21/01/2016

Response to Consultation on Swindon Budget and its Impact on Voluntary Activity

Voluntary Action Swindon (VAS) welcomes the decision by Swindon Borough Council to renew their current contract with VAS for a further year albeit at a lower level than previously. VAS plan to use this year to renew and refresh its strategy and role to ensure it continues to be aligned with the general aspiration to promote and support voluntary and community activity as part of the solution to meeting economic and social needs in a time of public sector austerity and declining local authority finances. We are also supportive of the focus on using the local authority funding to support smaller groups.

We are however surprised and concerned at the decision to withdraw the modest element of funding (£35,000) which is designed to support volunteering. Volunteering is a central plank in any strategy to promote voluntary and community activity and creates significant added value for the community. For many it is also a route back into work providing the first step to confidence and skills building. It is also one of the areas where smaller local groups need most support.

Throughout the budget proposals there are references to the increased role of the voluntary and community sector in the delivery of support and services including where public funding cuts have forced reduction or withdrawal of services. While we understand the need to reduce funding and would have anticipated a reduction in the contract value for 16/17, the complete withdrawal of public funding to support voluntary sector volunteering seems counter to the general trends referred to within the budget report.

This cut is likely to endanger the future of our partner organisation Volunteer Centre Swindon who have been leading on this element. It will thereby also endanger the very successful volunteering initiatives funded by private sector and others which rely on the existence of a volunteering infrastructure.

Research shows that volunteering makes a significant contribution to the personal, social and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities. The ONS values the ‘output’ of regular formal volunteers at £23.9bn nationally. In addition, the DWP and Cabinet Office recently estimated that the wellbeing value to frequent formal volunteers themselves is around £70bn. In other words, a modest investment in volunteering produces significant added value.

VAS is happy to discuss refocussing the volunteering element to ensure it aligns with the changing environment and priorities around the role of the voluntary and community sector. VAS therefore calls on Swindon Borough Council to reverse the cut in support for volunteering and to engage in a constructive dialogue about how this can be best used for the social and economic benefit of Swindon communities.

Tim Ward
Chair
Voluntary Action Swindon

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