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December 17, 2008

Axe falls on North Edinburgh community groups

Under the Concordat, Councils have been given much more flexibility to determine their spending priorities. The new Fairer Scotland Fund from which the community sector receives much its funding is an example. Groups in North Edinburgh have been shocked to find that this new-found flexibility has resulted in nearly £800k of cuts

Popular local projects may close and others will have to drastically reduce their services following decisions made by Forth Neighbourhood Partnership’s funding panel last month. The scale of the cuts is stunning – Forth’s funding has been slashed by nearly £800,000 – and news of the 17 November decisions was greeted by shock, anger and dismay by community organisations across the area.

The scale of the cuts was confirmed at a packed and highly-charged Neighbourhood Partnership meeting in West Pilton Neighbourhood Centre last week.

All over North Edinburgh voluntary boards and management committees are holding crisis meetings to see what can be done to salvage services. For some – among them Muirhouse Millennium Centre and North Edinburgh News – the cuts are so deep that the projects may now be forced to close. Even among the survivors services will be drastically cut back – staff redundancies are inevitable in some organisations while others are likely to reduce opening hours in an attempt to cut costs.

Since the introduction of the Fairer Scotland Fund – dubbed the Unfair Scotland Fund – earlier this year, projects formerly in receipt of Community Regeneration Funding have faced an uncertain future while structures were introduced to oversee the new fund. Seventeen local projects were first granted six months funding, followed by a further three months, and then were twice allocated another month’s funding as the process slowly took shape. Piecemeal funding like this made it impossible for those projects to plan with any confidence, and many lost staff who moved on to more secure employment. Others, who previously used CRF funding to lever in other valuable sources of external funding found this avenue closed to them as there was no certainty about which projects would, and which would not, qualify for the new FSF – and even if they did qualify, what their new level of funding would be. Potential funders walked away.

It was well into the new financial year when Forth Neighbourhood Partnership finally had the information it needed from the Edinburgh Partnership, a little-known body established to oversee community planning in the city, to put the structures in place to disburse the new fund, and later still when Forth’s allocation was decided. Unfortunately for North Edinburgh, the criteria used by the Edinburgh Partnership to allocate the new fund on a city-wide basis saw Forth’s share slashed by nearly £800,000, while more affluent Neighbourhood Partnership areas were given grants for the first time to tackle health inequalities, early intervention and improving employability. The Edinburgh Partnership also decided to ‘top-slice’ 30% of Edinburgh’s allocation for strategic city-wide initiatives, and it was these two decisions, rubber-stamped at meetings of the full council in the City Chambers – that spelt the beginning of the end for some of North Edinburgh’s most well known and respected projects and organisations.

Forth Neighbourhood Partnership’s funding panel, made up of local councillors, representatives from each of the area’s community councils and officials, had the onerous task of looking in detail at 17 projects who had received funding of over £1.8 million last year – but who had now to share a pot of under £1.1 million.

In September each of the projects completed a detailed questionnaire and made presentations to the funding panel, which finally met to make decisions on 17 November following delays caused firstly by the death of Forth councillor Elizabeth Maginnis and then by a possible ‘conflict of interest’ issue over one of the panel members.

The findings of the Panel were intimated to projects the following day. The decisions are listed in the table below:

Peter Strong manager of North Neighbourhood Partnership said: “The Forth NP Fairer Scotland Fund Funding Panel has worked long and hard to arrive at an agreed view on the level of funding to award projects working in Forth to deliver outcomes against the FSF criteria – increasing employment, reducing health inequalities, and reducing the need for early intervention with families. The reduced level of FSF funding compared to Community Regeneration Funding previously available in Forth and the Panel’s decision to only fund activities in Forth ward has meant that all but one project has received less funding than before, with three being disinvested in completely. The Panel took these difficult decisions unanimously having carefully considered all the information provided by projects. All projects will be visited individually by Council staff who will work with them to help identify alternative sources of funding and agree exactly what outcomes they will deliver as a condition of receiving FSF funding.

Worst hit organisation was North Edinburgh Trust (formerly The Pilton Partnership) which saw its core funding halved as well as seeing two of the other projects it oversees – Community Voices and Community Activist Training – axed altogether. Commenting on the cuts, NET manager Ian Cooke said: “I haven’t had a chance to discuss the cuts with the Board yet, but the FSF allocation to North Edinburgh Trust represents a 50% cut in core grant and a 62% cut in our FSF funding. In total we’ve lost about £160,000, which is the equivalent of about five posts. Obviously the organisation and the Board will work to mitigate the impact of this, but a lot will depend on the outcome of several other funding allocations. I would point out that not one person from the Council has spoken to us, never mind given us any advice on how we might address this funding situation.”

NEN Editor Mary Burnside spoke about the impact of the cuts on the community’s newspaper: “Having already lost our funding from Edinburgh Community Newspaper Trust – which the Council cut at the beginning of the financial year – the newspaper has been struggling to survive, but staff and board have been working hard to try and bring in additional income. This 53% cut to our, now, only source of funding means the end for the project unless another funding package can be found. In the meantime all staff will be issued with redundancy notices and we will look at winding up this community newspaper which has been around for over 30 years. I’ve been here for over 19 years and in that time myself and the Board have seen the paper survive many a crisis – but this is the worst. Staff will move on and seek other employment elsewhere, but I feel desperately sad that this area will lose its newspaper – its voice.”

Forth’s three youth organisations – PYCP, MYDG and GYC – share around one third of Forth’s total FSF budget, and talks have been ongoing for some time about possible mergers and making savings through sharing resources. No agreement was reached between the three organisations before the Funding Panel made its decisions, however, and the panel agreed to fund all three organisations at the same level – leaving Granton Youth Centre unscathed but meaning substantial cuts for the Muirhouse and Pilton services.

Lesley Ross, manager at PYCP, pointed out that her organisation is the only one in the area to work with children from five years old and that the funding cut puts vital services in jeopardy. She said: “Parity in funding between the three large youth agencies is understandable if there is parity in the service, but PYCP provides different services to the other organisations. This cut will have a huge impact on how we run our services in the future. With a cut of £47,680 local children, young people, families and the wider community are going to suffer. There will be a significant loss of individual, tailored support – particularly in early intervention which is an area of our specialist work. PYCP often supports very isolated, disengaged and challenging young people to make better informed choices around school, family and their behaviour.

Our health-related work will be reduced, and families will lose the much-needed respite. This cut will also increase the number of young people on the streets, increasing the chances of anti-social behaviour, and there will also be redundancies for local people who have been passionate and committed to working for the project over the years. This cut will compromise PYCP’s services, all in the name of parity and equal distribution of money.”

Councillor Morris Chair of the FSF Panel said: “I can understand the concerns of the local organisations who have received a lesser award from the FSF than they previously received under the CRF. At the NP meeting it was made clear that we have a new fund with new guidelines and less money to fund all the organisations in Forth. We had difficult choices to make but I do think that we made the best of what we had available. Along with the Neighbourhood Management Team I shall be working in the months ahead to try to find funding to bridge the gap between the investment given and the investment needed.”

Many Forth-based projects provide services for clients who live in other Neighbourhood Partnership areas, Drylaw Telford, which is in Inverleith Neighbourhood Partnership, for example, and they have been advised to apply to those Neighbourhood Partnerships for additional funding. However there simply isn’t enough money to make up the shortfall. Inverleith funding panel met for the first time on 17 November and invited bids just last week, but has under £140,000 to allocate next year.

If the FSF situation is bleak enough, there’s likely to be worse news to come. Further cuts of up to £11 million to the Children and Families budget are forecast next year – hitting local projects’ revenue grants once again – and there’s likely to be little respite through Lottery funding either. In the past a number of North Edinburgh projects have been successful in attracting Lottery grants, but with £2.2bn of Big Lottery funding being allocated to support the 2012 London Olympics, Scotland is likely to receive just £25 million to support good causes next year – almost 70% down on this year’s figure.

The New Year looks far from being a happy one for the staff, volunteers and service users of many North Edinburgh projects.