Labour-run Greenwich Council is cutting grants to voluntary groups by 50%. In Conservative-run Croydon the funding is being cut by 66%. It will go down from £1.8 million to £625,000 – although it is providing a £350,000 transition fund. In Hammersmith and Fulham our voluntary sector funding is exceptionally high. Next year we are funding voluntary groups with a total of £4.4 million. That will include 16 organisations getting funding for the first time. But the overall total will be £158,000 down next year on this year. Over three years the budget will fall by 16% – modest compared to Croydon and Greenwich but still involving some "tough choices."
The approach to this challenge should be guided by three principles. Firstly, of trying to keep these cuts to a minimum. Generally the voluntary sector does a better job than the state. That is the Big Society message. It is better to find savings on staffing at the Town Hall. Secondly, the savings that are required for the voluntary sector should not be a crude, "share the pain" approach of just getting each group's grant by the same percentage. That might be politically and administratively expedient. But it would be wrong. The groups should be funded on merit – indeed there should be room for some groups to get more money.
Finally, the bureaucracy should be kept to a minimum. The number of Council staff administering the grants should be kept to a minimum and the process should be clear and straightforward. Of course there must be rigour. But that should not involve a requirement to fill in excessively long, jargon ridden forms with demands for supplementary documents outlining the applicants Equal Opportunities Policy, etc, etc. If groups are concluding that the man hours involved in admin to get the money are so onerous that the money isn't worth having the something has gone wrong.
What will happen elsewhere? What will happen in Labour-run Haringey, for instance? In the coalition spirit I quote the local Lib Dem MP and Government Minister Lynne Featherstone.
Obviously there are cuts by central Government to local government – so let's accept that this is straight fact – and concentrate then on how those cuts are going to translate on the ground in Haringey. From the £6.2 billion of emergency budget cuts – that knocks on to Haringey at around £3.2 million. Alongside the reductions in grant – there is the removal of ring-fencing, ending of national indicators and cessation of the Comprehensive Area Assessment – basically the central government strictures on local authorities as to how they spend their money or where they remove it from – have been removed.
So – it's down to this Labour council in Haringey as to where these cuts will be made!
I went to the meeting of the Voluntary Sector because knowing Haringey – and I do know Haringey – they will be looking for soft targets and they will see the Voluntary Sector as a soft target. They won't want to really do the hard stuff. It is so much easier to cut off the grant at arm's length where the effect isn't near to you. So much harder to sack someone from the office you work in – where you see people everyday and would have to bear the anger of being faced with your actions. And I believe there are also quite a few eye watering salaries at the top of the Haringey tree which might bear some pruning too – and a long hard look at the management culture might not go amiss! And don't even get me started on the wastage that exists………
So Haringey Labour, need to make these cuts very, very carefully – and not go for the soft options.