BME charity claims High Court victory after losing council funding

A London charity that supports victims of domestic violence is celebrating a High Court victory that resulted in its local council reversing a decision to cut its £100,000 funding.

Victory: Southall Black Sisters celebrates outside the High Court
Victory: Southall Black Sisters celebrates outside the High Court

Southall Black Sisters, which helps people from black and minority ethnic communities, was told by Ealing Council last July that its £100,000 annual grant would not be renewed. The council wanted to use the money to commission a domestic violence support service for all women in the borough.

The council invited SBS to bid to deliver the generic service and offered to give it an interim grant until it had made the commissioning decision, but Pragna Patel, chair of SBS, said the group thought a generic service would not best serve the needs of the BME community and would be too expensive for a small organisation to deliver.

She said: "The tender documents effectively excluded us because we couldn't show how we could deliver the services to everyone. We are barely meeting all our costs as it is, and they were expecting the same amount of money to serve all women. Only big charities could bid because their overheads were already covered. We knew we didn't stand a chance."

Lord Justice Moses, who presided over the judicial review, said: "There is no dichotomy between funding specialist services and cohesion; equality is necessary for cohesion to be achieved."

Councillor Jason Stacey, leader of Ealing Council, said the council had withdrawn from the case on the basis that the judge had promised to give local authorities "much needed" guidance on grant aid funding. He said: "Ealing Council defended this case because it believes that all women in the borough, regardless of their ethnic background, should have equal access to domestic violence services. This principle remains but the process has highlighted areas of the law that are unclear and open to many different interpretations."

A spokeswoman for Ealing Council added: "We are reviewing our position to see how we should move forward. We want a situation where we can set outcomes and check local need is being met, in line with national good practice."

Voice4Change England
, the umbrella group for BME community groups, welcomed the decision as "a victory for common sense in ensuring racial equality". Vandna Gohil, chief executive of the organisation, said: "Defeat for the SBS users would have meant the loss of a vital support services and given a green light to the wholesale withdrawal of funding for BME third sector organisations."

Kevin Curley, chief executive of umbrella body Navca, also welcomed SBS's victory. He said: "Navca's experience suggests that single group funding helps tackles segregation."

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