Monday, February 07, 2011

The shrinking big society

More big society waffle this morning - especially from the minister for civil society (what kind of job is that? If ever there was a quangocrat who needs to be culled he was it!) - nailed by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless. She makes the simple link between the voluntary sector and money that few have been willing to make.

The simple fact is that as statutory funds available for the voluntary sector reduce, voluntary sector organisations will go to the wall. It's not enough for there to be good will about volunteering or for there to be a review of the red tape affecting charities (very welcome) or even that there be a campaign to recruit more volunteers (excellent).

What the big society waffle fails to comprehend is that voluntary organisations need money to function. I am chair of a relatively small youth charity that works with more than 500 young people in various settings over the course of a year, operated by 8 staff and 50+ volunteers. We need £150,000 a year to run - a big sum until you compare it with the cost of keeping a single young offender at Feltham (and many of the young people we work with are at risk of ending up there or somewhere similar).

Our funding hangs on a delicate web of cash that relies on the statutory sector being a player. It works like this. Grant making trusts will often make grants only to organisations who are endorsed by their locality through attracting local authority funding. Remove the latter and the former is often less forthcoming. At the same time, the economic circumstances - especially the collapse of investment returns over the past couple of years - means that those grant making trusts have less money. It also means that there are fewer individuals prepared to make significant donations to charities - especially those working in difficult areas (animals attract cash but young people don't).

So Dame Elisabeth is quite right when she warns "there are a lot of very worthwhile programmes - for example volunteers working in child protection as promoted by the minister for children - which are now under threat of closure."


Louise Polhill said...

Absolutely. It's all so short sighted! I'm a Street Pastor, but we've just lost our funding.
We have the highest density of clubs and pubs per square foot in the British Isles, so the Police and Local Authority insisted we be a professional organisation (e.g. have a part time member of staff.) when we were established. So now we're at risk of having to pack it all in.

Well, that'll save money, except for the extra pressure put on A&E, more arrests for violent crime and the medical/criminal costs resulting from the myriad of terrible things that happen to vulnerable women.

Bravo ConDems. I'm sending you a map to the end of your nose, in case you get lost.

Tim said...

Don't forget to add into the mix, the devastating cuts to public services.
Here in Manchester the council is shedding 2000 jobs this year. Surestart looks a likely target (announcement tomorrow). So all the partner organisations - our church included - who to one extent or another rely on Surestart will be closing those services unless we can find alternatives.