‘Big Society’ under threat in Southampton as cuts start to bite

Posted on March 2, 2011 by

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Voluntary and community groups in Southampton are facing the prospect of around 20% cuts in their funding from the City Council as tough budget cuts are implemented.

Critics have pointed out that this stands in contrast with the government’s plans to promote the ‘Big Society’ as an alternative to the public sector, despite many the orgnaisations underpinning this having extensive public sector cuts passed on to them.

In Southampton, services like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Council for Voluntary Service and local advice services are some of the groups likely to struggle to keep many of their volunteers, with many community groups and voluntary organisations also likely to be hit.

Confirmed cuts from social care services include reducing the funding for the Two Saints Day centre for homeless people (by moving it to a different funding source), reducing eligibility for the Home Support service from St. James’ (a local homeless persons charity) and completely withdrawing funding from the One Community Help in the Home service for older people, along with several other groups facing budget reductions.

Voluntary organisations including BTCV (conservation volunteers), Down to Earth City Farm, Southampton Scrapstore, Shopmobility, Southampton Women’s Aid (as we have reported on before) and Southampton Rape Crisis also currently receive significant funding from Council Grants and so are also likely to have cuts to their funding.

207 groups also currently receive funding from the Communities Team, including The Art House, ethnic minority groups, residents’ associations and charities like Southampton Sight.   However, cuts of £98,000 in 2011/12, and £118,000 in 2012/13 and 2013/14 will mean that many of these groups will lose some and potentially all of their funding.

MP for Southampton Test Alan Whitehead, who managed to wrangle these figures from the City Council, has said that:

“Southampton is lucky to have a vibrant voluntary sector that works incredibly hard to make our city a better place. Often they only receive a small amount of funding from the Council, but that funding can be critical in their ability to function. To talk about volunteering and the ‘Big Society’ while slashing support for these organisations is the very definition of destructive hypocrisy.”

The cuts come as the City Council attempts to achieve the 10% cuts they voted through to the budget last month as a result of a reduction in funding from central government, in comparison with 20% cuts for voluntary and community groups (why so much for these services? Ed.).

The cuts were criticised as unfairly harsh for Southampton, which is facing reductions in spending power 4 times as much as some neighbouring (and better off) councils, as well as being lambasted by council workers and other local groups.

They also come at a time when the coalition’s ‘Big Society’ agenda is being criticised by many for being unrealistic.  Despite promising that voluntary and community groups would take a big role in replacing contracting public services, the coalition’s cuts are being passed down to these very groups who are being forced to reduce their activities.  This raises the possiblity that large private firms with less public interest at heart are likely to hoover up the leftovers of public services instead.  Will Southampton’s ‘Big Society’ will survive the cuts?

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