Voluntary Organisations Network North East
£60,000 (2011/2013) for the campaign ‘Surviving or Thriving’, in association with Newcastle CVS, Durham One Voice Network and Connect 4 Change Northumberland.
The project is building on VONNE’s research and campaigning to date. Throughout 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 VONNE has been examining the continuing impact of public spending cuts on voluntary and community sector organizations across the North East and their beneficiaries. The results are being used to lobby nationally, regionally and locally for changes and improvements. Partnership with other infrastructure bodies strengthens the input of information from throughout the region.
VONNE has been working with Teesside University to ensure that the next Surviving or Thriving surveys are undertaken in close cooperation with the University’s work on the third sector (funded by Northern Rock Foundation).
A further survey of the impact of the spending cuts on voluntary and community organisations in the North East, and the people they serve, was undertaken in June and July 2011. The report on the results included recommendations that public bodies should engage third sector organizations at an early stage when considering cuts; where cuts are made, impact assessments should be undertaken; public sector commissioning and procurement bodies should include ‘social clauses’ to take account of the impact on local communities and vulnerable groups; the government’s Transition Fund should be extended beyond 2011; the government should reconsider the effects of the use of ‘payment by results’ on medium to small-sized organizations; and national and local public sector bodies should be transparent in publicizing the funding they award to third sector organizations.
The report was widely disseminated, including to government Ministers, North East MPs and members of the House of Lords, Leaders and Chief Executives of NE local authorities, board members of the newly formed LEPs, NE funders, etc. VONNE drew the report to the attention of visiting national figures to ensure that they were aware of people’s experiences in the region. VONNE held meetings with the Leader of Newcastle City Council, the Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party (who is a member of the North Eastern LEP), the MP for Ashington, the chief officers of the North Eastern and Tees Valley LEPs and the Northern Secretary of the TUC. There was an impressive response to the press/media launch of the report. Follow-up included a radio interview and debate with the Conservative MP for Hexham and the NE Adviser to the Cabinet Office, who brought aspects of the report to the attention of his government colleagues. VONNE subsequently asked all previous respondents to provide qualitative information and stories to support its lobbying.
The impact of spending cuts on VCS organizations and the communities they serve in the North East continues to interest the local, regional and national press. VONNE has been contacted on a weekly basis to provide comment for the press, to speak on local radio or TV and at meetings. Up to date statistics backed by real life stories have kept this issue alive. Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, raised it in Parliament. After the Guardian picked up one of the case studies on the Single Work Programme, which formed part of VONNE’s summer 2011 Surviving or Thriving report, VONNE was asked to provide additional evidence to the Cabinet Office, following which Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, acknowledged that the Work Programme was not meeting expectations. VONNE now represents the VCS on the Advisory Board set up by the two Single Work Programme Prime Providers in the North East (Avanta and Ingeus).
Following the recommendations in VONNE’s summer 2011 report, Local Development Agencies have found that the sector has been informed at an early stage about decisions on funding, and that the Compact is for the most part being observed. But responses to VONNE’s other recommendations have not been encouraging. For example, impact assessments are not being undertaken before cuts are made, there has not been another round of the Government’s Transition Fund, and the increasing use in public sector contracts of payment by results disadvantages small and medium-sized third sector organizations and their users, so that specialist support may no longer be available. Loss of income remains at a significant level and social finance initiatives are having little positive effect on the VCS in the region.
A further survey, undertaken in January 2012, showed that out of 53 organisations 59% had lost funding totalling around £2.8m, 37% had lost staff, 57% had experienced an increase in demand and 57% were having to draw on reserves. 18% might face closure in the next 12 months, 44% were expected to have to cut a service and 47% might have to reduce the number of their beneficiaries.
Case studies were provided to the local, regional and national press, the BBC and ITV and magazines and websites. Twitter, blog and web activity has been actively promoting VCS interests. A special edition of VINE, VONNE’s magazine, featuring the Surviving or Thriving campaign and numerous case studies, was widely praised, as was an edition of Newcastle CVS’s Inform and a report jointly produced by Unison and NCVS. The North East Child Poverty Commission is using VONNE’s survey to assess the impact of the cuts on VCS organizations working with children and families. VONNE’s regional equivalents have agreed to adopt the survey so that national benchmarking can be carried out.
In July 2012 Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, spoke at a VONNE conference ‘Pride, Prosperity and Partnership’. He has acknowledged the value to the government of the information provided through VONNE’s Surviving or Thriving work. David Rossington, Director of the Department for Communities and Local Government, met with VONNE and VCS leaders, in connection with the work of the civil servants’ group for the North East which he chairs; this group, which now meets quarterly in the region, was established as a direct result of the work of Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and Fred Robinson of St Chad’s College, Durham. Briefing sessions have been held with Guy Opperman MP and Kevin Lavery MP. In November Jo Curry gave a speech about the state of the VCS in the North East at the annual conference of the Association of Charitable Foundations.
Tel: 0191 233 2000
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