Social enterprise ‘squeezed out’ as council work dries up

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A SOCIAL enterprise in Sheffield has been forced to cut jobs and curb its charitable activities as its business from the council dries up.

St Mary’s Community Centre says 83 per cent of income from conference and meeting room bookings with Sheffield Council has disappeared in the last year.

It follows the authority’s decision to outsource its facilities-booking operation to a private company.

The community centre, which provides conference space, meeting rooms and catering facilities in the former church on Bramall Lane, uses its income to fund charitable projects such as youth clubs and English language teaching.

But bosses at the centre say those charitable activities are now at risk, after the organisation’s income went into freefall.

St Mary’s director Graham Duncan told The Star many other charities in the city had also been hit, as direct funding is reduced and public spending squeezed.

“Sheffield’s bedrock charities, doing solid community work, are being squeezed out,” he said.

“I think we have been treated really badly. I don’t know where this will leave the whole Big Society project in Sheffield.”

The news comes as new research reveals that 140 Sheffield charities have received cuts in direct council funding.

The figures, obtained by the union-backed anti-cuts campaign False Economy, reveals Sheffield charities to be among the worst hit in the country.

Mr Duncan said the problems at St Mary’s started in April, after Sheffield Council outsourced its facilities management work to Kier.

Kier was asked to make £1.4 million of savings this year and has cut back on hiring meeting rooms, as well as axing 40 staff.

Mr Duncan said: “The work just dried up. We weren’t looking for grants, we were looking to do business with them, and we have been squeezed out.”

He said St Mary’s was paid £9,000 by the council for use of meeting rooms between April and July. In the same period last year the centre did £53,000 of business with the council, a reduction of 83 per cent.

The centre has already been forced to make five people redundant and is embarking on a second round of cuts which will see a similar number of staff go.

Every remaining staff member has taken a 15 per cent pay cut.

The organisation’s Sharrow Pie Experiment, an innovative social centre on London Road, has been closed down and youth clubs and older people’s clubs are likely to fall by the wayside.

Sheffield Council and Kier said: “Because the council has faced, and continues to face, massive reductions in funding we need to ensure the best value for money for the taxpayer and there has been a reduction in the number of events and meetings that the council puts on.

“In addition, since the council took ownership of the Moorfoot building the need to hire rooms externally has greatly reduced.

“Unfortunately these factors have had a knock-on effect on venues like St Mary’s.”