Fears for 26,000 voluntary sector jobs in region

MORE than 26,000 jobs in the voluntary sector are at risk in the region over the coming years as local authority cuts begin to bite among the region's most vulnerable communities.

Leading charity bosses have warned that Yorkshire's most disadvantaged areas will be hardest hit in the fall-out from the savage council budget cuts announced last week following the Government's spending review.

The Yorkshire and Humber Forum, which represents charities, community organisations and voluntary groups from across the region, has undertaken an analysis of local authority cuts which suggests over a third of all voluntary organisations in Yorkshire will be badly affected, with some 26,000 jobs at risk.

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Deputy director Alison Haskins said: "The cuts will bite the deepest in areas where there are the lowest levels of social capital as well as the lowest levels of employment. Hull, Bradford, Doncaster and North East Lincolnshire are four of the five most disadvantaged areas of our region, and are also the districts that may find it hardest to recover from the recession."

The Yorkshire Post is currently running its Communities in Need appeal, in aid of small-scale charities and grassroots organisations around the region. Readers and businesses are being asked to contribute to a regional fighting fund, with grants to be distributed to needy groups early in the new year.

Ms Haskins said that in the Yorkshire region, half of all voluntary-sector funding comes via the public purse through grants and contracts, compared to an average of 36 per cent across England as a whole. This leaves Yorkshire charities in a far more vulnerable position.

Job losses will be keenly felt. In addition to its 300,000 volunteers, the region's voluntary sector employs more than 70,000 people in paid work.

In Doncaster alone, Ms Haskins warned that over 1,000 people will be at risk of losing their jobs among organisations which simply cannot function without local authority money. Numbers are similar in Hull, while Bradford's voluntary sector could be facing the loss of nearly 1,500 jobs. North East Lincolnshire faces cuts on the same scale, and has 370 jobs in the balance.

"These areas will have to contend with cuts of 8.9 per cent, the highest across the UK, which in itself is bad enough," she said. "But there is real danger that the 'double whammy' of spending cuts on both public and voluntary sector services will have a profound effect on communities.

"These areas will experience a combination of economic hardship and reduced public services at the same time as having less civil society resources to address the ongoing problems their residents will face."

Ms Haskins added her voice to the chorus of criticism from charity bosses of David Cameron's "Big Society" message, which calls on volunteers to fill the gap when public services are withdrawn.

The Communities in Need appeal has repeatedly heard from charity workers who question how volunteer organisations can be sustained at all if their core funding is withdrawn.

Ms Haskins said: "As the Government seeks to implement and develop its 'Big Society', there is an expectation that the voluntary sector will help to fill the gaps created by the withdrawal of the public sector. These figures, especially for the most deprived areas mentioned, show how difficult it will be to do achieve this."

Rosie Winterton, Labour MP for Doncaster Central, said last night: "I know from my time as Minister for Yorkshire the very important role the voluntary sector plays and this is another example of the consequences of the Conservative-led government's approach, which is to make cuts too quickly and too deeply, without fully thinking through the effects."