: Whilst contracting provides an opportunity to put voluntary organisations' relationships with the statutory sector onto a clearer footing, there will be problems in ensuring that small organisations survive, that the infrastructure required to ensure that the voluntary sector functions in an effective and efficient way is adequately developed, and that the role of the voluntary sector functions in an effective and efficient way is adequately developed, and that the role of the voluntary sector does not become distorted through placing too much emphasis on service delivery and not enough on campaigning and promoting the principles which need to underpin service delivery". It may be that lack of time in the last couple of years and inexperience in working the system has meant that there have been difficulties. If one wants to be optimistic and not sceptical, it may be that the system will work theoretically as intended. However, the initial anxieties expressed by the NCVO about the disadvantages of the contracting system now seem to be the practical reality.

The basic problem seems to be the question of service delivery, a subject on which my noble friend Lord Murray touched. As your Lordships will be aware, in the purchaser-provider split—we are now talking about small voluntary agencies—providers are required to demonstrate their ability to deliver specific, essential, quantifiable services which are then purchased under a contract. Many voluntary organisations and charities which are doing enormously valuable work are not primarily service providers. They may be community groups designed to support neighbourhood projects or offer support to individual organisations. They may be advocates or pressure groups. They may be umbrella bodies whose aim is to facilitate and promote the activities of those who work with them.

Even in instances where they are primarily service deliverers in the strict meaning of the new contracting culture, voluntary bodies usually have other functions and therefore other costs which cannot be legitimately included in a service contract. For example, most organisations are involved in development work and often in training and those activities cannot be included in the strict service contract. In the development area, for example, voluntary organisations have expressed alarm to me about the loss of those parts of the urban programme funding which have often been used for creating and piloting new and innovative projects, particularly those concerned with traditionally "difficult" areas of social policy. For example, Age Concern had recently intended to develop a project with ethnic minority pensioners in the North of England, but it has had to be dropped because urban programme funding has gone. I fear that it will be the same story for other imaginative new schemes.

As regards local authority decisions, there is apprehension among voluntary sector workers about their funding because those decisions now rest in the contract system with officers, not members. Several agencies have expressed fears that officials may be less imaginative or adventurous than local authority members who might have supported an untried project under the old grant scheme. They worry that officials will stick rigidly to service-based purchasing from well-established bodies.

Perhaps I may take a practical example from a field that I know well, the AIDS voluntary sector. Most local AIDS helplines and support groups in this country grew from the energetic action of individual volunteers. Individuals saw a local need and they acted. Organisational development was often haphazard and unplanned, but effective organizations have grown out of a combination of offering practical care, providing advocacy of an unpopular cause and carrying out public education work.

It is hard to see how these kinds of extremely valuable and dynamic voluntary sector responses, which may be needed to deal with a new problem, could be accommodated in a service contract culture. However benign the local authority, those kinds of spontaneous community developments, which have been centrally important, not just in the AIDS field, but in drug misuse, domestic violence and homelessness, could not be nurtured in the contract culture but could have been supported under the old grants system.

At the beginning of my speech I quoted from an NCVO report in 1990. Last month the council submitted evidence to the Select Committee on Health on community care implementation. Perhaps I may conclude with a quotation from that evidence which I hope the Government will take very seriously: On the basis of our experience so far we consider it essential to maintain a variety of financial support for the sector and to recognise that some activities and support from public funds may be best channelled through grants rather than contracts, especially for innovative work and community development action".

4.27 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, like many people in this Chamber I have served as a trustee on several voluntary bodies and I know how deeply concerned they are about their ability at least to carry on their good work if to expand it is hopeless. However, I am also concerned about the health of our society and about its frustrated will to succour many of its members who suffer distressing misfortune.

The subject of our debate today was also that of William Beveridge's last great report. The Labour Government had laid the foundations of what we called the welfare state, but what he called the social state. That, we thought, was that. The new Utopia was on its way, guided and financed by benevolent state action. However, Beveridge, although appreciative of what Labour had done, was unhappy about the rejection of some of his ideas. He had hoped that the friendly societies would be used to humanise and personalise national insurance, but they were not. He was commissioned by a friendly society to survey the history of philanthropic and aid movements in Britain. He was afraid that those movements would decline with the decay of religious conviction and a foolish new belief that all material and social needs would be met by the state with its infinite power and riches.

I do not mind confessing that I shared that foolish belief in those happy, hectic, halcyon hours of a Labour Government with a commanding majority, but Beveridge won me over. In the end, he won everyone over. He showed us that there were many areas of social need that had been left out of his report on social insurance. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, was right. That was the attitude, but it has not been the attitude among my colleagues for many years. It is 45 years since Beveridge wrote that report.

Beveridge listed the areas of social need that had been left out of his report. Those areas, which comprise the groundwork of many voluntary bodies, will be familiar to noble Lords; the chronically sick and disabled; old people's housing; battered and neglected children; discharged prisoners; unmarried mothers; and refuges for sick, tired and battered housewives. The old Beveridge had dealt with the average citizen. The new Beveridge was concerned with distressed minorities. He saw that the services they needed could best be given by an amalgam of trained social workers and ordinary citizens inspired by a social conscience. He stressed above all the need for a working partnership between the state on one side and individuals and voluntary organisations on the other.

We must not be complacent about our social provision. We must all recognise that much progress has been made over these years since Beveridge wrote his gloomy predictions. They did not come true, thanks to individuals with a social conscience and thanks also to generous state provision. That provision is becoming less generous. These are hard times and they affect not merely government but the other sources of grant giving which have sustained voluntary action. There is also a certain impatience in society with social provision, a rejection even of the ethical substitute for the Christian conviction that has inspired, and even now inspires, much of our philanthropy.

What Beveridge wanted was for human society to become a friendly society. I recommend a reading of Joseph Harris's splendid biography which is to be found in our Library. Beveridge was the prophet of peaceful social revolution and the champion of new forms of collective altruism. A great deal of that revolution has been sustained but is now in danger.

We have witnessed a great advance since his day. The question is: how can we keep it going in the light of the current restraints? The demand for resources in London exceeds by far the supply. Inflation has taken its toll. There is a loss of 25 per cent. spending power on these projects since 1986. I hear with sorrow that Age Concern has had to close down some day centres and to scrap a taxi scheme for the disabled. I was particularly disconcerted to hear of the anxieties of the CABs. Only this morning I met a woman who for days has feared a threat that the bailiffs would seek to enter her home and take her property to pay a debt incurred by her adult daughter. The CAB had not merely advised her; it had dealt with the threat itself. A small example, but a poignant one. There are thousands of such cases every day.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, in instigating this debate, to speak on this subject, but as the chairman of a charity, Mencap, which will probably spend over £65 million this coming year, I regret having to cut so many references to so many problems which we face. I trust that such cuts will not apply to our myriad services—housing, education, leisure and employment—and our 465 local societies which have to go around raising their own cash.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one problem which threatens our work with individuals and families throughout the country; that is, the withdrawal of the Urban Programme. That programme, which has for the past few years offered approximately 75 per cent. central funding to projects in our urban areas, has been withdrawn by the Government to be replaced, in part, by the Urban Partnership Fund set at £20 million.

The figures will be clearer and more meaningful to some others in your Lordships' House than they are to me. I gather that we are talking about a switch from a projected Urban Programme spend of only a fraction of the old Urban Programme, supplemented by whatever funds local authorities can redeploy from a slightly relaxed central government grasp on the authorities' own resources. As against that, the City Challenge Programme expands from a very modest base to some £230 million spread over some 30 projects.

The City Challenge Programme can, I understand, cover childcare projects, to which I want to refer in a moment. There may therefore be hope under the new arrangements. However, for projects which depend on the current arrangements the future is uncertain and in some cases bleak. Termination of schemes is threatened and it seems right to draw attention to the problem when the axe is poised, rather than waiting until the axe has fallen.

Let me give one example. Until this year the Government's Urban Programme has funded 140 summer playschemes in the City of Liverpool for children with or without disabilities, in an area which has problems not limited to football results and football pools. These playschemes do not run all year and hence are treated as new projects every year. The Government, on abolishing the programme, made a commitment to fund ongoing schemes but not new ones. These playgroups have fallen foul of this announcement.

The grant application for this year was to be for £178,000 to run 140 playschemes around the city, providing 5,000 places for children. At least 10 schemes specifically provide for approximately 300 children with special needs. Others took children with disabilities alongside others without. At best only one of these special schemes will continue this summer. Other schemes will be unable to take children with special needs, if they survive at all.

I understand that the Children Act may be prayed in aid of resourcing these special schemes, but that is possible only if the local authority can find the money to fulfil its Children Act obligations. Can the Minister offer any assurances about these schemes? Since they are an annual fixture, can they be protected as existing schemes? It is unlikely that Liverpool City Council will be able to find £178,000 of new money to keep these schemes going. I do not care what form the help takes, provided the playschemes go on.

So much for the Urban Programme, but I do not believe that we can discuss local authorities and funding without referring to community care, a policy which should and does offer so many opportunities but one about which people with a learning disability and their families are increasingly anxious. There has been much public debate as to whether the money being transferred from the Department of Social Security to the local authorities is adequate for the tasks they are being asked to fulfil and I must say that, now we know the overall settlement levels, I am in agreement that it is not adequate. People with severe learning disabilities so often rely on the provision of a wide range and high quality of service to ensure even a reasonable quality of life, and yet we see a decline in day service provision and acute crises around the country as the provision of short-term care dries up. No charity, even one as strong as Mencap, can plug the gap.

It is no good developing the language of community care unless we can also develop the reality. Swimming is a favourite exercise of mine and it seems to me that an analogy for the current situation is expecting people to jump into the community care pool while draining off the water. That way lies disaster.

Wearing my Arts Council of Great Britain hat as chairman of the drama panel, I should like to draw noble Lords' attention, as did the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to the problems of arts funding. I remind noble Lords that the Arts Council of Great Britain regional arts boards are charities and that boards running theatres, as non profit making companies, are made up of volunteers. Indeed, in many theatrical venues, actors' pay is so poor that they too could well be classed as volunteers. Arts provision is at the discretion of local authorities. In these times, when statutory provision is under threat, arts funding is a prime target for cuts. Scotland is luckier, for there arts funding is recognised as a statutory obligation upon local authorities. That is acknowledged within their revenue support grant calculations. Here we Sassenachs are inclined to treat ring-fencing as a veritable threat to our democracy.

If I may, I shall illustrate the problems south of the Border with reference to two theatres only which are facing real problems now in their funding. There are indeed many more. The Tricycle Theatre, in the London Borough of Brent, has been told to expect a cut in its grant support, which will certainly mean its closure. The Tricycle Theatre serves an inner city area, has a high reputation for opening itself to the community, including ethnic minorities and disabled people, and is dedicated to new writing. It is a very important part of the national theatre scene and its loss will be deeply felt.

The New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, was opened in 1986. It is reliant on funding from three local authorities, two of which are now cutting their contributions this year, resulting in the New Victoria Theatre being in the gravest danger of having to close its operation at the end of this year —less than seven years after its grand opening. An absurd waste of money.

I am sure that I do not need to remind your Lordships that this debate is about local authorities and the funding of charities and voluntary organisations. Two quotations seem to me to be an appropriate way to conclude my comments today. The first is from Francis Bacon, the philosopher rather than the painter: In charity there is no excess", or to be more practical in this day and age, the advice given by George Arnold, an American poet of the last century: The living need charity more than the dead".

4.40 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Rix, made his maiden speech I suggested that he had done more for the distressed in this country than anyone living with the exception of Lord Cheshire who was then very ill. Lord Cheshire has since died, alas, but I am very glad that his widow is to speak today. I now feel that the torch passes without question to the noble Lord, Lord Rix.

It has been a very well-informed and distinguished debate. My noble friend Lady Fisher made a most arresting speech. I hope that I shall not dispel an atmosphere of good will if I strike rather a jarring note. I look a little below the surface, which is sometimes a bit dangerous. When we talk about cuts some people may think that they are acts of God. Others may put them down to the ill will of Ministers. I do not do that at all; I put it down to the theory of Thatcherism which has been brought out in these debates before now.

The distribution of wealth in this country was made more and more equal for many years after the war by Labour and Conservative Governments. I have no doubt that if there had been a Liberal Government they would have done the same. Then from 1979 onwards all that has been reversed. I do not know what the latest figures are because they have not come my way. However, in the past 13 years the balance has moved in favour of the rich. We must expect some consequences from that. It would he very odd if the poor had not been damaged. The poor have been damaged. The most vulnerable elements of society can be damaged.

I shall speak only about three organisations with which I am connected. Obviously, I shall speak with much brevity. They are the New Horizon Youth Centre, Melting Pot, which is an organisation for young black people in Brixton, and the Matthew Trust for those who have been in mental or special hospitals. They are all organisations which have started within the past 25 years. I have been associated with all of them from the beginning. I suppose I can claim that I founded the New Horizon Youth Centre. I am not going to dwell on the details. In each case the organisations have suffered recently from government policies reflected through a reduction in local assistance or, in the case of the Matthew Trust, because of the difficulties in which local government finds itself.

For example, New Horizon was financed in various ways and it was approved by government. That can be shown by the support that the organisation has been given over the years. That body is now seeing about 3,000 people a year. When it started the office was so small that when the secretary was sitting at her desk I had to work in the passage. However, that was a long time ago. Now the number of workers has been cut because Camden has found itself strapped for cash. I believe that that is the expression which is used about the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. The number of social workers has been reduced. That is one example. Melting Pot is an organisation for young black people in Brixton. It has done great work and has had a great deal of public approval and support from those who are well informed on such matters. Now Lambeth has cut its grant by 59 per cent. It may be said that Lambeth has not been managing its affairs particularly well. But however badly Lambeth has been managing its affairs, this is the result of government policy. That is another example.

The position of the Matthew Trust is rather different. It does not get a grant from public authorities. It helps local authorities to make community care more of a reality than at present. Now it finds itself in great difficulties because it is being asked to perform impossible tasks. It has been asked in the next two years to find half as much money again as it found in the previous 17 years to help local authorities with community care. That is going to mean an extraordinary effort if it is to play the part which it has done hitherto in helping local authorities to do what is supposed to be their job. I give those three examples. Many others have been brought forward today and there are many more which could be brought forward.

I regard these matters as primarily the result of government policy. It has been a policy which, although well intentioned, has been disastrous for the most vulnerable. I hope that the House will not think that I suggest that noble Lords opposite such as the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Holderness, are any less caring than I am. The Conservative Party today says things which I was brought up to believe in. But now I feel that it is wrong. The people who brought me up and with whom I associated in my earlier days were just as caring as the people I work with now. It is not a personal question but one of a fatal philosophy. I can put the matter more strongly. I hope that noble Lords will realise that the responsibility for the cuts and the damage done to the most vulnerable people lies with the Government.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, at a time when many hospital beds are being closed to all but urgent and emergency cases, and when many London hospitals are now in danger of closure, the local authorities and the voluntary organisations are facing what I believe will be the most severe cuts for many years. As I listened to the speeches from the Benches opposite, much though I admire those who spoke and much though I agreed with some of what they had to say, I felt that there was not the sense of urgency which has been heard from this side of the House and certainly from my noble friend Lady Fisher when she opened the debate.

I believe that we are going to see jobs cut in teaching and social services in the next few months, libraries closed and welfare services abolished. Certainly for me locally the Hampstead Community Centre closed down last week ending 17 years of service to the community. Mothers and toddlers' groups, old people's tea-parties and childcare provisions have all been axed. The evidence of impending cuts in the community-care field come from right across the country. But I wish to concentrate on the effect of government policy on mental health services, alcohol and drug abuse.

Local authorities have given priority to their own statutory requirements. One of the problems that many of the other services face is that it is not a statutory obligation on local authorities to meet some of the needs, particularly in the drug and alcohol abuse field. Danger signs are seen by many organisations. Many local MIND groups—I declare an interest as president of that body—have been experiencing difficulties. It is considered by many of them that the authorities are trying to replicate statutory-type services rather than encourage the development of new services that better meet the needs of the community, which is the field in which voluntary organisations have a great reputation.

Many of the local associations also felt that they had not been given sufficient time to put proposals to the authorities. As a result the contracts being drawn up between the associations and the authorities are lacking some detail. I could give examples.

Others have referred to the problems of Age Concern. At a time when the number of very old people is steadily increasing, it is a tragedy that Age Concern should be required to take cuts in its funding. There are growing anxieties that local authority funding of voluntary organisations is being eroded and that where funding is available it is increasingly being tied up in contracts for direct service provision. Development work, innovative projects, training and outreach work and general revenue costs are all feeling the pressure. Even in areas where Age Concern organisations are not facing direct cuts in their grants, they are finding that their workload has increased due to the current pressures on other organisations in their area such as citizens advice bureaux. Although there is more work for the Age Concern organisations, they are not being provided with the funds to meet the new demands.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others have referred to the Urban Programme. I believe that the Government have made a very serious decision on that.

I should like to spend two or three minutes dealing with the severe problems facing those concerned with alcohol and drug addiction. According to a survey of 91 services which was carried out by the national organisations, Alcohol Concern and the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, 46 agencies said that the Government's decision not to protect funds for residential alcohol and drug treatment in the transfer of money to local authorities in April would mean that they would become financially unviable by the end of July. In all, 67 respondents, providing over 1,300 bed spaces, predicted that they would face a financially impossible situation in 1993.

Faced with much competition for scarce local authority funds, alcohol and drug services are taking a realistic view of the future and are preparing for imminent closures. One has to ask what will happen to those abusers, some of whom may have become abusers partly because of the high levels of unemployment and the other pressures upon them? What will happen to them? Will they be on the streets? Will they end the treatment that they have been receiving?

Furthermore, 50 per cent. of services are planning to make staff redundant in the first half of 1993. One in four projects is being forced to make immediate plans to lay off staff before the changes come into effect. The survey paints a depressing picture of the prospects for the treatment centres after April. It confirms that the immediate future for alcohol and drug services is bleak. Most are unable to see how they can continue to operate under the new arrangements which will be introduced in April. Scarcely any believe that the measures being carried out by the Government will even begin to tackle the problem.

We must ask the Government what answers they have to the problems that are being faced by these essential services. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, referred to the work of Phoenix House and mentioned that we both have a deep concern about its work. If one talks to the staff there one learns that they do not know how many of their centres will be forced to close within the next few months.

I ask the Government whether we can hear something less complacent from the Minister than we have heard so far. He must recognise that we are facing a crisis in the voluntary sector in terms of providing essential services—and I think that the Government recognise that they are, indeed, essential services. I resent the suggestion that on this side of the House there is a lesser commitment to voluntary organisations. I have never seen voluntary organisations as an alternative to statutory bodies. However, voluntary organisations can take initiatives and use imagination, which statutory bodies often cannot. It would be a tragedy if, as a result of the folly of the Government's policies, many of these initiatives dried up.

4.54 p.m.

Baroness Ryder of Warsaw

My Lords, I, too, want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, for initiating this debate. This is a critical period for all of us who have responsibility for looking after those who cannot be cared for elsewhere. Many of us have accepted this responsibility over a very long period and for several thousand people and we have been fortunate—rather long ago, alas, and in the past—to establish a good working relationship with those in the public sector with whom we co-operate in this sphere.

It has always been the prerogative of government to determine the way in which the public sector responds to changing circumstances. It is, by the same token, the obligation of the Government to ensure that provision adequately meets the demands of the hour.

Some four months ago the Secretary of State issued a press release setting out funding arrangements for social service departments. Less than two months are left before the transfer of responsibilities. I can speak only for the homes and other activities which bear my name in the foundation, but not a single contract that we know of is in place. Many authorities are still drafting the agreements. Many do not appear to know how much money they may have available.

There is a wide perception that in many cases the local and health authorities are simply not talking to each other and that, where assessment teams have been set up, there is insufficient input from the medical authorities and an inadequate balance of comprehension of the contrast between an expectation of low costs set against not only the search, but the demand, for far higher standards by bureaucrats. But higher standards appear to be resulting in demands for 80 to 100 per cent. single room facilities (each with its own loo and shower as well)—and this at a time when the demands upon us in this sector for all age groups (and for whatever disability or sickness) grow day by day. Also, we are given no financial grants (as happens in other countries) to meet these huge costs. How then are we expected to raise these huge sums year in, year out?

Can the Minister give me any reassurance that active steps are being taken to address all these uncertainties (I mean in terms of planning for the future)? I repeat that we are talking about the futures of individual people with needs, not just about "clients" as they are now referred to by some people in the Departments of Health and of Social Security. I need not remind your Lordships—you have heard this from so many other noble Lords—of the matters which concern us so deeply and cause masses of speculation in so many vital areas.

Perhaps I may finally quote just one example. A patient with progressive Motor Neurone disease wants to be admitted to a Sue Ryder Home and his doctor urges us to take him. But we are told by the social worker at the DHS that he cannot come yet. Perhaps I may therefore remind both your Lordships and the Minister of this person's unnecessary suffering and distress and press for action and proper funding now.

4.58 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I want to concentrate on the youth service. The great importance of this service during a recession is obvious. Unemployment among young people is at an all-time high. Young people are not all getting on training schemes, as promised by the Government. Homelessness is increasing because of the changes to the benefit system. Truancy is increasing.

I should like to tell your Lordships about Tony, a 14 year-old in Wisbech. He did not like schools and schools did not like him. But every day he turned up at Youth Unlimited, a youth centre, while he was not attending school and spent his time in the workshop converting old cars into racing models after one of the youth leaders taught him welding. He is now attending a different school but is still a regular visitor to the centre. He has helped to make a ramp for skateboarders in the yard and is doing up old bicycles to sell for club funds. He wants to be a mechanic and a racing driver. I feel that there is some moral here. The crime rate among young people is increasing. Peter Winship, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in a report Juvenile Crime and Youth Provision said: Sustaining and enhancing youth provision provides an opportunity to reduce criminal opportunity by removing young people from situations where they are likely to commit, or become, the victims of crime. It would also increase the ability of the police to use alternative methods of dealing with persistent offenders". It is everyone's wish to keep young people out of custody, but to do so it is necessary to have provision where the police and the courts can have confidence that worthwhile activities are going on so that community service orders can be made. If the youth service is starved of resources, that provision will diminish and perhaps vanish.

It costs £350 a week to keep someone in an offender's institution", Mr. Randall, chief executive of the Association of Combined Youth Clubs said. Give me £3 a head and I can keep clubs running for a whole year". Well, what is happening? I have collected information on what is likely to happen to education budgets for 1993–94. It is a grim picture: cuts almost everywhere; principal youth officers being made redundant in many cases. In Bedfordshire the youth service is carrying many vacant posts. Enfield expects to make cuts of £7 million to £8 million in its budget and that, its chief education officer says, will mean the end of the youth service. Barnet's situation is much the same. In Bury the abolition of community education is an option for cost cutting. Those are just a few examples. It is a very gloomy picture.

The withdrawal of the Urban Programme and the uncertain future of Section 11 funding are exacerbating the situation. Youth Action allocations through the GEST scheme are of course welcome, but for an authority to accept the offer it has to provide 40 per cent. to match central moneys and Enfield does not know whether it will manage that. There is the extraordinary position in Warwickshire, which has changed its whole approach, with the authority taking on a co-ordinating role, which means devolving the control of youth service provision to a number of independent trusts. The legality of those arrangements seems to me to be dubious. I ask the Minister to comment upon the legality of the actions of Warwickshire and Enfield.

What repercussions do those local authority cuts have on voluntary organisations? Well, there are a great many. For one thing, most rely on some grant from their local authority, and if the authority is short of cash for its own purposes, it will obviously be unable to make grants. The indirect services provided by authorities are highly valued by the voluntary sector. Those include allowing staff from the voluntary sector to join training schemes at no cost, access to minibuses and special equipment; and permitting the use of school premises at subsidised rates. However, recent legislative changes have shifted much of the decision and policy-making in those areas from the LEA to individual establishments and that may well put some of the arrangements at risk.

What I fear is happening is that when an LEA is short of cash for its schools it plunders the youth service. There are two reasons for that. One is the fear of schools opting out of the system. The other is that there is a statutory responsibility to provide education for five to 16 year-olds. Despite our efforts, we have not achieved what we wanted: a duty to provide a youth service. During the Commons stage of the Further and Higher Education Bill, the Minister summed up for the Government: The provisions of the new Section 41 and Section 53 of the 44 Act cover the youth service more than adequately … The legal base for the youth service rests on a cross-fertilisation of provisions in the Education Acts which together cover the provisions made by the youth service for those of school age and above". What is now clear is that that cross-fertilisation of provisions in the Further and Higher Education Act and the Schools Act, since they make no provision to secure the youth service, not only exclude it but work together against it. The Government's claim that the Further and Higher Education Act, safeguards the legal base of the youth service", has been challenged significantly by the decisions made in Warwickshire and the proposals in Bury, Barnet and Enfield.

The Criminal Justice Act and the Children Act both aim to help. They provide a well argued legislative framework for the care and protection of young people at risk. Their goal is clear: prevention is better than cure; the needs of the child or young person must come first; an adequate service for those in need must be provided. But again we are up against the definition of "adequate". To most of us, what is happening all over the country is clearly inadequate.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about London after the demise of the ILEA. I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on 2nd December whether the Government would reconsider ending the three-year interim grant that was due to end in March 1993. She replied that there would be some further funding to certain London organisations in partnership with the London Borough Grants Committee. She said that the money to support the voluntary organisations would rise from £2.3 million to £2.8 million. I understand that that was not correct. The figures referred to were for national voluntary youth organisations; only a part of those funds would be available for work in London. Will the Minister please tell us the latest news, and what support voluntary organisations dependent upon the grants will be receiving? Is the sum to be the same for three years or is it to be tapered?

During the course of that same Question, the Minister mentioned an additional £400,000 in grant aid for the National Youth Agency for voluntary youth projects. I am told that the agency has 281 firm applications for that and was able to fund eight projects only. The number and quality of the applications is a clear indicator of the huge need for moneys at local level. The situation overall is extremely serious and depressing. Do the Government recognise that? Are they going to do anything to help?

5.7 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Fisher for introducing the debate, and introducing it in what I thought was a powerful manner. The fact that we have had many speakers, all experienced in charitable and voluntary organisation work and most of them—I say "them", but I include me—involved in the administration of charities, implies that the House gives a particular importance to the subject. I am glad that it does, because it is a subject which should be at least a high point in any central government and local government agenda.

The opportunities for local government were set out in Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972, which has since been amended rather radically. Nevertheless the section provides that local authorities are allowed to authorise expenditure which in their opinion is in the interests of, and will bring direct benefit to, their area or any part of it or all or some of its inhabitants. That is a fundamental opportunity local government has in addressing the concerns of those it is elected to represent.

I do not have to remind your Lordships that the Local Government Act 1972 was passed at a time when most parties believed in local democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the point rather clearly. We now have a period of standard spending assessments. We are in revenue capping, and we are now told that local authorities are not responsible for what they spend; it is the Government who will tell them what they will spend. It is in that manner that I would respond, rather indirectly, to the charge that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, made, which I think was rightly rejected by my noble friend Lord Howell. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, is not in his place, so I shall pass to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who seemed to echo the same charge—that is, that, as a party we were not interested in voluntary organisations. We believed that local government should provide certain services under the Local Government Act 1972, but we were never against the voluntary organisations. It is only when the Government stop local government providing the same services that we must have recourse to voluntary organisations. That is the main theme of what I shall say.

I turn to the constraints. I do not want to go through all the arguments which have been put forward by many noble Lords about particular charities in which they may be interested. I wish to point out only one or two major issues on which I believe the Minister will wish to concentrate. The Minister has heard a litany of disaster. Noble Lords on all sides have said that voluntary organisations are on the point of collapse because of all the restrictions. Therefore, I make only three or four points on which I believe the Government can take action, even within the constraints of public sector and local government finance. I do not ask for funds to be dished out. I am saying that the Government can take quite legitimate action on these matters.

First is the question of the council tax. Like my noble friends Lady Fisher and Lady Jay, I have received many briefings from different organisations and it is clear from those briefings that charities will be subject to council tax and that residential care providers in the voluntary sector will be faced with a new charge on the introduction of the council tax. Whereas those residents were exempt from the late lamented poll tax, they will have to pay the council tax. That will significantly increase the costs of many residential care providers. The Government could take action in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others referred to the Urban Programme. I do not say that anything which has been said is untrue but it is true that, if the Urban Programme is to be phased out, as I understand is now government policy, the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund contributions, as well as private company donations, will vanish as a result. Therefore, the loss will be duplicated and we shall lose the European money which we should properly have.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and other noble Lords referred to community care and contracting and purchasing. That seems to be the major crisis of the moment. The DSS funds transferred to local government and the element to which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred —ring-fenced special transitional grant—un-derestimate wildly the cost of implementing the National Health Service and Community Care Act.

That, taken with the standard spending assessment figures for personal social service spending available to local authorities, seems to make it absolutely clear that many local authorities will need to make cuts, not increases, in this area in the face of continued capping of their expenditure. A recent survey by the Association of Directors of Social Services indicates that almost 90 per cent. of their sample of local authority departments are planning cuts in their services.

Furthermore, and worse than that, voluntary organisations like housing associations which are prepared to tender for contracts do not know to whom they must tender. Local authorities do not know what budgets they have. I am told by responsible people who will have to be involved in the programme that, come 1st April—and I must remind the Minister that it is not far away—there is a risk that there will be a total shambles. I invite the Minister to make sure that that does not happen.

The whole situation is complicated by the fact that over the years the Government have imposed burdens on local authorities which, by their very nature, the authorities are unable to sustain. Furthermore, I found myself taking on the environment portfolio in this House very recently and I have faced the question: do the Government really care about local government at all? I put the question in that rather stark form although my noble friend Lord Longford raised it as a philosophical point. Time and time again we have heard government Ministers loading duties on to local authorities without making available the resources necessary to carry out those duties. That being the case, if the burden can be taken up, it must be taken up by voluntary organisations.

While I may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, on some of the points he made, voluntary organisations can only exist—and this is important —if core funding is available from some public authority. Anybody who has been involved in any charitable or voluntary organisation knows perfectly well that core funding is essential for the organisation to exist in the first place. Grant-making bodies are perfectly willing to make donations for projects and programmes, provided that they are approved. However, where the core funding of an organisation suffers, the organisation breaks down.

I say to the Minister that it is little short of a scandal that over the years the Government have, by their treatment of local authorities and by their own actions, reduced the core funding available to voluntary organisations to enable them to carry out their proper work. That is deliberate. I believe that the Government are simply shuffling off all responsibility. I know that the Minister disagrees with me but perhaps he will listen to what I have to say because this is an important point.

hope that the Minister—it may be a forlorn hope but I live in hope—will indicate that the Government may change their view. In the light of this debate and in the light of the fact that all those who have spoken, in whatever way they have spoken, have indicated that there is a very serious problem, I hope that the Government are prepared to change their view. In my personal opinion, after all that has been said in this debate, which has been extremely interesting and informative, if the Government do not change their view and change it fairly quickly, then voluntary organisations will no longer be able to carry out the work which up to now has been funded by local authorities. That will be a disadvantage to the whole country.

5.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, for bringing to the attention of the House the very important question of voluntary sector funding and the part that local authorities can play. We have heard some excellent speeches. I shall turn to the points raised in a moment.

I know that we all admire the valuable contribution that voluntary organisations make to our society. Their work with children, the elderly and the disadvantaged—to name but a few examples—is irreplaceable. They are often uniquely placed to provide help and support precisely where needed, and they have the wide range of knowledge and experience to do that most effectively.

Voluntary organisations receive funding from a variety of sources. Many noble Lords support a number of different charities. I am sure that we have all made donations of some kind to a worthy cause. Charities conduct sophisticated fund-raising campaigns, and local government is yet another source of income.

There has been much discussion in today's debate of the constraints on local authority funding, and although I recognise the arguments put forward by noble Lords, I am not at all surprised by the case that has been made. We can all put forward good reasons why more money has to be spent but whether it is spent by central government or local government, run by Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats, decisions still have to be made on funding. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, recognises that those decisions have to be made. I am not sure the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, recognises that those decisions have to be made. However, when he was Secretary of State for Health in the Labour Government he had to make some extremely difficult spending decisions, as did the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he was a government Minister.

Local authorities have wide legal powers to fund the voluntary sector. Under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972, this expenditure is entirely discretionary and limited only to a fixed sum per head of population. Another example is Section 142 of the same Act, which allows authorities to assist organisations such as law centres to provide information and practical assistance to people about their rights and obligations.

I cannot, however, agree with the argument that there should be a statutory duty on authorities to fund voluntary groups. They must retain the right to make their own spending decisions in the light of local circumstances. A statutory requirement in one area would open the door to similar requests for other services, such as leisure, economic development and bus subsidies, for example. We are determined to resist such pressures.

This brings me to a point of absolute principle in the area of local government finance. It is the Government's firm policy to ensure that local authorities receive sufficient resources to meet the needs of their area and to provide a standard level of services throughout the country. However, in line with that, we believe that in general it is they who should decide how they allocate the resources and what their spending priorities are.

There is no question of our ignoring the needs of local democracy. We fundamentally believe in that. We have sought to reform local government to make it more accountable to local people. I recognise that the argument put forward by noble Lords opposite is confused. They want local democracy but, if their favourite schemes are not funded, they believe that it is the responsibility of the Government. We cannot and will not interfere in the right of locally elected representatives to make those decisions. That would not be good for local democracy and would not be good for local authorities.

It is appropriate for me to say a few words about the local government finance settlement for the coming year. Noble Lords will know that the Secretary of State announced his decisions last week, and indeed, as I speak, they are being debated in another place. We have been told by many people that it is a tough settlement. It is true that we will not see increases at the same level as previous years. That is only reasonable as next year we will have a low level of inflation and wage increase. The Government are offering over £1 billion more in external support. I hope authorities agree that they have the resources to provide a good standard of services and to control their costs and council tax levels. There should not be any reason why an efficient and well-run authority cannot continue to fund local voluntary organisations within grant levels.

The question of efficiency is important. This was quite rightly recognised by my noble friend Lord Joseph. Authorities must consider the best way of delivering the services for which they are responsible. In many instances they find that the voluntary sector provides a much more cost-effective service than they themselves could do. Again it is up to local authorities to make the judgment, and once they have done so, to provide the necessary funding. This is something which more authorities could consider and take on to a broader extent, and I recommend it to them. The benefits to both parties are obvious. It is also completely consistent with the Government's view that local government should operate more in an enabling role rather than its more traditional function as sole provider of services. Compulsory competitive tendering, contracting out and local management of schools are all examples of that.

I believe that the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, are real and that they have been recognised as such by the Department of Health, particularly as regards its dealings with small voluntary organisations. The Department of Health is working with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and is funding a £300,000 project to facilitate the change that has been mentioned.

I turn to a separate point. There have been calls for central government to intervene more directly. One suggestion has been to make specific grants to local authorities for voluntary sector funding. Central government already provide direct support to the sector to the tune of around £2.6 billion annually. However, I have to say that there are drawbacks to specific grants. There is the danger that they could replace local decision-making with a cumbersome and remote Whitehall machinery. I cannot believe that that would be in the interests of local groups of whatever type.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, said that urban aid has practically gone. I must disagree with her. The Government have increased the resources to the urban group of programmes by more than £90 million to a total of over £1 billion in 1993–94. Taken together the total Urban Programme and City Challenge resources will rise from £319 million in 1992–93 to £408 million in 1993–94. Authorities have used part of the money to fund voluntary groups in the past and will no doubt continue to do so. That is their decision, and rightly so. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that the Government do not dislike Birmingham. After all, Birmingham has just won the City Challenge and a sum of £37.5 million from the Government. Birmingham won that award because it put forward the best schemes for local voluntary groups. We should all be immensely proud of that.

My noble friend Lord Joseph mentioned the charity Home-Start. I am aware of the valuable work of that charity in counselling young families. It works in 18 of the urban priority authorities. There are three such projects in Birmingham. The charity is funded by a number of government departments, in particular the Department of Health.

There will be £156 million available from the Urban Programme for continued support for a substantial number of existing projects. In addition we must not forget the support that voluntary organisations have received, and will continue to receive, from City Challenge. The main thrust of this policy is to ensure that people in inner cities benefit from renewal strategies through more jobs, a better environment and an improved quality of life. What we are doing is to secure a full partnership of all those with a stake in the area where support is targeted. That must include voluntary groups and local communities. For example, all of the City Challenge partnership boards include community or voluntary sector representatives. Many of the partnerships, such as in Bradford and Lewisham, are also appointing community workers to develop local capacity and projects and partnerships are setting up a variety of community fora to act as co-ordinating bodies for local input to the plan.

Another example of the way co-operation is working very effectively at the local level is the sheltered placement scheme. This, as many noble Lords will know, provides work opportunities in open employment for people with severe disabilities. It involves a host employer, a sponsor such as a local authority or voluntary body, and the Employment Service, which contributes towards the sponsor's costs. The results of the scheme are excellent: some 12,000 people with severe disabilities have been provided with jobs in sheltered workshops and sheltered placements.

I turn now to the new partnership grants scheme between the Department for Education and the London Boroughs Grants Committee. This was set up after the committee invited us to work with it to provide support to voluntary organisations in London. It is a welcome development and provides the right way forward. It will reflect the needs of the London region and should help to improve co-ordination between voluntary providers and local authorities in London. The criticism that the new scheme will result in a reduction in support to the voluntary sector in London is misconceived. The scheme represents new money. It is not an extension of the old interim grants scheme, which in any case was time-limited.

That is yet another example of the many instances where closer links have been forged in recent years between the statutory and the voluntary sector providers of local youth services. We have supported and encouraged that partnership. A number of authorities are seeking to negotiate service agreements with voluntary organisations, and a few are looking at ways of devolving their spending to voluntary organisations.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, also indicated that some authorities are considering significant cuts in youth service budgets. But that is by no means the national picture. There is evidence that up and down the country many councils are seeking to protect those budgets. The director of the National Youth Agency recently referred in this context to areas such as Somerset, Staffordshire, Kensington and Chelsea, Northamptonshire and Kent. Indeed, I understand that Somerset sees the youth service as one of its major priorities after schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked about the legality of youth service provision. The simple answer is that while local education authorities have a large measure of discretion they must act reasonably in deciding how to discharge their statutory duty to secure the provision of adequate facilities.

I turn to the question of homeless people and rough sleepers, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Renton. The noble Baroness suggested that homeless people could do voluntary work until they were able to find work, to prevent the downward spiral. That sounds an admirable idea, but I do not believe that it is the Government's role—at least at this stage—to tell voluntary bodies whom they should employ or whose services they should accept.

I am conscious that the noble Baroness asked me a number of detailed questions. Perhaps she will understand if I cannot answer them all today. However, I can answer her point in relation to the appeal to build flats for the homeless in Ripon. I should stress that local authorities have a duty to house anyone who is homeless, as defined in Part III of the Housing Act 1985. For rough sleepers, outside London £6.1 million is available to voluntary organisations under Section 73 grants and there are some 150 projects around England and Wales. Over the next three years resources of more than £20 million will be made available to that grant programme. I believe that all noble Lords understand the wretchedness of rough sleepers and homeless people. I hope that noble Lords also recognise the serious contribution the Government are making to trying to solve the problem.

On the question of fast-track assessments for drug and alcohol misusers, we recognise that the special circumstances of alcohol and drug misusers have implications for both local authorities and service providers in funding for community care. To address those problems we are encouraging local authorities and alcohol and drug service providers to work together to establish fast-track assessment procedures to ensure that decisions about service provision for those clients can be made quickly. The details of the assessment procedure will, of course, depend on the local authority and local needs.

The subject of capping was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. The vast majority of local authorities have accepted the need for financial restraint. We hope that that trend will continue and that it will not be necessary to cap any authority. However, the Government must retain the power to protect council tax payers and to prevent any repetition of the massive increase in spending which we saw when the community charge system was introduced. We must ensure that we all—central and local government—play our part in the control of public expenditure in order to secure our wider economic objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised a point concerning the European Social Fund and the European Regional Fund. I shall check, but I believe that those regimes require only matching funding, not necessarily from the Urban Programmes. However, I undertake to look into that further.

My noble friend Lord Joseph said that it would not be a voluntary sector if all of its funding came from central government. In fact, the voluntary sector raises approximately 80 per cent. of its funding from other sources. In these difficult times there are pressures on all sources of funding. Nevertheless, government support amounts to nearly £3 billion, which is a substantial sum.

It is all too easy to criticise the activities and results of voluntary organisations and to lay the blame at the door of government. The examples I have given show that that is not the case. We have a thriving voluntary sector in this country, supported by central and local authorities. Let us not diminish their efforts with talk of cutbacks and crises. It is not our intention to jeopardise the valuable partnership which exists.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, for bringing the matter to our attention.

5.36 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, in replying to the Minister I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. They have rightly spoken on behalf of certain charities which are very worried. I am not sure that the Minister's comments will allay those worries. It was rather like applying salve to the outside of a pain. It does not get to the heart of the matter.

I listened to what the Minister had to say. He has a big, welcoming door, and he has some money in some kitties somewhere. I just hope that when people knock on his door he will open it and say, "Welcome, come and enjoy our goodies." I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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