SPECIAL REPORT: Crisis time for West Norfolk’s caring charities
Lifeline services for carers, mental health patients and a raft of vulnerable people are being heavily cut back in West Norfolk and many are teetering on the edge of collapse, it has emerged.
Massive public sector savings drives have reduced the amount of funding available for contract agreements and grants for charities and voluntary sector organisations.
Already less people are getting the support of some of the groups they used to rely upon for help and now some of those groups could disappear altogether.
Eddie West-Burnham, West Norfolk Mind chief executive, said his organisation used to provide community mental health services to around 200 people a year, but is now only able to help around 50 and he fears it could get worse.
He said: “Our concern is, if we can’t provide that service what is going to happen to these people?
“Many, many voluntary organisations have gone out of business and there will be many, many more if this is the direction of travel.”
The funding hit has been two-fold for Mind, as with many organisations, as not only is less money available to fund their service but massive changes are also afoot in the way they are funded. Whereas local authorities used to contract and pay for the services in advance, allowing organisations to plan for the future, service users are now being given Personal Budgets to spend on services as and when they need them.
Mr West-Burnham believes a lot more money has been taken out of the block-contracting pot than has been put into Personal Budgets and therefore people will need to be more ill before they qualify for help,
He said: “Cutting preventative services means people are just going to end up going to more expensive services when they are more ill. It is no good for the service user and no good for the community.”
Jane Evans, executive manager of West Norfolk Carers, which supports 1,000 carers, employs ten people and relies on Norfolk County Council for 75-85 per cent of its budget, has similar concerns.
She said: “We are delivering and meeting demand to an increasing number of carers but on a reduced budget. We can only do that for so long.
“As demand increases there will come a point where organisations will have to create waiting lists, look at priorities and may have to start charging for services.
“I can’t see where organisations such as ours can make the sort of savings they are going to be looking for moving forward. The risk is that charities and small organisations will cease to exist.”
Heather Farley is chief executive of West Norfolk Voluntary and Community Action (WNVCA), providing support and advice to voluntary and community groups to help keep them afloat.
The funding changes, particularly the move to Personal Budgets has meant even small organisations have had to plough resources into things like marketing themselves to attract users and become more like mini businesses.
She said: “It has been a time of incredible insecurity for groups and organisations and one where they have had to rely on and build on skills that were not top of their priority list in the past
“In the end we are not going to be the same going forward. Some clients are going to lose services.
“There is a push towards professionalising services, which if they are receiving public funding, I don’t think it utterly unreasonable.
“What you have got to be careful of is that you don’t lose those small groups that do some amazing work on the slimmest of funding.”
WNVCA itself, which gets around 60 per cent of its funding from Norfolk County Council, West Norfolk Council and NHS Norfolk, reduced its staff by a third two years ago and is surviving year-to-year.
Mrs Farley said: “We are going to scrape through this coming year without losing any staff but I have no idea what 2014 brings. We haven’t had security beyond the current year for a good few years.
“The question is, at what point does our service become a non-vital service? It is worrying. It is quite often not until you stop a service that you can judge how valuable it was.
“Going into the future I believe the quality of organisations will be top notch, but there will be less of them. There will be less people delivering services and less people receiving them.”
Shelagh Gurney, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services for Norfolk County Council, said: “We and many of the organisations we work with have had to change the way we operate over the last two years, because we have had our funding from central government reduced but also because as a country we’ve been shifting towards giving people more choice and control over the care they receive.
“Voluntary organisations have a vital role to play in the provision of care services in Norfolk, so as a council we don’t just want the sector to continue, we want it to thrive.
“We know that these changes have been a lot for care providers to contend with however, so last year we set aside £2.5 million from our budget to ensure we could make the right kind of support available to help them adjust.”
The county council is in the midst of a three-year drive to save £135 million and is currently looking at a plan to slice a further £125 million off its spending.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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