Cash crisis looms for town charity

A MORPETH housing support charity could be plunged into a funding crisis as a major contract is at risk.

Barnabas Safe and Sound has been given six months’ notice by Northumberland Care Trust to terminate its contract for tenancy support.

The charity currently provides the equivalent of two full-time support workers on behalf of the trust to help young people with housing issues, offer informal learning opportunities and encourage them into full-time education or employment.

Care trust officials say notices have been issued to all of its housing support providers in the county as part of procedures to re-negotiate contracts.

But even if Barnabas secures a new deal, it may be forced to slash its budgets.

Chief Executive Chris Menzies said: “We have got meetings and talks to re-negotiate the contract. I think it is likely that the trust wants to set up a new contract with us, but we would have to cut our costs.

“We will have to take a significant amount out of our budget to try to achieve these cuts. At the moment, the Care Trust provides the money for the support work we do, so without that we wouldn’t be able to support people to the same standard as we are currently.

“We don’t want to scare anybody, but if we don’t come up with a mutually-agreeable solution then jobs could be at risk.”

Barnabas, named after the ‘enabler Saint’, was set up in 2001 when various groups, led by the New Life Christian Centre, came up with a vision to help young people with housing.

The charity provides housing in Morpeth, Pegswood and Ashington, as well as emergency accommodation for people in crisis, while its tenancy support workers help clients to obtain various basic living skills, such as banking and good neighbourly behaviour, to set them on the road to independence.

Currently 25 young people, aged 16 to 25, are supported through the programme each year, but demand from referrals is more than double that.

Figures show that 41 per cent of clients are from the Morpeth area, 39 per cent from Wansbeck and the rest from other parts of Northumberland.

The organisation also offers a variety of youth work activities, but even some of these could be under threat from the uncertainty about future finances.

“This is a big issue for us and it has affected our other services,” said Mr Menzies.

“For example, the Northern Rock Foundation and other big funders have said that while there is any doubt about the funding for this project, they don’t want to give us funding for anything else, so until this is resolved it is curtailing our other activities.”

However, he hopes the issue will be resolved soon.

“We have worked in partnership with the care trust for a long time now and we hope that we can come to a mutually-agreeable solution,” he said.

“Over the year, we have known that we needed to cut costs and we made a member of staff redundant last year as a way of pre-empting these sort of problems. We are now hoping that our decision to reduce costs will have been right and will be recognised.

“Barnabas started off with tenancy support activities so this is our core business.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland Care Trust said no firm decisions have been made about future contracts and talks will continue.

She said: “We are currently beginning a review of our contracts with all providers of housing-related support to make sure that we are meeting the most pressing needs and getting good value for money.

“We expect that this review will lead to changes in our contractual arrangements with many providers of these services and to prepare for this we have taken the formal step of giving notice to all providers on their existing contracts.

“This does not mean that we are ending funding, it is a technical step, which is required before we can change to a new contract.

“No firm decisions have been taken about future funding for individual providers and we do not intend to make decisions until we have talked to providers and looked in detail at the services they currently deliver.

“This was covered with providers at a specially convened meeting on May 11.”