Lifeline service which has brought £7m into Hartlepool faces axe

FUNDING AXE: Keith Bayley outside the Victoria Road HVDA office.
FUNDING AXE: Keith Bayley outside the Victoria Road HVDA office.

A LIFELINE service which has helped bring millions of pounds into Hartlepool could be axed.

Hartlepool Voluntary Development Association (HVDA) has brought in more than £7m into the town since it was set up 28 years ago, an average of around £250,000 each year.

The reality is that this has come from the council and the people who run the council.

Keith Bayley, manager of HVDA

Five workers are being made redundant including community stalwart Peter Gowland who was granted Freedom of the Borough for decades of community work.

HVDA received annual funding from Hartlepool Borough Council to help provide a range of services for the start-up, growth, and sustainability of charitable, community, or voluntary groups – helping 214 groups and 582 volunteers within the last year alone.

The amount HVDA received from the council up until March last year was around £68,000 annually.

But the cash-strapped local authority decided to cut all funding - making it the only local authority in the Tees Valley to not support a service which sets up and helps voluntary groups.

HVDA has since been running on its savings, but they have now ran out.

From the end of this month there will be a dramatic reduction in the service and also an axing of five members of staff.

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The organisation which will have to scrap all voluntary sector work will have four part-time staff working two days per week each, an equivalent of 1.5 full time workers.

Mr Gowland, who has worked at the organisation since the start, is also set to take redundancy not only due to the financial situation, but also partly because he has reached the age of 65.

HVDA manager Keith Bayley said: “Most of the services which we have previously provided are going to go.

“We provided a service for people who wanted to do something in the community, but they didn’t know how to go about it.

“Peter Gowland would help the groups gain funding so they could carry out the service.

“He helps more than 200 groups every year, and there’s about 600 groups in Hartlepool.

“The thousands of pounds that Peter helps to bring into the town each year for the groups will be no more. It’s a big loss to the town, and a big loss in terms of investment.”

He added: “The council made the decision to withdraw funding at the end of 2013 despite us making the point of how valuable the service was.

“Hartlepool will be the only council in the Tees Valley that doesn’t support an organisation like the HVDA. There is only Hartlepool where there isn’t this commitment.

“We used to get a core grant of £68,000 a year from the council but now it isn’t going to be the same organisation as people always thought.

“In the short term it will affect hundreds, but in the long term it will effect thousands of people.

“The reality is that this has come from the council and the people who run the council.”

HVDA will still carry out some work for the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and is seeking to secure some European Funding, as well as running its Government-funded Healthwatch initiative, and its 50+ scheme funded by the council up until March 2016.

But Keith said that if finances continue as they have been then HVDA will cease to exist at all next year.

Keith said: “We’ve still got some work to do for the next year with £170,000 from the CCG, but if we don’t get any more money after that then we won’t be here. 2016 will see us closed down properly.”

A council spokesman said: “We would acknowledge that HVDA has carried out some excellent work over the years and we’re sad to hear about the position that it now finds itself in.

“However, as a council we too are under extreme financial pressure as a result of Government cuts which have reduced our funding overall by 40 per cent, including the Working Neighbourhoods Fund which was a very important source of money for community organisations.

“The council understands that HVDA is currently working with Tees Valley Unlimited on a Tees Valley-wide basis to explore the potential for tapping into EU funds.

“The council will also continue to support the town’s community and voluntary sector with regards to advice and guidance to try to ensure that our communities get all the help that they are entitled to.”