From coffee mornings to food banks: County council cuts could leave Northamptonshire's volunteer-run groups in 'meltdown'

Sally Keeble fears the voluntary sector in Northamptonshire will be left picking up the tab during the county council crisis.
Sally Keeble fears the voluntary sector in Northamptonshire will be left picking up the tab during the county council crisis.

Volunteer-staffed food banks,domestic violence support groups,youth clubs and more will be left at the point of breaking, a Northampton ex-minister fears as a result of the county council's financial meltdown.

Council papers released yesterday morning have put further flesh on he bones of the county's plan to save some £70 million this financial year.

Councillor Anjona Roy says the loss of the councillor's empowerment fund hit smaller community groups.

Councillor Anjona Roy says the loss of the councillor's empowerment fund hit smaller community groups.

At paragraph 5.4 the action plan that where appropriate," the council will "transfer services to other organisations."

It includes parish and district councils, voluntary and community groups in that list - suggesting they could subsidise "rural bus routes", run "community libraries" and carry out "grass cutting".

But the council's action plan will also include a radical reduction in the amount it spends in third-party contracts - some of which are currently handed out to the voluntary sector.

Voluntary Voices Northamptonshire (VVN) says the various groups across the county face a double impact of being swamped with new service users - while losing out on the funding they receive.

Council leader Matt Golby has warned of challenging times ahead.

Council leader Matt Golby has warned of challenging times ahead.

A spokesman for the organisation said: "NCC may choose to make cuts in two ways: the first is to cut statutory services to the bone, and as (leader) Councillor Golby has suggested, to expect the voluntary sector to pick up the demand in the form of a ‘big society’ response.

"The second is that the bulk of cuts will fall on the voluntary sector, preserving as much statutory provision as possible."

VVN has asked to be involved in any discussions over cuts with the council.

Former housing minister and Northampton North parliamentary candidate for Labour Sally Keeble says, with huge cuts likely to impact adult social care and looked after children's services, the voluntary sector is being faced with taking on more people in desperate need - with no one to refer them to.

"The sector is in meltdown as it is," she said. "The volunteers are having to deal with people in desperate need and crisis, which many are not trained to do."

Councillor Anjona Roy, who is also chief executive of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, said even grassroots voluntary schemes such as local coffee mornings struggling to keep afloat amid the current pressures.

Many have been impacted since the withdrawal of the councillor's empowerment fund in March, which helped local schemes with small grants.

"That fund really helped with on the ground activity," said Councillor Roy.

"If you look at all the volunteer sector contracts across the board, they are all in a bad way."

Northamptonshire County Council leader, Councillor Matt Golby, said: “Unfortunately there are going to be some very difficult decisions ahead for Northamptonshire as we work hard to bring our spending under control while doing our very best to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Our action plan outlines the approach we are going to take, which includes rigorous controls on spending, recruitment and contracts. These decisions will be made based on the core spending priorities discussed by full council earlier this week.

“These are incredibly challenging times for the council, but I am committed to ensuring we deliver those core services within the money we have available.”