More Vulnerable People Under Attack By County Council Cuts
County council plans to cut £1m in funding to voluntary groups will have “an appalling affect” on some of Norfolk’s most vulnerable young people, an MP warned last night .
Officials say the authority’s children’s services department has to cut the amount it spends on voluntary sector support to youngsters with everything from challenging behaviour to deafness.
A report to councillors warns future funding for councils is uncertain after 2010, so officials have to budget for a freeze in both government grants and council tax from 2011, along with an expected 2.5pc pay rise for council staff.
Twenty-eight groups who currently receive £2.4m between them will have to re-apply for a share of £1.4m. The news comes weeks after the EDP revealed that old people’s day centres across Norfolk were threatened by funding cuts.
Last night North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “What’s proposed is utterly shocking, you actually get the best value out of these organisations who are rooted in their community. It’s completely counter-productive, this is slash and burn.
“The consequences are that the most vulnerable people will lose out and it will put a massive extra strain on the statutory services.
“I hadn’t any inkling this was coming, we’ve got to build a campaign. There are some tough decisions ahead but this is the worst place to start, it will have an appalling affect on some of the most vulnerable people in the county.”
But Lisa Christensen, Norfolk’s director of children’s services, said: “The public sector has not been exempt from the economic downturn and there is less money available to us than in previous years and we are continually trying to make sure the money we have available to us goes as far as possible for the benefit of children and young people.
“A number of our contracts with voluntary sector organisations are due to expire on March 31 2010.
“Next year, the resources available to children’s services will be approximately £10 million less than we would need to carry on at the same level as this year. Therefore, there will be a reduction in funding of around £1 million to the voluntary sector.
“We have been, and will be, as fair and transparent as possible in inviting organisations and groups we currently work with to tender for new contracts, and have written to them with advanced notice so they can do so.”
North Lynn Discovery Centre was set up to provide activities for young people in some of West Norfolk’s most deprived areas, with up to 5000 using the centre each year.
Manager Jimmy Yallop said it was a struggle to keep the centre going on the £70,000 grant it received from the county council.
“We would like to think that they could not afford for us to be closed, but we do not really know,” he said. “We are filling in the application like everybody else. I am not going get angry or depressed until we know we won’t be funded.
“I like to think were in a good position because of the numbers that are using the centre. If we were shut there would be nowhere else for them to go. People from the outlying villages come because there are no other projects that go on every single day and we only charge 50 pence a kid. If it’s not here, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The North Norfolk-based Benjamin Foundation, which provides advice and support to vulnerable children across the county, is losing £150,000.
Chief executive Richard draper said: “We are losing two contracts. One is working alongside Connexions Norfolk with two specially-trained advisers for the most vulnerable client group, helping young people who need the most intense levels of support.
“The other is to provide one-to-one support for children from infant school upwards on anything from low-level friendship break-up to issues like bullying right the way through to family break-up, all of which can make a huge difference to a young person’s life.”
Leigh Vallance, chief executive of the charity Break, which provides care for vulnerable children and families, said: “A number of contracts within the voluntary sector, funded by Children’s Services, come to an end on the 30th April 2010.
“These service providers have been invited to submit tender bids for services that will run from May 2010 for three years, all be it from a much smaller funding pot than had previously existed. This does mean that some services will not be able to continue.
“Break along with many other charities cannot escape the consequences of the current economic climate and the inevitable impact on local authority budgets.”
Gyros, which helps migrant workers and asylum seekers settle in the Great Yarmouth area, could lose the £35,000 it receives from the county to help children settle and integrate into communities.
Gyros support manager Des McKeating said he hoped that money, which helps 200 families a quarter, could be found from other organisations to fund the work. If not, the child support service could close.
Norfolk is the fifth most deprived county in Britain, with 19pc of children living in “income deprived” households. Deprivation is most pronounced in the east of the county, where there are low wages, a seasonal economy and higher levels of unemployment.