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Cuts may prove to be a vital wake-up call to charities

19 Jul 2010 Voices

Andy Williamson explores why the forthcoming cuts should be welcomed by the sector.

Andy Williamson explores why the forthcoming cuts should be welcomed by the sector.

It is difficult to escape the two words “government cuts” whenever reading any newspaper or watching and listening to the broadcast media. Almost everyone is going to express an opinion for reasons of politics or vested interest; and in the midst of such a heated maelstrom, most facts and reasoned argument will disappear.

It is an inescapable truth that government must reduce its excessive spending; all parties are agreed on that fact. It serves no further purpose to talk about who is to blame, listen to the public sector and it is all the “greedy bankers” yet listen to the private sector and it is years of excessive public sector spending on “non-jobs”.

The reality of course, is that it is a bit of both with a few more things aside. What now needs to happen is to disregard that debate and concentrate on creating a better Britain. Civil society, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations can and should be a vital part of that recovery.

However the voluntary sector is not immune to the pressures facing the public sector and in many cases, far too many in truth, they are inextricably linked. This is why the cuts can actually prove to be a good thing in the long term.

First of all society probably needs to define “a charity” better. Is a charity that is wholly reliant on state funding anything but another branch of the public sector in reality? Is one that is part-funded or majority-funded by the state providing a value-for-money service meeting needs that otherwise could not be met? Perhaps the majority of UK citizens view a charity as part of Mr Cameron’s 'Big Society' providing something that is either needed or desirable that is not funded in any way by the state.

Much like the public sector, the voluntary sector has exploded with a growth over the last ten years with seemingly endless funds available via national or local authorities yet the question of whether such services are needed or even desired is often ignored.

There is no god-given right to exist as a charity simply because you can

We have now reached a situation, for the first time in 15 years, where authorities are having to ask such questions and start to question how funds are spent.  The voluntary sector doesn’t like it and is already resorting to the left-wing shock tactics of “people are suffering”, “vital services will be lost” etc…without putting any solid arguments in place to justify such statements.

Reform is badly needed. Charities should be examined much more closely than happens at present and should only exist if the criteria of needed or desirable services are delivered in a cost-effective manner; and such services are measured by impact and outcomes rather than on subjective opinion.

I know of numerous charities that raise funds but deliver very poor services; some are positively hostile to the idea of fundraising to meet their financial needs and adopt the view that “we should be funded”.

No-one has an automatic right to funding and I would argue that if a charity or not-for-profit organisation can clearly demonstrate a need or societal desire for their services then they can attract voluntary funding simply by getting proper fundraisers in place and being more savvy about key messages.

People will support a good cause; that has been proved for many years, but what they don’t readily accept any more is a simple platitude or expectation of supporting such.

Charities must clearly demonstrate their worth and their impact with meaningful services, not just to the donating public, but to government, local authorities and regulatory bodies. It is too easy to arrogantly bat away concerns as “interference” or “lack of appreciation/understanding”.

There is no god-given right to exist as a charity simply because you can. That is why the government cuts could prove to be the vital wake-up call that has long been needed in the voluntary sector. Some services may well disappear but that won’t necessarily be a bad thing. The good ones will survive and thrive and that is what is more important.

Andy Williamson is chief executive of the Warwickshire Northamptonshire Air Ambulance

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