by Tom McBeth
Another April has passed and the public continue to pay increasing rates of tax, and yet public services and funding seems to become more and more stretched.
With the announcement that East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) has completely cut its funding to community groups, and Public Health Lincolnshire is in the process of winding up the health trainer programme, we look at that the effect of the cuts on groups that are supporting the most vulnerable in society.
Furthermore, with the threats of devolution of power to district councils likely to have a detrimental effect on more rural areas. The likes of redistribution of business rates, which will no longer being handled at a national level, means that councils, and the people they support, are likely to have even tougher times to come.
Take East Lindsey as an example. This is a district that covers just two major towns in Skegness and Louth, and 140,000 residents in total, but over a massive rural scale of over 600 square miles. That’s a huge logistical, and expensive, headache for any centrally managed service, grounds maintenance, highways, education and refuse.
East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) needs to save £6 million over the next four years to meet its targets, and one of their first steps to doing this is to cut off financial support for community groups in the area.
Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS), who cover south Lincolnshire and provide support to groups in finding funding and volunteers, are one of the many who have taken a hit.
LCVS has been subject to cuts year-on-year in different areas but 2016 has proven the most damaging, losing over half of its core funding this year due to cuts from public health funding and ELDC.
Whilst the immediate cut of the service will save the council £40,000 a year, roughly 3% of the amount it needs to save in total, it is axing a service that helped to bring in over £600,000 into East Lindsey alone. That’s £600,000 brought in from out-of-county that would feed back through staff wages, paid for services, office and property rent that will have fed back into the local community – not to mention the spending of the staff wages in local shops.
Lincolnshire County Council, South Kesteven, which covers Grantham, Bourne and Stamford, South Holland, which covers Spalding and Holbeach and Boston Borough have continued to fund LCVS, although the latter has warned that this year may be the last if further cuts have to be made in 2017. Elsewhere, CommunityLincs which delivers a similar service but in Sleaford in North Kesteven have had all of their core funding cut by local councils.
CommunityLincs, who have recently helped Gainsborough Furniture and Resource Centre and Cherry Willingham Church Hall gain funding to deliver their services, will have to find alternative methods of funding themselves to deliver their support going forward.
Mr Fannin said the council has also, “stopped grant schemes so the council isn’t putting any direct funding into the community and have now [by pulling funding from LCVS] pulled money from the safety net.”
Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is perhaps one of the most essential services the public has access to. But what many might not be aware of is that CAB is heavily reliant on volunteers and is entirely not-for profit.
Stuart Hellon, Chief Executive Officer for Citizens Advice Mid Lincolnshire who supported nearly 15,000 clients in 2015-16, highlights how “we support many advice areas but nearly 85% of our enquiries relate to benefits and tax credits, debt, housing, employment and relationships. Outside this we provide specific advice on consumer issues, energy saving/switching and legal support.”
Stuart points out how they, “have seen project funding ending with no consideration of any future continuation, reduction in funding to our advice service
One other area where we see increasing difficulty is recruitment of volunteers. There are many more services that were once provided by council funded bodies that are now “expected” to be provided by charities. This means that there is now more pressure on volunteer capacity and recruitment for increased workload and volume becomes ever harder.”
We undertook a survey, offering staff and volunteers of a cross-section of Lincolnshire’s community groups a chance to voice their opinion on how the cuts will effect groups and, ultimately, the people of Lincolnshire.
Replies generally echoed the sentiment that charities will suffer more than ever. “It makes it extremely hard for smaller groups to continue and hold heads above the water”, “Funding cuts always seem to affect minorities, leaving them worse off than they were before.”
One respondent to the survey said that the cuts, “will put more pressure on the private trusts and national lottery.” Whilst you could argue that is what they’re for, there’s only so much in those pots of money and only certain groups and services are able to bid and often with added targets to be met.
Similarly to ELDC, public health have pulled their funding of the health trainer programme across the whole of Lincolnshire. An immediate saving of £240,000 a year in south Lincolnshire but Mr Fannin points out that it will simply add pressure to the already hugely stretched NHS and GPs.
CarolAnne Payne, a director for Bringing Learning into Communities (BLiC) who support unemployed people access training, supports Mr Fannin’s conclusion that these cuts are short sighted.
“The funding cuts will have a detrimental effect in services offered, not only does it affect the voluntary sector and statutory services it will affect the local community.”
“If there are services [such as the health trainer service] being closed down, how will these services be delivered? It may also harm the health of participants who have been supported by these voluntary organisations as a supplement to local government services.
For years, community groups have filled a void that many will come to realise was only occupied because of these services. Groups such as Citizens Advice Bureau, which operates with a team of volunteers can’t function entirely for free and can’t charge the public for the use of their services. If they are continually squeezed to the point where they can longer deliver, the government will be under scrutiny to provide these services and without volunteers and the expertise of staff, how much more could that end up costing the taxpayer?
Speaking about the cuts to the sector, which have occurred yearly since 2011, CarolAnne suggested that there are trends to austerity aimed at the voluntary sector. “I have worked in the voluntary sector for many years, I have seen lots of changes in that time, some good, some not so good.” Hopefully, this offers hope to groups for the future.
Roger Fixter, Chairman of the Boston Disability Forum, an action group that gives local disabled people the chance to discuss and put forward changes to local government, pointed out that the cuts and changes to the welfare system as a result of austerity, effect its members on a personal level. “It is safe to say that these funding cuts will most definitely effect individuals who have already been receiving benefits. As an example of this, anyone who now has any piece of equipment which allows them to be independent will actually lose points when being re-assessed [under the new disability benefit assessment criteria]. Naturally, this is grossly unfair.”
One volunteer from a Lincolnshire foodbank, provides emergency food for those in need, said, “The cuts may have an adverse effect on the food bank, potentially this would impact on volunteers and paid staff’s ability to provide an effective service.”
Another volunteer said, “Funding cuts in the past have decimated the youth service to the point where it became impossible to get a qualified youth leader so the youth club was suspended three years ago.”
Another respondent to the survey said, “Most statutory organisations believe CVSs will pick up services on their behalf, they recognise charities can run the services as well and much cheaper. However, the statutory bodies responsible for funding cuts have not understood that grant cuts will impact greatly on a charity’s ability to deliver these services. Service users will be most affected with the reduction in support, they will see themselves back round the health system, causing the statutory services many more costs in the long run.”
Nonetheless, despite the tide long having been against the voluntary sector, volunteers and community groups always find a way to fight on in the name of delivering the services that mean the most to them.
A number of groups, ranging from the nationwide NSPCC to Chain Bridge Forge near Spalding have found self-funding methods of ensuring sustainability, ranging from finding pots of money available to bid for to general fundraising and offering chargeable services to raise money.
Mr Fannin added, “Looking at it positively, LCVS will be a lot freer to focus on its core purpose and to think about how best to organise and operate and what programmes to involve in. It will leave the organisation able to determine its own direction and chose who to work with, where, when and why.”
A reply to the survey stated, “Charities are used to public funding cuts and may be forced to become more commercially minded as donations make it difficult to sustain roles within the sector. Some charities I know have opted to become social enterprises that have the flexibility to attract funding as well as ‘trade’. They too rely more and more on membership and volunteers.”
Regardless of the length and severity of the cuts, it looks as though most of the groups will find a way to continue running at some level. As one respondent to the survey said, “Everyone in the country has used a charity and many rely on them for help and also employment. The cuts will affect more than just the ones in need!” But we will need to make sure we continue to support these groups though the tough times, because sometimes you just don’t miss something until it’s gone.
If you are interested in volunteering or supporting a local group, you can contact the Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS) on 01205 510888 or visit http://www.do-it.org