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East Staffordshire Voluntary Sector Cuts

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Tue 23 Feb 2016

Cuts to Voluntary organisations will be devastating for local communities in East Staffordshire

This is the conclusion of Garry Jones, Chief Executive of local voluntary sector umbrella body, Support Staffordshire: ‘The changes agreed by East Staffordshire Borough Council last night will affect hundreds of vulnerable adults, families and children each week, as up to 40 local organisations will be forced to cut services, and curtail their work with communities; some even face closure as a result. The greatest tragedy of the sorry affair is that the relatively small investment made by East Staffordshire Borough Council into the sector enables organisations to secure other resources, match funding and enlist the help of hundreds of local volunteers who contribute their time for free. All of this good will is now at serious risk.’

At last night’s full council, back bench members of the council also quizzed the cabinet and council leader as to why in such austere times the council was introducing free parking in Burton, at a projected cost of £180,000. Cllr Grosvenor defended this position saying that local businesses who had been consulted about free parking had asked for the change to improve local footfall and shopping.

Mr Jones questions whether genuine local businesses would support the measure if they knew it would contribute to a cut in charitable services: ‘local business owners also have families, older relatives and from time to time face challenges and need the support of local community groups and charities; I very much doubt if they would want to see free parking at this cost. I also find it very surprising that Cllr Grosvenor is happy for local businesses to be consulted on the parking policy but outright refuses to even meet with myself or voluntary organisations to discuss the cuts – something feels very wrong about this decision.’

The cuts which come into effect on 1 April, will affect many local charities and community groups directly including local household names such as:

  • Age UK Burton
  • Burton Albion Community Trust
  • Burton and District Mind
  • Burton YMCA
  • Citizens Advice
  • Harvey Girls and Dads for Dads
  • Home-Start
  • Mobility Link
  • SARAC
  • Youth for Christ

Over all, some 30-40 organisations are affected, the majority of which have received funding for several years and as such have invested the grant aid into long term sustained activities in East Staffordshire, which are now under threat. With just 6-weeks’ notice, there is little that can now be done to save services for most organisations. Six organisations have said they face closure as a result, with up to 10 jobs being lost. Some twenty organisations have said there charitable activities will halve as a result, with jobs being lost or hours reduced. Many organisations say they will have to reduce or remove support for volunteers, which will further diminish local services, previously run on a largely voluntary basis by upwards of 500 local volunteers.

More specifically:

  • Citizens advice is likely to close its face to face advice services in Burton & Uttoxeter
  • Weekly lunch clubs & exercise classes for older citizens will come to an end in Burton
  • Around 70 families per week, with young children, face the loss of vital support at home
  • Voluntary car journeys and community transport minibuses will reduce, probably by half, leaving older and vulnerable people with no affordable means of getting to doctors or hospital appointments
  • Youth services for vulnerable teenagers will reduce or disappear
  • Homelessness support services are also threatened
  • Mental health support services will be reduced
  • People suffering rape, sexual abuse & exploitation will find it harder to access counselling
  • One organisation may close their council leased community centre
  • The main Voluntary Services Centre on Union Street, run by Support Staffordshire may also have to close

Garry finished by offering an olive branch to the council: ‘I make one final plea to Cllr Grosvenor, please let us sit down and talk about this. Support Staffordshire is a charity that exists to support local communities, surely there can be no harm in talking to us?’

Initial Announcement

Two weeks ago, East Staffordshire Borough Council informed all voluntary organisations applying for this year’s round of grant aid, that it would not be awarding any grant aid funding this year. It quickly emerged that Cabinet papers for the 2016-2017 budget included a proposed cut to voluntary sector grants of £366,000; which were agreed by a majority of Cllrs at Full Council on Monday 22 February 2016. This is the largest saving in the annual budget by some margin and the sector therefore cannot help but link the two decisions and conclude that the cuts have been made primarily to save money.

On behalf of the voluntary sector, Support Staffordshire has led a response to the proposed cuts, in conjunction with Staffordshire Council of Voluntary Youth Services (SCVYS) and VAST. We have written directly to Council Leader, Richard Grosvenor, from whom the grant aid letter was sent personally. In this correspondence (which you can follow here and here) we acknowledge the ongoing in-kind support offered to voluntary and community organisations, but ask for a meeting to discuss Grant Aid specifically.

We also fully acknowledge the challenging financial position faced by local authorities, but would argue that over all, this cut in funding is likely to result in a negative impact on local people, and that public services will feel the fall out to such an extent that the overall cost to the public purse is highly likely to rise, not reduce, as a result.

We have asked for an open and constructive dialogue with the Leader of the Council and his senior officers, to determine how to manage the reduction in funding in a more planned way, over the longer term, so that local people and services can be protected if at all possible. Regrettably, Cllr Grosvenor and senior officers have formally declined to meet with Support Staffordshire and voluntary sector representatives.

You may also be aware that the main reason actually given by the council for the funding not being awarded was non-compliance with safeguarding criteria. Whilst we acknowledge that some organisations need to improve and that many organisations seem not to have updated technical references to recent legislation (Care Act 2014 which came into effect last year), we maintain that over all there are no fundamental issues with safeguarding policies or practices in the voluntary sector. Indeed, the way in which this funding has been cut is likely to lead to greater risk of safeguarding concerns that cannot now be dealt with or supported by the voluntary sector.

The above summary is just a snapshot of the true impact of this proposal. Many organisations affected by this cut in funding are extremely reluctant to speak up about the impact it will have because they fear being further targeted if seen to be ‘trouble-making’ and are worried that charitable rate relief or in-kind support may be removed if they are seen as such.

Our offer to meet and find a way forward together remains wide open.

For further information or enquiries it has been agreed that Garry Jones, Chief Executive of Support Staffordshire, will be the first point of contact: garry.jones@supportstaffordshire.org.uk or call 07494 483199.