Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Funding Opportunities for Local Community Groups Agreed

Yesterday evening the Cabinet of the Liberal Democrat - Conservative Coalition of Reading Borough Council agreed new criteria and process for allocating £181k of new funding to voluntary and community groups in Reading £81k of the grant funding will be revenue and £100k capital funding.

This follows the decision on 17 January to agree the budget allocation for grants 2011/2012 and the setting of the overall budget of the Council on 22 February 2011 when the Coalition administration of the Council agreed to increase funding to the local voluntary sector - in marked contrast to other councils across the country.

This approach has won praise from the National Association of Voluntary and Community Associations and The Spectator magazine which recently described Reading as 'a model council'.

New revenue and capital funding streams have been created to distribute funding to community and voluntary sector groups in Reading which support the priorities of  the Council which include:
  • Better value for our residents
  • Fairness for all our residents
  • Pride in our town and ambition for its future
  • Innovation in all aspects of the Council to bring about positive change
I was involved in 2009 in a CCEA Scrutiny Panel Review of the way Grant Aid was allocated to voluntary organisations in Reading. This called for greater transparency and flexibility in the process. It also concluded that funding decisions should be more closely linked to the Council's overall priorities.

As I said at Cabinet last night, I am strongly in favour of this revised approach to grant funding decisions - after all, it is public money and we need to be able to justify every penny and pound that we spend locally.

This is important to increase public confidence in what the Council does both as a public body and as a local authority.

It is also importan to ensure the process for applying for grant funding is opened up to ensure it is as accessible as possible to all groups - not just a select few who understand how the process works or who perhaps benefited from funding in the past.

It has been necessary to improve Council processes in relation to grant funding: when Labour ran the Council there was a woeful lack of transparency and accountability in the way in which grants were allocated.

Under the new approach to funding, subject to Cabinet's decision there will be 4 grant rounds for groups to 'bid' for - in June, August, November and February for revenue grants: and 2 rounds in August and February for capital grants.

Following each round, in the interests of maximum transparency and accountability a Decision Book will be published providing details of proposed grant awards. Each application deadline and the budget balances will be clearly publicised through the Council's website and Borough Council's Funding Digest publication.

Grants will be non-recurring (i.e. for one year only) and in order to be granted applicants must provide evidence to the Council of majority benefit to residents of Reading Borough Council and value for money:
  • Small Community Grants - Budget £20,000
  • Large Community Grants - Budget £81,000
  • Capital Grants - Budget £100,000
The first category of grants is designed to support small projects including start up costs and events at neighbourhood level.

The second category of grants will be allocated to groups that demonstrate they are helping to address the Council's priorities of reducing child poverty, increasing community capacity and celebrity diversity.

I am particularly pleased to see the Council supporting community efforts to reduce poverty - this is a critical issue for us in Reading and something that Labour did too little to address when they were in power.

As my colleague Cllr Kirsten Bayes said in the meeting, with 1 in 5 children in our area living in poverty we believe strongly that the Council must look at everything it does to try to reduce poverty. This is something that the Liberal Democrats are firmly committed to doing.

The third category is for capital grants to local groups that are responsible for not for profit buildings or wish to improve their local environment and quality of life. For example, funding could go to building alterations and extensions, building equipment, and local area enhancement of a capital nature.

When councils across England are cutting funding to the voluntary sector, it sends a very positive message that here in Reading the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition is looking at new ways to support the efforts of community groups and volunteers who work so hard to improve local neighbourhoods and the lives of local people.

I really hope that local groups come forward and take advantage of these new opportunities.

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