Transforming Local Infrastructure 'could entrench inequality'

£30m fund risks sidelining BME communities, says Vandna Gohil, director of Voice4Change England

Vandna Gohil
Vandna Gohil

The Office for Civil Society’s £30m Transforming Local Infrastructure fund is in danger of "entrenching existing inequalities", according to Voice4Change England.

A total of 140 consortia of voluntary sector infrastructure organisations from English upper-tier local authority areas applied to the fund, set up to help modernise and rationalise support services. Seventy-two were successful.

Voice4Change, a national policy group for black and minority ethnic organisations, is concerned that some areas with large black and minority ethnic populations, such as Barking and Dagenham, in east London, and Bristol, were unsuccessful.

It is also worried that some successful areas could sideline the interests of BME infrastructure groups.

Vandna Gohil, director of Voice4Change, said she was not aware of any successful bids that were led by BME organisations.

She said many BME support organisations were marginalised by mainstream support organisations that did not understand their needs.

According to Gohil, the "rushed timescales" of the fund’s application process did not help to overcome this and could in fact entrench existing inequalities.

"The speed at which people were forced to come together against tight deadlines did not give them time to build the kind of relationships that value and respect what each other can bring to the table," said Gohil.

"We strongly believe that BME and generic support organisations need to work better together, but this should be an organic process to meet users’ needs better and not driven by top-down funding requirements."

She said it was "crucial that successful partnerships now deliver on the commitments they made to equality in their bids".

Neil Cleeveley, director of policy and communications at local infrastructure group Navca, said the OCS had ensured a fair process.

"Our analysis of the successful bids shows that the only real pattern is that there is no pattern," he said.

"Local authority type, political control, the number of partners, whether mergers were proposed or including private sector partnerships seem to have made no difference to the likelihood of success.

"The nearest to a pattern we found was that two-thirds of bids in Yorkshire, the east midlands and the north west were successful and only a third were in the south east and the north east."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the assessment criteria for the programme included how partnerships would promote equalities.

"Many of the successful partnerships included specialist organisations which work specifically with BME groups in their partnerships," she said. "Furthermore we have commissioned Voice4Change England to help us understand the opportunities and impacts of big society for the groups it represents and we look forward to its report on this issue".

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