Tuesday, 28 June 2011

(Probably) My Last Word on CEHRNN

I've written quite a bit about the withdrawal of Council for Equality and Human Rights Nottm & Notts' funding already. However, following NCC's reluctant compliance with a long-running FoI dispute, there are a few last little details to fill in.

There is another whole story behind this request which I may write about in the future, if you're very good boys and girls, but I finally got hold of the portfolio holder's decision, made by Cllr Chapman and then Cllr Hassan Ahmed  to withdraw CEHRNN's funding at a stroke, becoming heroes of the EDL in the process. This decision had previously been kept secret and was only provided after NCC ignored my FoI request for nearly nine months. And it's probably no co-incidence that CEHRNN has closed in the meantime.

Anyway, one thing that the decision document confirms is that NCC considered that ALL wards would be affected. As such the matter should not have been eligible to be decided by a portfolio decision, according to NCC's constitution. Still, nobody gives a fuck about such things do they? Certainly not the opposition councillors at the time anyway.

The next item of interest is that the supporting report demonstrates that NCC knew that they were legally obliged to carry out an equalities impact assessment of any decision to reduce funding to CEHRNN (para 8.2 of the supporting report). Yet that never happened. What NCC did was carry out an EIA on CEHRNN as they were operating before the decision to stop their funding, not of the funding decision itself. I discussed the dodgy use of EIAs in the debacle in more detail here.

So far therefore we have an inappropriate use of portfolio decisions (coincidentally these require no debate, not that there would have been at a full committee meeting mind you) and an effective failure to carry out a proper Equality Impact Assessment. That's a breach of NCC's constitution and an illegal omission so far.

It's probably fair to say that CEHRNN was an organisation with problems. However the report repeatedly remarks on the areas in which improvements had been made, before seeking to belittle those attempts e.g. -

"CEHRNN has been providing a service at an individual and grassroots level that has made a difference for some individual citizens and groups and targeted relevant local issues. However, despite interventions by officers, Board members and the Chief Executive challenging the circumstances, there are still clear indications that CEHRNN has not been able to prevent staffing problems from continuing"


"Although some work has been carried out to broaden Board representation, the Board is still predominately weighted towards race as is the membership of the organisation."

"Since the October 2009 review meeting the organisation has achieved some limited progress around staffing and governance issues - however there are still real concerns about the long term ability to deliver effectively against the SLA."

Furthermore, this was a key criticism -

"the organisation has effectively failed to move from a race focus to a broader equalities remit (as agreed in their SLA"

and yet one of the recommendations is as follows -

"The strategy proposes inviting bids from consortia as well as individual organisations, in recognition of the challenge of providing an all-encompassing equality and human rights service."

An acceptance that CEHRNN was set an impossible task? It was never a large organisation, the report mentions four full time posts. Certainly since they were only allocated the funding in December 2008, and this would most likely only have been payable from the beginning of the next financial year i.e. April 2009, it seems odd that the report notes that the above 'concerns' were being noted from May 2009. How quickly can an organisation be expected to solve all its problems?

Another interesting little corner of the EIA says the following -

"There were two similar examples [in the past] where organisations delivering equality related SLAs had experienced staffing or other difficulties. The learning from these examples had been that in these cases, stepping in early to remove funding if an organisation isn’t functioning properly is likely to be an appropriate step to minimise disruption if opportunities to address the issues have been given and the issues remain unresolved."

Does this mean that NCC believes that the need to dive in and remove funding at the first sign of trouble only applies to organisations 'delivering equality related SLAs'? I can say with certainty that there are countless grant aided organisations in Nottingham that have had appalling problems, including huge staffing issues, even embezzlement, yet NCC hasn't said a dicky bird. Frankly the issues that my old team within NCC were as bad as it can get, when I started there were four (out of 11) people off sick, all of whom returned strangely close to the 6 month limit for full pay with nobody raising an eyebrow. And I may even write a whole post about the team member who refused to provide a services for clients with learning disabilities. She's still there, my managers and HR wouldn't let me instigate disciplinary action despite her approach putting the council at risk of legal action. And I haven't even brought up my own Employment Tribunal. Oh, sorry...

So not only was CEHRNN treated in a different way to most grant aided organisations (which was arguably discriminatory due to such treatment only being applied to 'equalities' organisations), it's not as if NCC is in any kind of position to lecture any organisation on governance or staffing matters anyway, having acted illegally, unconstitutionally, in a discriminatory manner and being managed incompetently itself.

So, what has NCC managed to put in CEHRNN's place, seeing as this was a big focus of the report? Well they've given a pile of money to Nottingham Equal as we know. And they are supporting a new hate crime reporting initiative but that's it as far as I can see. Not a lot, especially as one of those is run by a crook former 'friend' of the council. What about measures to support people with disabilites or the LGBT community?

We'll have to wait and see I suppose but bearing in mind the cuts I suspect such groups will be left wanting. And the last thing NCC will want to do when it is cutting services to the disabled is to fund a voluntary group which might encourage service users to mount a legal challenge to those cuts.

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