Sutton social enterprise closes due to funding gap
An award winning non profit business which gets former criminals back to work has been forced to close due to government red tape.
Eco-Actif, on Throwley Way, Sutton, gives ex-offenders, reformed drug users and the long term unemployed the opportunity to train and get into work and has cut reoffending rates by 75 per cent.
The social enrterprise is largely funded by government grants but since the Department of Work and Pensions introduced a new work programme in July last year, Eco-Actif has struggled to get the money it needs to survive.
Ex-convicts could walk out of Highdown prison and straight through Eco-Actif doors to get instant support but now ex offenders must jump through bureaucratic hoops and payments to the social enterprise are being delayed.
While waiting for payments from A4E, the government contractor running the work programme, Eco-Actif has tried to get bank loans but banks see it as a risk.
A "distraught" Amanda Palmer-Roye, the current Sutton Council social enterprise champion and chief executive of Eco-Actif said the government are "talking rubbish" when it claims to support big society.
She said: "We have proved that we deliver results. Research by the Met police has shown that for every £1 invested in us, we return £10.75 to society. Our staff here are perfect, they see the person as an individual, not a number. The government are obsessed with numbers.
"Over the last six years we have worked with over 5,000 disadvantaged people and have transformed thousands of lives and created active citizens in this community. Eco-Actif is short is economically active."
Since the rules were changed last year, Eco-Actif has to wait for ex-offenders to be referred by the Job Centre in order to help them, and since last year it has received only one referral.
Miss Palmer-Roye said: "When someone leaves prison with their £40 in their pocket, it is imperative we see them in that first week. Statistics show that if they don't get support in that first week, they will go back to what they know - crime."
When it started out in 2000, Eco-Actif was part of Sutton Council, but in 2006, Mrs Palmer-Roye took the idea on as a social enterprise.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Financial arrangements between prime providers and their supply chain partners are commercial matters between the organisations concerned, but all changes to the supply chain are subject to scrutiny to ensure that the service available through the work programme is not reduced or compromised."
A man who killed his friend with a crowbar told how Eco-Actif saved his life.
Danny Reilly, 41, served nearly four years in prison for the manslaughter of Dennis Bates, 53, in his caravan in Box Hill, Surrey in 2004.
When Mr Reilly came out of prison, he walked into Eco-Actif and "instantly became a better person".
He said: "Nobody was willing to give me a chance, nobody could see past what I had done, but Eco-Actif did. They didn't care what I had done, they wanted to help me and stop it happening again."
Mr Reilly, who has been working as a builder for the last four years, said he would put his life on the line for the people who helped him.
He said: "I owe my life to those people, as do many others. People were down there in flood of tears when they were told. Something needs to be done to stop this happening."
"They treat you like a person there, not like a robot. I was training to be a counsellor, to help others, but I wont get that chance now. This is not right."