22nd Mar, 2019

Councillors to be handed £5,000 for good causes sparks fiery debate

Ross Crawford 27th Oct, 2018

A MAJOR shake-up of the grants system in Redditch will see all 29 borough councillors handed £5,000 each to give to local good causes.

The move, which will run for a one year pilot period heralds the end of the council’s grants panel which had required organisations to apply for money.

It also sees a cut of £20,000 to £220,000 in the cash available for grants, with £75,000 of that going to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

At Tuesday night’s borough executive meeting the initiative was welcomed by the controlling Conservative group for giving power back to councillors.

“With the system as it stands organisations are almost paying professionals to make their grant applications for them and we all know of causes which are really worthwhile but their application is not as good as the others and so they lose out,” said Coun David Bush (Con, West), who added the grants panel system was also too bureaucratic.

“This is a chance for all councillors to make a difference in their local communities.”

However Coun Bill Harnett (Lab, Church Hill) blasted the plan, describing it as ‘an outrageous proposal’ and a ‘retrograde step’.

“In previous years the grants were tailored to the council’s strategic aims – what checks will be made by members on the organisations they give grants to?” he said.

“Will they be encouraged to look at their accounts? It seems like an administrative nightmare.”

Coun Gregg Chance (Lab, Central) acknowledged improvement could be made to the existing system but feared the new proposals could become politicised.

“At the moment we can make sure the money, and this is public money, is spent wisely,” he said.

However his suggestion that grants could be used as a ‘bung’ to improve electoral prospects at election time brought a sharp response from Coun Tom Baker-Price (Con, Headless Cross & Oakenshaw) who said: “There is purdah at election time and no member will use money to buy an election. It is wrong, unlawful and the suggestion offensive.”

Coun Bush said each member would be accountable for how the money was spent while the entire process would be overseen by a council officer.

The new grants system will run in tandem with the planned borough lottery where 50p in every £1 spent will go to good causes, chosen by the lottery players themselves.

A proportion of what the council takes from the lottery will help subsidise the new grants system.

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