Funding lifeline for under-threat Hartlepool voluntary service

POSITIVE NEWS ... Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency manager Keith Bayley.
POSITIVE NEWS ... Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency manager Keith Bayley.

HARTLEPOOL’S flagship voluntary service which is facing the axe has been thrown hopes of a funding lifeline.

Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA) has had to dramatically reduce its services and make five members of staff redundant after Hartlepool Borough Council decided to axe a fund that supported it and numerous other town community groups as part of budget cuts.

I just think it’s such a sad state of affairs that this year we are not as a council providing any support, yet we are still giving ward member budgets to individuals to support individual causes.

Coun Pamela Hargreaves

But now council officers are to examine whether any underspend from last year’s budget could be used to support HVDA.

A report on the issue will go to a future meeting of the council’s Finance and Policy Committee to be debated by councillors.

It comes after an impassioned plea from outgoing independent councillor Pamela Hargreaves at the last full council meeting.

HVDA manager Keith Bayley said: “It is positive. The problem is it will be too late in terms of the staff who have gone.

“If something positive does come out of it, it would be positive.

“I know the council have got less money, but they are they only one in the Tees Valley not supporting a voluntary sector support body.”

Coun Hargreaves proposed that any favourable outturn in the council’s 2014/15 accounts be used to support HVDA which has helped bring more than £7 million into the town since it was formed 28 years ago.

Coun Hargreaves’ motion was defeated on a vote, but the council’s chief solicitor Peter Devlin agreed to investigate the matter and prepare a report for a future meeting of the Finance and Policy committee.

Mr Devlin warned against councillors making major policy decisions on the spur of the moment saying it went against guidance for good government.

Coun Hargreaves said HVDA was influential in helping community centres and the groups that use them which the council wanted to see thrive.

She said: “We have actually taken away the support that they get to be able to do that.

“I just think it’s such a sad state of affairs that this year we are not as a council providing any support, yet we are still giving ward member budgets to individuals to support individual causes.

“Every other local authority has a voluntary sector organisation that supports the sector that it can be proud of.

“It is a real shame that we have taken the decision not to support them.”

HVDA received around £68,000 a year from the council annually until March last year.

It was after the authority stopped its Community Pool in December. But it was decided councillors should use their ward budgets of around £5,000 to support individual causes like HVDA.

Chairman of the Finance and Policy committee, Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher, said he could not predetermine its decision regarding new HVDA funding.

He said: “It depends what other demands are on this council covering all services that we have to protect given we’ve had a reduction in our overall budget.”

HVDA, in Victoria Road, helped 214 groups and almost 600 volunteers in the last year alone.

Due to its financial difficulties it is now down to the equivalent of 1.5 full time workers.

Mr Bayley added: “There may be some European funding next year but it is not clear if it is going to replace the funding we have lost.

“If we don’t get any more money we won’t be here next year.”