Cuts of over £400,000 in funding to voluntary organisations in Fife will leave many facing financial uncertainty or even closure.
The region’s Education and Children’s Services has agreed almost £2.4 million in grant funding for more than 40 different projects but this is only guaranteed for the first six months of the coming financial year, resulting in concerns about the ability of groups to properly plan ahead. Future funding will depend on how projects are assessed and on the outcome of an ongoing review.
Labour councillor Ryan Smart said the reaction he has had from several local organisations to the new arrangements has been “less than positive” and called for at least a 12-month guarantee of funding. “We can’t expect third sector organisations to plan like this – we wouldn’t run the council like this so how can we expect them to operate like this? I’ve had chief executives of organisations coming on to me saying that there’s been little or no consultation, and we need to do better than that. “It seems like we’re trying to put a plaster on something but it’s unacceptable.”
Dougie Dunlop, Fife Council’s Head of Education and Children’s Services, stressed there has been “extensive engagement and consultation” over the past few weeks and months. He said: “There’s been some unhappiness about having to achieve some savings but in the economic climate that we’re in, it’s only right to ask the organisations to make efficiencies and savings. It’s not unreasonable to ask the organisations that we’re commissioning what contributions they can make to the overall reductions.”
Mr Dunlop stressed that savings would have to be found elsewhere if they are not taken from the Education and Children’s Services budget, adding: “We have to have a deadline on it – if there’s not a deadline to it the risk is that we don’t achieve a saving at all in this area.”
Councillor Fay Sinclair, committee convenor, said she recognised that many voluntary organisations provide “vital” support to children and young people. “However, as budgets shrink but demand for services continues to grow, we have got some important decisions to make to ensure we are providing the right support in the right places to those most in need”.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that we are getting the best value out of every pound that is spent. We need to make sure that voluntary services are delivering the outcomes they have promised and that any financial support is being used where it is most required.”
Families First St Andrews is one of the organisations in Fife facing an uncertain future due to reduced funding. A team of 80 volunteers are supported by staff to work alongside children and their families to overcome the personal challenges they face in life. As a consequence of funding cuts this year, its one-to-one befriending service is facing a shortfall of £37,615 against what had been an assumed shortfall of £18,423. As a result, the service will have to be significantly reduced and staff hours cut.
Morag Coleman, manager of Families First St Andrews, said the sustainability of the voluntary sector was being progressively undermined. “The money is just not there and to find another £19,000 on top of what I’m already looking for….it just feels constant and never-ending,” she said. “We’re constantly looking for money to survive, but all of the organisations are going to the same places to look for more money and doing various fundraising events. You can only ask people to do so much. It’s exhausting to be honest. We’ve found savings and we can’t save any more.”
Local MSP Willie Rennie has called on Fife Council’s leadership to think again over the cut “Families First support families who have children in the household aged five to 16 years of age with additional support needs living in North East Fife. There is little doubt that over the years they have proven that they improve life chances. They provide good value for money in early intervention and the council need to offer more.”