Community groups in Hartlepool face closure after councillors agree ‘devastating’ budget cuts

Keith Bailey, manager of Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency
Keith Bailey, manager of Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency

A VOLUNTARY organisation fears community groups in Hartlepool could face closure after councillors agreed controversial plans to slash funding due to savage budget cuts.

Keith Bayley, manager of Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), said the decision to cut a funding pot for voluntary and community sector groups will have a “devastating” affect in town.

It comes after Hartlepool Borough Council agreed to slash its Community Pool funding for specialist support services from £150,000 to £75,000, with narrower eligibility criteria focusing on family poverty, which could exclude groups previously funded.

It has also been 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.

There will also be no funding for the HVDA, based in Victoria Road, from May next year after it was agreed to stop a contract worth £70,000.

HVDA, which provides support and information for voluntary community sector groups (VCS), has received council funding since 1986 and in 2012-13 secured £194,000 of funding for other groups from external sources, supporting 252 groups and 686 volunteers.

Mr Bayley said HVDA is not under threat, but said the withdrawal of council funding sends out the message the local authority no longer supports the VCS.

Mr Bayley said: “The reduction in grant funding and the change in criteria are likely to eliminate many of the current recipients of grant aid which in some cases will lead to the closure of services.

“Some groups have received funding for many years, for example Hartlepool Access Group (Shopmobility), Hartlepool People Centre, Epilepsy Outlook and Hart Gables.”

The decision was taken by the council’s finance and policy committee, who said the cuts needed to be made due to savage budget pressures facing the council, which is looking to save £16m.

Mr Bayley said he understands the council’s situation, but added: “Cutting the funding from £150,000 to £75,000 will have a devastating affect in Hartlepool.

“Some of those groups have had funding since 1996.”

He added: “This decision will make it very difficult for HVDA to get other funding sources because they will look and see we don’t receive council funding and will ask why.

“If it had been a 50 per cent cut we could have stomached it, but not 100 per cent.”

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

My Bayley said HVDA receives £50,000 and SkillShare £20,000 to provide training. HVDA could still apply for funding, but will no longer have the contract from next year.

In 2013-14, the Community Pool budget supported 14 groups with three groups awarded contracts, Hartlepool Credit Union, HVDA and West View Advice & Resource Centre and 11 groups awarded grants including ADDvance, Epilepsy Outlook, Hart Gables, Hartlepool Access Group, Hartlepool Bereavement Service and Hartlepool People Centre.

Denise Ogden, the council’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “If this does not go ahead then these savings will have to be found from other front-line services.

“It is not a position that anybody wants to be put in, but we are in difficult times.”