Voluntary and community sector receives positive report from NI Audit Office

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr Kieran Donnelly, has today issued a report to the Assembly on Creating Effective Partnerships between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector. The report, which draws on NICVA research findings

Mr Donnelly said:

"The voluntary and community sector makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the Executive's strategic goals and priorities. However, its experience of working with public bodies is mixed. With input from the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), we have identified examples of good practice; we've also found examples where, through better co-ordination and a joined-up approach, public bodies could make a significant difference by reducing bureaucracy and administration costs and improving value for money for both themselves and the Sector."

Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA, commented:

"NICVA welcomes the Northern Ireland Audit Office Report Creating Effective Partnerships between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector, issued today.  The report highlights the fact that the voluntary and community sector makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the Northern Ireland Executive's strategic goals and priorities. The irony is that this report comes at a time when NICVA is worried that these organisations and the vital services they provide will be targeted for cuts in the upcoming budget."

He added:

"This is a very positive report for voluntary and community organisations who are at the frontline of delivering public services and regenerating communities. The report encourages all public bodies to more fully harness the sector's extensive and varied expertise at all stages of the policy process.  NICVA believes that voluntary and community organisations can work alongside colleagues in the public sector to offer smart solutions to the complex problem of delivering essential services and creating community cohesion in tough economic times. The report also recommends that the unnecessary bureaucracy which diverts funds away from delivering services should be avoided in the interest of value for money and reducing unnecessary costs."

Main Findings

The sector receives substantial support from public funds. For example for the six years to March 2010, public bodies in Northern Ireland made some 14,500 offers of assistance to voluntary and community organisations totalling £1.34billion.

The report draws on a number of case studies to highlight the issues faced by the sector in dealing with public bodies. For example, Mencap has a multiplicity of funding arrangements, including with government departments and health service organisations. It considers that the funding relationship between it and these funders could be substantially improved if one organisation would take on a 'lead funder' role, carry out risk assessments and provide assurances that other funders could take reliance from and reduce the extent of their monitoring and audit.

In contrast, Shelter NI has had a very positive experience in working with the Housing Executive and considers the Housing Executive's move towards proportional auditing as a practical development.

Some 4,700 voluntary and community sector organisations in NI are actively involved in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, advocacy, campaigning and the delivery of services.

The report also highlights the benefits of long-term funding arrangements to bodies such as Cancer Lifeline, which secured long-term funding from both the Health Service and The Big Lottery. These arrangements have created stability, allowing it to develop services such a complementary therapy and counselling. However, the report found that funding arrangements like this are not as wide-spread as they should be.

Fair funding

The report also recognises that where the sector provides public services, it is legitimate for it to be fairly funded through including relevant elements for both direct and overhead costs. However, the report records that, in Northern Ireland, only 30% of sector organisations indicated in a NICVA survey that their funding included all relevant costs.

The report concludes that pressures on both funders and the voluntary and community sector will continue to increase. However, this provides an opportunity for the public sector to assess its priorities and funding of the voluntary and community sector, and for the voluntary and community sector to reflect on its sustainability and the potential for rationalisation.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report, Creating Effective Partnerships between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector, is available from the Stationery Office throughout the UK. It is also available on the Audit Office website: www.niauditoffice.gov.uk

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