Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Siesmic shift

Forty-one youth worker jobs (full and part-time) are to go in North East Lincolnshire and the Council has little public idea about whether or how the remaining Youth Centres will be staffed at the beginning of the new academic year in a few weeks time.

This is just the first major sign of a seismic shift taking place.  Let us take this step by step, crudely, but as far as I can understand it.

The level of cuts required – nearly £1 million is being taken out of the budget – means that it isn’t possible to take a small slice out of every department, nor make large cuts in departments which deliver services required by law, so swingeing cuts take place in departments which deliver services which, however desirable, are not required by law.

And this will go on.  Further equally sharp reductions in budget will follow – a figure of 30% of the local authority’s budget is mentioned.  It is difficult to conceive of desirable but not legally required services surviving at all.  The whole profile of a local authority will change.  Present protests on this and other issues predicated on the local authority continuing to play its present role will come to be seen as almost literally antediluvian.  

I’m told that part of the sea change (please allow the mixture of seismic and flood images) is the local authority making each of its delivery wings into social enterprises of their own.  I'm not entirely clear what this means.  

Meanwhile there is some expectation that the voluntary and community sector will step up to the tasks.  This sector is of course well represented locally and a body like Voluntary Action in North East Lincolnshire has been playing a significant coordinating, supporting and policy forming role.

There are professional voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones which have the infrastructure to bid for contracts and employ staff.  But it is hard to see how these could ‘take on’ things (like, the example in hand, Youth Centres) without the sort of income generating contract to which they have been used with which to pay staff. 

There are amateur voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones like our churches most of which have not traditionally entered into legal agreements nor employed staff.  But is hard to see how we could generate the volunteer hours and professional supervision to do significant work.

There are grant making bodies to support both ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ voluntary organisations – by which I mean everything from European Union funding to the social justice funding stream being made available in the diocese.  But is hard to see how this can respond to the level of demand which these changes will quickly come to generate.

I went along to a form of consultation at the Town Hall this week the invitation to which said that the first thing would be information about the changes taking place in local authority funding but which actually passed on no new concrete information at all.

The consultation turned out to be part of an external review of the local authority’s relationship with and the robustness of the voluntary sector, although the invitation had actually made no reference to this review.  A public report is due in early September so I will see soon whether the sorts of things we found ourselves saying contribute to any meaningful plan.

The Grimsby coat of arms is from one of the floral tributes at the recent funeral of Ken King.


Joy Davis said...

Thanks for putting this dilemma into simpler language. Have been trying to pick my way through all the 'press speak' in the media and getting muddled. It is indeed a seismic shift , especially with the closure of the youth centres. How long will it be before the Council starts complaining about the number of youths on the streets with nothing to do.

Peter Mullins said...

Thanks, Joy. The official report today of a significant fall in the numbers given financial support for home care is a further indication of where we are. And, although St Michael's can provide space for an extra lunch club for older people and individuals can look out for neighbours, this part of the voluntary sector can't begin to fill a gap that big.