Shonagh Dillon, Chief Executive of Hampshire-based charity Aurora New Dawn, responds to personal criticism of her by local councillors in a recent article in The News about proposed cuts to domestic violence services in Portsmouth.
I am writing in response to an article published in the Portsmouth News (Charity hits out at council’s domestic violence surgeries) concerning the councillor-led domestic abuse surgeries run by cross party members. It may be helpful to review how the critique of the domestic violence surgeries came about – a critique that came not only from Aurora New Dawn but from the UK’s End Violence Against Women Coalition, the UK’s largest coalition of individuals and organisations campaigning for an end to violence against women and girls, which includes Amnesty International, Fawcett Society, Rape Crisis, Refuge and Respect.
Following the announcement from councillors that they were planning to cut £180k from local domestic violence services, we began to ask questions of the Leader and other Conservative councillors about how they planned to maintain service provision for victims of domestic violence and their families in Portsmouth. Part of the reason we did this is because Aurora New Dawn aims to act as the voice of victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking in everything that we do – including in our service provision, in our partnerships with police and other services, and in our role as a critical friend to local authorities in the region.
We have received no response from Councillors detailing their plans on how to address the cuts.
Cllr New arranged a meeting with us, cancelled and has not rescheduled. We invited the Leader to discuss how we could help them come up with a sustainable strategic plan to protect victims. We invited all local councillors to come and see our services to gain a better understanding of what they do.
None of the councillors who voted to pass the cuts have responded.
As far as we are aware, and as far as they have publicly announced to date, councillors still have no long term strategic or sustainable plans to continue service provision for victims of domestic violence in Portsmouth. Unlike local authorities in Hampshire, Portsmouth City Council made no approach to local services prior to announcing the planned cut to domestic violence services in the city. In Hampshire, a working coalition of councils, the Police and Crime Commissioner and services are now working in partnership to protect service provision, while services in Portsmouth await the plans of Portsmouth councillors, beyond announcements of ‘exciting plans’ on social media.
On the 8th December, Cllr New and other councillors spoke at the budget savings proposal meeting about the domestic violence surgeries they were running in the city. Cllr New appeared to be positioning the surgeries as a replacement for the services that he – as the Cabinet Member for Environment and Community Safety – was proposing to cut. At one point, he even referred to the surgeries as a service:
Anything we can do to raise the awareness to victims of domestic abuse of the help and support possible, is surely the right thing to do…putting our hands in our pockets – and time – to run these services.
It was in this context that Aurora New Dawn and the End Violence Against Women coalition decided to clarify what the surgeries are: for local residents, as well as victims and survivors. We made clear that whilst we applaud awareness-raising on the help available to local victims of domestic violence, we are concerned that these surgeries rely on the exact same service that the councillors are proposing to cut, making the surgeries themselves unsustainable in the long term.
It is particularly discouraging to see Cllr New launch a personal attack on the CEO of a local charity, rather than responding to the concerns of national and local services with decades of experience in protecting, safeguarding and supporting victims of domestic violence. It is baffling for Cllr New to describe me as ‘negative’. Currently the only ‘barrage of negativity’ appears to be coming from councillors as they consistently refuse to talk publicly about their long term plans to protect victims and survivors of domestic abuse, as they ignore the respondents to their own consultation, as well as the 46,000 signatures on a petition against cutting Portsmouth’s domestic violence services.
We would rather be campaigning in partnership with councillors than against them. Indeed, this is the way we work everywhere else in Hampshire and nationally: to alleviate the pressure of austerity on domestic abuse services before it starts, rather than frantically scrabbling to address it after councillors announce cuts.
Finally, Cllr Swan asked in the article:
If the people who are complaining are trained, why don’t they help us…Why don’t they step forward and volunteer?
I am already a regular volunteer for the Portsmouth Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Aurora New Dawn that ensures 24-hour service provision to victims of domestic violence in Portsmouth. For example, I volunteered along with members of my team to provide 24 hour services for victims over Christmas and New Year, which as councillors will know from their recent training, is a time when incidence of domestic violence increases significantly.
Of course, if Cllr Swan, Cllr New and the Leader had responded to our requests to meet, they might know this already.
So, once again, I would like to invite all councillors – across all parties – to meet with us at Aurora New Dawn to discuss how we can all work together to protect services for survivors of domestic abuse currently being threatened by the impact of austerity.
We continue to look forward to hearing from you.
CEO – Aurora New Dawn