England's network of volunteer centres is at risk of "fragmentation" because of an average 12 per cent local authority funding cut, warns Justin Davis Smith.
Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, warned that the sector was at risk of losing expertise and know-how after the annual return for volunteer centres, conducted by the Institute for Volunteering Research, showed that local government funding across the network declined on average by 12 per cent between 2009/10 and 2010/11.
Face-to-face contact with volunteering centres is at particular risk, says Volunteering England chair Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs (pictured), who said: "We recognise the role of new technologies in delivering a modern volunteering offer, but this is by no means a replacement for the face-to-face contact and personal guidance that is integral to supporting people into volunteering. It is this personal service that enables those who most need help to make the transition into employment, training and further education.”
Volunteering England has learned of five volunteer centres losing core funding in the annual return data, with a total of around £300,000 lost to these centres, averaging about £60,000 each.
Last week Voluntary Action Islington urged Islington Council to "think again" on plans that would mean the end of council support for its services, totalling £55,000 annually. Islington Council has proposed to develop volunteering through an organisation called the Isedon Partnership, a pioneer in central government's 'free schools' initiative, rather than through the volunteer centre.
"The Volunteer Centre in Islington has been accredited as meeting national standards in work with volunteers. It helps thousands of local people to take part in volunteering. Over 500 local organisations promote volunteering opportunities through the centre and many local people help to run the centre.
"We had put forward proposals, with partners, to increase the reach of the centre and increase the number of local people recruited and placed as volunteers," lamented Mike Sherriff, the centre's chief executive.
Richmond Volunteer Centre too lost £30,000 of annual funding from the London Borough of Richmond on Thames.
Volunteering England advised that the centres which most recently lost their funding have been accredited by the organisation as obtaining an "excellent standard across the six core functions": brokerage, marketing, good practice development, developing volunteer opportunities, policy response and campaigning and strategic development of volunteering.
As yet, no volunteer centre has been forced to close, a spokesman for Volunteering England advised, but the organisation will be talking to government ministers about how it can help improve the situation for the centres.