'Charities will bear brunt of cuts in public sector,' says Dame Suzi

Charities will struggle to fill the gaps left by public service cuts, Dame Suzi Leather, the chair of the Charity Commission warned yesterday, suggesting that vulnerable groups could see vital facilities axed.

Dame Suzi warned that although "in political terms, this sector has arrived" with the coalition Government's "big society" pledge, many charities faced an uncertain future as they struggled to survive "the economic ice-age". She told a charities conference in central London: "So we have a government that says it's committed to developing the sector... That's on the one hand. On the other hand we have the cuts. The cuts are going to come quick and they are going to go deep. The Prime Minister himself confirmed this week that the spending reductions we face will 'affect our whole way of life'. The way of life for charities will have to change along with everyone else's."

Charities have reported growing concern about the continuing economic downturn. A survey conducted by the commission in September 2008 found that just under 40 per cent of charities had been negatively affected. But by March this year nearly 60 per cent of charities reported being affected.

"Given these figures, it's questionable whether the voluntary and charity sector will be able to fill all the gaps left by cuts to public services," Dame Suzi said. "In many cases, they have already been that public service."

Research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found that 23,000 charities rely on local government funding for more than half of their income. Many of these are also seeing greater demand for their services during the economic downturn.

In addition, 60 per cent of charities relying on investment income had seen their yield decline, Dame Suzi added. She warned that the Charity Commission would have lost 178 staff by March next year, a 30 per cent reduction over the past six years, and said: "I am concerned the Commission can't continue to deliver all its present services and functions while absorbing further significant funding cuts."

A member of the Labour Party, Dame Suzi was made a Labour peer in in January 2006. She was appointed chair of the Charity Commission in August 2006 and was re-appointed last year for a second three-year term.

She has been attacked for her party political links with critics suggesting that she had been appointed by Labour to pursue private schools after charity law was changed to remove their automatic right to charitable status.

The Conservatives are expected to appoint someone they consider more sympathetic to their approach when the appointment next comes up for renewal.

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