26th Sep, 2020

'Dark night for Redditch' - council to remove concessionary rent for VCS

Harry Leach 16th Jan, 2020 Updated: 21st Jan, 2020

THE Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) is one step closer to having its concessionary rent stripped after executive members voted to slowly remove it over a three-year period.

The controlling Tory group made the decision at the town hall on Tuesday, in what was described by some as a ‘dark night for Redditch’.

A number of options were being touted before the meeting began but ultimately it was ‘option five’, out of a possible six, chosen to go before Full Council next month where it will almost certainly be passed.

In year one the VCS groups will be expected to continue paying 30 per cent of their rent (totaling around £35,000) with 70 per cent (around £82,314) being covered by the cash-strapped authority.

However in the second year, groups would pay 50 per cent of their rent and in year three they would be expected to pay a staggering 80 per cent – almost three times the current rate.

By year four the scheme would be withdrawn all together, leaving groups to pay the rent entirely on their own as the council looks to balance its books and avoid bankruptcy.

Although struggling groups would be able to bid into the VCS Grants pot for support.

Coun Mike Rouse said: “Whilst that’s one possibility, it’s not a definite.

“The scheme will be closed to new applicants and reduce to 20 per cent in year 3.

“When year 4 comes along the council will have decided on a new solution – which could even continue the scheme as part of a new approach, which we hope to design in consultation with VCS groups and the wider community.”

Jordan Cooke of youth group ‘Your Ideas’, said: “If the concessionary rent stops we would need to find an extra £12,000 per year.

“That would directly take away from the children who we work with.

“We might have to reduce or close some of our services, or maybe increase our costs for those who may not be able to afford it.

“But we will, as always, do everything in our power to ensure that we continue to serve young people and their families.”

Liz Williams, speaking on behalf of Reach CIC, said she understood that the council had tough decisions to make after it was served a Section 24 notice last year.

“I’m struggling to think of any Redditch organisations which privately rent.

“A lot of us rely on the council for funding and the decision will end up affecting everyone in the town.

“However we do not want to be unreasonable or cause trouble.

“We want to work with the council to find a solution because we are where we are at the end of the day.”

Council officers say, while it’s still possible that some groups would close over the transition period, it would give them the opportunity to sign a three-year lease knowing they have time to plan for the future.

However they also face being booted out of their properties during that time if a commercial tenant was interested in moving in.

Labour leader Councillor Bill Hartnett said: “It sends out a bad message to the rest of the town.

“The VCS is so valuable to this community and they do incredible work.

“For every £1 we put into the VCS we get around £10 back in value.”

Leader of the council, Coun Matt Dormer, said the authority will continue to support the VCS in ‘one way or another’.

“There are better funding streams out there instead of just relying on the Borough Council.

“We will help the VCS in whatever way we can, including assisting them with applying for funding at places like Worcestershire County Council.”

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