5th Jul, 2020

Redditch Tories agree to reduce subsidies for VCS groups

Ross Crawford 24th Jan, 2020

A SERIES of cost cutting measures and price hikes have been approved by Redditch Borough Council for the year ahead.

The move comes as the authority struggles to save millions of pounds after being warned it is in danger of running out of money.

However a key concession has been wrung from the borough by those Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) groups in council properties which have been receiving rent concessions.

They will now have three years of staged subsidy reductions to zero rather than the original two as proposed by the authority back in October 2019.

The VCS groups, mostly caring for the most vulnerable or helping to keep crime off the streets, feared they would be forced to close had the original plan gone through.

Many still face an uncertain future but this decision, made at full council on Monday evening (January 20), draws a line under what has been a public relations disaster for the authority.

Liz Williams, who manages key VCS organisation Reach CIC based in Winyates, said: “It’s disappointing that this has gone through, but it does give us some hope because we now have an extra year to talk to people and realign where we are and to look at opportunities and possibilities.

“It also gives the community we work with another year of having somewhere to go.

“This was hard fought on both sides; there was a massive divide between us and we have managed to close that somewhat.”

However Gary Roskell of Bromsgrove and Redditch Network based at Community House questioned the valuations council officers had put on the properties should they be let on the open market.

“It’s all hypothetical – they will never get the money they expect to get. It’s nonsense,” he said.

“For us at Community House, we’re a landlord – how will a landlord apply for grants? If we asked our tenants to pay the increase, we would have to put their rents up by 230 per cent.

“I can see that for some groups the extra year will make a difference, but for others it will just delay the inevitable.”

The VCS groups also raised concern about the retention of their ‘meanwhile leases’ which could see them made homeless should a commercial tenant want to suddenly move into their property.

Pete Rose of Reach CIC said: “Having the meanwhile lease sit alongside the withdrawal of the rent concession makes it a double whammy for our organisations.”

At Monday’s meeting the controlling Conservative group voted to reduce the council’s ‘Concessionary Rents Scheme’ over three years with the 70 per cent discount continuing for one year, reducing to a maximum of 50 per cent in the second year, and then 20 per cent in the third year.

Labour voted against the plan.

Speaking after the meeting Councillor Mike Rouse (Con, Church Hill), whose portfolio covers Leisure, said: “We will be keeping the main VCS grant scheme making it accessible to all VCS organisations – regardless of whether they rent from the council or not.

“Applicants will have to justify the value they bring to Redditch residents and communities.

“Ultimately, this is taxpayers’ money and it should be used to benefit the borough in the best way possible.”

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