Charity warns of 'devastating' cash cuts

THE chief executive of a mental health charity has told the EADT they may have to consider “devastating” cutbacks in the wake of budget cuts by Suffolk County Council and the region's health trusts.

THE chief executive of a mental health charity has told the EADT they may have to consider “devastating” cutbacks in the wake of budget cuts by Suffolk County Council and the region's health trusts.

Ian Hartley, of East Suffolk Mind, said the charity could face a budget shortfall of up to £200,000 next year because of a loss of funding from East Suffolk Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and the county council.

The Suffolk authority announced a £24 million package of budget cuts and increased charges on Thursday - £14 million of which will impact on adult social care and community services.

They come on top of savings set to be made by East Suffolk PCTs as they battle huge debts and tight deadlines by which the cash must be repaid.

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While stressing that he was not entirely sure how the council cutbacks would affect Mind, Mr Hartley said that the authority was a “major funder” of the work that the group does.

He added: “This current financial year the PCTs had to make massive savings. What they did was a 5% cut in funding to charities like us and they also said they wouldn't be able to pay inflation on salary costs for staff.

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“We had to draw heavily on our resources this year and the PCT have hinted that we can expect further financial cuts next year - and now we know that the county council is also in financial difficulty.

“It's a double whammy for us - both our major funders are looking to make savings. Now we have obviously got to look at the services we provide and see where we can make savings.

“But it's very difficult to do that. For example, we run support housing schemes for people and we have to have a minimum number of people on duty at all times.

“Usually that's two people, and we can't reduce our staffing costs without in effect making the service unsafe. So the only real option for us would be to close the service.

“What we're desperately trying to do at the moment is to see if we can find other sorts of funding.”

The charity, which employs 120 staff and was formed in the early 1970's, supports more than 100 people in east Suffolk, as well as running four resource centres which help thousands throughout the year.

Mr Hartley said: “All of these places are run on a bare minimum of staff, but our overall expenditure for next year will be in excess of £3 million - and we're predicting a budget deficit of something in the region of £200,000, which is more than we can possibly sustain.

“It could be devastating to the people that we help. You could say that I'm upset - I'm absolutely appalled really.

“It's difficult to know who to blame. Central government have not given very much to the county council, and the council in effect have had their hands tied.

“They've got to make savings - you can't really blame them. The NHS locally has been hit by a funding crisis which has largely been made by things that have happened in the past.

“All I can say is that with services like ours, which are often the things the prevent people requiring more expensive services, logic would dictate that they would be the last that we cut.

“I would hope that good sense would prevail and they will realise that our services provide value for money and prevent a great deal of unhappiness and misery. It's a very bad New Year.”

Cllr Jane Midwood, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for adult care & community services, said: “The government settlement we received has left us with very tough decisions to make about the level of services we can support and the level of council tax rises.

“We are in the difficult position of having to find savings. It is important to note that the budget savings proposed at this stage are by no means final.

“For the first time, all suggested savings will go through the Council's scrutiny process for feedback before any funding decisions are actually made.”

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