Cuts threat to volunteers
VOLUNTARY groups operating across Suffolk have been warned to expect major grant cuts from the county – just as the council aims them to take over some of its services.
Letters warning of likely cuts have been signed by the interim director of adult services Anna McCreadie and the interim head of children’s and young people’s services Simon White.
Jonathan Moore from the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations (SAVO) said the timing and the tone of the letters was unfortunate as the sector tries to prepare for a future where it becomes increasingly important.
He said: “It is a bit disappointing that these letters have now started arriving as the voluntary sector is starting to look at how it can take on some of the work of the county council.
“These are form letters sent out to a range of voluntary bodies but they will inevitably cause some concern just as groups are looking at their future needs.”
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Mr Moore said if voluntary groups were to take up running major services that were currently provided by the council, they would expect direct financial help.
But losing grant in the immediate future could make it difficult for them to prepare for the day when they took over the operation of services.
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However he accepted one element in the letter: “It does say that just because a group has traditionally been given a certain amount by the county it can no longer rely on that.
“That means that every organisation will be looked on according to its merits and its needs – and that is good,”
Opposition leader Kathy Pollard was concerned that the council was giving all the wrong signals at a time when it should be encouraging the voluntary sector.
She said: “On the one hand the county is spending three quarters of a million pounds on setting up the Suffolk Circle which knows nothing about the area while on the other it is threatening the funding for organisations which have worked here for years.
“Why have they sent out a round robin letter like this? Surely it would be better to talk to the organisations individually to find out what their hopes and needs are.
“There has been a woeful lack of consultation with the groups directly affected by these decisions.”
County councillor with responsibility for children and young people Graham Newman said he understood the concern felt by some voluntary groups – but the letter had to be sent out.
He said: “It is certainly true that the council will be looking to work ever closer with the voluntary sector, but we don’t know when all the arrangements for that will fall into place.
“This letter refers to a situation that will arise in April next year, in six months’ time, and we felt it was necessary to point out the situation that is facing the authority.
“I can well understand that organisations will want to be able to prepare for any increased role they may have and we will be talking to them extensively over the next few months.”