Editorial: Last week's spending cuts were a mere foretaste

More pain is to come in October's Comprehensive Spending Review, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor
Last week brought two blows for the youth volunteering charity v: it suffered almost £7m of the £11m cuts announced by the Office for Civil Society, and the Department for Education abolished its £8m schools volunteering programme.

This will have been no surprise: v has always been seen as a pet project of Gordon Brown and thus was a special target for the coalition government. Its £117m of funding between 2008 and 2011 was regarded with a mixture of astonishment and envy by others in the sector.

The £11m cut is about 7 per cent of the OCS budget for 2010/11, and is its contribution to the £6.5bn of in-year cuts decreed by the government soon after it came to power. So it is merely a foretaste of things to come in October’s comprehensive spending review, which will set departmental budgets for the three years from next March.

Labour’s boast in 2007 was that it was spending £500m on the sector between 2008 and 2011. If that sum is cut by 25 per cent to £375m over the next spending round, then next year’s OCS budget could suffer a cut two or three times as large as the one made last week.

But this is only part of what the sector has to worry about. Like the OCS, other departments and local authorities are cutting their budgets in the current year and news comes in weekly of the knock-on effect on charities. Again, that process will only intensify in the coming years.

There are 38,000 voluntary organisations with a direct financial relationship with the state, according to the UK Civil Society Almanac. Of them, 23,000 get 50 per cent or more of their income from the state. Medium to major charities derive 35 per cent or more from it.

The conclusion can only be that the pain so far has been little more than an exploratory incision: the major surgery is yet to come. The extent to which the big society will help to staunch the bleeding remains to be seen.

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