Another budget, another round of public funding cuts.
Whatever the efficacy of George Osborne’s latest round of cuts to public services, one thing is increasingly clear: while government backs British business to flourish and focuses on ensuring the UK is ‘living within its means’, someone must fill the growing public services gap.
When projecting their future spending power a couple of years back, the London Borough of Barnet predicted that without dramatic changes over the next few years, the council would be unable to provide almost any public services – no parks, no libraries, no leisure centres, not even bin collections.
It has since been labelled ‘the Graph of Doom’, and with cuts continuing that bleak outlook for public services is fast becoming a reality.
David Finch, the leader of Essex County Council, confirmed similar fears this week. With the number of 85 year olds in Essex set to double in the next five years, pressure on their public services is growing – yet Finch suggested there is a “giant disconnect” between government spending cuts and local authorities' ability to deliver service.
But out of this doom-laden future a huge opportunity is emerging, for all of us to do more in supporting the people stuck in the vacuum left by public services cuts – while benefitting our own health, wellbeing and the business bottom line.
The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, recently suggested our economy has a secret weapon: volunteering, worth "at least £50bn…possibly £100bn" to the economy.
Britain’s army of 15 million volunteers will become even more important in the face of public cuts – and the number of volunteers doubles when you factor those who occasionally help out their local community or a neighbour.
With its rich history of corporate philanthropy, big business and the City can play a role in nurturing our volunteering economy and plugging the public services gap.
We’ve seen first-hand at Neighbourly, through working with businesses like Marks & Spencer, the huge difference that this volunteer ‘army’ can make. It’s not just about painting walls or building dry stone walls - we’ve seen accountants training charities to manage their budgets, chefs writing recipes for meals made of surplus food from supermarkets, and store managers supporting community farms to set up farm shops.
This budget also saw Osborne set aside over £100m to help tackle homelessness. Again, our hidden volunteering economy can step up: major homelessness charities have underlined the importance of preventative measures like food aid, life skills training and family support to reduce the risk of people ending up homeless.
But many more trained volunteers are needed to get this kind of early support to those who need it.
We’ll always need experts to help deliver core public services. But we must also embrace and empower our volunteers, harnessing their skills to ensure we leave nobody behind.
The Prime Minister himself even suggested today that business can play a greater role in mentoring young people and helping them find their place in employment.
If businesses are willing to take the lead by lending their skills to local communities and addressing their staff volunteering policies, we may just be able to help bend that curve on the Graph of Doom.