Hartlepool Council to slash funding for voluntary and community groups

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

COUNCILLORS have confirmed plans to slash funding to voluntary and community sector groups due to savage budget cuts.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee has rubber-stamped its original decision to cut 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 confirmed to reduce the maximum grant that groups can apply for from £15,000 down to £10,000, while 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.

The decision was taken despite pleas by some councillors, including Pamela Hargreaves, who put forward a motion at a recent full council meeting which could have seen all councillors agree to donate a sum of their individual ward budgets to HVDA.

But the members of the finance and policy committee confirmed their original decision.

The committee heard individual ward councillors had already made a commitment to allocate £13,500 to HVDA and should other councillors wish to do the same that was for them to “decide individually”.

Labour councillor Chris Simmons expressed concern in relation to the funding situation for HVDA and referred to a letter from the organisation in which they confirmed that they had £159,000 in unrestricted reserves.

Coun Simmons said: “If this was indeed rainy day money, then that day has arrived.”

Independent councillor Paul Thompson said that was down to good governance arrangements and argued some of that was set aside in case of staff redundancies.

He added that HVDA provided key support to a lot of small voluntary organisations.

But Labour councillor Peter Jackson said it was his understanding the money was “unrestricted” and Labour councillor Rob Cook added that HVDA were not in as such dire financial straits as some charities and that they should meet the shortfall in the funds it had requested from its own reserves.

It was suggested that the funding withdrawn from under-threat Hartlepool Access Group be reinstated for 2014-15 from the unallocated ward budget funds that were to be carried forward.

But Coun Thompson and Labour councillor Robbie Payne said they couldn’t support that as it was like “making up policy on the hoof” and that proposal was withdrawn with members agreeing individual councillors may want to support the group independently.

Coun Cook had already stated that he would be allocating £1,000 of his ward budget to the Shopmobility service.

The proposal that HVDA be asked to meet the shortfall in its funding request from its own reserves was then put to the vote and agreed by the majority.

The committee then agreed to a proposal to fund the Environmental Apprenticeship Scheme in 2014-15 by top-slicing 20 per cent of the ward member budget funding allocation for 2014-15.

Keith Bayley, manager of Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), wasn’t available for comment but has previously said that while HVDA is not under threat he believes the changes will have a “devastating” affect in town.

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.