Volunteering charities lament Office for Civil Society funding cuts

Charities working with volunteers say they will be the hardest hit when the OCS's strategic partners programme closes in March

Justin Davis Smith
Justin Davis Smith
Volunteering charities have expressed concern that cuts to the Office for Civil Society's strategic partners programme could limit their ability to deliver the government's big society agenda.

Volunteers are regarded as fundamental to the big society, but the announcement that the current programme, which gives unrestricted funding to 42 charities, will end in March is likely to hit volunteering organisations the hardest.

Four of the 10 largest grant recipients of programme – Volunteering England, CSV, TimeBank and BTCV – are volunteering organisations. They receive £1.66m, £1.1m, £525,000 and £331,200 respectively.

With the OCS saying the value of any new programme will be a maximum of £7.5m, and no single organisation will receive more than £500,000, cuts are therefore inevitable.

Volunteering England has already announced plans to axe 31 staff. Justin Davis Smith, its chief executive, said it was "extraordinary" that his charity faced cuts at a time of unprecedented interest in volunteering and the big society programme.

Helen Walker, chief executive of TimeBank, said it was trying to make the big society a success by increasing volunteering, but said "we can't do all that without essential investment from government".

Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of CSV, which receives £1.1m from the programme, said: "We know that we will lose at least half a million pounds of government support and are seriously disappointed."

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow civil society minister, said she was concerned that Volunteering England's job losses were "indicative of what's to come".

She said: "Cuts to programmes like the Strategic Partners Programme are severely at odds with the government's big society agenda."

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office, which houses the OCS, said the strategic partners received six months' notice of the programme ending.

"It's right that we direct as much resource as possible to front-line organisations in these difficult economic times," he said.

He said a new strategic funding programme was among the items contained in the document Supporting a Stronger Civil Society. Consultation on the proposals ended last month.

"Details will be announced in due course," he added.

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