Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Our West Sussex charities

Did you know there are more than 185,000 registered charities in the UK? From the very large such as Macmillan or the RNLI to some very small local charities.

We are a nation of givers and we donate money, time and support to a plethora of charities depending on our own values and causes we support. We have many local Charities in West Sussex – something we should be very proud of as we know charities make a difference to someone.

The Sussex Community Foundation raises funds to provide grants of around £2million a year to local charities and local community groups across the whole of Sussex.

On Saturday they held their first Charities Fair and I came away truly inspired. It was a really great initiative, with thought provoking speakers together with charities exhibiting what they do. All the charities, large and small, had one mission in common – a  passion for what they do and the difference they make.

As I chatted to the different groups I learned that some charities had been started up by a couple of parents or friends who want to help and make a difference. And they really are - it is absolutely inspiring. From Auntie Val’s; a charity supporting people with disabilities well known locally for a wide range of delicious jams and preserves, to Asperger’s Voice, Blueprint, St Wilfrid’s Hospice and too many more to mention – we couldn’t do without them.

Many charities work closely with services across West Sussex. In 2015/16 West Sussex Age UK Money Advice Service advised 5,315 people of which 4,970 were given benefit advice. Indeed the value of additional benefits accessed by West Sussex Age UK was 1.9 million- that’s a big number.

We, as West Sussex County Council, commission or purchase services from many charities too so of course they are concerned about our challenging financial situation – which is the same for all county and unitary councils across the country.

One area of this which has had a lot of focus is our review of our funding for supported housing, announced at the end of August.

I cannot stress enough how much I understand the worry for charities and communities for an announcement like this.

What I would say though is we have a duty to balance the books this year and the next and the next and to do that we must look at every area of spending and make sure every penny we spend is being spent in the right way for the communities we serve.

Having said that I would like to give some reassurance.

The charities affected have joined together to form a consortium; this is a great way of helping us to make sure we are involving and engaging everyone we need to. West Sussex officers have been engaging with this group and the Cabinet Member Amanda Jupp is involved and meeting various groups listening to what they have to say.

We have also set up a working group including the County Council, District Council, police and health representatives so we are all working in this area understanding each other demands and what needs to be done. Working collectively sharing data and information helps all of us be more effective in what and how we are supporting these charities.

This is just the start and we have some way to go but for the first time we are all working collectively on an issue that concerns us all.

We have a number of contracts with the supported housing providers, some of them have not been reviewed for some time, so it is absolutely right that we review them with our partners. No different with your house or car insurance – when it comes up for renewal most of us look around check the deal we have meets what we need at the price we can afford.

So let’s be clear at present there are no cuts – but there is a review.

We will undertake that review fairly taking everyone’s views into consideration, look at the impact of any change and see where it can be mitigated, we will work collectively with all partners.

In the meantime we await the outcome of the Government’s spending review – it is estimated by the Local Government Association and the County Council Network that there needs to be a government injection of funding of £3.5 billion for Adults Services and £2 billion for Children’s Services which just shows the scale of the situation. I am not too hopeful that there will be anything like this sum of money available – but I do hope there is a serious acknowledgement of the very severe financial plight all counties and unitaries are currently working in and yet still delivering services.

 A little fiscal easing would go some way to help us in delivering more and I think that is something we would all want.

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