Charities are being left in limbo

Social Spider’s managing director David Floyd comments on the delay to Waltham Forest Council’s voluntary sector review

Waltham Forest Town Hall

Waltham Forest Town Hall, headquarters of Waltham Forest Council

Tough economic times often result in tough times for local charities and community groups, who experience both added demand for their services coupled with less money to pay for it. Unfortunately, while the UK’s overall economic picture now is looking brighter, decreasing government funding means the outlook for many voluntary sector organisations remains bleak.

In July the sector’s umbrella body, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), predicted a £4.6billion shortfall in finances by 2018/19. This claim came in a report, A Financial Sustainability Review of the Voluntary Sector, which noted that grants to the sector from central and local government fell by 49.3 percent between 2007/8 and 2013/14, while contract income – which some had thought might replace grant income – peaked in 2009/10 and has been falling ever since.

These are overall figures for the UK. Here in Waltham Forest, we know that many local voluntary sector organisations have had to cut staff or, in some cases, close altogether, but the overall situation facing local organisations is not clear.

Partly in order to tackle this gap in knowledge Waltham Forest Council decided last year to hire a consultancy firm to deliver a service review of the borough’s voluntary sector. The aims of this work – one of a series of reviews of local services – included giving the council a clear understanding of the state of the local voluntary sector, finding out what could be learned from other boroughs and understanding what these organisations needed from the council.

Social Spider CIC, the social enterprise that publishes the Echo, was part of a consortium that bid unsuccessfully for the contract to carry out this research. Despite this, we have no criticisms of the consultancy that was successful, Rocket Science. They are a widely respected organisation and we, along with many other local voluntary sector organisations, participated in the consultations they ran earlier this year as part of the review process. We are confident that the end result will be an informative, useful report – if it ever comes out.

The council had originally hoped that the final report would be published in March 2015. Delays in the commissioning process meant this seemed unrealistic – particularly with a general election approaching – and at the consultation events it was indicated that the report was likely to be published in July 2015.

In an email from a council officer in July, sent to myself and a voluntary sector colleague, I was told the review had not yet been published because of its complexity, and that the authority was still in the process of reviewing its analysis and recommendations.

Since then, subsequent emails have been ignored. Given the precarious situation of many local voluntary sector groups, it seems strange that the council is not able to either explain its plan or even let us know when it will do so.