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Just who is responsible for disproportionate cuts?

In my last blog I suggested Eric Pickles interventions around how councils are handling cuts with the VCS was as much use as a ‘chocolate teapot’ – something that has been confirmed since by a number of elected officers I know!

Now he has gone further and issued guidance. Another distraction I fear, we are consulted on a couple of paragraphs that have their own get out clauses in them whilst at the same time the guidance on the Duty to Involve is cleared with the stroke of a pen/taps on a keyboard.

I just worry about the contradictions and the potential for the VCS to take its eye off the ball. Firstly, and possibly the most petty, is that once again the government preaches about 12 weeks and issues a consultation for nine weeks. We had excuses over the consultation on procurement over Christmas because it needed to be done before the white paper on public sector reform and we know what has happened to that.

The second contradiction is simply asking councils to be proportionate in their cuts. A good and correct statement – but local VCS groups should be standing shoulder to shoulder with their local authorities asking the same of national government. The graph below shows the impact of the cuts on the most deprived areas – there is nothing proportionate about that – and it makes the whole planning process in these areas much harder.

I will skip my third point about how the government has gone about awarding national contracts to VCS partners and the way they have treated them – that’s another argument for another day and skip to the ‘get out clause’ I think exists in the guidance:

‘An authority intending to reduce or end funding or other support to a voluntary and community organisation that will materially threaten the viability of the organisation or the service it provides…’

How open to interpretation is this paragraph? The government has implemented cuts and said it does not believe front line services need be affected – that council services should just be more efficient.

If local authorities take their learning from Mr Pickles then VCS groups can expect the cuts with a letter saying ‘you pay your chief executive too much, spend too much on administration and we believe your service does not need to be affected if you make back office savings – so stop whining and get on with it’.

I have seen some evidence of this already – one authority in the northwest has published grants panels results and the officer has reported with outrage that voluntary groups include management charges in their bids – she reports that she has taken the management costs out of all the successful applications – thanks, that will help build resilient organisations!

Finally, this guidance is late in the day for the cuts we have seen in 2011 – and many organisations will have gone under. However, I know there are lots of organisations that are going to survive this year, good financial management in the past means they can take a stormy year – many won’t survive a second.

We need to start thinking of next year and further cuts that will inevitably impact then. Many authorities will have budgeted for two years but we need to be knocking on their doors to make sure that the decisions for April 2012 are considered more carefully than many were in 2011.

We need to work on service redesign with our partners, we need to build the necessary partnerships locally and we need to ask nationally that Mr Pickles lives by his own words and rectifies the disproportionate cuts on areas of deprivation across the country as this will have far greater impact on VCS groups than the guidance he has issued.

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