Analysis: Liverpool cuts - The council wields the axe but is spared blame

Local charities are resisting suggestions that the council has treated them unfairly

Paul Brant, deputy leader, Liverpool City Council
Paul Brant, deputy leader, Liverpool City Council

Liverpool City Council would seem to be an obvious target for anger among charities in the city, which have had to cut services and lose staff.

The council has slashed its grants budget for the sector by 48 per cent - far more than Manchester's 22 per cent cut and Sheffield's 15 per cent.

But local charities resist any suggestion that the council has treated them unfairly. Clare Corran, chief executive of Positive Futures, says: "From what I've heard the council leader Joe Anderson say, I believe that he doesn't want to do this. But he ended up with a massive cut from the government."

Rob Oliver, finance director of the arts charity Liverpool Lighthouse, says: "The government has cut the neediest councils by the biggest percentage, so it follows that those councils will make bigger cuts to the voluntary sector."

This attitude might be the result of the council's drastic steps to distance itself from government policy. In February, Anderson announced that the council would cease to be one of the "big society vanguards" announced by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

The vanguard project was established to help voluntary groups in four council areas by giving them civil service support. When Anderson withdrew, he wrote to Cameron: "How can the city council support the big society when we have to cut the lifeline to hundreds of these vital and worthwhile groups?"

The council's deputy leader, Paul Brant, says Anderson's protest is not the reason why the charities are backing the council. "The issue is bigger than that," he says. "I think there is, in a profound sense, a shared understanding about the way in which the council has been treated. Voluntary sector groups, including Liverpool CVS, have lobbied the government with us."

Brant is frustrated by Westminster's reaction. "It is central government's spin that we are doing the wrong thing, outsourcing cuts and pulling up the drawbridge," he says. "That is completely at odds with the facts."

But why has Liverpool cut its sector budget so much more than other northern cities? "I don't think the 48 per cent figure is the full picture," Brant says. "We fund the sector partly through direct grants and partly through service-level agreements and contracts, which makes the position more complicated."

Asked whether he thinks the cuts were disproportionate, Brant says: "An awful lot of the funding streams that supported the sector, such as the Neighbourhood Fund and the area-based grant, have come to an end. Of course the sector has been hit hard, but we had no alternative."

Is he worried about the threat by communities secretary Eric Pickles to use statutory force against councils that cut the sector disproportionately? "Not in the slightest," he says. "We have nothing to fear from external scrutiny, either by a court or anyone else."



'The cuts were made with good reason'

Alan Lewis, chief executive of Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services, still supports the city council, despite its decision to cut his organisation's budget by 69 per cent, from just over £1m to £322,000.

"When the council found out about the huge cuts to its funding from central government, it was fair for it to say 'all bets are off; let's do what we have to'," he says. "I don't like it, and it hurts because I have lost 28 staff who were all working their socks off. Fundamentally, though, I don't think the council is at fault here."

Alan Lewis, chief executive, Liverpool Charity and Voluntary ServicesLewis agrees that Liverpool City Council's funding cuts to the voluntary sector are disproportionate, but says this was inevitable because of the nature of the cuts from central government.

"The council received a lot of specific grants to address deprivation in the city, and these have been cut by the government," he says. "Much of the funding the council gave to voluntary sector groups came from these pots of money, so it was inevitable that the council would make disproportionate cuts to the sector."

He cites the examples of a £101m cut in Liverpool's area-based grant and a further £57m cut in specific grants, which included the Working Neighbourhood Fund, the Early Intervention Grants scheme and the Supporting People budget.

"I don't want to be an apologist for the council, because we see ourselves as a critical friend," he says. "But the council itself has made redundancies and is struggling, and I accept that cuts to the voluntary sector were made with good reason."

Lewis agrees the council has fallen out with Westminster over the scale of its cuts to the sector, but says it did not intend to.

"Liverpool wanted to be the Tories' favourite Labour council, and to show that it wasn't going back to the 1980s," he says. "That's why it got involved with David Cameron's big society vanguard project in the first place - until it became unsustainable alongside the cuts." Kaye Wiggins.

Read Kaye Wiggins' account of how four Liverpool charities are coping with the cuts

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