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New report finds looming workforce crisis for charitable sector in North East England

The latest Third Sector Trends report from the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland and Durham University has highlighted the problem the North East voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) sector is having recruiting and retaining employees and volunteers. This at time when the region’s communities need more support than ever due to the cost-of-living crisis.  

Earlier this month the first Third Sector Trends report highlighted the size and value of the sector to the region employing 37,000 people supplemented by 152,000 volunteers. However 54% of North East organisations are finding it hard to recruit to vacant posts, the highest of any region in England and Wales. Added to that 25% of organisations report difficulties in retaining staff, again the highest in England and Wales. Volunteer numbers are also dropping across England and Wales. 

Reacting to the news Rob Williamson Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said: 

“We have seen issues of recruitment across many sectors in the UK, the NHS perhaps being the highest profile, but it is clear it is hitting the North East charitable sector hard too and our communities will suffer. The last three years have seen the sector step up to support the most vulnerable in our communities, first during covid and now the cost-of-living crisis, but their people are burned out and many are leaving. With increased costs and reduced funding, organisations aren’t always able to pay high enough wages to attract staff. We and many other funders are looking at how we can support them to raise wages and cover costs. Our cost-of-living fund is supporting organisations over the winter to do that but more needs to be done”   

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said: 

“This is an especially difficult time for many charitable organisations with rising inflation, high energy costs and rising demand for services. About 40 per cent of Voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises are employers. Many of them are now facing serious problems associated with staff recruitment and retention. The report’s findings indicate that tackling the issue of traditionally low pay in the Third Sector is becoming an urgent priority.” 

Sylvia Copley Chief Executive at ShARP (Shiney Advice and Resource Project) said: 

“Here at ShARP we kept going right through Covid – that was hard but our funders were really helpful, and we were able to adapt delivery by moving to remote working so were able to provide telephone advice to people who needed it throughout national and local lockdowns. As we emerged from Covid we then saw this cost-of-living crisis coming and despite planning for increased costs there is now the possibility of a gap in our finances emerging, particularly for core running costs. As a Living Wage Employer we reviewed salaries about 18 months ago and moved pay for all staff above that level. But we now know that the cost of living crisis is going to hit us all impacting on the value of our salaries as things like travel costs and day to day living costs rise significantly. Our advisers will experience financial pressure along with everyone else, and whilst we can help with things like providing extra hours in the short term that is not sustainable in the longer term.  

“To be honest, at the moment it feels like the perfect storm for many organisations in the voluntary sector, in that we are having to reshape and expand services to meet  ever increasing need in our communities whilst at the same time we are facing  rising costs for utilities and other core costs, have fewer volunteers to support us, and have a tired, depleted workforce many of whom have not had a proper beak in two years”. 

You can read the report and all previous Third Sector Trends research on the Community Foundation website here.