Liberal Democrats Make Last Minute Bid to Protect Redditch’s Voluntary Sector.

Redditch Liberal Democrats have met with senior Conservative councillor, Cllr Mike Rouse, to set out a compromise position ahead of Tuesday’s decision regarding the Council’s concessionary rents scheme and VCS grants funding which it believes will protect and enhance the Voluntary and Community Sector in Redditch.

This follows the decision taken at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Thursday evening to push ahead with plans to cut some or all of the funding to VCS groups.

Overview and Scrutiny
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended the council push ahead with the cuts on Thursday night.

Andy Thompson, spokesperson for Redditch Liberal Democrats said “it was made clear by Cllr Thain that the council faced bankruptcy if savings were not made. Having heard the evidence presented on Thursday night it became apparent that something needed to be added to the plans to protect and enhance the VCS once these cuts come into force.”

Redditch Liberal Democrat’s would like to commend Cllr Rouse for putting party politics aside and agreeing to meet with us to hear our ideas. We recognise that changing things at this late stage is difficult but we believe that our ideas can be incorporated into the plans going forward.

Our plan, which will see the bulk of the remaining grant pot ringfenced to appoint a specialist funding and community development role for three years with three specific aims:

  1. To support those organisations affected by the decision regarding concessionary rents identify avenues to meet the increase in rent due.
  2. To support other VCS organisation to identify and secure funding from external funding bodies.
  3. To support VCS organisations in enhancing governance and business planning so that they are able to become increasingly self-sufficient.

With the likely outcome that the grant pot will be cut to just £43k in year one, there is a need to be creative with how that money is used. This creation of this role, which we see located within a suitable VCS organisation, should help local organisations bring in far more funding than would be available through the council and would be the catalyst in transitioning the VCS towards resilience and self-sufficiency – something that Cllr Thain stated he wanted to achieve.

We also recognise that for many organisations, having secure and affordable premises is something that is vital to their ongoing success. We believe that the council must make a positive commitment to enabling Community Asset Transfers to suitable VCS organisations.

The transferring of council assets into community control is possible under existing legislation and, if the council does this on long leases, the community organisations that take over responsibility for running the property can secure funding to invest and improve the properties.

We recognise that there is a great deal of work involved in getting organisations ready for this but we believe that, with the support of the specialist funding and community development post holder, that this could become reality in a few years’ time. When local government funding is in crisis and services are cut to the bare bones, it is the Voluntary and Community Sector that steps up to help those vulnerable people who fall through the gaps when services are stretched.

We believe that now is the time to be brave and to invest in our Voluntary and Community Sector so that those who need help the most continue to get it as the cuts kick in.

Redditch Liberal Democrats call on the Conservative run Council to abandon plans to cut grants to Voluntary and Community Sector organisations in the Borough.

Speaking at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting at the Council House last night, spokesperson Andy Thompson, who has over a decade’s experience supporting voluntary and community organisations, call the decision “short sighted and damaging”.

The council has drawn up plans to cut the grants pot by up to 100% for the next financial year as well as charge higher rents for voluntary groups who occupy council owned properties as part of drastic measures to save the council from bankruptcy.

In respect of the plan to increase the rents, Andy Thompson said:

“The problem here is that the council have over-valued these sub-standard properties and believe that they could let the properties to commercial clients and make around £82k a year more which is quite frankly ridiculous. One of the properties is completely unlettable because of structural defects, others would need significant repair to get them to a condition where they were attractive to commercial clients and others are earmarked for demolition in the next few years.”

“The reality is that should these community organisations leave these properties, the council would lose some or all of the £35k it currently gets in rents and then have to pay to keep the buildings secure and in good repair which will end up costing money and not saving it.”

What is of even greater concern is the plan to use the grants budget to offset the perceived £82k loss which means that the amount available for other community groups to draw on is slashed by more than half or removed completely.

“When the financial crash of 2008 occurred, and central and local government money dried up, we saw how the voluntary and community sector stepped up to support vulnerable people who had slipped through the gaps in the services provided by local authorities. With the prospect of a further financial crisis looming, now is the time to be investing in our voluntary and community organisations so that they can become self-sufficient and step up once again to help those who need it.”

We recognise that the council do not have to fund the voluntary and community sector but simply pulling their funding overnight risks causing many of these vital organisations to fold. When council services are cut to the bare bones, who is going to be there to help those who need it?