The prediction in a National Council for Voluntary Organisations report that the voluntary sector could lose public funding amounting to almost £3bn over the next five years is a worrying assessment of how the government's bid to tackle the national debt might affect the sector.
The NCVO's Karl Wilding says that trying to make any concrete predictions is like trying to pin jelly to the wall. The numbers involved are so large that it is difficult to get a sense of how the sector will be affected by the cuts, however deeply they end up biting - but it doesn't take much to imagine that its funding landscape will look very different in five years' time.
The NCVO's estimates are based on the assumption that local councils and central government departments will make cuts in line with the reductions they themselves face. The fear for many on the ground is that the cuts will turn out to be a lot worse. Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, made a bold promise at the NCVO's annual conference in March, proclaiming that the government would consider using statutory force against councils that "inflicted bigger reductions to charities' budgets than they take on themselves".
But evidence from Compact Voice, also released in the NCVO report, suggests that many councils are doing just that. Compact Voice submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to 351 councils asking them to set out the percentage cuts to their funding settlements and their voluntary sector budgets. Many did not reply, but of those that did more than half said the percentage cut to their voluntary sector budget outweighed the reduction in their own funding settlement.
The Communities and Local Government department has not taken action against any council over voluntary sector funding cuts, which suggests that Pickles' promise was little more than a bid to curry some favour with a voluntary sector audience.
The sector is not one to lie down and meekly accept poor treatment. This is one issue about which it must protest.
- Read our analysis on the cuts