Eastern Region Infrastructure Network survey done by MENTER: Funding cuts affecting support services for Voluntary and Community groups in the Region

In the last few months new Government agendas and public sector cuts have had a dramatic impact on the voluntary and community sector (VCS), particularly with regard to funding for support services.
ERIN (Eastern Region Infrastructure Network) is a network of regional Voluntary and Community Sector infrastructure bodies in the East of England. ERIN member organisations were keen to capture an up to date picture of the support and development services available for voluntary and community groups across the East of England.

A survey of Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise infrastructure support in the East of England was initiated by ERIN and funded by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the FERI (Frontline Engagement in Regional Infrastructure) project managed by MENTER. The survey of infrastructure support organisations and the services that they provide was carried out in July 2011 by Béatrice Humarau and Jenni Jordan of MENTER – the team managing the FERI project co-ordinating ERIN activities. There was a very high response to the ERIN survey: it was completed by 105 organisations that provide infrastructure support and development services to other VCS organisations in the East of England.

Béatrice and Jenni are very grateful to all the organisations, groups and forums that took part in the survey including a number of MENTER members.

A wide range of support organisations completed the survey including Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS) (25); Volunteer Centres (13); Rural Community Councils (RCC) (4); Race Equality Councils (REC) (3); county consortia or networks of voluntary organisations (19); regional networks and forums (22); Community Foundations (4); and a variety of other specialist organisations and groups including county-wide infrastructure networks, specialist umbrella groups and coalitions, social enterprise networks, training providers and membership organisations (22).

The infrastructure organisations and forums responding to the survey were well represented across the counties and unitary authorities in the region. Almost 88% of infrastructure organisations responding to the survey work at sub-regional (county or unitary) or local level (district, parish or neighbourhood).

A third of infrastructure organisations provide generic infrastructure support (33.3%). This means that they support the sector as a whole rather than focus on a specific community of interest. A further 30.5% (32 organisations) are generic providers that also deliver some specialist support or help specialist groups. The remaining 36.2% (38 organisations) only provide specialist infrastructure support.

Participants were asked to indicate what type of infrastructure support and development services they provide to other voluntary and community organisations and the scale of support provided. The top three types of services were partnership facilitation work and networking (67 organisations); representation and advocacy activities, including putting the views of frontline organisations to local authorities, government and other statutory bodies (66 organisations); and information and policy work (61 organisations). According to the results of the survey, support groups and organisations across the region are facing severe cuts in funding and this is affecting the type of support available to VCS. Two thirds of infrastructure organisations (69 organisations) have experienced a cut in the level of external income (grants/income generation) this year. The external funding of 29 of these organisations has decreased by more than 50%; 20 organisations have experienced a 25 to 50% reduction in funding; and a further 20 organisations have seen a reduction of up to 25%. Twenty two organisations indicated that their external funding had remained roughly the same. Only one organisation in the East of England reported a 25 to 50% increase in funding in the current financial year.

This lack of funding means that the support organisations have to find additional resources to stay afloat. The survey found that almost 70% of organisations are either already using their reserves (46 organisations) or may have to use their reserves (24 organisations) to fund their support and development work in the current financial year. Less than a third (32 organisations) stated that they will not be using their reserves this year.

Organisations were asked whether any changes had taken place in the infrastructure support delivered since April 2011. Although approximately half of the infrastructure organisations were delivering the same types of services, a significant number of them had to reduce the level of support available to frontline organisations.

The main service activities affected are:

¬  advice on organisational development issues (23 organisations have scaled down this support);

¬  training courses (22 organisations have reduced this support); and

¬  targeted services/projects supporting specialist organisations (reduced by 17 organisations).

Organisations were invited to comment on the impact of the changes taking place on their own organisations and the effect on their beneficiaries – frontline organisations and community groups.

A significant number of organisations reported that they had reduced their staffing numbers or working hours since April 2011 due to reductions in their funding levels. Some organisations were also considering relocating to different premises, in less central locations, which may further reduce accessibility of their services. Others mentioned that they were exploring the potential to share back office functions and possible mergers.

The effects of these reductions in resources, particularly staffing levels and office hours, include less one-to-one and face-to-face contact time; less time to spend on community development and outreach activity; less capacity for providing support such as funding advice to frontline organisations, at a time when demand for such services has increased; and less support for organisations seeking volunteer support.

To read more about the ERIN survey of support services and access the full report, please visit the ERIN website on www.erin-net.org.uk


« Top of page