As the Budget confirms, the age of austerity is well and truly here to stay, with the Chancellor promising £1 billion of cuts in public sector pay and pensions. The question facing charities is how to survive in such a stark climate – and how to continue to deliver their good work at a fraction of the cost.
One of the things we at Trident Reach the People Charity are exploring is how to reduce our hourly rate – our combined staffing, project and management costs per hour. Local authorities set maximum hourly rates for contracts, so charities need to research innovative models of flagship projects in their area and beyond, to learn lessons on how to be more cost-effective.
The voluntary sector also has to look at reducing reliance on the state by exploring alternative sources of funding such as the Big Lottery Fund; and bigger organisations increasingly need to partner with smaller players with specialist skills to win funds.
More and more, we need to demonstrate our worth, in terms of both our social impact and cold hard cash. Exactly how much does our work save the public sector purse? What is the return on investment? This is what those holding the public purse strings want us all to prove, and it will become ever more critical for charities, particularly in the light of the Budget’s confirmation of a £119 billion welfare cap in 2015/16.
The days when working in this sector was perceived as a well-meaning, ‘soft’ career are long gone – we have to be much more tough and business-like. But that shouldn’t make us lose sight of why we are here.
Having spent days number-crunching and dashing around meetings, I recently visited one of our care homes where I met a man with severe learning disabilities. Despite the fact that he couldn’t speak, we built up a rapport. When he gestured for me to help him on with his coat, staff said this was his way of saying he liked me and wanted to be friends.
The fact he felt comfortable and safe enough to reach out in this way to someone he had only just met reminded me why I love my job and why, as charities, we all need to rise to the Budget’s financial challenges and carry on our vital work.
John Shah is the head of business development for Trident Reach the People Charity