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Charity pledges to protect frontline services despite planning to cut costs due to pandemic

ByPeter Barron

Jul 23, 2020 #charity

A CHARITY has issued a reassurance that its frontline services will continue as normal despite having to plan for office closures and redundancies due to the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.

Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington says it is faced with the “enormously difficult decision” of having to begin consultations over reducing costs in order to protect core services and secure the long-term future of the organisation.

The proposal is for four offices to close permanently in Richmond, Northallerton, Harrogate and Darlington, with seven roles – a quarter of the workforce – placed at risk of redundancy. The offices have been temporarily closed during the lockdown.

However, chief executive, Helen Hunter, has stressed that crucial frontline services – part of the charity’s coronavirus response – will be unaffected. These include information and advice; the delivery of hot meals to vulnerable elderly people; befriending services to combat loneliness; and shopping and prescription collection and delivery.

Support groups and activities will also be reopened when safe to do so, with alternative venues being sought for those held in closed centres.

The office earmarked for closure in Darlington is in Beaumont Street, where information and advice, as well as veterans’ services are managed. Under the plan, those services would be transferred to the nearby Bradbury House building, which is owned by the charity.

Home care services, which were operating exclusively in Darlington before the crisis, will also continue with PPE and social distancing in place, while the Day Centre in Darlington will open when safe to do so.

Mrs Hunter said: “This proposal is a highly regrettable consequence of the huge financial impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the entire charity sector, but our absolute priority is to maintain all our frontline services in these difficult times.”

In April, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Richmond MP, Rishi Sunak, announced £750m of extra funding for frontline charities across the UK, following widespread calls to help the sector survive the global crisis. The Big Lottery Fund has been tasked with distributing that money, but Mr Sunak conceded that it would not be enough to match every pound of funding charities would have received this year.

Mrs Hunter added: “We have been able to draw on some financial support from the National Emergencies Trust, via the local authorities and community foundations, and we are very grateful for the additional funding announced by the Chancellor.

“However, the reality is that, with so many charities needing help, the funding has been slow coming through at a time when revenue generation through our fundraising activities has stopped.

“Therefore, the only option we have is to look at reducing costs, and tough decisions are having to be faced to ensure we protect frontline services and give the charity a sustainable future.

“We are extremely fortunate to have a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, doing their utmost to support older people in these unprecedented times, and no decisions will be finalised until the staff affected have been fully consulted on the proposal.”

Consultations will continue into July and, if the reorganisation goes ahead, the charity aims to work more in local spaces, with discussions taking place with other charities about sharing offices. This would enable services to be spread over a wider area in addition to Bradbury House, in Darlington, and the Swadford Centre, in Skipton, remaining open and being developed.

Mrs Hunter is due to give evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People on Wednesday 8th July via a virtual meeting with MPs. She has also written to the local MPs whose constituencies are affected by the cost-reduction proposals in North Yorkshire and Darlington.

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