Thursday, 10 March 2011

Now it's really frustrating

Last week I thought the long wait was over and announcements about funding for our services were immiment, but 7 days on and we are no further forward. In 2010-2011 we received nearly £500,000 from Newcastle City Council in the form of grants and contracts mainly for work with families, we still don't know how much of that will continue after 31st March.

Prudently we issued 'at risk of redundancy' notices to staff (40% of all our workers) in those services in January and have been working through the consultation process with them since then. This month we are having to tell them their jobs are ending on 31st March. We do not have the reserves to pay people after that, there is no alternative but to let skilled and experienced people go.

I have been going to team meetings of staff in this predicament. Is is impressive that although they are extremely worried for themselves, their first concern is for the children and families they work with, people who are among the most vulnerable in our society. They want to be able to make 'good endings' with each family, their professionalism cannot be faulted but time is running out. Should they tell families now that support will cease at the end of this month? But that would only add to the burden vulnerable people already carry. Or should they wait a little longer in the hope it all works out OK? It worries them other services may not be there either to refer families to, so families could be left with little or no support. It is barely acceptable to string staff along to the very last moment waiting for announcements about money but another thing entirely to take away support from families and children in need with no warning.

Our family support services in Newcastle utilise a lot of trained and willing volunteers too - very topical in the 'Big Society' but actually we have been doing it for years. We have been talking to them about the financial situation. They too put the children and families needs first and are still prepared to take on new work even though they know there could be no paid back-up for them if the funding stops.

So, I had hoped by now we would know where we stood and be able to plan (to set a budget!) but instead we have a continuation of the uncertainty which began before Christmas but now it is really frustrating.

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