Hertfordshire County Council has been placed in Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” section of local authorities over its decision to withdraw funding to the Crescent, an HIV charity based in St Albans.
The Crescent provides care and support to those affected by HIV on an in-house and outreach basis for west Hertfordshire; however it has been struggling to survive ever since Hertfordshire County Council withdrew all of the charity’s funding in June 2011.
The money has instead been diverted to Herts Aid, a separate HIV support service.
On 3 September, the Crescent’s Head of Operations Iain Murtagh told PinkNews.co.uk that the decision meant those using his service would face immense difficulties in travelling to the alternative provider, based in the east of the county in Ware.
“By bus it can take 4 – 6 hours to do a round trip from [St Albans] to Ware, so if you don’t drive you have no real chance of support. This is why two agencies existed in Hertfordshire for the last 25 years, to enable people to have a choice of provider, and be able to access this easily,” Mr Murtagh said.
The council claims it is focusing on a single county-wide HIV care service, in order to provide “effective and efficient support” to those living with the virus.
However, Mr Murtagh believes it’s actually because the other organisation has substantially higher running costs, and is also benefiting from favouritism.
Hertfordshire County Councillor Sally Newton is the chair of trustees with former responsibility for adult care services, and also chairs other related health boards on the council – the potential conflict of interest has been pointed out in Private Eye’s article.
Earlier this month, a Hertfordshire County Council spokesperson defending its decision-making process and said: “The way in which the contract was awarded was independently investigated, at the Crescent’s request, by the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman was satisfied that we followed a proper process.
“It’s important to stress that there is support available across Hertfordshire for anyone living with HIV, funded by the county council and the NHS. If the Crescent does close, everyone currently receiving support from the Crescent will be able to receive support from Herts Aid instead.”
Those who use the Crescent are said to be “frightened” about the future and Mr Murtagh is now running the charity as a volunteer – all staff were made redundant at the end of August.