Tuesday, 23 July 2013

HFTRA's Response to Hounslow Council's £12,000+ Propaganda Mailout

As I explained in my previous article Hounslow Labour's All-Out Assault on Community the London Borough of Hounslow has withheld funding from the Hounslow Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations (HFTRA), effectively preventing it from operating.

In the meantime the Lead Member for Housing and Lots of Other Things spared no (public) expense in circulating his version of events to the borough's 24,000 tenants and leaseholders by means of an unnecessarily expensive postal mailout.

Obviously without the benefit of funding HFTRA does not have the means to respond in kind. However I have reproduced below its reply to the Lead Member's allegations, send to elected members and various news media:

Dear Councillor,

Subject: Hounslow Federation of Tenants’ and Residents’ Association Partnership with London Borough of Hounslow Council

We are writing to you all to appraise you of our serious concerns at decisions that have been made by LBH to withhold grant aid and service support to HFTRA. The rationale and grounds for such decision we are not party too. We are aware of our need to both revisit and develop policies for HFTRA and we are dealing with such matters with the assistance of NFTRA, Community Matters, Council for Voluntary Action, external community development and legal advisers offering pro bono services.

In order to move forward we seek your support to maintain the” status quo” of our organisation in continued grant aid and service support partnership with LBH. This will ensure stability of your primary networking community sector organisation whilst meaningful discussions between LBH and HFTRA take place.

1. HFTRA has had discussions with Cllr Curran in regards to his concerns with our weakness in Financial Management recording. At no time has the London Borough of Hounslow expressed concern of any impropriety. We have agreed the need to have a clear Financial Management Policy and to move from traditional and outmoded Book-keeping to computer programmes appropriate and simple to operate, designed for small lay managed organisations. We looked at the Sage package, but we considered the less onerous package of “Quickbooks” to be best suited.

2. We seek to appraise you of what we understand are issues that it is suggested are included in a decision to withhold grant aid and services. There has never been an opportunity to jointly look at, and address such issues. It seems that LBH require us to become a registered charity particularly so that we are in a better position to bring in grant aid from grant giving charity trusts.

2.1 We were told that a grant would be dependent on our becoming a registered charity.

2.2 We are, as many thousands of local groups, a “voluntary not for profit organisation” but are open to consideration of becoming a charity. However HFTRA is concerned that this could lead to a permanent withdrawal of grant funding by LBH in the future.

2.3 We do consider it to be both wrong and misguided for a local authority to force any organisation to become a registered charity, such major change in structure, management and status bringing with it many onerous duties on lay volunteer trustee managers in the community.

2.4 HFTRA would seek specialist advice from professionals who are knowledgeable on the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a registered charity. They would be very aware of the Charities Act of the 1990’s and the Charities Act 2006. They would know that the simplicity requirements of becoming a registered charity have radically changed.

2.5 As to increasing our ability to bringing in grants because of charity status, everyone needs to be mindful of the financial impact on all sectors of our economy in the devastating Banking and Financial Services led recession. In reports from the Charity Commission the following analysis identifies a general lack of understanding of the impact on charities and charity trust grants:

2.5.1 There has been a major downturn in the annual £2billion in grant trust made by some 7,500 Grant Making Charity Trusts in England and Wales.

2.5.2 Charity Commission surveys show that 59% of charities report having been affected by serious drops in income from absence and growing competition for Charity Trust Grant aid.

2.5.3 It is evidenced that small Community sector lay volunteer managed Charities most often do not have either the resources or skills of the highly sophisticated and complex requirements in applying for grant aid. Grants available are now most often small and certainly not available for core expenditure requirements.

2.5.4 There are grants available to “not for profit organisations” and HFTRA seek the assistance in continued identification of such resources and training support in progressing such applications.

3. It seems that the fact HFTRA is not a registered charity is not in line with a requirement that any grant aid would be contingent on HFTRA becoming a charity. We know nothing of such a LBH policy.

4. It seems to be suggested that as an organisation we have no right to allow other organisations to use the Alf Chandler Centre. Surely, as a community development networking organisation, support to other local primarily voluntary managed community sector is our duty and entirely supportive of respective government policies and LBH Council. We have often been congratulated by LBH for our work.

5. It seems to be suggested that we are in breach of LBH requirements for use of the premises. We would argue that at best we have a common law unwritten Occupation License thus we do not understand how we can be in breach of an unwritten article nor do we understand why after all of our years of service provision as a networking organisation this matter should be raised in this way.

6. It seems to be suggested that our constitution makes no provision for the management of community premises. We are advised that whilst the constitution currently does not have a written objective on Community Premises Management, silence on the matter does not inhibit us legally nor constitutionally from managing community premises.

7. Whilst HFTRA has no formal lease on The Alf Chandler Centre nor a written “Occupation License” nor a written “Community premises Management Agreement” HFTRA management are concerned that this organisation has recently been treated as if invisible and certainly with disrespect. We were not informed or consulted with in regard to the visit to the site from LBH surveyors, you must understand that this has caused some concern, being left outside agendas for the possible re-development of the premises.

HFTRA is aware of the need to return to and develop its “Mission Statement”, Governing Instrument, Policies, management and Training. What we do not understand is why LBH has stepped outside a consultative and partnership approach and decided to remove grant aid and service support to what has been a good partner and previously well respected for its work.

We are sorry for the length of this communication but felt it essential to draw many issues directly to the attention of our Councillors. HFTRA is a strategic “cog” in community development and networking with community sector organisations rather than individual members of the public, the latter being the responsibility of all respective organisations we serve in the network.

We ask all Councillors to consider the matters we have drawn to your attention individually. Whilst HFTRA attempt to achieve wider financial support in advancement of “sustainability”, the removal of the core grant by LBH will herald the demise of the organisation and its services. We ask you to support our request for the “status Quo” in LBH Grant Aid and support services, and a return to a consultative process between partners.

Yours sincerely,

David Cox


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