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The key issue is partnership

Suddenly community groups and charities have an important part to play in implementing government policy. On social inclusion, for instance. But are they ready for such work? And does it fall to FE to fill the training gaps? Martin Whittaker reports

Voluntary and community organisations in Devon and Cornwall are busy forming partnerships ahead of the new post-16 framework, due in April. The South West is the latest region to establish a consortium of voluntary groups and follows Cumbria, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Humberside, Hampshire, the North East and Norfolk.

Karen Kendall of Exeter Council for Voluntary Service is leading the project, which covers 8,000 paid workers and 115,000 volunteers in the region's voluntary and commmunity sector.

"I'm fortunate - and some of the other consortia around the country are fortunate - to have a full-time paid worker involved," she says.

"Most of the time in this sector, training and learning is only a small part of somebody's job - their main business is dealing with clients, managing volunteers or giving support to organisations."

She says that voluntary and community groups in Devon have good relationships with local FE colleges, although this has not generally been the experience of the voluntary sector in the past.

"It's going to mean a terrific change in culture because the previous franchise system was geared in colleges' favour," she says. "We were sub-contracted to deliver courses on their behalf. Now the Government is trying to engender aterrific change in culture; we're looking at true partnership with equal status. Colleges aren't used to working like that."

An alliance of 31 voluntary and statutory organisations was set up in Norfolk, and it has since launched a working party with colleges to look at training needs.

Alison Lowe, the alliance's training development officer, says: "We have discussed everything from basic volunteer induction training right the way through to MSc and MBA level.

"People don't progress from one course to another in this sector - you do one day here and one day there. For us to do that would be difficult. Colleges have the experience and facilities to provide that much better."

These regional networks are also being encouraged by the Sharing Credit project, an amalgamation of five big voluntary sector organisations.

The Derby-based initiative was first set up two years ago in an effort to raise the training agenda in the voluntary sector. It also helps local groups to find their way through the qualifications, accreditation and funding jungles.

The more developed consortia of voluntary groups are now planning how to liaise with the local learning and skills councils and to tap into other sources of funding.

Guy Farrar of Sharing Credit says: "It has to be a more equitable relationship. And there certainly has to be a more equitable and transparent set of arrangements about how those relationships happen, who drives them and who pulls down the resources they might generate."

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