Fife counselling charity warns council funding cut puts its future in jeopardy

A counselling charity set to lose funding from Fife Council faces closure if it cannot find an alternative source of cash, its manager says.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 3:17 pm
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 3:22 pm
Mieke van der Zjipp, manager of Couples Counselling Fife (RSCCF), based in Kirkcaldy

Mieke van der Zjipp, manager of Couples Counselling Fife (RSCCF), says the £23,000 it receives from the local authority makes up more than half of the "core funding" it needs to exist - and will not last beyond next year if the funding does not continue.

She said: "From the very small amount we receive, we provide very excellent value for money.

"Without that, we would be fine for this year but, I don't think we could run much longer than 2022 or 2023. We would have to fold."

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The charity offers counselling to couples

RSCCF, part of counselling charity Relationships Scotland, is one of 19 organisations being stripped of a total £410,000 of third sector funding by the council's Children and Families Services division, bringing to an end over 30 years of financial support from the local authority.

Council contributions to the charity - which provides counselling and relationship advice on a "pay what you can basis" - have covered approximately two-thirds of critical operational costs: the salary of a manager and a part-time administrator, and the upkeep of its building on Kirkcaldy's Tolbooth Street.

While the vast majority of its overall income comes from those who receive counselling, along with limited grants from anti-poverty charities such as The Corra Foundation and The Robertson Trust, this is used to train and pay counsellors who give their time to adjudicate discussions. The charity says none of this is possible without the core funding from Fife Council.

The fallout stems from the Children and Families division's "recommissioning strategy", which challenges all bodies receiving cash to prove what they offer meets at least one of eight new briefs - or lose out on their funding after receiving support for six more months from April.

Just nine charities will continue being funded - down from a total of 35 the previous year.

Seven organisations have been signposted towards funding from other sources such as the NHS and council housing bosses.

However, the charity cull disproportionately affects smaller groups. Organisationskeeping their funding received an average of £246,000 for 2020/21, compared with £93,000 each for the 19 bodies facing the chop. Their share will increase in 2021/22.

Council officers insist the process was "robust and fair.”

However, while the new strategy promises to fund bodies that "build capacity and resilience within families" or "strengthen family networks", Fife Council has concluded that Couples Counselling Fife is not eligible for continued financial support.

Ms van der Zjipp says that officers fail to acknowledge the positive effect the service has in preventing relationships from falling apart and requiring costly intervention from social work and other agencies. Of RSCCF's 355 clients last year, more than three quarters had children.

And the service manager has serious doubts about the council's attitude to the affected charities - at a time when people need support more than ever.

"The impact of Covid has had on relationships, people spending too much time together, with no access to friends, family, support groups, with responsibility to their kids - once the restrictions are eased we are expecting greater demand," she said.

"We work at the preventative end. If you can resolve people's issues with relationships and prevent family breakdown that reduces the chances of coming into contact with social work. That's a good outcome for a family.

"For Fife Council to say we don't match up with its agenda – we do, but it is a much more simplistic view."

The demand for RSCCF's services is spelled out in its most recent annual report.

It has more than doubled the number of sessions it delivers each year in the space of a decade, from 968 in 2011/12 to 2147 in 2019/20 - all without an increase in its core funding.

Ms van der Zjipp is concerned that the cuts will disproportionately affect vulnerable families.

Alongside RSCCF, affected services include the Royal National Institute for the Blind's children's service (receiving £30,000 a year) and help-at-home charity Home-Start (£512,000 a year, split between six branches across Fife).

The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted the other 18 organisations for comment - none were willing to comment on an on-record basis, concerned that speaking out could compromise discussions with the council.

Without access to these services, Ms van der Zjipp fears that people living in more adverse circumstances will not enjoy the same opportunities as those who can afford to seek help elsewhere.

Around 80% of clients make less than £20,000 a year and only a handful can afford to pay the full £50 session fee.

"Every adversity always hits the poor more," she said. "We offer a service to everyone, from all walks of life, and that's a valuable service to have.

"We've got a mental health crisis in the making because of Covid - we know it, the government knows it, but Fife Council is unable to look beyond their own agenda.

"We might not be relevant to them, but we are relevant to society."

Kathy Henwood, head of education and children's services, said: “The recent programme of work has involved regular engagement sessions with the third sector including one to one meetings with organisations.

"Following a grant application process and consideration of the report at the Education & Children’s Services sub committee last month, we will continue collaborative discussions with all organisations currently commissioned.

“Organisations were provided with feedback prior to the committee meeting, and an engagement session is scheduled, facilitated by Fife Voluntary Action.

"Individual meetings will continue with organisations providing feedback on applications and discussion on future services, including funding streams.

“We commission a range of services in the third sector across a continuum of need, many focus on prevention and early intervention for the most vulnerable families in Fife.

"The size of the organisation has not been a factor in considering applications.”

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