Fife charities 'in limbo' over funding amid council cuts

A handful of local family charities are still waiting in “limbo” to see if they will continue receiving council funding in future amid a cost-cutting programme.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 4:18 pm
Many of the charities work to help vulnerable people and families.

Councillors have approved an extra £1 million of funding for third-sector organisations that support council family services to take them through to April – but there is no guarantee of extra cash being available after that.

The council, however, says it is continuing discussions with a small number of organisations to guarantee them long-term funding, so long as they can agree to teaming up in order to fulfiling the council’s ambitions of supporting young families and children affected by substance use.

However, this may come at the expense of their wider family support services.

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Council bosses have asked Kirkcaldy’s Cottage Family Centre, Fife Gingerbread and six branches of national family support charity HomeStart to discuss working together, potentially receiving nearly £1.1 million a year from next year if they can agree to work together.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s and youth drug support group Clued Up may be asked to pool their resources in a similar fashion, receiving £756,595 from next year if they can agree a deal.

But the charities have expressed misgivings about the process – including “confusion” over whether they will be funded as a group after following the council’s own instructions to team up.

In an email sent to councillors ahead of last week’s meeting HomeStart said the council’s execution of the consortium process had been “disappointing and frustrating”.

Fife Council is considering cuts.

The email, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, said: “This process has been lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive, and has lacked transparency and consistency.

“It has taken place during a pandemic, when our limited resources have been stretched to the utmost, and when there has been considerable pressure on our staff and trustees to respond to an ever-changing environment.

“Since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, our staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly, in extremely difficult and stressful situations, to maintain a level of support for vulnerable families.

“But our efforts are being severely hampered by the confusion and uncertainty surrounding this commissioning process.”

Fife Council’s “recommissioning” of third-sector partners that support children and their wider families has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding withdrawn from voluntary groups that provide services complimenting the council’s own.

The council has said from the start of the process in 2019 that some charities it currently funds may not fit into its “service briefs” or provide “duplicate” services that it says it cannot justify funding.

However, since agreeing to implement the changes in January this year education bosses have walked back or delayed cuts following negative reactions from elected members and some of the affected organisations.

Charity chiefs have accused the council of shifting the goalposts in terms of what they are asking external partners to do – to the point that they risk diverging away from their original purpose.

Earlier this month Fife Council agreed to fund a dedicated member of staff at Fife Voluntary Action to act as a liason between charities and the local authority, to ensure the views of third sector organisations are properly fed back.

But amid the uncertainty, councillors say charities are having to consider severance packages for staff as they are unsure whether they can afford to keep them.

Conservative group leader Dave Dempsey said: “There seems to be an attempt to bash a variety of differently shaped pegs into a set of standardised holes. We shouldn’t be doing that. We should accommodate the varied nature of third sector providers.”

St Andrews Liberal Democrat Jane Ann Liston said: “The difficulty is that while Fife Council is finessing its approach the third sector organisations have got problems like employing people.

“HomeStart says it could find itself having to give staff notice by the beginning of the year if they’re waiting until March to find out about funding.

“We know HomeStart is a good organisation but I feel they have been left in limbo and there’s an opacity in that they don’t know what’s going to be expected of them.

“They need some resource otherwise they’re going to be in a very serious situation. It could be a real mess.”

Kathy Henwood, head of children and family services at the council, said she “does not expect” organisations to lay off workers before finance is agreed for the future.

She said: “We are supporting third sector providers through a process of what may be some slight change or for others some quite critical change – particularly for Kirkcaldy.

“We might have duplicated resources in some services or have them spread unequally across Fife.

“What we’re left with is organisisations where we might have duplication of resource that doesn’t meet the identified need in the way we were hoping.

“We require a leap of faith from organisations working together and it’s reasonable for us to offer them an opportunity to come together in a meaningful way.

“We’re not looking to throw everyone out – just trying to get a better sense of how we can become more reliant on the third sector while recognising there is a significant budget overspend.”

Craig Walker, convener of Fife’s education and children’s services committee, said: “We have been carrying out intensive work with third sector organisations, which will allow them to continue their work going forward.

“We’re not saying this is the end point – we’re still working with these organisations to make sure they can provide the benefits we’re looking for.”

Requests for comment from each of the charities involved in the recommissioning process had not been responded to at the time of filing.