Citizens Advice bureaux and law centres can bid for a share of £65m promised by the Big Lottery Fund on condition that they prove they can modernise their approach and improve collaboration.
Advice providers and community-based organisations will be in contention for the funds if they ‘transform service delivery’.
That, a statement from the Fund said, will mean collaboration, early intervention and education, innovation and focusing on outcomes. The Big Lottery Fund and Cabinet Office jointly set up the fund in response to an increase in demand at the same time as a cut in legal aid provision.
But the targeted sector has insisted it already has changed its practices and that money will not replace the £350m annual cut to the legal aid budget.
Groups have until 28 January to apply for grants of between £50,000 and £350,000 if they can show they have formed partnerships aimed at improving services.
In its summary, the Fund said the independent advice sector had to be ‘more enterprising and business-minded’.
Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, noted: ‘The current economic climate has led to a reduction in public funding but an increase in demand.’
He added: ‘This means we must consider how advice services can adapt to the new environment; achieve more through collaboration, early intervention and exploitation of remote channels.’ But members of the advice sector have told the Gazette they are already building sustainable models, albeit in the face of legal aid cuts.
Gillian Guy (pictured), chief executive of Citizens Advice, which has 329 offices in England, said: ‘Bureaux have already responded by building effective partnerships with other local charities and the private sector.’
She argued: ‘We are a long way from plugging the gap left by legal aid [cuts], but Citizens Advice has a strong history of running highly successful partnerships with a diverse range of organisations and we've recently expanded our telephone advice services with corporate support.’
Steve Johnson, chief executive of community advice network AdviceUK, added: ‘It in no way replaces the £50m-plus that will be lost due to legal aid cuts alone next year and the heavy local authority funding cuts to many advice services. It will clearly present challenges for local advice services given the emphasis on partnership and collaborative bids.
‘But at least it is focused on new client and person focused thinking – something we have been calling for for years.’