Unkindest cuts of all for the Big Society
Jeremy Prescott thinks councils cutting funding for charities is self-defeating
A year ago I wrote in this column that Big Society was in danger of failing through the funding cuts that the voluntary sector were facing.
A recently leaked national report conducted by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo) validates my fears. It states that the charitable sector is facing local authority and national government funding cuts of between £1 billion and £5.5 billion in this current financial year.
At a local level we have recently had news of Voluntary Action Melton facing closure at the end of March with many other charities such as Cruse Bereavement Service also on a survival knife edge.
Even closer to home the Rural Community Council (RCC), the charity which I lead, is facing funding cuts of 34 per cent from Leicestershire County Council, 62 per cent from Rutland County Council and 100 per cent cuts from Harborough and Melton District Councils. We are only managing to maintain our services by delving into our reserves which can only be sustained for a short time.
A recent questionnaire on the Big Society conducted by the RCC showed an alarmingly degree of negativity towards this government initiative. Many felt that it was a ploy of seeking volunteers to provide services, normally paid for by council taxes, on the cheap.
To give credit to Leicestershire County Council, they have allocated over £340,000 into a Big Society Grant Scheme to help small community groups turns their ideas into reality. I have always advocated that such funding is just part of an important jigsaw but what is equally important is that charities who provide the essential support to those small groups are funded to do just that.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a meal; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" (Chinese Proverb).
For this reason I believe the balance of funding being provided to this grant scheme is wrong and this view is supported by 75 per cent of those surveyed in the Big Society questionnaire, advocating that charities should receive more funding from this Big Society pot.
These funding cuts are making it extremely difficult for us to provide support to those who need it.
It is accepted that local authorities are having to making huge savings themselves but I strongly feel that a way of helping them make such savings is actually to increase the amount of funding they provide to charities.
With the low running costs of charities (salaries and pensions) compared with the public sector, and the fact that we rely on the enormous goodwill of an army of volunteers who selflessly give up their time, this is certainly not the time to be cutting the voluntary sector.
Jeremy Prescott is Chief Executive of the RCC, a local charity supporting rural communities.