In a recent survey of more than 40 forum members, including funders and local government bodies, just one reported a funding rise. Among the reasons cited for the widespread decline in income were the NHS funding crisis, the diversion of European money to the new member states and local authority cuts in anticipation of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
South West Forum chief executive Stephen Woollett said: “While support for voluntary and community groups has never been higher up the national political agenda, the reality of life on the front line is funding cuts, uncertainty and a very real struggle to maintain services and in some cases whole organisations.”
He said the problems were particularly marked in the south west because of the impending introduction of county-wide unitary authorities in Cornwall, Somerset and Wiltshire on a disproportionately large number of small community organisations funded by rural district councils. However, he said colleagues from other regional forums had told him that the situation was similar across the country.
He said some national programmes such as Capacitybuilders had had the reverse effect to that intended at local level because they had “encouraged councils to think: ‘Capacitybuilders will fund that - we don’t need to bother’”.
He admitted his evidence was necessarily anecdotal, but he hoped it would prompt the Government to commission “substantial research” on the subject.
Among the “not radical, but fundamental” measures the forum is calling for are a minimum three-year funding cycle without breaks, full cost recovery, reasonable reporting standards, a greater commitment to funding small groups, and an end to funders’ bias towards funding innovative new projects.
Woollett is also calling for community organisations to be given additional support during local government reorganisation, and help to “reconfigure” by merging or increasing collaborative working.
The calls are made on a poster that the forum will be sending out to all its members and funding partners. It will also include a copy of its latest bulletin, which sets out its members’ responses to the survey.