Umbrella bodies 'must work with local authorities to stem cuts'

Independent adviser John Tizard tells panel discussion that voluntary sector groups must find common cause with bodies such as the Local Government Association

John Tizard
John Tizard

Voluntary sector umbrella bodies and local authorities must work together to prevent public bodies making disproportionate cuts to funding for voluntary organisations, according to John Tizard, an independent adviser on public policy.

He was speaking yesterday at a panel discussion at the House of Commons, organised by the Charities Aid Foundation

"We have to find common cause between national bodies such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, CAF, Acevo, and the Local Government Association and similar bodies," Tizard told the meeting. "There has to be dialogue where there has been quite a lot of hostility, to promote good practice regionally and locally."  

John Low, chief executive of CAF, told the meeting that research by Compact Voice, published in December, found that half of local authorities are cutting grant funding to the voluntary sector disproportionately.

Tizard said local authorities have to make tough decisions, but there are examples of local authorities that are increasing their level of spending on voluntary organisations and engaging with the sector.

"I think it is very important to demonstrate good practice," he said. "Authorities learn from each other."

Nick Paget-Brown, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, said his authority had maintained the same level of funding to the voluntary sector for the past three years and had created a new £500,000 fund for sustainable projects.

"Local authority provision is not always very cost effective and could be lower," he said. "The third sector could point the way for stripping out the management and bureaucracy costs."

Karen Mellanby, director of networks and communities at the mental health charity Mind, said at the meeting that it works with 154 local associated Mind charities, and that many of them are struggling.

"All the cuts are taking their toll," she said. "People are struggling to feed their children and fear of homelessness is driving them to despair. We are hearing stories like this daily at Mind.

"People without mental health problems are facing an increased risk of developing them if disproportionate cuts continue."

Mellanby said such local associated Mind charities were facing fierce competition from large private sector providers for the services they have been delivering. She said that changes in commissioning are creating risk and uncertainty.

There was evidence of some councils choosing between keeping services in house and involving the third sector, she said. Some councils are cutting services without proper thought and there is evidence that some are increasing eligibility criteria rather than cutting the services, said Mellanby.  

"We need to manage declining resources creatively and innovatively," Mellanby said. "Local councils should be working with the voluntary and community sector, looking at brave ways to commission looking for long-last solutions.

Low highlighted CAF-commissioned research that found that 72 per cent of members of the public said they did not want councillors to cut funding to charities by more than they cut other services.

The ComRes survey of 2,012 British adults in April this year found that 69 per cent of people fear local communities will suffer if charity funding is cut by councils.

Jenna Pudelek

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