The government has launched a scheme designed to support the growth of local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, was at West of England Centre for Inclusive Living in Bristol to launch the programme, which was first announced in May and will invest £3 million over four years in helping DPOs improve how they are run.
Miller announced that Rich Watts, director of policy and development for Essex Coalition of Disabled People, had been seconded part-time to the government’s Office for Disability Issues to lead the Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme.
Campaigners have increasingly been raising concerns that the local authority spending squeeze – largely caused by the government’s deficit reduction plan – has been putting the future of many local DPOs at risk.
DPOs can now bid for “modest” amounts of money – expected to be a maximum of £10,000 and up to £30,000 in total over the four years of the scheme – to fund specific projects.
Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, which was itself set up to build the capacity of DPOs, welcomed the appointment of Watts, who he said was “the right person for the job”.
He said the funding was welcome but “a drop in the ocean” when measured against the huge financial strain facing DPOs as a result of government cuts.
He also said that funding was likely to be awarded for projects that fitted the government’s agenda, rather than the agenda of DPOs.
But he welcomed the decision that any money that was needed to meet access requirements – such as BSL interpreters – would not be counted as part of the maximum funding DPOs could receive through the scheme.
As part of the same programme, the government has appointed 12 “ambassadors” to “promote the cause” of DPOs and “encourage mutual sharing and support”, although the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to say how many of them were disabled.
Hodgkins said he was disappointed that it had not been made more explicit which of the ambassadors were disabled people as that would have helped them in their role.
The government is now seeking volunteer “experts” who are willing to share their skills with DPOs, in areas such as human resources, financial management, IT and business planning.
In a statement, Watts said: “Leading this programme is a great opportunity to raise the profile of disabled people’s user-led organisations and to sustain and share the successes they achieve, including providing the support that disabled people really need.
“Working with a team of ambassadors, we will share our skills and experience with other organisations, as well as learn from them and pass it on, to ensure that disabled people have their voices heard at every level.”
21 July 2011