THE entire board of a charity that has received more than £1 million in donations and public funding in recent years has resigned in disgrace following long-standing concerns over how it is run.
Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian, which has a remit of offering support and advice to charities and act as a link between the groups and the local authority in its patch, has been plunged into crisis following a long-running series of issues over governance.
Senior sources at the organisation, one of 32 'third sector interfaces' (TSI) across Scotland, had claimed that the Labour-run West Lothian Council has been pursuing a political vendetta against the charity, which had a prominent SNP councillor and activist Willie Boyle as its chair.
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However, social justice secretary Alex Neil, in a letter to Mr Boyle last week, said that despite "considerable efforts" from the Scottish Government to help the charity resolve "issues of concern" he had not received the assurances he expected and that the group had lost the trust and confidence of those it was supposed to serve.
The board is understood to have resigned at its AGM on Monday night following the cabinet secretary's intervention. Accounts submitted by the charity show that it received more than £1.2 million in donations and grants between 2011 and 2013. The charity has seen almost £200,000 of Scottish Government funding this year and more than £120,000 of council funding over two years withheld due to concerns that West Lothian Council officers say "remain outstanding".
Issues raised with the charity by Mr Neil in late November included the process for appointing directors, a lack of transparency in drawing up a new constitution and a lack of involvement from the third sector.
In a follow-up, sent last week, Mr Neil expressed alarm at "an apparent lack of understanding and urgency" about the importance of reestablishing the trust and confidence of the third sector and allowing external stakeholders to be involved. He warned that he was considering stripping the charity of its official function.
He added: "The arrangements and process that have been made public with regard to the AGM and election/appointment of board members are of real concern.
"The TSI in West Lothian must be able to command the confidence and trust of partners and the third sector and the Gateway does not appear to us to be fulfilling this requirement."
Voluntary Sector Gateway was subject of a Scottish Government commissioned investigation, by the respected firm Avante Consulting, earlier this year although ministers have so far refused appeals from West Lothian Council to make the results public. It is also under a separate investigation by charity regulator OSCR.
Neil Findlay, the West Lothian based Labour MSP, said: "The decision of Councillor Willie Boyle and the board to resign was the right one. We now have the opportunity to bring in a new board with the skills and vision needed to turn the organisation around. I hope this is a new beginning for the Voluntary Sector Gateway in West Lothian."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it had been aware of "a number of Issues, including of governance," relating to the charity.
She added: "We have offered substantial practical support and given the board every opportunity to resolve these concerns and regain the trust of the third sector.
"Despite our considerable efforts and time working to find a way forward, the board had not been able to meet our requirements. During the AGM we understand the board resigned and the membership have elected new directors who will act as an interim board. We now look forward to working with the new board to take forward the actions deemed necessary, by the Scottish Government and local partners, to have a Third Sector Interface that commands the confidence of all its stakeholders and will serve the third sector well in West Lothian."
Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian did not respond to requests for comment. Mr Boyle could not be reached.