Serious short-term funding issues for the third sector overshadow strong mid-term potential
The March 6th edition of "Eye on Wales" focused on how the Big Society agenda is viewed by representatives of the country's third sector organisations and what they feel central government priorities should be.
Though facing local government funding cuts over the next 3 years of only 7%, compared with an average of 28% in England, it's clear that some organisations in Wales are already in jeopardy - such as that of Dawn Price, whose 20-year old learning disabled charity, People First, faces closure at month's end, having been unable to secure funding to match a 3-year government grant. For her, the Big Society vision is a lot less relevant than the immediate survival of an entity that serves 300 local people. Her views were echoed by Steve Garrett of Riverside Community Market Association, who noted that as that most local planning decisions are made at local level, the UK government needs to do less exhorting of people to be enterprising and a lot more in terms of actually dismantling the obstacles that prevent them doing just that. These sentiments were echoed by Wales Council for Voluntary Action
's Phil Jarrold, who noted that half of the country's 750 charities expect their income drop over the coming year, adding that the government in London needs to devote more time to listening to people at the sharp end of service delivery rather than potentially undermining the sector's independence. The best way to embed the Big Society, he believes, is to combine the encouragement of community activities with adequate funding of local services.
So what role can the Big Society Bank play in securing a sustainable future for community organisations? David Jones of the Wales Office notes that, while the Welsh Assembly had initially deployed funds from the country's own dormant accounts, the country's third sector organisations will now be eligible to apply for loans from the £200,000 being made available to the Big Society Bank via Project Merlin. Phillip Blond noted that this new initiative would be a platform that will provide much-needed mass capital to small local enterprises in Wales and elsewhere.