27 January 2011

On Thursday 27 January the High Court will consider the legality of a decision taken by London Councils to impose funding cuts of over £10 million to voluntary and community groups in London.

The decision will result in the early termination of funding for over 200 projects, resulting in the withdrawal of key services and support to thousands of vulnerable and disadvantaged Londoners – from bereaved families to young homeless people.  Many of the groups affected could face closure.

The court case, brought by users of the Roma Support group, will challenge London Councils’ failures to properly consult, to follow a fair and transparent decision making process, or to comply with its equality duties.

Evidence highlighting the failures and the impact of the cuts has been provided by many affected voluntary sector groups including INQUEST; Asylum Support Appeals Project;  Asylum Aid; London community law centres including Brent, Lambeth, Central London, South West London and Springfield; the Law Centres Federation; Community Accountancy Self Help; Women’s Resource Centre; Respond; and Clean Break.

INQUEST is set to lose £60,000. Since being commissioned by London Councils in July 2008, it has provided advice and casework services to 1,600 bereaved family members and their advisers across London. It will have little chance of finding alternative funding in the short timescale imposed by London Councils.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, an organisation supporting bereaved people, said:

If the cuts go ahead, thousands of vulnerable and disadvantaged Londoners will be left without essential, specialist support and advice services at a time when they are most needed.  The consequence of this loss of funding will mean that many of these crucial services will be forced to close.

Louise Whitfield, solicitor for the claimants said:

It’s clear that London Councils have acted unlawfully and my clients, along with many others, will lose vital services for their disadvantaged children.  An overarching principle of the grants scheme is to promote equality and reduce discrimination, but these cuts completely undermine those goals in the most extreme way.

A letter has been sent today to The Guardian today signed by a number of the affected groups.

Notes to editors:

The case is R (Hajrula & Others) v London Councils.

The claimants are represented by counsel Helen Mountfield QC and Aileen McColgan from Matrix Chambers, instructed by Louise Whitfield of Pierce Glynn Solicitors, 8 Union Street, London SE1 1SZ, tel 020 7407 0007.

Grounds for the legal challenge include that London Councils acted unlawfully in their lack of consultation and poor decision making process and that they failed to comply with their equality duties.

Text of letter to The Guardian:

We represent some of the 177 organisations and voluntary sector groups facing sudden, massive cuts imposed by London Councils.

London Councils have chosen to pull out 12 months early from agreements funding key services to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities across London.  A vast range of frontline services will cease – from support to bereaved families to specialist advice for young people facing homelessness.

Funding will be ‘repatriated’ to individual London Boroughs with no guarantees that funds will be used for similar community based services: borough leaders will be free to use the saved funds for any purpose they choose.

The High Court will consider a Judicial Review today, challenging the legality of the decision.  We are hopeful that the court will overturn the London Councils decision, to prevent this devastating withdrawal of funds which will see most of the affected organisations struggling to survive and many facing closure.

Cuts come just as the full force of the Government’s austerity packages hit people and communities across London and specialist services provided by voluntary sector organisations like ours are most needed.

  • Deborah Coles, Co-director, INQUEST
  • Roma Support Group
  • Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
  • Maurice Wren, Director, Asylum Aid
  • Lucy Perman, Executive Director, Clean Break
  • Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, Galop
  • Terry Stokes, Chief Executive, London Advice Services Alliance
  • Wesley Harcourt, London Manager, AdviceUK
  • Tim Brogden, Policy & Networks Development Officer, London Voluntary Sector Council
  • Bolaji Bank-Anthony, Chief Executive, Black Neighbourhood Renewal and Regeneration Network
  • Bonnie Mitchell, General Manager, Spare Tyre
  • Joan Neary, Sector Development Officer, Kairos in Soho
  • Lisa Charalambous, Manager, Central London CVS Network
  • Roseanne Sweeney, Director, Asylum Support Appeals Project
  • Debbee Arthur, Project Coordinator, Young People’s Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence
  • Nikki Rummer, Tender
  • Rahana Mohammed, Head of Policy, Race On The Agenda

Those benefiting from INQUEST’s advice services and related information, development and policy work, are London-wide across all 33 boroughs.  The issues it takes up on behalf of bereaved Londoners relate to London-wide services, such as the Metropolitan Police, prisons, hospitals and coroners across the capital.  The specialised and overarching nature of its work means that in practice no single borough would treat it as a local service for funding purposes.  Significantly, London Councils itself described INQUEST as “undertaking pan-London work” in the report to the Grants Committee dated 25 November 2010.

With respect to London Council’s equality impact assessment: 40% of bereaved Londoners accessing INQUEST’s services are from BAME (black and minority ethnic) communities.  The specialist casework service that INQUEST provides also tackles racial inequality as BAME communities are disproportionately represented in contentious custody deaths (through the mental health, criminal justice and immigration systems).  Approximately 56% of family members receiving complex specialist casework services on current London cases are from BAME communities.  This figure rises to 70% in relation to INQUEST’s casework on the most contentious deaths.