Broughton Database is one of Salford's community companies that work on the front line of the city's poverty, helping almost 1000 people a year to get skills and to get off the dole, working in every ward in Salford at local centres in the heart of the community. As reward for over ten years work the Database has just had its funding cut by Salford Council.
The Database `isn't having its contract renewed' as it lost out under a new procurement system that just looks at saving money and not at the lives it's wrecking en route.
"It's a system which is exactly the same for purchasing toilet rolls as actually changing people lives in Salford" explains Christine Brett from the Database "If the Council don't protect and look after its third sector, as they do in other local authorities, they're going to lose it."
The problem is when contracts are offered on the basis of the bottom line, companies come into Salford from all over, take the money, do the contract and then bugger off. Salford's third sector (not profit making and not state run) can't do this because the companies are based here, and most of their staff live here.
Third sector companies include Broughton Trust, Creative Industries in Salford, Albert's Youth Club, Ordsall Community Arts, Seedley and Langworthy Trust and even the Salford Star parent company Mary Burns (not that we ever get any Salford Council contracts).
"Unless there is recognition for the work we do and the changes we make to people's lives there's not going to be a sector" says Christine "As a sector we make a huge impact. We've got to work together to fight these cuts or we're all going to fall by the wayside."
The Database model is one well used by third sector organisations in Salford, in that people it trains can go on to get full time work as professional trainers themselves.
"Most of our staff are people who have come as students that we've trained up to become teachers and they deliver the courses" explains Christine "That's why we're successful, because the people who are teaching are people who were once in the same position as the learners. We didn't want to create Mickey Mouse jobs."
Those ethics, of putting people first, before skimming off proceeds for the company, have left the Database with no funding in reserve… "We're running round like headless chickens trying to get contracts from other sources and have been reduced to a skeleton staff" she adds "If it wasn't for our volunteers we wouldn't be here."
Salford's community sector has experienced loads of cuts over the last few years but few companies will speak out, fearing they will get even less work from a perceived vindictive Council and co.
"I think the third sector worm is turning" says Christine "It's taken cuts and adversity to get people together, and I've never felt such a family feel. We're so focused on working with the people we work with, and are passionate about that, we sometimes forget that we all have that in common."
Christine has seen hundreds of Salford people sign a petition in support of the Database which will be presented to Mayor Ian Stewart.
"On the very day I heard we weren't having our contract renewed, the Mayor was on the radio talking about his `new transparency' and how he felt that skills and work were the key" Christine recalls "How can you have a system where commissioners of contracts are the deliverers themselves and actually benefit from the system? And how can you say you support skills and training when the organisations that have a track record in achieving that, and more, aren't getting contracts renewed? That's why I'm asking Mayor these questions at the Council meeting."
Christine's question, on behalf of the Broughton Database reads…
"The Council pledges to serve the people of Salford particularly those in family poverty. Salford's Third Sector, including Broughton Database, have had years of providing well evidenced, relevant, cost-effective services aimed at reducing unemployment and benefit dependency where they are needed most. Salford will lose effective community infrastructure and social capital if it does not keep its third sector organisations on-side.
Why is the Council discriminating against its third sector in favour of organisations from outside Salford who offer nothing beyond the contract they are engaged in, and who will disappear from sight when such contracts are finished?"
We can't wait to hear his answer….
UPDATE: 1:30pm 19th September
Christine Brett, of Broughton Database, duly asked her question at the meeting of Salford Council this morning. Here’s Mayor Ian Stewart’s reply, on fast forward…
“In my late teens I was helping to set up third sector organisations so I’m well aware of the necessity of third sector organisations and the excellent work they do…blah blah…If I had a magic wand…blah blah…not enough money…blah blah…you question the sincerity of this Council, I reject this…blah blah…we try to do the best we can…blah blah…the Broughton Database does wonderful projects…blah blah…I reaffirm commitment to the third sector…blah blah…I will not revoke the agreed system”
And his Assistant Mayor added…
“We do not discriminate, it wouldn’t be legal to do that…blah blah…the grant process is changing but it’s open and transparent…blah blah…”
Christine tried to hand over the petition with 700 names on it to the Mayor, who never even got out of his seat to receive it…
* Broughton Database is also currently trying to save Broughton Rec, which the Council was aiming to shut, by taking over the lease of the building and re-opening it as a community facility. That process is ongoing but if the Database isn't there in the future, neither will the building be there (see here and see here for previous articles)