Council finance officers are today analysing what effect the Scottish Government’s budget will have on local finances. One area likely to be welcomed by authorities is a commitment to move to three-year council budgets. This will result in less uncertainty across Scottish authorities, which can then in turn hopefully create more stability for charities.
The fear of funding cuts is rife within the sector, with no organisation feeling exempt from the threat of losing their main sources of income at short notice.
Fife Gingerbread is a good example of a charity that works with families on a local level to make life that little bit better, and recognition of its fine work included the People’s Choice title at the SCVO Charity Awards in 2014.
However after 31 years of providing support in the Kingdom, the organisation now faces an uncertain future after being informed this week that Fife Council would be unable to provide the funding needed to continue helping the more than 250 families it supports.
Staff were in shock at the decision, having received praise from the council for their work and the need for them to continue to help people in the area being highlighted regularly by officials and elected members. Fife Gingerbread has brought millions of pounds in external funding into the area by securing external grants to build on and supplement local authority grants.
What makes it all the more difficult to understand why support is being withdrawn is the council is that the authority has found £400,000 to create its own holiday hunger service. Fife Gingerbread has been feeding hungry children since its inception. Not only is its invaluable experience being ignored, the plan devised by the council is one that the charity is not convinced is what is required to provide vital support.
As Fife Gingerbread Chief Executive Rhona Cunningham said: “The council’s proposal is to open schools during the holidays to allow families to come along and have a meal; however we have heard from parents who were part of the pilot that five families turned up during a two week period. Compare this to Fife Gingerbread, who had 117 holiday provision groups in summer 2018 alone which provided meals to hundreds of families and children, and we do the same during the other school holidays.”
It has to be questioned who can deliver more impact with this £400,000 – the council or an organisation that already has a thriving support network for families?
Indeed as recently as August of last year, Fife Council co-leader David Alexander praised the heroic volunteers and charities who stop children from the poorest households going hungry during the school holidays. Praise is all well and good, but it does not pay the bills.
The council has highlighted that it “continues to provide substantial funding to the organisation and in the past couple of years has provided transitional funding to Gingerbread to tide them over until other external funding was available.” It has asserted the uncertainty over the future of the service is down to reduction of lottery and Scottish Government grants. Buck truly passed.
What Fife Council, and other local authorities taking similar decisions across the country, must realise is that funding cuts across the board are putting organisations which are carrying out vital local services at risk. Councils need to show that they are committed to working with the sector; not undermining it or trying to replicate what it does in a bid to make short-term savings.
As uncertainty in society continues, services such as Fife Gingerbread are going to be more important than ever. The contribution the sector delivers cannot be undervalued, or misunderstood – especially if cuts are taking place that could put organisations at risk. The true value of these groups may not be realised until they are gone.
Three-year funding for charities would provide greater levels of stability within the sector, and presents an opportunity to help reduce uncertainty. For too long, organisations have been living hand to mouth on annual funding agreements and we have all seen the effect sudden withdrawal of support can have.