Plans to slash the Community Initiative Fund’s budget by a third as the county council celebrates its tenth anniversary has been branded ‘monstrously hypocritical’ by the Liberal Democrats.
In the last decade the CIF has awarded more than £3.2 million to approximately 2,000 community groups, small charities and organisations across West Sussex, and its impact was celebrated last week in the run-up to Small Charity Week.
But West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for corporate relations Bob Lanzer is being asked to approve a £378,000 reduction to the democratic services budget, and this could include a £142,000 cut to CIF’s budget in 2017/18.
James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group at the county council, attacked the proposed decision, but Mr Lanzer argued that during times of financial pressure the authority had to review the ‘suitability of its budget for spending such as CIF’.
Dr Walsh said: ”This really is monstrously hypocritical, as the Tory county council is slashing the money for the community fund by one third, or from £6,000 to £4,000 per member of the council.
“This means that vital small grants that make a real difference to voluntary groups around the county just won’t be available any more.
“The council is constantly asking members to do more to support our local communities, whilst slashing the actual support available. It is yet another example of saying one thing, but actually doing something totally different.”
In response Mr Lanzer (Con, Maidenbower) said: “The Community Initiative Fund (CIF) has helped many West Sussex organisations over the years and will continue to do so for years to come.
“It is worth celebrating the enormous value it has brought to many small local charities across the county over the past ten years.
“The fund will continue and we remain committed to encouraging community groups to bid and benefit from these grants – please contact your local county councillor in support of your application.
“During times of financial pressure, the council must review the suitability of its budget for spending such as CIF.
“A cross-party group of members has suggested proposals which could see a reduction in the total amount available.
“The county council actively awards various grants to community groups and small businesses, plus other funds for sustainable projects such as flood defences through initiatives like Operation Watershed.
“The council will continue to review the value these funds bring to West Sussex residents in order to ensure that the money is well spent.
“The CIF fund will continue to provide support for numerous charities, organisations and local groups all of whom provide an invaluable role in their communities. We are delighted to be able to carry it forward.”
The council’s CIF anniversary coincides with its support for this year’s Small Charity Week – an awareness campaign offering advice to charities with an annual income of under £1 million.
Latest figures from the Charity Commission show that there are currently 2,623 registered small charities in the county.
Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council said: “Small charities continue to serve our communities on a budget and cascade crucial national research, yet their work doesn’t always receive the recognition it deserves. Many, many people rely on the support and help of small charities.”
In 2015/16, the council awarded its third highest CIF sum total of £383,036.31, a figure more than double the £163,229.41 donated countywide in the fund’s first year. Chief executive Jane Plumb said: “The CIF funding has enabled us to expand by taking on four additional volunteers. In return for helping the charity meet its aims, we have helped our volunteers to ultimately work in other environments.”
Worthing-based Asphaleia Action provide a training centre for vulnerable young people and used its £1,000 grant to purchase two iPad Air 2s and a DSLR camera to assist with classroom learning.
Hayley Roffey, Asphaleia’s development manager, said: “We had been thinking of ways to bring technology to young people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to access it themselves.”
Group B Strep Support, which has headquarters in Haywards Heath, invested its £2,500 grant on new equipment for the benefit of the support centre’s staff. This included two computers with accompanying office desks, chairs and a printer.
Community interest company My Sister’s House, based in Bognor Regis, was awarded £2,395.
Founder Julie Budge said: “CIF funding has allowed us to purchase industrial sewing machines for volunteers and apprentices to run our ‘upcycled’ clothing enterprise.”
For more information on how to apply for a CIF grant or to see videos with the three charities mentioned above visit the council’s website.
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