Councils evict charities in favour of big business

THE decision to evict charities from clothes bank sites across Hertfordshire in favour of for-profit companies “will hurt charity shops that rely on the donations”.

The Hertfordshire Waste Partnership (HWP) – which includes Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), North Herts District Council and Herts County Council – said the move was necessary in order to make money to preserve frontline services.

Private companies collect the public’s donated clothes, sell them for a profit and give a cut or fee to the partnership.

It is set to generate �2.4 million over a three-year period for the partnership.

Leader of SBC, Sharon Taylor, explained that there is an opportunity within the partnership for councils to act independently and that SBC has “no plans to evict five charity banks at our sites”.

Charities affected by the scheme include the British Heart Foundation - which has shops in Hitchin, Letchworth GC and Stevenage - and Scope - which has a shop in Letchworth GC.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: “Councils are starting to evict charities from clothes bank sites and flog them off to private companies, who in turn sell on your clothes for a profit, and give a cut to the council.

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“Make no mistake; this scheme will hurt charity shops that rely on the donations, the number of people charities like ours can work with, and shoppers on the high street.”

Retail director for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Mike Lucas, added: “This current situation with councils and clothing banks is very disappointing.

“Clothing banks, when full, can be worth up to �1,000 each in sales.

“Companies working for commercial gain are a huge problem for charities with high street shops.

“I’d like to encourage people to take their donations directly into their local BHF shop.”

Hertfordshire and Northumberland are the first two counties in the country to hand over recycling bank sites used by charities to private companies.

A spokesman for HWP said: “Councils in Hertfordshire are having to look at all services with a view to maximising revenue and making savings to allow the preservation of frontline services. This means, in the case of recycling, that we have to take all opportunities to boost revenues, such as that provided by a textile consortium.

“The impact on local charities was considered from the outset, with authorities free not to participate in the consortium in the event that local concerns about charities overrode the need to find savings and/or extra income.

“All charities involved in providing textile banks prior to the tender were given a chance to participate in the procurement process.”

The idea of replacing charity clothes banks with private company ones is now being discussed by London Councils - an umbrella group representing London’s local authorities.

The Charity Retail Association, which supports charities running shops in the UK, has launched a campaign in a bid to make councils think twice. “We have been lobbying against the new scheme,” said a spokesman.