Standing up for the Voluntary Sector

I went to a meeting convened by Havco (Haringey Association of Voluntary and Community Organisations) and Haringey’s Community Link Forum (HCLF) last week. The meeting was set up for to consider 1) the development of a Voluntary Sector position paper to go to Haringey Council cabinet meeting and 2) begin to examine the changes that may need to be made by the sector to ensure that it can operate effectively within the new working environment..

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. 

But to get onto the main point – it is the Voluntary Sector in Haringey who reach people not reached by statutory services and who provide on value for money terms – definite bangs for bucks. The evening was organised to get the points in place to make the case to Haringey when their cabinet meets on the 13th (I think) – and it is a very strong case.

So here are some of the points they made – all reasons for Haringey to look more carefully at themselves before they lay a finger on the Voluntary Sector.

– they reach the unreachable

– their work is mainly and often the sort of work that protects those people who are the most vulnerable, and in terms of equality and the groups who have protected characteristics, making cuts in this sector will have a direct impact on equality.  

– the VS do a great deal of preventative work and therefore savings culled from the VS may actually cost the council more in the long term

– they are cheaper than statutory services

– they often attract matched funding

– their work often actually stops costs being passed to the statutory sector

There was a whole lot more but that will suffice for the moment. It makes the point that is critical. The Voluntary Sector needs to be supported as far as possible during the retrenchment rather than being an easy target for Haringey Council cuts.

And given that Haringey’s first reaction to the cuts (for example) was to stop free swimming for children and pensioners and blame it on the coalition – we can see which way they are likely to go. However, if you scratch the surface of that move, you will find that actually only a quarter of the cost of swimming was funded by central government – most of it was funded by Haringey.

As my colleague, Cllr Robert Gorrie, Leader of the LibDem group on Haringey Council said: “Simply blaming the government is a shallow and political approach to dealing with what will be the first of many challenging cuts as the government works to put public finances back in some sort of order.”

So – the VS will prepare their position paper for Haringey Council’s cabinet meeting. They finished with some very good points about understanding how these decisions were being made and how they should be communicated. As one woman said – the key point is transparency – maximum transparency – so we can all see how and why and by whom these decisions about cuts are being made. We need to know that they are fair.

Too right we do!

PS: For info – not a single Haringey Labour councillor turned up to the meeting whereas LibDem Cllr Gail Engert was there in her role as Shadow Communities member.