Council funding cuts could devastate the third sector

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​South Lanarkshire is the latest authority to announce funding cuts to voluntary groups

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21st November 2016 by Graham Martin 1 Comment

The cuts crisis crashing across Scotland’s voluntary sector continues apace – with fresh warnings of closures.

Vital services are being put at risk as councils slash budgets and funding to charities is stopped.

In some cases, local groups have been told 100% of their council cash will go – and charities have been told to rely on their reserves instead.

Highland Council has previously announced a devastating cuts package – and the latest authority to commit to cuts is South Lanarkshire.

Any cuts within vulnerable communities can be devastating and a false economy

Voluntary groups there have been told to brace themselves for a storm to come – and local third sector leaders admit there is a grave risk to services.

The authority is looking to make £22 million worth of savings – and the cash going to the third sector could be slashed by more than £1m.

Gordon Bennie, chief executive of Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire, said: “The sector is well aware of the pressures facing the public sector and has been working tirelessly to assist partners in addressing the challenges facing all communities. 

“To withdraw investment in the development of the sector at this time is utterly baffling given recent legislation that recognises and heavily endorses the involvement of the third sector in seeking local solutions towards reducing the pressures on overstretched public services.

“Any cuts within vulnerable communities can be devastating and a false economy. It lays waste to communities, deadens the area and takes the life out of them. It does the opposite of empowering.

“This has a potentially shocking impact on some of our poorest communities.

Withdrawing investment in third sector organisations is likely to undermine ambitions of supporting community empowerment

“It is therefore my hope that the council recognises the importance and worth of the sector. I also hope that the council continues to support the third sector as a valued partner and as such enhances the level of services delivered by the third sector rather than considering significant or severe cuts.”

Problems in South Lanarkshire mirror those in Highland where, as TFN has revealed, the council voted to implement cuts over the next three years, with exact levels yet to be determined.

Council leader Margaret Davidson warned the cuts will be "severe".

Groups to be affected include shinty's Camanachd Association, as well as The Boys' Brigade, Scouts, Guides and village hall committees.

This was condemned by Mhairi Wylie, chief officer of Highland Third Sector Interface, who said the move was a mistake and councillors should know better.

Allan Johnstone, chief executive of umbrella group Voluntary Action Scotland, echoed these concerns.

He said: “Each council is approaching this differently and there is no uniform picture to be had from a national perspective – other than third sector organisations at local level are having existing statutory funding put at risk and in some cases withdrawn. We’ve witnessed this in a few areas with Highland and now South Lanarkshire the latest examples. However other councils have taken a longer term view and approached funding changes as part of an overall strategic review of what is commissioned or decommissioned.

“Withdrawing or reducing investment in third sector organisations - and the support they offer communities - is likely to undermine longer term ambitions of supporting community empowerment, community engagement and, if cuts continue, risks further entrenching inequalities. All of which is at odds with the ambitions of public service reform.

“Local third sector organisations have experienced these pressures over a number of years and, with support from TSIs, many have taken action to change operating models, build collaborations, and reframe how their support can best meet need.

“Whilst these changes will continue to help the third sector adapt to the changing environment there remains an expectation of local councils that they make sure the third sector remains able to support people and communities.

“Voluntary Action Scotland urges local statutory partners to make best of use strategic commissioning approaches where they have to make reductions in funding. Ensuring that the right things needed for supporting people and empowering communities continue to be supported. This includes recognising that these will not always be in the statutory sector.

“If the third sector is truly to be considered a partner in a fairer Scotland then it needs to be supported and resourced to do so.”

South Lanarkshire Council leader Eddie McAvoy said: “The whole of the public sector is under budget pressure, and the council’s grant from government has suffered real-term cuts in recent years.

“We don’t expect ministers to tell us what our grant will be for next year for several more weeks, but we are obliged to balance our budget and officers have developed plans based on potential savings we might be forced to make.

“I would stress that these are just options at the moment and that councillors will have an opportunity to examine the proposals fully and make their own suggestions. The challenge to all councillors is that if we reject any proposals in the package we need to find other, fully costed, ways to save the money.

“The bottom line is that some tough decisions will have to be taken in these difficult economic times, but we will do everything possible to protect key frontline services. I would urge residents to have their say too by taking part in our public consultation exercise.”

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