DAVID Cameron has been warned his hopes of creating a “big society” will fail as charities across the region face up to closure.
Voluntary organisations are looking at a multi-million pound shortfall as councils seek to cut back on the support they provide
The Journal has learned that many of the 6,000 charities in the North East will be reducing services as a result of the cuts, while others will be considering complete closure.
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, was due to meet voluntary groups in the region today, but backed out at the last minute.
Had Mr Hurd come, he would have heard that a sample survey of more than 100 organisations has revealed cuts worth £4.5m.
That figure is thought to be much larger when the impact of the cuts is extrapolated across the North East. The concern now is that the most vulnerable people will suffer just as Mr Hurd is trying to convince the public to do more voluntary work.
Already, at least 275 staff have been made redundant by local charities and it is believed that at least another 171 posts are set to go.
In a survey by the Voluntary Organisations Network North East, many groups in the region revealed that they may close completely next year.
Nearly half of those organisations are currently using up their reserves, while more than two thirds have seen a steep increase in requests for their help.
Although some councils, such as Newcastle’s, are setting up transition funds to help charitable organisations, they have much less cash to hand out in the long-term to organisations helping out locally.
Jo Curry, the network’s chief executive, said the results of its annual survey showed the full size of the task facing the Government if it wants the state to do less and charities to do more.
“The results of this survey are our worst yet. We expect to see widespread job losses and closures as the cuts take effect, particularly from March 2011 when funding for many groups will run out,” she said.
“These organisations are helping the most deprived people in our society and without their help, our communities will crumble.”
Jeremy Cripps has seen how those funding cuts are impacting on the ground. As head of Children North East, he has spent years helping vulnerable youngsters. “Our sector provides serious, sustained support to some of the most disadvantaged children and families struggling in poverty or with addiction, mental health problems and relationship breakdowns,” he said.
“And yet what we are having to do is put all our people at risk of redundancy and some will inevitably be let go.”
Mr Cripps warned: “At this stage we just don’t know what will continue and what will not.
“In a sense, we often face these worries as we come to the end of the year, but it is particularly bad now because so much of the funding is at risk.
“We run a children’s centre in Haltwhistle and services in the west of Newcastle, and the reason we do this is because councils can’t just do this themselves, so we do this for them.
“Councils are not always in the best position to helps families in crisis and we face trouble now in providing that help for them.”
Mr Cripps added: “We have a lot of funding options, but we will certainly shrink in size next year, there is no doubt about that.”
Mr Hurd, whose Civil Society remit includes charities, was due to explain what support the Government can offer to the region. That opportunity was lost when his visit was cancelled.
The Journal asked his department several times for his views on the job losses and closure risks facing charities, but no statement was forthcoming.