Big doubts about the Big Society

The future of David Cameron’s Big Society split a group of Hampshire business leaders and charity professionals down the middle at the latest Wilkins Kennedy Round table event.

Although few of the delegates believed the Big Society was doomed to failure, just a handful were convinced it would ultimately work, with the majority finding it too tight to call.

The group, which featured representatives from some of the region’s biggest charities, heard that many good causes are already planning for worst case scenarios and are focusing on diversifying income streams.

Meanwhile, charities faced competition not only from private businesses tendering for local contracts they’ve traditionally enjoyed a monopoly on, but national charities also bidding for small local pots of money in order to make their ends meet.

The worst is still to come for the troubled charity sector, with forecasts putting a cloud over the sector for the next 3-5 years.   Despite that, one delegate reported a charity already losing more than £90,000 worth of funding for a Hampshire project, which had fallen victim to the cuts. Another reported a 25 per cent cut in project funding from the county council.

Some, which built up reserves in the boom years, are now living off the rapidly dwindling cash pile and wondering how long they can go on. One solution is mergers, which have the benefit of reducing overheads, but the meeting heard it was by no means the simple option and could leave end users worse off.

One delegate said the feeling in the charity sector was that the Big Society had been happening for years anyway. But there was cynicism about several core planks of the Government’s approach to the sector.

Major doubts were voiced over the value of a large influx of volunteers, who frequently lack vital skill sets and are expensive and time consuming to manage. At the same time the goal of increasing philanthropy to fill the funding shortfall, was branded at best a long term ambition.

Ultimately, the group were united in the belief that Hampshire’s legion of charities are well supported and largely well equipped to navigate the “choppy waters ahead”.

For details of the next Round Table or to attend, contact Claire Peers on claire.peers@wilkinskennedy.com

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