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Today We Are Angry, Tomorrow We Must Talk

12 Nov 2014 - 15:23 by Mike Wild

A lot of people in the local voluntary sector are going to be very angry today. They’re going to feel threatened, undervalued, rejected and hopeless. The Council’s budget proposals will make horrible reading for many people who’ve been working very hard for a long time to make a difference in the city. For some groups this will mean cuts to services and activities. For many it will mean many job losses – the sector is an employer too, after all. For some this may be the last straw and we may see the end of a number of organisations that have made a great contribution to the city.

People will be angry that services which have taken years develop, which focus on building up people’s strengths, enhancing communities, preventing future problems are going to be lost. Advice services, support for the homeless, people with mental health needs, learning disabilities, children growing up in poverty, unique services for people in minority communities. All these are run on a shoestring already. Anger and sadness feel like a futile gesture in the face of what may be lost to people who are already struggling. As one local voluntary sector chief executive put it to me “I know it’s all expected but it makes it none the less sickening to read.”

I’ve had some initial conversations with Councillors and officers – they are also angry. They hate having to make decisions like this. They’re also quite clear about where the blame lies: the cuts in funding from central Government. I find it hard to disagree with them. And it’s also hard to see this alongside today’s headlines about more bad behaviour by banks and the £2bn they’ve been fined… these public sector cuts are a result of the behaviour of the banks and the economic tailspin they caused and now those who were hit hardest by the recession are going to be hit yet again.

So there’s a lot of anger across Manchester today about a situation which is not of our own making. I like Debra Allcock Tyler’s description of the voluntary and community sector as “purveyors of hope” but how are we supposed to come up with a hopeful response to this situation?

First we have to acknowledge that we’re angry and that we have a right to be angry.

After that we have to show the Council and other public sector partners how to enable the sector to create the best impact. Our State of the Sector report showed some important facts about the voluntary and community sector in Manchester. Here’s a recap of some headlines (and remember this is just the city of Manchester):

  • 3000+ organisations of which around two thirds are groups which have an annual income below £10K.
  • 94,300 volunteers give a total of 19.24million hours per year. If you paid them all at the Living Wage rate of £7.85 per hour, that would equal £151million pounds worth of work every year.
  • 12,400 full time equivalent paid staff working alongside these volunteers (roughly 7 volunteers to 1 paid worker)
  • 36% of the local groups received some kind of funding from Manchester City Council – equivalent at the time (2012) to approx. £47m.
  • The sector’s total income at the time was approx. £477m – so for every £1 invested by the Council in the voluntary sector, we collectively generate another £9.

Looking at those figures, you’d think if anything the Council plans should increase the amount they spend on the local voluntary sector, shouldn’t they? We generate huge value, even on those narrow economic figures. We also save the public sector a lot of money by, for example, preventing older people having accidents at home which could require costly hospital treatment, etc. We’ve made that case time and time again. The evidence for all this is there – but too often I hear the sector simply described as “providers”.

The dilemma for the Council is that they have to make actual cuts, not just re-prioritise existing budgets. So I think the approach to making cuts has to take into account the damage it might do to the capacity of voluntary sector organisations to generate extra funds: cut the organisation completely and you remove the foundations on which they can build other projects, services and resources. There are ways to do that: for example, make greater use of grants (a simpler and cheaper process for all concerned but *not* more risky), see core funding as an investment in partners’ capacity. Above all, there’s a change of tone needed – and it’s still possible even in the face of these cuts – start seeing the voluntary and community sector as one of the city’s proudest assets.

Our work with CLES, A Civil Economy for Manchester shows how much the real economy depends on the ‘social sector’ yet I rarely hear the Council give it the same attention or accord the same ambition for the sector as is given to the private sector. The only way to move beyond a stand-off about funding cuts is to get serious about working together. So my first call, in responding to these proposals, is for a proper discussion between the voluntary sector and the Council. Let’s not forget that these are proposals – the Council is asking for a discussion: we must and should take them up on that.

We’re digesting the detail of the proposals at the moment and will be talking to local groups about what the implications will be for them and their services. We’ll be putting on a special meeting of the Voluntary Sector Assembly to discuss the situation and our collective response – more news on that soon.

But for today, let’s allow ourselves the time to be angry. And tomorrow we need to get serious about how voluntary groups up and down the city can work together to respond a situation which nobody in Manchester wanted.

Further information
To find the latest news and information, visit our Voluntary Sector Cuts page
Council Briefing on Budget Proposals - http://www.manchester.gov.uk/news/article/7027/councils_2015-17_budget_options_published
Budget Proposals - http://www.manchester.gov.uk/budget
Consultation process - http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200110/budgets_and_spending/6729/the_consultation_process


Media Update
The potential impact on the voluntary sector is continuing to attract media coverage:

  • ..and the feature on BBC North West Tonight on 12th November  


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