Anger erupted over the future of funding for charities and community groups in Brighton and Hove as a vital report was delayed without a vote today (Monday 1 July).
One councillor described the process as undemocratic while another said that “the timetable for funding our precious charity and voluntary groups could be put into doubt”.
This would create financial uncertainty for charities and community and voluntary groups and potentially place services and jobs at risk – or contribute to staff looking for jobs with more security.
The report was expected to recommend delaying decisions about funding but, with the prospect of defeat in the council chamber, discussion was postponed until a date to be set later this month.
The opposition Greens and Conservatives criticised the new Labour leadership for delaying the process anyway by pulling the long-planned report at the last minute.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson complained at a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting when she was told that she couldn’t speak about the item.
The former mayor told the council’s Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee at Hove Town Hall: “What happened to democracy?”
And, Green councillor Steph Powell, who was also told that she could not speak on the matter, said afterwards: “The city council has just completed over 18 months of consultation with our city’s community and voluntary groups.
“The results effectively match the aspirations of our voluntary groups and the needs of our communities.
“Given that agreement, it was a nasty shock that today the Labour chair pulled the report at the last minute which has prevented councillors having oversight of the plans.
“This now means that the funding programme for our highly valued community and voluntary organisations won’t roll ahead as planned.
“The report already has the support of many community groups and the council’s cross-party group on community grants.
“An independent review also found that the council funding programme provides value for money, is vital to the survival of community groups in the city and is delivering important benefits to residents.
“Today we were told that this important issue will still be debated but our big concern now is that the timetable for funding our precious charity and voluntary groups could be put into doubt.
“Despite pushing for reassurance that the original report will still be coming to the committee for a decision in the future, to this date we have received no commitment from the chair or the Labour council that councillors will be given the opportunity to continue with the third sector funding programme already agreed.
“If councillors have no certainty over this, we can hardly expect our community and voluntary groups partners to feel certain about their own future.”
Labour councillor Kate Knight, the new chair of the council’s Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee, said: “In my opinion we need to pause the process so that I as a new member of a new administration, along with my fellow councillors, officers and partnership representatives, have the necessary time to make sure the prospectus and the funding programme delivers on our priorities and supports the delivery of the council’s new corporate strategy which is in the early stages of development.
“I think it’s important that the committee takes a look at the entire process so that we learn from good practice as well as ensure that, at every step, we’re keeping it all as straightforward and simple as possible.
“No one wants to add to the bureaucratic burden we all face on a daily basis.”
In the past three years £2.34 million was allocated to the “Third Sector Commission” – a programme of grants and contracts. The total is expected to be cut.
The community and voluntary groups which were awarded the grants attracted further funding totalling £6.27 million – much of which would not be available to councils.
Projects benefiting from funding included mental health support for people with Asperger’s syndrome, support for families of children with special educational needs and disabilities and the provision of financial advice and support.
In January the council’s Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee was told that the funding had enabled charities and voluntary groups to help 36,000 people across the area – more than the 25,000 expected.
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