Ahead of the Aberdeen City Council budget vote on Wednesday March 1st which could see major cuts to many vital services in the city, ACVO TSI Chief Executive, Maggie Hepburn and Chair, Paul O’Connor wrote to city Councillors to express concern about the severe negative impact some of the proposed savings options would have on the Third Sector in Aberdeen.
The full letter sent reads as follows;
“ACVO is committed to building on our long-standing partnership with Aberdeen City Council as we work together for the benefit of our city. As a responsible partner and the voice of the Third Sector in Aberdeen, it is also our duty to point out where we think the Council might take the wrong course of action. “
The situation in Aberdeen is becoming desperate and the proposals to reduce or remove Third Sector funding (including culture) and to decommission Third Sector contracts are unacceptable to us, our members and the wider Third Sector. The proposal to remove the Fairer Aberdeen Fund is particularly egregious given its focus. Please – do not proceed with any cuts to the Third Sector.
Large parts of our sector are operating on a knife-edge with rapidly rising costs and huge increases in demand for services combined with reductions in income. Whilst ACVO is able to offer some support for organisations looking for funding outwith the public sector, we cannot even begin to replace the level of funding being proposed given the crisis already on our hands. There is simply not enough replacement funding available to sustain the Third Sector if these cuts are approved.
Charitable trusts and foundations are experiencing unprecedented numbers of requests for funding whilst their investment portfolios are yet to recover from the disastrous performance of the past 3 years. Almost every funding opportunity is over-subscribed and extremely competitive. Many of our members now do not have the resources to spend time applying for every pot of money that is available as they are consumed by the day-to-day operations of their organisation – understaffed and underfunded as it is.
In addition to the proposals to reduce or remove funding from Third Sector organisations, we are equally concerned by any attempt to make savings through the use of volunteers. This would be in direct conflict with the Volunteer Charter which states that “Volunteers should not carry out duties formerly carried out by paid workers nor should they be used to disguise the effects of non-filled vacancies or cuts in services.” We cannot support any move towards this working model. Community Empowerment is about strengthening communities by enabling them to build their own solutions to the challenges they face – it is not about the public sector removing services and putting the burden on communities to replace them.
Recruiting and retaining volunteers is particularly difficult at the moment. Our members are telling us that many volunteers are reaching burn-out as the level of demand for their services has grown exponentially over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic followed immediately by the Costs Crisis. Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is not “free”. The cost of volunteering has increased as transport and other incidental costs have risen. The sector is losing volunteers as people find themselves unable to continue due to the cost or have returned to work/taken on more hours to fill the increasing gap in their own household budgets. Any call for additional volunteers to take on roles previously done by the Council will spread willing volunteers even more thinly across the city.
We understand the financial situation you are faced with but, as the public sector is squeezed and reduced, the Third Sector cannot be expected to pick up the pieces whilst simultaneously facing damaging cuts to funding. We ask that you consider the immediate effect that any cut to the Third Sector will have on the most vulnerable people in our city, and the long term effect on the sustainability of the Third Sector to deliver positive change within our communities.
We remain committed to our partnership with Aberdeen City Council to deliver improvements to the City, and our door is always open to discuss how we can work together to do this in the most effective way.
If you’re inclined, please email Councillors in your wards before tomorrow’s vote to raise the issue – contact details can be found at https://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/