Community services now facing total loss of funding in some areas, warns Locality's Tony Armstrong

The community organisation membership body's chief executive says organisations are bracing themselves for deeper cuts than previous 'salami-slicing'

Tony Armstrong
Tony Armstrong

Community services will no longer face "salami-slice" cuts but a total loss of funding in some areas, the chief executive of the community organisation membership body Locality has warned.

Speaking to Third Sector at Locality’s annual convention in Liverpool yesterday, Tony Armstrong said that many community organisations had stabilised after previous funding cuts, but they were now bracing themselves for deeper cuts before the announcement of the government’s spending review later this month.

The review, which will be announced in parliament on 25 November, will set out government department budgets for the period from April 2016 to March 2020.

"The general mood has been that people have got through the past few years and they have adjusted to the fact that local authorities are doing things differently," said Armstrong. "Thinking about the future, services are no longer going to be incrementally sliced and face salami-slice cuts, but things are going to start disappearing. For example, in some areas there will be no provision of youth services. People are going to have to think about new ways of doing stuff."

Earlier this week, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the Department for Communities and Local Government was among four government departments that had agreed to budget cuts of about 30 per cent over four years.

Armstrong said it was difficult to predict the exact impact on the community sector because it would depend on how the funding cut was distributed across the DCLG, but he said: "I think that there's a sense of extreme trepidation about what is coming – some of that might be manageable and some of that might not be. But our members are resilient. Some have faced a 30 per cent budget cut but still say they will keep delivering a service."

Locality has been running a service called Lifeboat since 2007 to help support community organisations in crisis. A recently published report on the service showed that it supported about one organisation a week in the financial year to March 2015.

The study said that many organisations had stayed afloat since 2008 by using their reserves and relying more on trustees and other volunteers, but this crisis-management approach was becoming unsustainable.

Other common issues raised with the Lifeboat service have included weak governance arrangements, a lack of management expertise and poor financial knowledge.

Armstrong said the future of the Lifeboat service was also uncertain because the programme was funded using Locality’s reserves, which he said "may or may not be sustainable".

He said he wanted funders, such as charitable foundations, to start offering grantees more organisational support to help to prevent them from reaching crisis point.

The membership body has also undertaken a "theory of change" process to determine its goals and establish what it needs to do to achieve them. As a result, said Armstrong, it intended to try to raise the profile of the organisations it supported and the importance of the role they played across the country.

"People such as MPs think that the community organisation in their area is incredibly valuable," he said. "But what they don't understand is that they're not one-off organisations."

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