Fears for vital service after Government funding is withdrawn

Carl Crossman.
Carl Crossman.

A VITAL employment service that has helped hundreds of people off the dole queue is under threat.

The Wharton Trust, in Hartlepool, has been providing support to find jobs for the past 15 years.

It is situated in Wharton Terrace, in the town’s Dyke House area – which is in the top two per cent of the country’s most deprived areas.

The centre’s Access to Employment course has targets of 310 job-seekers each year and has filled its quota over the past two years.

It has successfully seen a third of users – around 200 people in two years – into employment in a diverse range of jobs.

But this success may come to an end as soon as March as the course is surviving on reserves from the charity side of the centre.

It comes after funding from the Government’s Working Neighbourhoods Fund (WNF) was withdrawn last year amid wide-spread budget cuts.

Hartlepool Borough Council lost £4.9m of WNF funding for 2011-12, which supported 66 town projects, when the grant was cut as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Now there are fears that if Wharton’s employment service, which costs £70,000 a year to run, is lost, the growing unemployment figures will only get worse in town.

Access to Employment co-ordinator Carl Crossman said: “In the last two years we have managed to get approximately 33 per cent of people into employment.

“But we are a charity and after funding cuts we are running it out of reserves.

“The service is under threat.”

Carl, who himself found employment at the centre after being made redundant from his IT job, said he and three other staff working on the scheme could lose their jobs – adding to the jobless figures.

Carl said: “At the moment it’s the most frustrating thing in the world because all we want to do is help people.

“This service is needed in this area and if we can’t keep this project going, there is going to be a massive hole that needs to be filled.

“We are seeing an increase in people trying to get help.

“But we are at risk of redundancy ourselves.

“Dyke House is in the top 1.5 per cent on the country’s Multiple Deprivation index.

“It’s a struggle for them and our other clients from across town.

“If we aren’t here to deliver the service, where else are they going to get help?”

Carl said staff at the centre, which is also a community centre and has been running for 21 years, had “constantly” been trying to get alternative funding since the WNF was pulled last April.

They had been unsuccessful in applying for the Government’s Transition Fund because they recently paid for an extension at the centre.

Carl added: “The staff are already aware of the situation and it’s frustrating for every one of them.

“All we need is £70,000 to keep us going – otherwise I would say the unemployment figures in the town are just going to keep on going up.”

He said it had been hoped that the Government’s Work Programme could help, but this has only gone to private employability providers and not voluntary or community organisations.

The Access to Employment scheme gets referrals from Jobcentre Plus and other services.

Users can get help with CVs, use job-search facilities, help to complete online and paper-based application forms and free telephone use for employment or benefit purposes.