The government must regain its radical edge on public sector reform if it wants to help charities deal with the effects of further spending cuts, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, has warned.
On Tuesday, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that government departments must achieve savings of £11.5bn in 2015/16. He said seven departments had agreed to cut their budgets by up to 10 per cent to help make the savings: the Cabinet Office, Communities and Local Government, Energy & Climate Change, the Foreign Office, Justice, Northern Ireland and the Treasury. But Osborne said that health, education and foreign aid would be protected from cuts.
Bubb told Third Sector: "After three or four years of spending cuts we’re already being to see the cumulative effect. We’ve already seen the damage done as a result of cuts to welfare budgets. Yet again it’s not just a question about the amount that’s been cut but also of demand for our members’ services going up."
He said that the proposed cuts made it more important than ever for the government to make it easier for charities to deliver public services. "The cuts further increase the pressure on the government to have a radical approach to public sector reform," he said. "The sector should be expanding. The problem is that the government seems to have lost its radical edge when it comes to more delivery of services by the sector. On the Work Programme, we thought that the sector was going to be a key partner, but it hasn’t been."
Bubb said that the government could not expect to deliver public services in the same way as before.
The latest accounts for the Cabinet Office, for the year to 31 March 2012, show that it awarded grant funding of £194.5m in the financial year 2011/12, a fall of £17.6m compared with the previous year. Bubb said cuts to the Cabinet Office’s budget had already affected infrastructure support for charities and it was "hard to know where it will make further cuts".
A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the department was unable to confirm what effect the cuts might have on the budget of the Office for Civil Society.
Bubb also described the government’s pledge to not cut the health budget as a "misconception".
"The reality is that the costs of the health service are going up, which means that budgets are further strained," he said. "Health inflation is much larger than general inflation."
But he praised ministers for protecting the foreign aid budget. "To the government’s credit, it has been under pressure to cut international aid," he said. "It has to be a good thing that that budget is protected. It would have been tempting to cut."