Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Nottinghamshire cuts – what’s the story? (Part 1)

Following pressure from national infrastructure providers (all of which are posturing to claim the ‘win’), Eric Pickles has taken the step of writing to Nottinghamshire County Council about their disproportionate cuts to the VCS. The letter urges the authority to reconsider its cuts policy to ensure they are ‘fair’ (that word again).

In around 90 seconds this morning I tried to convey the complexities of this issue on Radio Nottingham – clearly I failed to do justice to the issue. So I turn to my blog, twitter and a press release to try and get the truth (or at least the bits I know) out there.

NCC received an 8% cut to their budget this year and have passed on a same year budget cut that they accept as being 34%. However you look at it, that’s bad!! But this is only the tip of the iceberg, more cuts are not included.

In the initial consultation the grant aid budget was due to be reduced from £3m pa to £1.5m, but was later increased to £2m after huge outcry. However, additional cuts in streams such as Supporting People have seen some large commissioned services in the VCS lose up to 100% of funding for services, which have subsequently closed. As a result homelessness, street drinking, anti-social behaviour and hospital admissions are climbing.

The hidden tragedy is the cuts to support services not covered by grant aid. The authority previously funded local VCS support organisations at a standard level of £53K per year. These organisations provide vital support for smaller and frontline services when they are in crisis. In 2011/12 their funding was reduced to £20K each and they have been told there will be no further funding from next year. That’s a 100% cut in two years. When a small frontline group in Bassetlaw loses the volunteers that helped with their fundraising, where do they go to find new volunteers or get funding advice now?

In addition the authority has:
  • broken up the Voluntary Sector Support team, which maintained relationships with the VCS;
  • ceased hiring VCS premises for training and events, closing an additional important funding stream and;
  • stopped providing in-kind support to the sector.
The final straw has come over the authority’s attitude to volunteering. Many groups facing cuts have been openly told to stop paying expenses to volunteers. NCC has publicly aired views that the reimbursement of out of pocket expenses is not appropriate for volunteers. The obvious deduction is that volunteering is only an activity for those who can afford to subsidise themselves. How very ‘Big Society’!

I firmly believe that NCC has behaved badly in this matter and are guided by an inflexible ideology that in itself is systematically damaging to the VCS.  However, this is not just a Nottinghamshire issue. Disproportionate cuts across upper tier authorities, the mass removal of many national funding streams and the national policy focus on ‘individual action’ as opposed to collective and organised responses have resulted in a local, regional and national systematic destabilisation and destruction of the VCS and can ultimately only result in strain and overload of public services.

This has been a failure at all levels to look beyond the end of a political nose – a nose which is sticking itself into too many areas of public life at once to manage any of them well.

As a movement we have to tell the whole story, it’s time!

Oh…and Mr Pickles…thanks for the letter but I think the issues are significantly more complex and have started a little closer to the centre.

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