After the axe: How the strategic partners have fared

The strategic partners programme, established in 2005 under Labour, is being phased out by the coalition. Sophie Hudson finds out how six former partners, including CSV chief executive Lucy de Groot, have coped with losing funds

CSV chief executive Lucy de Groot
CSV chief executive Lucy de Groot

The strategic partners programme was set up in 2005 to help voluntary sector groups represent the sector's interests to the government. Forty-two organisations, which met regularly with ministers and civil servants, received a total of £63m over five years.

The programme was cut drastically when the coalition came to power in 2010: £8.2m was allocated to it in the three years to 2013/14, when it will close, and the number of recipients - some working in partnerships - was cut to 17. Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said at the time:"We inherited a very loose programme with too many partners and no real rigour in terms of understanding what the money was given for."

Among the 24 organisations that lost all partnership funding were Community Service Volunteers, the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation, the Women's Resource Centre and all the ethnic minority groups that were involved.

As the programme enters its final year, we look at the fortunes of six excluded organisations.


Community Service Volunteers

Amount lost: £1,103,800, about 3 per cent of its income in 2010/11.

Consequences: The loss of core funding led to an ongoing restructure, including a more streamlined senior management team. The cuts also meant CSV could not invest in the infrastructure it felt it needed, such as communications and digital improvements.

The loss to the sector: Chief executive Lucy de Groot says there were consequences beyond the loss of money. "It was the first time in 40 years that we hadn't been a strategic partner in one shape or form," she says.

CSV has since worked hard to stay in touch with government, she says, but the government loses important knowledge, experience and skills when cutting so many sector partners.


Mentoring and Befriending Foundation

Lost: £1,050,600, about 60 per cent of its income in 2010/11.

Consequences: Lost about 15 of its 30 members of staff, including its entire regional team. Introduced fees for its services and use of its quality standard.

The loss to the sector: Chief executive Steve Matthews says the cuts had an impact on how the foundation could support organisations locally. "The main consequence has been that services we were providing for free to the sector now have to be paid for," he says.

The organisation has had to diversify its income and become more commercially minded, he says, so is perhaps now providing services more relevant to the sector's needs.


TimeBank

Lost: £525,300, 25 per cent of its income in 2010/11.

Consequences: About 10 redundancies immediately; now there are 20 staff, compared with 40 before. Services were cut, including volunteer support. There was then a longer-term restructure.

The loss to the sector: Chief executive Helen Walker says: "There are massive contradictions between the big society's aims and the cuts to infrastructure organisations. If the goal is to get more people into volunteering, people need support with that."

She says that TimeBank is in a much better place now than immediately after the cuts, but there has been a significant impact on the level of generic support available to help charities recruit more volunteers.


YouthNet UK

Lost: £484,600, about 10 per cent of its income in 2010/11.

Consequences: Because of this and other funding cuts, the organisation lost six out of 56 members of staff. There was some restructuring and changes were made to the way it delivered its services.

This was an opportunity for a strategic review. Soon after, the organisation received transition funding from the Cabinet Office.

The loss to the sector: Chief executive Emma Thomas says it is now more difficult to ensure a "balanced voice and a critical friend" is heard in government.

She adds that additional funding for the sector announced in subsequent months helped matters, and that she understands the rationale for focusing funds on front-line work in a tough financial climate.


Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations

Lost: £275,953 (percentage unavailable because 2010/11 accounts have not been filed).

Consequences: Staff cut from 10 to three; project staff cut from 12 to three. Closed offices in Bristol, Chelmsford and Manchester, leaving only London. Has since gone into liquidation.

The loss to the sector: Third Sector spoke to Hashmukh Pankhania, chief executive at the time of the cuts. He confirmed that the organisation had gone into liquidation, but refused to comment further because he was no longer involved in the sector.


Women's Resource Centre

Women's Resource CentreLost: £196,993, 20 per cent of its income in 2010/11.

Consequences: Avoided redundancies through an emergency review of office costs, including use of energy and bottled water. Staff who have left have not been replaced, so the remaining employees are doing more work.

The loss to the sector: Chief executive Hayes says: "They've lost that national strategic voice to the extent that they had it before. The ability to influence government policy before it comes out has been greatly reduced."

 

- Read our interview with Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO

- Read Editorial

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