Umbrella body Nacva has expressed concern over the independence of Waltham Forest’s community and voluntary service (CVS) after it was taken back in-house by the council.
Community Waltham Forest (CWF) was set up as an independent organisation but had been run by fellow CVS Community Southwark since 2016.
This month the London Borough of Waltham Forest announced that the contract with Community Southwark had been cut short and that the council itself would run CWF and employ its three part-time members of staff.
The council will incorporate CWF into its newly-established “connecting communities” team and it said the change would be “as seamless as possible”.
It said: “By locating this service within the council at the current time, in our newly established communities directorate, we believe that both residents and the sector as a whole will benefit as we look to build the Waltham Forest offer.”
It is rare for a council to take a CVS back in-house, although there have been historical examples of this happening in areas such as Doncaster.
And while the arrangement with Waltham Forest council may be temporary, Navca has said the CVS’s independence could be under threat.
‘Independence is key’
Tom Watson, business and communications lead at Navca, told Civil Society News that bringing CWF in-house could also threaten its sustainability.
He said: “Part of the role of a CVS is to be that independent body to speak truth to power or to represent the voluntary sector independently.
“When you bring it in-house, how can they be independent? In our experience, it has shown that that is pretty impossible to do. As soon as another funding cut or budget constraint comes along, what is the first thing that is going to go?
“It has only just happened and we don’t know what is going to happen next but from past experience, independence is key to making it work.”
‘A fanciful notion’
David Floyd, managing director of community interest company Social Spider, told Civil Society News he believed the council's long-term plan is to spin out CWF once again as part of its communities team, possibly as a social enterprise.
However, Floyd, a former vice chair of the now closed Voluntary Action Waltham Forest, disputed the likelihood of this coming to fruition.
He said: “The theory that some people in the council hold is that they are going to turn unit into some kind of social enterprise/community development thing which could be spun out and be sustainable.
“That sounds like a rather fanciful notion which I don’t think is based on any knowledge of how social enterprises work.”
Floyd also said that part of the problem with CWF being run by Community Southwark was the fact that the two organisations were based at opposite ends of London.
He said: "Essentially you had the chief executive, who has now left, of Community Southwark shuttling between Southwark and Walthamstow.”