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Ealing and Northfield

Southall Black Sisters

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) have certainly been waging an effective media campaign against Ealing council and its plans to look again at how it spends roughly £100K a year helping victims of domestic violence. SBS have been in receipt of a similar sum for a number of years which is effectively about 10% of the council’s current grants budget.

On the one hand the council says they want to commission a more broadly based service with the money that addresses needs across the borough and all communities. On the other SBS say that the money must stay with them. One of the basic chores of being a charity/voluntary organisation is justifying what you do with your grants. The council wants the freedom to decide its priorities and to incentivise the third sector to contribute. SBS don’t want to play the game and they think that they can avoid the process by creating a stink.

The images I have used here come SBS’s Facebook page which has 736 friends. Yesterday Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was writing about them in the Evening Standard and the was a report in the Guardian that the chairman of SBS, one Pragna Patel, has asked David Cameron to intervene.

Picture taken from SBS Facebook page credited to Pickled Politics blog

I went along to the cabinet meeting on 26th February where SBS staged a demo. Various reports have talked about the number of people at this event but I have only seen photos with about 30-odd people in them and I reckon if there had been more people there would have been photos of them! The SBS people who attended the meeting heckled throughout and went loopy when it was agreed to commission this grant and had to be chucked out. Note commissioning in this context means a process whereby you decide as a funding body what your priorities are, you set criteria and ask voluntary bodies to bid against these criteria. The loopiness included shouting out that SBS would send distressed women round to see the cabinet members and generally shouting “racist”. I didn’t write about it at the time because I didn’t understand the situation. Since then I have been doing some research.

At the time I wondered why the cabinet were not more robust in response to SBS. The answer is that they don’t want to queer the commissioning process by voicing opinions about the participants. In writing to David Cameron Patel was being particularly cynical. SBS would be all over the council with judicial review if for instance Cameron asked the council to intervene against SBS. SBS are using the cabinet’s respect of the process as an opportunity to scream their case far and wide without anyone rebutting it. As I am not part of the cabinet and am a mere backbench, scrutiny councillor who is in no way involved in the decision making process I am at liberty to comment.

My opinions of SBS is not particularly high. In all of the verbiage they have produced they have failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that they help women in Ealing today. They talk about a grand history and some big cases but there is nothing to indicate they are an effective deliverer of local services. They do not mention how many people they help, any kind of breakdown of these people and whether the helpers are employees or volunteers. There is all kinds of evidence that they are a very small but effective lobbying and activist organisation – such organisations are not the natural recipients of council grants to encourage voluntary groups.

I decided to dig out what evidence I could, starting off at Companies House and then off to the Charities Commission. A quick look at their accounts for last year indicates that they treat Ealing’s grant as unrestricted funds, ie running costs. Last year £99,551 (92%) of their unrestricted funds of £108,787 came from Ealing council, The rest of their income £156,312 came from restricted funds, ie grants which had to be spent on specific activities. Of their total income of £265,099 last year some £119,216 (45%) went on staffing costs. £36,000 (14% of their income) paid the rent. Only they own their premises through an organisation called the Southall Black Sisters Trust.

The SBS Trust seems to be a vehicle to achieve two purposes:

  • to accept grants given by bodies that only give money to charities and recycle them to SBS Limited its operating arm, fair enough
  • to hold a freehold property bought for £353,029 in 2003/4.

Whilst it is not strange to hold property like this, it is a sensible way to prevent a cock up by the operating arm from causing the loss of the asset, it does look like SBS Limited is taking money off Ealing to pay its rent to SBS Trust which in turn allows it to pay interest on a loan (£197,975 from Triodos Bank to fund purchase of property at 21 Avenue Road Southall) and build up its reserves. Ealing ends up buying a building that SBS owns and endowing it! That is fine if that is what Ealing wants but I suspect it intended its cash to be used to directly help women in Ealing now. The rent on its own is 36% of Ealing’s grant.

Going back to SBS Limited staffing costs were £119,216 last year. Of this the Management Committee (= 9 “members of Southall Black Sisters”) get remuneration of £82,714, or 69% of the total.

Pragna Patel variously calls herself chair, member and or founder of SBS. She is definitely the boss. As well as sitting on the 9 member management committee of the limited company she is one of the four trustees of the trust. Last year she received payments of £35,675 from SBS Limited a rise of 64% on the previous year.

Ultimately Pragna Patel gets 36% of Ealing’s grant to SBS so whoever else she is an advocate for she is certainly an advocate for herself.

9 replies on “Southall Black Sisters”

Sounds to me like an ethnic branch of the SWP.. get money as grants and use it for campaigns. That anyone should get any money from the Council and not be accountable is unbelievable. Detaile accounts in the charity sector are the norm. Frankly I think that SBS should have its funding stopped until there is an independent auditors review. That is the Council Tax from a whole street of houses. And can any one organisation on its own get a tenth of the honey pot?

Yours in shock.

Honey Weeks.

Phil,
Why is Ealing plagued by organisations that are so unaccountable. At least the SBS are registered at Charities House and are a Limited Company. Have you ever tried finding anythint out about the Ealing and Hanwell Allotment Association? This organisation holds its annual meetings “In Camera” and is not registered anywhere. Ealing Council lets them have properties at two locations for peppercorn rents (“payment in kind”).
With all the stuff about the Southall Community Centre sell-off, and the SBS funding…. it makes you wonder how many other organisations Ealing Council is having its leg pulled by.

Maggie.

Phil Taylor:

Your financial arguments seem a bit weak. I see nothing wrong with a significant % of the money being used for staffing and housing costs. After all, those that work there are mainly concerned with advising women who come to them with domestic violence problems, not housing them from their own resources. Even if they were all volunteers, I doubt that the money would hep too many women with re-housing. As for the loan on the house, it makes sense to purchase a property, rather than continually renting one. Pragna Patel’s salary does not seem excessive either, as she is the head of a charity in London, which as to deal with a lot of cases in a high-stress environment (with the risk of angry family members attacking at any time).

SBS has been criticised for resting on their laurels (See Crimes of the Community, pp. 112-113), but that does not mean that they still don’t do some good.

Rumbold,

No-one says that SBS are a bad organsiation or that they do no good.

That said, if they are going to seek local government funding they need to be able to demonstrate what they do on the ground in Ealing. They have not done this and instead make very general claims for the benefits they bring.

Very few funders and even fewer local authorities will pay groups their running costs.

Yes, it may make sense for SBS to buy their building but it makes no sense whatsoever for Ealing to buy it for them.

Phil:

“That said, if they are going to seek local government funding they need to be able to demonstrate what they do on the ground in Ealing.”

I agree, but have you considered the alternatives? Having a ‘brand name’ in this sort of work is a good thing, as women who need help are more likely to have heard of SBS, which is vital when one of the biggest problems women face is the lack of available information. Is there is another group ready to step into the breach in Ealing?

“Yes, it may make sense for SBS to buy their building but it makes no sense whatsoever for Ealing to buy it for them.”

But if the majority of money comes from Ealing council then it is going to be Ealing who pays for it. I would look on it as an investment, to save ratepayers’ money in the future.

phil – these are pretty serious accusations you have here. I hope you can back them up. You say that “nobody says SBS is a bad organisation” but your accusations imply exactly that. What exactly ARE you saying?

Given that SBS has been funded by Ealing Council for the last 30 years, I would hope that its own scrutiny procedures would have spotted any irregularities before now (are you also saying that the Council can’t safeguard public funds?). I haven’t heard of any problems, raised either by council officers or the Charity Commission (that also scrutinise accounts) during this time. And did not your research find out that SBS gives the Council 6 monthly reports and annual reports setting out detailed information about their work in the borough. Just how thorough have you been here? Why don’t you just ask SBS for any information you can’t find for yourself?

I understand that you are on the Council Scrutiny Committee. I do worry just how you intend to carry out the role, given the gaps in your knowledge about voluntary sector funding and the existing systems for accountability. It’s just not good enough, in this important role, to shoot from the hip, without supplying more rigorous evidence to back up such serious accusations.

And as a post script: I was at the council meeting on feb 26th. There were certainly more than 30 people there – I’d say around 80. And yes, I guess you would go a bit “loopy” if your lifeline, which protects you from physical and emotional violence, was being withdrawn by a group of people who appeared to have no compassion or interest in their stories.

This whole thing just looks like an ideological battle, with little concern for individuals affected by domestic violence. SBS does a good job. And unless someone gives me evidence to the contrary I will continue to support them. The real point, is that all women need the same quality of service provided by SBS. And you don’t do this by closing down a good service. You do this by replicating good practices, shown by SBS, and by making more funds available for more women, to seek help from whomever they feel safe to approach.

Penny,

I don’t think you have actually read the article.

I am not so much making accusations as just publishing numbers from their own Companies House and Charities Commission filings.

phil – if that’s what you thought you were doing, then you need to be more careful next time. I don’t think anyone would read your article (which I did read and very carefully as well) and think you were JUST publishing numbers. I know it’s april 1st today, but I wasn’t borne yesterday (by a long shot)

Phil,
There is no doubt that your article carries with it the implication that funding is being used to benefit parties other than those helped by SBS – hardly an impartial view from someone in your position!
I can understand a reappraisal of the criteria relating to SBS’ work but withdrawal of funding is a step too far!

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