By Sally Polanski
Brighton and Hove City Council’s budget proposals will reduce grant funding to community groups and voluntary organisations by up to £350,000.
A further £200,000 will be cut from services that provide community support to these groups.
The council is under pressure to find considerable savings, but this approach is shortsighted. The voluntary sector plays an essential role in preventative services, so what appear to be cash savings now are likely to be storing up considerable challenges for the future.
Community grants are essential for thriving local communities. They help community groups and voluntary organisations to support the health and wellbeing of the community and in particular our most vulnerable residents, and to tackle to root of social problems.
The vast range of activities that grants help provide, from positive leisure activities to complex advice and support, sustains thousands of individuals and prevents them from ever needing to access statutory crisis support.
There will be a significant loss of money being brought into the city: for every £1 the council invests, the voluntary sector brings in £13, representing a potential loss of £4.5 million.
According to a survey by the Charities Aid Foundation, up to 300 charities in the city could face potential closure in the face of cuts, with the potential loss of 1,200 volunteers contributing the equivalent of £2 million if they were paid the Living Wage.
Charities are shedding jobs much faster than the public sector, with 600 of 6,900 voluntary sector jobs predicted to go in the next year.
Linda Saltwell, the chief executive of the Trust for Developing Communities, said: “This council has always recognised the need for community support, particularly at the more isolated edges of the city.
“There are never enough resources for all services to reach out into often disadvantaged areas of Brighton and Hove (not forgetting Portslade).
“Our organisations have provided better access to these and supported people to do things in those areas for themselves.
“We have operated alongside the valuable work of committed politicians, the church and other faith groups.
“We are currently the largest community development organisation in the city but not the only one.
“We strive to tailor our response to a particular neighbourhood, area or citywide need. We, like others, are working in youth, older people’s and neighbourhood partnerships to secure greater coverage.
“Last year we supported almost 500 community events and meetings, attended by nearly 8,000 people.
“About 1,300 community volunteers are involved in running groups and activities we support across the city and last year we supported 86 applications for funding bringing in an additional £406,301 into local communities.
“This is more money than we cost to commission.”
When making difficult budget decisions in coming weeks, we hope politicians of all colours recognise investment in the community and voluntary sector now will save in years to come.
Sally Polanski is chief executive officer of Brighton and Hove Community Works.
Mad Hatters offer a lunch club and events for people aged over 55. Older people can be vulnerable to social isolation or loneliness owing to loss of friends and family, mobility or income. Mad Hatters helps to address this isolation by bringing older people together at its lunch club. For many of those attending, this may be their only interaction all week.
The council annual grant to Mad Hatters in 2013-14 was £3,000.
The average gross weekly cost of day care or day services for older people in England is £106 a week, with a daily cost of £15.14.
In 2013, Mad Hatters provided a weekly social interaction for 60 people at a daily cost of just £5.20 per person – almost three times more cost-effective than day care services
Mad Hatters is run by a team of 16 volunteers. For example, one volunteer works 22 hours every week, 48 weeks a year – equal to a saving of £8,078 a year, if she were paid the living wage. She has volunteered for 10 years, saving the organisation more than £80,000 in that time.