Suffolk volunteer groups face cash cutbacks

VOLUNTARY groups hin Suffolk ave been warned to expect major grant cuts – just as they are asked to take over some of the services provided by the county council.

Letters warning of likely cuts have been signed by Anna McCreadie, the interim director of adult services, and Simon White, the interim head of children's and young people's services, at Suffolk County Council.

Jonathan Moore, from the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations (SAVO), said the timing and the tone of the letters were unfortunate as the sector tried to prepare for a future where it became increasingly important.

He said: 'It is a bit disappointing that these letters have now started arriving as the voluntary sector is starting to look at how it can take on some of the work of the county council.

'These are letters sent out to a range of voluntary bodies but they will inevitably cause some concern just as groups are looking at their future needs.'

Mr Moore said if voluntary groups were to take up running major services that were currently provided by the council, they would expect direct financial help.

But losing grants in the immediate future could make it difficult for them to prepare for the day when they took over the operation of services.

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However, he accepted one element in the letter, adding: 'It does say just because a group has traditionally been given a certain amount by the county it can no longer rely on that.

'That means every organisation will be looked on according to its merits and its needs – and that is good.'

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard was concerned that the council was giving all the wrong signals at a time when it should be encouraging the voluntary sector.

She said: 'On the one hand, the county is spending �750,000 on setting up the Suffolk Circle which knows nothing about the area, while on the other it is threatening the funding for organisations which have worked here for years.

'Why have they sent out a round robin letter like this? Surely it would be better to talk to the organisations individually to find out what their hopes and needs are.

'There has been a woeful lack of consultation with the groups directly affected by these decisions.'

Graham Newman, county councillor with responsibility for children and young people, said he understood the concern felt by some voluntary groups – but the letter had to be sent out.

He said: 'It is certainly true the council will be looking to work ever closer with the voluntary sector, but we don't know when all the arrangements for that will fall into place.

'This letter refers to a situation that will arise in April next year, in six months' time, and we felt it was necessary to point out the situation that is facing the authority.

'I can well understand organisations will want to be able to prepare for any increased role and we will be talking to them extensively over the next few months.'