Magazine article Public Finance

Fair Deal for Third Sector

Magazine article Public Finance

Fair Deal for Third Sector

Article excerpt

TIMES ARE TOUGH for third sector organisations - especially for those that rely heavily on public funding. More than 2,000 charities and community groups face budget cuts as local authorities reduce or even completely withdraw their funding, accordingto research by anti- cuts organisation False Economy.

The research, based on Freedom of Information responses from councils across England, shows that charities can expect net funding reductions of more than £110m this year. The final figure is likely to be even higher since some large councils have yet to decide where the axe will fall.

Action on Hearing Loss is among many disability-related charities that are feeling the pinch. Formerly known as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, it has a staff of more than 1,000 and a turnover of £45m. Around 45% of its income comes from public sources.

The charity's activities include advising people on how to look after their hearing, funding research into hearing loss and campaigning on behalf of the people it supports. It provides a variety of services, ranging from adult social care for profoundly deaf people with additional needs to community-based services for those with mild hearing loss. In addition, it sells products such as doorbells that flash, rather than make a noise, and listening devices that amplify sounds. It is this area that has been most badly hit by public sector austerity measures.

Paul Breckell, the charity's managing director of corporate resources, says: 'In relation to delivering services on behalf of local authorities, our experience has been that while there is understandable pressure on pricing and for us to be as efficient as possible, the demand hasn't gone away.

What's more challenging is where in the past there has been more discretionary spending on products and services. Our turnover in terms of product sales to the public sector is significantly down year on year.'

In fact, sales in the first quarter of this year fell by 25%. Breckell is confident that the charity can manage this but is concerned that people with disabilities will bear a disproportionate part of the austerity burden because they do not have a voice in local or national decision-making. 'The key for us is to make sure that the 10 million people in the UK who have got some degree of hearing loss, particularly the half million people considered to be profoundly deaf, get a fair deal in these challenging times,' he says.

One area where they are getting a raw deal is job opportunities. With unemployment high across the UK and employment support funds for people with disabilities declining, it is becoming harder to get people with hearing loss back into work. Yet withdrawing the support that would enable many of them to be economically active can end up as the more expensive option, according to Breckell. 'So we are trying to keep a close eye on the holistic economic impact of what is going on.'

Breckell says he has always wanted to work in organisations that support people in difficult circumstances. He began his career at the Audit Commission and qualified with CIPFA while working there as a senior auditor.

After almost five years with the commission, he left to manage the finance team at Mildmay, an HIV/AIDS charity with centres in east London and Kampala, Uganda. That eventually led to a job with the much larger Church Mission Society where, at the age of just 28, he was appointed finance director - and found himself on a steep learning curve in a role covering IT, property and pensions, as well as finance. …

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