The Head of Community Services presented the Voluntary and Community Sector Grants Programme Report 2019/20. Members were advised that the report proposed changes to the grants system, whereby each Councillor would be allocated a budget of £5,000 that they could use to provide financial support to initiatives within their ward or across the whole Borough. In the report Officers were suggesting that this approach to grant funding should be trialled for one year. Should Members agree to change the grants process the Council’s Grants Policy would need to be reviewed by the Executive Committee and this, together with guidance in relation to the new framework, would be reported to the Executive Committee in due course.
Members discussed the proposals in some detail and raised the following points during this debate:
· The Grants Panel had been working for many years to review applications for grants.
· Concerns were raised that often the same organisations applied for grant funding from the Grants Panel and funding was often awarded to those organisations with experienced bid writers, even though groups that did not have this expertise might want to deliver a good project in the community.
· Members also raised concerns that the existing grants process was bureaucratic and resource intensive. However, concerns were also raised that there would still be some bureaucracy arising from the proposed new scheme as Officers would need to consider funding agreements for all 29 Members.
· The Grants Panel was a cross-party group and operated in an apolitical fashion. Decisions were made based on reaching a consensus.
· Decisions made by the Grants Panel under the existing system enabled Members to award funding that matched the Council’s strategic purposes. Concerns were raised that under the proposed new scheme this might not happen.
· However, the proposed new system would enable Members to provide financial support to groups that met the needs of residents living in their wards. Members could use their local knowledge to direct their funding choices.
· Members questioned how groups would be monitored to ensure that the grants they received were spent on the projects for which they had received the funding. The Committee was advised that the guidance would set out the criteria for groups to be eligible to receive a grant.
· The checks that would be undertaken in relation to organisations that were applying for funding were also questioned. Officers explained that the guidance would require Members to provide funding only to registered charities. However, the Council would not be checking the levels of reserves retained by those charities.
· Training would need to be provided to all Members to enable them to approve grants in line with the Council’s guidance.
· The Council would be required to publish details in respect of the grants that were agreed by Members. Legally the Council was required to publish any spending over £500.
· Concerns were raised that some groups might apply for funding from every Councillor without Members being aware of the situation and this could lead to an unfair distribution of funding. Officers explained that all proposed funds would need to be processed by Officers and they would identify groups that were seeking support from every Member.
· Further concerns were raised that Members could use the funds for political purposes, for example close to a local election. However, it was also noted that under the rule Members would not be able to approve funding during the election period.
· There would be the potential for Members to pool resources within wards and this could involve working with Members of another political party.
· Members commented that some Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations had expressed concerns about the proposed changes to the process during the consultation period. However, it was also noted that change could be unnerving and some groups had welcomed the suggested changes.
1) the VCS Grants Programme change from a corporate competitive grant giving process to one where funding proposals are made from Ward Councillors for qualifying organisations – a Councillor Community Grants Scheme;
2) £5,000 is made available to each Ward Councillor to support VCS organisations, and /or VCS led projects and initiatives in their ward or the wider Borough;
3) during 2019/20 a minimum of £350 be dedicated from each Councillor’s allocation to project(s) which promote cultural awareness and cultural cohesion;
4) the new programme be piloted for a year;
5) the Head of Community Services be given delegated authority to sign off funding proposals;
6) a refreshed VCS Grants Policy and Guidance Notes for the Councillor Community Grants Scheme be drafted and considered at a future meeting of the Executive Committee; and
7) funding received from the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) Recycling of Metal Recovered from Cremation Scheme be allocated as part of an application process and decided by a panel of members.