Volunteer service faces axe

A SERVICE that has helped thousands of volunteers find work placements is facing the axe as a result of Government spending cuts.

The Volunteer Centre, which is run by Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), is set to close in April with the loss of six full and part-time staff members.

The service, which provides a "job centre" role for voluntary organisations, has been running for 24 years and given guidance, information and advice to 10,000 volunteers.

This year alone, 759 volunteers have been interviewed at the centre, which is based at HVDA's Victoria Road office.

More than half of the people through the door were aged under 25, and around 60 per cent of them were unemployed.

Bosses say they have no choice as the centre relies on 134,000 of funding from the Government's Working Neighbourhoods Fund (WNF), which has been axed as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The 5.5m WNF fund is distributed locally by Hartlepool Borough Council.

HVDA manager Keith Bayley said they have been unsuccessful in other funding bids and while they are still waiting to hear back on other applications, he said it is likely to close.

He argued that without the centre many voluntary community groups would find it more difficult to recruit suitable volunteers and those wanting to volunteer won't be fully informed on the available opportunities.

Mr Bayley said: "For many people who are unemployed, volunteering is the first step in building confidence and moving individuals towards training, education and paid work.

"For many people on incapacity benefits volunteering can build self esteem which is particularly important for people facing mental health issues.

"For the people of Hartlepool many vital services are supported and delivered by volunteers to all sections of the community, the loss of the Volunteer Centre will result in groups facing greater difficulty in recruiting appropriate volunteers and the loss of services to the local community.

"The loss of the specialist staff who provide this service, and have many years of experience, will be difficult to replace even if funding should become available in the future.

"Given the cuts in the public sector and the reduction in their services to the community, the role of volunteers to be involved in community issues and responding to local needs will be diminished at a time when their efforts are most needed.

"This is particularly disappointing in light of the Government stated policy of the 'Big Society', part of which involves increasing the opportunities to volunteer."

A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "We are committed to addressing the underlying disparities between areas, supporting vulnerable people and helping those who want to get into work.

"To deliver the growth these areas need, we believe local enterprise partnerships will deliver a more efficient approach to business growth and regeneration.

"They will be able to apply to the new 1.4bn Regional Growth Fund with a particular focus on jobs and growth in areas that are heavily reliant on public sector spending."