Domestic violence and South Yorkshire Women’s Aid: the council’s response

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is facing closure, due to a lack of local authority funding. I spoke to Doncaster Cabinet Member for Communities and the Voluntary Sector, Cllr Chris McGuinness, about the centre’s plight. Here’s his response in full.

In April 2016 Doncaster Women’s Aid closed following the loss of its primary funding from Big Lottery. The organisation was not funded by Doncaster Council and the Council did not withdraw funding from the organisation. However, following an approach from the organisation the Council provided wide-ranging advice and support to its trustees, including the offer of potential funding to enable it to remain open whilst seeking new grants and income generation opportunities. Unfortunately the trustees of the organisation decided that it was unable to continue and chose to cease operating.

Following closure of the organisation, a group of people wished to set up a new independent charity to replace the organisation, called South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (Doncaster). Doncaster Council supported the new trustees to achieve this, including providing a one-off start up grant of £30,000 with a view to the organisation applying for new funds and generating operating revenue in order to become financially sustainable. Earlier this month (August 2017), the Council agreed to extend the timescales for spending this grant from June 2017 until December 2017, as the grant had not been fully utilised. It also agreed to vary the funding requirements to allow the organisation greater flexibility to provide services.

The grant funding for South Yorkshire Women’s Aid was provided through the Mayor’s Voluntary and Community Sector Grant scheme, itself a one-off £500,000 fund intended to support local charities, community groups and voluntary organisations, which were able to apply for funding of up to £30,000. As the funding was from one-off resources, the Council made clear the need for organisations to plan their future funding strategy, where required, and ensure the independent sustainability of any associated projects. The fund proved to be very popular and was oversubscribed, with all of the funding now allocated. Throughout the process the Council was clear that it was providing South Yorkshire Women’s Aid with a fixed term grant and that the organisation should not expect further grant funding for these reasons.

On 25th August 2017, the trustees of the new organisation wrote to the Council requesting a further small grant until March 2018 and stated that it viewed the Council as its primary funder to meet the aims and objectives of the charity, indicating that it wished the Council to continue providing funding in future years.

This week, the Council became aware that one of the organisation’s trustees recently resigned and a further trustee had no knowledge of the recent media activity and protest. The Council intends to meet trustees of the organisation in the near future to further understand the organisation’s situation, discuss the current grant and ascertain what measures it has taken to secure additional funding and make itself sustainable according to its operating model.

Since 2010, Doncaster Council has already been forced to cut more than £200m from its annual revenue budget and like other Councils faces further significant funding cuts in the coming years. Notwithstanding this, the Council has prioritised tackling Domestic Violence as a key issue and spends in excess of £1m per year on related services, including:

• An Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy (IDVA) service and coordination of Doncaster’s Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference
• A Women’s Refuge and dispersed homes with support services
• A Floating support service, helping people in their own homes
• Domestic Violence Helpline

In addition, the government funded Growing Futures project operated by Doncaster Children’s Services Trust focuses on therapeutic support for children and young people, finds new and better ways to keep them safe and help them recover from the impact of Domestic Violence – since the Government funding stream ended, the Council has supported Doncaster Children’s Services Trust to maintain this service. The Council has also funded the delivery of non-criminal justice based perpetrator programmes aimed at men who commit domestic violence in order to reduce the number of repeat incidents. Where delivered by external providers, services are commissioned through an open and transparent process in line with the Council’s legal obligations.

Domestic Violence is wholly unacceptable and can have a devastating impact on victims and their children. The Council will continue to prioritise these services within the resources available to it. However, as with all independent charities, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid must plan to exist without reliance on funding from Doncaster Council, which unfortunately is simply not in a position to provide financial assistance to every VCS organisation facing financial pressures. However, the Council will continue to offer support to these groups in order to help them to secure funding from the wide range of charitable trust funds in existence, and the potential for generating income through charitable activities.

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