Cash plea to save agency

Pam Hargreaves.
Pam Hargreaves.

COUNCILLORS were asked to agree to give at least £1,000 of their individual ward member budgets to support a voluntary organisation facing severe cuts next year.

The request came from Councillor Pam Hargreaves at Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting of the full council.

In a passionate plea to fellow councillors, Coun Hargreaves put forward a motion which would have seen all councillors agree to donate a sum of their individual ward budgets to Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA).

The voluntary organisation, which provides support and information for voluntary community sector groups, has received council funding since 1986 but a contract with the authority worth £70,000 will be axed in May as council chiefs are forced to make further drastic cuts.

All councillors receive a ward budget of £5,000 to distribute in their neighbourhoods to address specific resident and ward issues, but Coun Hargreaves, who refers to herself as independent Labour but is classed as independent by the council, said many councillors are nowhere near spending all of that cash.

She urged her fellow councillors to help “plug the gap” of the cash which will be axed at HVDA, saying the authority can raise £33,000 for the voluntary organisation if every councillor donates £1,000 of their own ward budget,

Other councillors praised the work of HVDA in the community but rejected the idea of the motion, saying it was down to each individual member on how they spend their ward budget.

Conservative group leader Coun Ray Martin-Wells, said he didn’t agree with the idea of enforcing how the ward budgets are spent but was joined by his two fellow Rural West representatives, Coun Brenda Loynes and Coun George Morris, in vowing to hand £1,500 each from their ward budgets to HVDA.

Coun Jonathan Brash backed Coun Hargreaves’ motion, saying: “What we are talking about here is a relatively small amount of money that can come from each ward budget that won’t affect any frontline services or jobs.

“Make it £1,500 from me and let’s make a decision tonight and show our support for the fantastic work HVDA carries out supporting so many voluntary and community groups in Hartlepool.”

But Coun Robbie Payne, a Labour representative on the Headland and Harbour ward, said: “It’s about what we do with our own ward budgets.

“I’m proud to have supported Central Correctors which helps to keep 100 kids off the streets on the Central Estate.

“I’m proud to have supported the Headland Boxing Club.

“It’s about what we think are the priorities in our wards.”

The councillors all unanimously agreed that Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee, which meets again on December 20, should find a way of raising £33,000 for HVDA, as reported in yesterday’s Mail.

This week’s extraordinary meeting was called after Hartlepool Borough Council agreed to slash its Community Pool funding for specialist support services from £150,000 to £75,000.

It was also agreed to reduce the maximum grant that groups can apply for from £15,000 down to £10,000, while funding to Hartlepool Credit Union will be cut by 50 per cent.

The £70,000 HVDA contract came under a category which aims to support and develop the voluntary community sector (VCS), but that category will be scrapped from May.

Keith Bayley, manager of HVDA, based in Victoria Road, has previously said the organisation is not under threat but said the withdrawal of council funding sends out the message the local authority no longer supports the VCS.