Sector-wide response to cuts is lacking, says report

Challenging Cuts, published by nfpSynergy, says cross-sector learning is crucial if campaigners against cuts are not to reinvent the wheel each time

nfpSynergy's report
nfpSynergy's report

The charity sector is failing to mount a coordinated, sector-wide response to government and local authority spending cuts, according to a report by the research consultancy nfpSynergy.

The report, Challenging Cuts: Investigating the Response of Charities to Frontline Service Cuts, says cross-sector learning is crucial if collective opposition to funding reductions is to improve.

The report says researchers "searched in vain" for a conference, website or even a Twitter account that shared knowledge, ideas and best practice about responding to the cuts. It says that if people don’t share ideas and inspiration about how to campaign against funding reductions, they will have to "reinvent the wheel on each occasion".

The report says: "There is little evidence of centrally coordinated campaigns against funding cuts that bring together multiple organizations, and less still evidence that opposition gets much more strategic than simply opposing cuts."

Organisations that have a sector body representing their specific needs generally appear better equipped to fight or ameliorate the impact of cuts, the report says.

It says the most effective anti-cuts operations are run by a central body that provides advice, insight, materials, research and campaign plans.

The report, which was based on interviews with 10 people from different parts of the charity sector, says that important lessons can be learnt from the experiences of the NHS, which at the last election successfully persuaded the major political parties to promise to increase its budget, and the international development sector, which has been protected from spending cuts.

NfpSynergy says that better coordination, preparing arguments in language and terms that will resonate with the intended audience, good evidence and challenging politicians’ assumptions can all help change minds and policy.

The report says interviewees agreed that government cuts were "political" and there was "near universal sympathy" for local authorities that have to deal with government spending cuts.

The Local Government Association estimates that council budgets will fall by 6.7 per cent in real terms between 2015 and 2020, after funding reductions for local authorities of up to 40 per cent were made by the previous parliament.

The report highlights that the government preference for capital spending – which is mainly focused on infrastructure – over revenue funding was having a disproportionate effect on some charities. Spending cuts mean that local authorities and government are also increasingly looking for contracts that cover larger areas or require less monitoring, in effect forcing small charities out of the tendering process.

Joe Saxton, founder of nfpSynergy, said: "The conclusions from our preliminary research are both encouraging and sobering. They are encouraging because of the breadth of ways in which charities can constructively engage and fight against front-line spending cuts. The battle does not have to be, and is not, always hopeless.

"Our research is sobering because we found so little that charities are learning from each other’s experiences of how to fight against or mitigate the effects of spending cuts. Nobody seems to be joining up the dots; so many front-line charities are starting from scratch in fighting the cuts."

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