Council backs Big Society with support for voluntary sector

UTTLESFORD District Council has reiterated its pledge to spare cuts to the voluntary organisations it supports, despite Government wealding the axe on its core funding.

UTTLESFORD District Council is putting it’s money where it’s “mouth is” and bucking a national trend by agreeing to continue to provide funding to support the vital work of the area’s voluntary groups.

Despite the Government taking the axe to the council’s core funding, UDC has stressed its commitment to voluntary groups, setting aside more than �280,000 to ensure the work of the groups can continue.

The council revealed its draft budget last week which it said aims to retain frontline services in the face of an 18 per cent reduction in its revenue support grant.

In line with other councils, UDC has agreed to freeze Council Tax (the Government is providing a monetary incentive to local authorities which do not increase the precept) as it looks to make cuts to balance its books.

But unlike many councils which have slashed budgets to the voluntary sector and place many vital services at risk, UDC has preserved voluntary groups’ funding for 2011/12 - �70,000 for capital projects and �211,000 in revenue accounts, which includes a contingency of �23,000 for organisations which fall into hardship.

Leader of the council Jim Ketteridge (Con) said: “We have put our money where our mouth is as much as we can afford to at this time, and our commitment is certain.

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“We hear all around the country that councils are cutting voluntary sector payments – but we are not doing that.”

Questions had been raised about the council’s commitment to the voluntary sector – and, indeed the Government’s Big Society – at a meeting of the finance and administration committee on Tuesday.

However, a Lib Dem proposal to provide a much larger pot of money to provide for the ‘Bug Society’ was turned down.

Uttlesford Liberal Democrat Alan Dean suggested that a Big Society Transition Fund be created. The fund – some �250,000 - he said, would be triggered by an �800,000-plus surplus from the New Homes Bonus, even though legislation has not been passed.

“I think this council takes caution to excess by assuming that it [new homes bonus] will be zero per cent. I want to see us looking at this in a positive way,” he said.

“The message I am getting from organisations in the voluntary sector is one of nervousness. They are worried about funding which has been coming in for years not being there – at the same time their demands are increasing.

“It would show a solid commitment to the voluntary sector if we created this pot of money.”

However, several councillors reacted angrily to the proposal – which was rejected by the committee – who slammed it as ill-timed.

“It is madness to put a sum of money in the budget that is not yet certain – what happens if it doesn’t materialise?” added Cllr Ketteridge.

“While the proposal is valiant, it is just not the right time. Legislation on the new homes bonus hasn’t even gone through government.”

Uttlesford’s budget – which has a net revenue of over �8million – is set to be approved at full council later this month, February 24.

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