Council cuts to local charities could have a “catastrophic” impact on the most vulnerable and cost taxpayers more in the long run, charity bosses have warned.
Bath & North East Somerset Council is planning to cut £802,000 from its community support contracts as it aims to balance its budget for the next year, money which local charities say is funding valuable work helping vulnerable people turn their lives around.
An “extremely concerned” council scrutiny panel has now called on the council to delay the cuts until their impact is better understood.
Charities do not currently know where the cuts will fall, as the council says it has not had time to carry out their “normal diligence,” but the local authority said it would consult with the sector on where to make the cuts.
Developing Health & Independence (DHI) was founded in Bath in 1996, originally as the Drugs & Homeless Initiative, and warned the panel that cuts to the charity sector would have a “disproportionate” effect.
Jeremy Palmer, who now works for the charity’s housing support service, Reach, said he had been one of the people the charity had helped after battling drugs and spells in prison.
He told the council’s children, adults, health and wellbeing scrutiny panel on 15th January: “DHI opened a door to a whole new life. My children were in temporary foster care with my sister at the time, but because I was able to do my detox at Burlington Street, that ensured that I could have regular contact with them and this meant the world to me.”
After completing his detox and living at a DHI “move on house,” Mr Palmer completed an NVQ in housing and now works assisting others facing drug and homelessness problems with housing.
He said: “DHI gave me back my life. Now I live in my own home. I have full custody of my two beautiful children and I have done for nine years.”
The charity now fears that this service and others could be hit by the council cuts, as they have been included on a “long list”.
DHI chief executive Rosie Phillips said: “Four of our projects are on that list which, if they were all cut, would be utterly devastating — including Burlington Street.”
Within a planned 21% cut across the voluntary and community sector, cuts of 34% could be made to housing services.
Ms Phillips said she understood the council had to focus its spending on its core statutory services but warned that cutting the preventative work done by charities would place a greater burden on local government in the long run.
She said: “If you look at the cost of somebody from prison not getting support, and their life not turning around and kids going into care, it’s massive.”
Alison Miller, the chair of the charity and formerly Liberal Democrat councillor on the council herself, said that Reach supported 900 cases per year and was the “go to agency” for housing support and was “extensively” used by the council’s own housing options team.
She warned councillors: “The impact of cuts in this area would be disproportionate. Funding this service is genuinely a good use of council taxpayer money and withdrawing it could result in significantly greater cost for the council and potentially catastrophic consequences for your most vulnerable residents.”
Council cabinet member for adult services Alison Born told the panel: “We want to be absolutely clear that we value the contribution our third sector providers make to the local area and the additional value they bring.
“We need to understand more of the impact of the loss of these services and the statements that have been made have been really helpful in that respect.
“We are talking to the cabinet member for resources [Mark Elliott] about the timing and nature of the third sector reductions because we understand the value and the risks for them.”
Council cabinet member for children’s services Paul May added: “These cuts have actually come about as a result of the government reducing our funding and therefore they have come to us quite late.
“So the normal diligence we would be doing around having to do that exercise we have not been able to do as effectively as we would like.”
But he gave a commitment that the council would work with the sector on how to make the savings most effectively.
He said: “The tough budgets that we’ve got to have to deal with at the moment, we are going to do that working with our partners, not just sitting in a room cutting things.”
Council officers said that the council would consult with the sector on the cuts, but the decisions would have to be made by the time the budget went before the council cabinet on 8th February.
Members of the scrutiny panel voted unanimously to call on the council to delay the cuts “until the consequences of these cuts are better understood”.
Panel chair Dine Romero said: “As a panel we are extremely concerned about what has been put before us and we need there to be more detail.”
Speaking after the meeting, deputy chair Liz Hardman added: “For the Council to propose £802,000 cuts without telling the providers which services these might be is beyond irresponsible.
“Cutting funds to these voluntary groups is a short-term fix, which will cost us all so much more in the long-term.”
The council is facing a budget gap in the next financial year of £24.53m. A rise in council tax of the maximum 4.99% allowed (two percentage points of which will be ring-fenced for spending on adult social care) is also being proposed.
John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporter