Row over BME funding in Leicester

Voluntary sector network One East Midlands lacks legitimacy, say grass-roots groups

A black and minority ethnic group in Leicester is opposing the application of the regional voluntary sector network One East Midlands' for £67,800 to speak up on behalf of BME groups because the network is not BME-led.

One East Midlands has submitted a bid to the regional network fund of infrastructure building body Capacitybuilder. The fund was established to ensure the voluntary sector and BME groups' views are heard in regional policy-making.

But Shamsher Chohan, coordinator of Beam, which represents grass-roots BME groups in the region, said One East Midlands "lacked legitimacy" among BME groups.

"One East Midlands has to back off from the BME agenda," said Chohan. "The agenda needs to be initiated and led by BME organisations."

She said the One East Midlands bid smacked of a "colonial mentality" because it suggested the organisation believed it was the best judge of what was best for BME groups.

Chohan is organising a petition calling for BME communities to have the right to determine their own regional voice.

The regional network fund this year replaced the Office of the Third Sector's regional infrastructure programme, which awarded £120,000 to One East Midlands over two years.

Most regions have separate networks to represent the voluntary sector and BME groups, which apply separately for funding. But One East Midlands said it fulfilled both roles and had therefore applied for both tranches of funding.

Capacitybuilders has accepted its £67,500 bid for general funding, but has yet to accept its bid for £67,800 BME funding.

Jon Fox, director of policy and programmes at Capacitybuilders, said there were "concerns about the historic approach of BME funding going through One East Midlands". He said he had asked the network to show it was viable and fit for purpose.

He is due to meet Chohan this month to discuss her concerns.

Rachel Quinn, chief executive of One East Midlands, accepted that her organisation was not BME-led but said it had created a BME policy forum, led by BME groups, which would determine its priorities.

"We are creating a space where BME groups can come together," she said. "We are not trying to lead the agenda.

"This is the most far-reaching, open and transparent model that is available at the moment, but it isn't something we would necessarily seek to retain in the long-term."

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