Croydon Council has pulled the plug on its annual grant to a quango which was set up with other local authorities to create a regional park in the Wandle Valley, stretching through Merton and Wandsworth to the Thames.
Senior council sources in Katharine Street have described the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust as “a job creation scheme for a very highly paid part-time chief executive”. They suggested that the Trust had little to show for the organisation’s work over the past four years.
The River Wandle’s official source is close to the Swan and Sugarloaf in South Croydon, but Croydon will no longer be the source of thousands of pounds of public money for the Regional Park Trust, as the Labour-run council has cut its £5,000 annual grant.
The Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust, formed with charitable status in 2013, states that “Our shared vision is for an innovative, sustainable and high quality Regional Park in the Wandle Valley that is easily accessible, with a rich and thriving biodiversity, offering recreation, landscape, heritage, cultural and resource management benefits in which local people and businesses can take pride and ownership.”
Its board of trustees includes representatives from the National Trust, the Environment Agency, Natural England, and three other London boroughs: Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton, plus Steve O’Connell, the Tory councillor for Kenley and London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, as one of two representatives from City Hall.
The Trust’s part-time CEO since 2014, based in National Trust buildings in Morden Hall Park, is Sue Morgan who “is employed by her company Around the Block for two days per week. Around the Block Ltd, is an independent consultancy focused on public realm management and development”.
According to the Trust’s most recently available annual accounts (for the year to the end of March 2015), shows the Trust’s income of £145,925 and expenditure on “Regional Park core” of £54,000. Spending on fund-raising activities was put at £7,214, while spending on “project specific activities” was £55,275.
Croydon Council cabinet member Timothy Godfrey, in charge of the borough’s policies on parks, told Inside Croydon, “We have withdrawn from the board and the annual funding of £5,000 for the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust.
“We have switched the budget to support work across the borough with volunteers through the Surrey Downs Partnership (hosted by Surrey County Council). They also run the cattle grazing scheme we have in the borough, for instance.
“We continue to work with WVRPT on relevant projects – £16,000 over three years for their Active Wandle Lottery-funded programme.
“We came to decision that the board was over-centred on local authority representation and needed the opportunity to thrive in the voluntary sector. The council formally made a commitment to fund for three years and WVRPT was then meant to be self-funding.”
Inside Croydon contacted Sue Morgan at the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust earlier this week with questions about the organisation’s relationship with Croydon, but has not received a response.
Given Croydon Council’s close scrutiny of a grant amounting to £5,000 for properly registered charities which involve a range of other, accountable public bodies, there’s reasonable cause to question whether the council’s other small grants, made to less-well-run bodies, will be subjected to similarly careful checks.
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