Concern over HIV support funding across the county

CALLS for an investigation into how taxpayers’ money is being spent on HIV provision in the district have been rejected by Herts County Council.

An internal audit had been requested by County Councillor Chris White after St Albans HIV support centre, The Crescent, revealed last week that it would be scaling back its operations as funds dwindle. This would effect over 300 people.

The Russell Avenue-based support group lost funding from the county council last year when a contract for a county-wide service was awarded to Herts Aid, a centre based in east Hertfordshire.

Cllr White said he found the council’s decision very “troubling” and said there was something “quite clearly wrong about the way the contract was awarded” to Herts Aid and the way “it’s being managed by the county council.”

He said: “This is taxpayers’ money and how it’s being spent is not being monitored. The issue is that there’s a disparity in the services being offered in the east and west of the county. A visit to Herts Aid’s website shows that all of the names, faces and contacts are based in the east.

“How bad has something got to be before we can get a report and find out how money is being spent?”

He said the issue, which has attracted the attentions of Lord Rennard, Lord Fowler and Lady Verulam, would now have to go to Parliament. “This is a cross-party issue and we’re going to have to have members of the House of Lords take it up for us in Parliament.”

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Patron of The Crescent, CJ de Mooi, said his attempts to engage the council’s chief executive John Wood about the charity’s predicament have left him “somewhat confused”.

The TV Eggheads team member CJ raised concerns about the standard of services which Herts County Council were funding, but was told by Mr Wood to address Herts Aid directly.

CJ said: “This does seem to be yet another attempt by Hertfordshire County Council to deflect legitimate concerns while refusing to face their public responsibilities.”

Suzanne Bannister, director of Herts Aid, rejected Cllr White’s criticism. She explained they had consulted widely when planning their county-wide service delivery which had informed where and how services would be provided.

She said: “Our view is that the west of the county is well provided for, as in addition to the specialist social worker – based at Watford Sexual Health Clinic – Herts Aid provides comprehensive services, including one-to-one support, access to a CAB advisor, counselling, computer clubs, peer support groups, financial support, information and signposting and health support. Our chosen delivery model is a peripatetic one, to ensure that we are able to reach everyone. This is as we recognise that Hertfordshire is a large county with poor transport links.”

Their Watford office has three open access drop-ins per week and operates an appointment system the rest of the week.

Suzanne added: “Since taking on the county-wide contract, we have met all the targets set by our contracts and more.”

Colette Wyatt-Lowe, cabinet member for health and social care, said they constantly monitored Herts Aid’s performance and that she was confident it was providing a “good quality service that meets the needs of people living with HIV across the county.”