Swaffham’s Iceni Partnership warns council cuts will increase burden on community groups

Dennis Tallon, chairman of the Iceni Partnership in Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt

Dennis Tallon, chairman of the Iceni Partnership in Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

A community group in Swaffham fears the next round of public service cuts at Norfolk County Council could leave smaller self-funded and voluntary organisations carrying the burden of an increasing range of social problems.

The Iceni Partnership is self-funding charity which works alongside a raft of other community organisations to help people with a variety of financial, social, addiction and employment issues.

It receives no government or council funding, and its £170,000 annual income is generated by hiring out rooms at Swaffham Community Centre and the town's Assembly Rooms, and rental from the eight commercial units which it owns at the Ecotech Business Park.

But with a limited budget and only two full-time staff, the group says cuts at county level could leave caring community bodies in towns and villages with the difficult choice of spreading their own finite resources more thinly – or having to turn people away.

Norfolk County Council announced two weeks ago that it needed to make £140m of new savings to cope with the continued reduction of its grant from central government. Areas under threat of cutbacks include adult social care and services for people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities.

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Iceni partnership chairman Dennis Tallon said: 'We are going to be taking up a lot of the slack coming out of the county council.

'People come here for help. They don't go to the council, they come to us. A lot of it is not our remit, which I suppose is an accolade in a way. But because we are a caring organisation our resources are being diverted more and more to the social needs of people.

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'Norfolk County Council has got to cut £140m in the next three years, so these cuts will be even more savage and there will be a greater reliance on the Iceni Partnership.

'We accept that life is very difficult for all sorts of reasons financially. But I find it frustrating that local government and national government are washing their hands of the problem and saying we have got to find our own funding and our own volunteers to resolve the mess that they have created.

'We are managing that situation extremely well, but there is going to come a time when we are going to have to say: 'Stop the bus'. That will be difficult decision to make, but there will be a time when we have to turn people away.'

With more than 500 county council jobs also under threat, Mr Tallon said the loss of staff would also be felt at community level.

'Part of the cuts will be front line staff, so many more things will need to be done through the internet,' he said. 'Because more and more people are having to go on the internet to gain access to benefits that are their rights, we are looking now to see if we can set up a training scheme for some of the less computer-literate people to obtain their benefits through the computer.'

The Iceni Partnership is based at Swaffham Community Centre, where it works alongside other organisations including Citizens' Advice, Family Action, HomeStart, Red Cross, Swaffham Community Transport and mental health charity MIND.

Recent additions to the Iceni Partnership's services include an inclusion worker, whose role is to integrate migrant workers into Swaffham life by liaising with schools, banks, police and employers.

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