I would like to talk about the effects of the proposed funding cuts to the voluntary sector. After six years of austerity and vast cuts to public services and welfare we have seen a new era of poverty with evictions, hunger and debt.
The proliferation of food banks and 'pay as you feel' cafes in the town are evidence of hungry families. The homeless are visible on our streets and families are far too long in temporary accommodation. Northampton has one of the highest levels of personal debt and in the Domestic Abuse court up to 20 cases a day are heard.
These are all symptoms of our communities under stress. The reality of this is, that we are facing a scale of hardship that is teetering on disaster. The collapse of services provided by the County Council will only add to the demands on the voluntary sector.
In this climate this administration is proposing a cut of £94,000 to the voluntary sector, CEFAP budget. Added to this £70,000 is to be removed and allocated, at the discretion of the Cabinet. A further £30,000 is to be removed to be spent on the Festive Road. Funds available to local groups this year have been reduced to a third of what was available last year. From a pot of £100,000 it may be only 6 or 7 groups are funded.
These local organisations can often offer better value and greater flexibility in responding to changing local demands. Grants are an investment in the community, which can be used to attract other resources, such as volunteers, as well as further funding, including donations and other voluntary income. Without organisations supported by these grants people will suffer, and long term problems facing our communities will never be resolved
It is clear that without greater levels of investment the voluntary sector organisations simply cannot adequately support or empower the people they work with. With the prospect of our communities increasingly needing strong and robust partnerships perhaps it is time to reinstate the Neighbourhood Co-ordinators. The demands of funding for the voluntary sector will only increase..
New sources of income must also be found. A greatly undervalued asset is the building we are all sitting in tonight. We have a building which provides a unique and splendid backdrop for events, ceremonies and special occasions. It is truly magnificent . Do we exploit its commercial potential to the full extent? I think not. A proposed 4.9% increase on an already very modest room hire charge is neither realistic nor responsible. The use of our wonderful parks and open spaces by commercial companies, at no charge, is an insult to rate payers who are paying £5 to park their car on the Racecourse.
I have talked about the impact of reduced funding to the voluntary sector. Let us not forget that these relatively small grants of £10 -20,000 , fund valuable projects which is where expertise and knowledge is often developed. These projects will sustain neighbourhood infrastructure and build social capital so our residents are in a position to look after themselves and others for longer. This is excellent value for money.
As forecasts go, it's acutely grim. Over the next five years , British families face a worse squeeze on their living standards than after the global financial crash.
We must do all we can to provide a safety net to prevent the risk of betraying the most vulnerable in our communities. The generation of funds by realistic commercial income from the Borough's assets would be a good place to start.