Paul Butler, chair of the London Voluntary Service Council

"This is no time to run away," the charity's chair tells Kaye Wiggins

Paul Butler
Paul Butler

Paul Butler, who has chaired the infrastructure body the London Voluntary Service Council since 2005, knows as well as anyone in the sector how difficult the next few years will be.

The organisation, a membership body that provides training and other support for community groups, gets much of its funding from the London Development Agency, which Boris Johnson, the London mayor, plans to fold into the Greater London Authority. Butler says staff at the LDA have already told him that it will not fund London-wide voluntary sector infrastructure in the next few years.

He says the LVSC's other major source of funding, a grant from the infrastructure body Capacitybuilders, looks unlikely to continue next year. Capacitybuilders has appeared on a leaked list of quangos to be abolished.

Funding sources have already started to dry up, Butler says. The value of the LVSC's contracts with the LDA was cut by 15 per cent earlier this year, causing it to make one of its 21 employees redundant, and two major funding streams from the Big Lottery Fund ended in August.

"Generally, the LVSC is more vulnerable to cuts than other voluntary sector groups, because we're an infrastructure body and we don't work on front-line services," he says. "We recently had a meeting with Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society. He said it was going to be increasingly difficult for the government to fund infrastructure groups because it wants to protect front-line services."

Butler's term as chair will run out in November and he intends to stand for re-election. "This is no time for running away from a difficult situation," he says. "It's a critical time for us. I saw what happened in the 1980s, and in a lot of ways there are similar things going on now.

"If you destroy infrastructure, as the Thatcher government did, it ends up being built up again because community groups need it. It costs more to destroy infrastructure and then rebuild it than it does to keep it going."

Butler has worked with senior staff at the charity to develop new ideas to keep the money coming in. It is planning to set up a consortium of small voluntary groups that would bid together for government contracts. "This will probably become the most important strand of our work," he says.

The LVSC is also considering charging for use of its conciliation and employment advice service, Peace, once the LDA contract runs out in December. It has also struck up a partnership with the IT firm Happy Computers, which promotes and runs a training course for LVSC's members and shares its profits with the organisation.

"We have to start looking for other sources of funding," Butler says. "We know that our services are vital to a lot of small, front-line groups, but that might not be enough to secure much public funding in future. As chair, it would be irresponsible of me not to take that into account."

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