Analysis: Why is Community Service Volunteers closing its learning centres?

Lucy de Groot (pictured), chief executive of CSV, says it cannot make the centres financially viable. Sam Burne James and Andy Ricketts look at the background to the decision

Lucy de Groot, the chief executive of CSV
Lucy de Groot, the chief executive of CSV

The volunteering and learning charity Community Service Volunteers announced plans last week to close its learning centres, which help young and vulnerable people learn new skills and find work, putting 110 of its 437-strong workforce at risk of redundancy.

Eleven centres will close in the summer once all participants complete programmes or qualifications. The remaining centre in Ipswich, home to the charity's social action and volunteering programmes, will remain open, although the learning operation will cease.

The charity, which said the changes were part of a restructure that would result in it focusing solely on social action and volunteering programmes, also plans to sell off its headquarters on Pentonville Road in London and its offices in Bristol and Cardiff.

No senior member of staff was available to talk to Third Sector, but Lucy de Groot, chief executive of CSV, said in a statement announcing the changes that the organisation would "develop and focus our resources on our successful volunteering and social action programmes".

She said: "Volunteers are needed more than ever in these difficult times. We are confident that this transformation will enable us to continue to help many thousands of people from all ages and backgrounds to have better lives, make a difference and create strong, inclusive communities."

The charity's most recent accounts, for the year to 31 March 2012 - the next set are due at the end of May because CSV switched its accounting period - show group-wide income dropped from £33.3m in 2010/11 to £22.5m the following year. Much of this reduction came because of an £8.7m fall in contractual payments to £12.9m.

Another factor was CSV being denied any further funding from the Cabinet Office's strategic partners programme, which gave the charity £1.1m in 2010/11. The charity said last year that this loss of funding, which was about 3 per cent of its income in 2010/11, had led to a 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. "It was the first time in 40 years that we hadn't been a strategic partner in one shape or form," said de Groot at the time.

However, the charity was subsequently named as one of the Department for Health's strategic partners, and was due to receive up to £200,000 of funding from this arrangement in 2013/14.

CSV's learning operations trained 7,183 people in the year to 31 March 2011, which dropped to 5,416 the following year. Its volunteering side has also been in decline, with 148,368 volunteers involved with the charity in the year to March 2012, compared with 167,317 the previous year.

Springboard Sunderland Trust, which is a subsidiary learning charity of CSV, has its own trustees and will not be affected by the restructure of the parent charity, although the two bodies are reviewing the possibility of SST leaving the CSV Group after the charity's move away from learning services.

CSV was founded in 1962 by Alec and Mora Dickson, who had earlier founded Voluntary Service Overseas. It became a charitable company limited by guarantee in 1979 and registered with the Charity Commission in 1985. It was led for 36 years by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless - who was its first employee in 1963 - until she retired in 2011.

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