Westminster City Council 'is in breach of the Compact'

Budgets cut and charities' roles downgraded on local strategic partnership, says Voluntary Action Westminster

Westminster City Council
Westminster City Council

A flagship Conservative local authority has been accused of breaching the Compact and of supporting moves to downgrade the role of charities in local decision-making.

Voluntary Action Westminster reported Westminster City Council to the NCVO's compact advocacy programme for reducing its 2010/11 budget by almost 50 per cent without, it claims, adequate consultation or notice. The council has also been criticised for voting, along with other statutory agencies, to remove the right of charities to vote on the board of Westminster City Partnership, the local strategic partnership.

The partnership, which sets the main aims for the London borough and oversees local spending, streamlined decision-making by reducing the number of voting board members from 20 to five. All five retained board members are from public bodies.

Representatives from VAW, Paddington Development Trust and Westminster Community Network walked out when it was decided charities would get only non-voting advisory roles on the board.

Among them was Bernard Collier, chief executive of VAW, who said the council did not appear to value the voice of the voluntary sector. "They're saying 'we're in charge and you do as we say', which seems to fly in the face of what all the national parties are saying about working in partnership with the voluntary sector," he said. "It seems completely counter-intuitive."

Last week, Conservative shadow Chancellor George Osborne said the Tories had "considerable and ambitious plans to involve the third sector in much bigger areas of activity".

Collier and a council representative recently attended a meeting hosted by the NCVO's Compact team to discuss the alleged breach of the Compact.

A statement from the council leader, Colin Barrow, who also chairs the partnership, said that changing the board would "help to streamline decision-making and provide for a much more coherent and effective structure".

He said it was disappointing that voluntary sector representatives had withdrawn. "We will find alternative means of involving voluntary and community organisations in the future," said Barrow.

Jackie Rosenberg, deputy chief executive of Paddington Development Trust and chair of Westminster Community Network, who also walked out of the meeting, said her organisations had not withdrawn from the partnership and she was "bemused and concerned" about developments.

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