Page last updated at 14:18 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Council cuts make 'perfect storm' for charities

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland local government correspondent

Pound coins
Many councils have announced plans to axe jobs or cut services

Voluntary organisations in Scotland could be facing a "perfect storm" through a combination of funding cuts and increasing demands for their services, it has been warned.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is worried that many councils have cut the amount of money they give to charities and the voluntary sector while other sources of funding are also under pressure.

Councils across Scotland faced many difficult choices when they were setting their budgets last month. The squeeze on public spending and the council tax freeze meant they had to find big savings.

In recent weeks many councils have announced plans to axe jobs or cut services to try to balance their budgets.

We're really worried this is the perfect storm for the funding of voluntary organisations right now
Lucy McTernan

But the cuts have another side too - many councils are cutting back on the amount of money they give to local charities and voluntary organisations that provide local services.

Public donations to charities have also been under pressure and more demands are being made of other funding bodies such as the National Lottery.

Lucy McTernan, SCVO deputy chief executive, said: "At the moment those other [funding] options are all extremely limited. There's nowhere else to go.

"We're really worried this is the perfect storm for the funding of voluntary organisations right now."

Charity protest

North Ayrshire Council had to save about £9m and says it now has to focus on core services and look more carefully at those which might be seen as optional extras.

One affected charity is Ardrossan-based Care Partners, which helps provide care for children and adults with disabilities.

Their volunteer "befrienders" spend time with the disabled person, perhaps taking them out for the afternoon, and help give their usual carer some spare time.

But North Ayrshire Council is planning to cut its funding of the group by 90% later this year. This means Care Partners will lose two thirds of its income.

People who benefit from Care Partners are planning to hold a protest next month. Meanwhile, the group is looking at other potential sources of funding such as the National Lottery, businesses and other grant-giving organisations.

Years of cutbacks

And the story in North Ayrshire is being echoed across Scotland with other charities and community groups feeling the squeeze on council funding.

But it is not just charities facing up to financial realities.

Many councils are forecasting years of cutbacks. Some think this year's budget decisions will look relatively easy in hindsight and that even harder choices lie ahead on what kind of projects councils will be able to support in the future.

This means many charities or voluntary groups may need to look for other ways of balancing the books.

But this could well be easier said than done.

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