Funding fears threaten future of county’s charities, claims head of Voluntary Norfolk

Charities and voluntary groups in Norfolk are being forced to close or cut back on what they offer because of the impact of spending cuts, it has been claimed.

Brian Horner, the chief executive of Voluntary Norfolk, warned that voluntary organisations and charities were having to shed paid staff because funding is harder to come by. He said some organisations had already been forced to close their doors while others were changing the way they are run.

He said analysis of data collected by the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of people employed in the voluntary sector across Britain fell by almost nine per cent from the third quarter of 2011 to the same period in 2011.

That, he said, worked out at a loss of around 70,000 jobs and, while figures for job losses in Norfolk were not available, Mr Horner said it was having an impact, with organisations needing paid staff to support and assist the volunteers.

He said: 'We are already seeing that a number of Norfolk's charities are having to scale back what they do or, in some cases, to close altogether and this has resulted in many people losing their jobs across the county.

'A shrinking voluntary sector is likely to cause problems for the people who rely on the services that these groups and charities provide.

'It has been estimated that there are as many people employed in Norfolk's voluntary sector as there are in agriculture, so the loss of a significant number of jobs will have an effect on the local economy too.'

Most Read

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the findings were 'deeply troubling' and provided 'robust evidence that spending cuts are hitting the volun-tary sector disproportionately'.

The number of people employed in the public sector fell by 4.3pc during the same period, while the figure for the private sector increased by 1.5pc.

Mr Horner said his organisation, based in Pottergate, Norwich, was doing its best to support voluntary groups in finding ways to keep them running, but that, for some, the outlook was bleak.

He said: 'We are working with local voluntary groups and developing strategies to help them cope and find new and sustainable sources of funding that will keep them viable, but nobody doubts that these are difficult times for the sector.'

The cuts come at a time when the voluntary sector is being expected to provide more services as part of the government's Big Society vision.

One organisation which has recently suffered because of funding cuts is GYROS (Great Yarmouth Refugee Outreach and Support).

The Deneside organisation has helped hundreds of people who sought refuge in the town, including Kosovans who walked for days to escape atrocities in 1997 and Portuguese making homes in Yar-mouth to work in the food industry.

GYROS' full- and part-time support workers 'oil the wheels' for newcomers to Yarmouth. They guide them through utility bills, help them apply for school places for children, fill in TV licence forms, register with doctors, set up bank accounts and work through housing and employment contracts.

But the Deneside drop-in centre has had to reduce its days to just one a week and now has to charge people for help and advice.

And GYROS is not alone. A study published last autumn, which focused on charities in Yarmouth, revealed 65pc of groups quizzed faced cash cuts, and charities say that scenario is replicated across Norfolk.

Last week, Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, led a delegation of Norfolk charities to meet Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, to discuss how to promote volunteering and other key issues.

He said: 'The meeting was really constructive. Nick Hurd told us he wanted to visit Norfolk to learn more about the challenges and opportunities for voluntary sector organisations. He also agreed to help build links between the voluntary sector and the business community in Norfolk.'

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter