West Sussex County Council has been asked to hold back on plans to cut a community funding grant in half.
The Community Initiative Fund (CIF) allows the 11 County Local Committees (CLCs) to give cash to community projects – and the county wants to cut its budget from £280k to £140k.
The CIF looks set to be the latest victim in West Sussex’s battle to cut its spending by £145m over the next four years – and the plans divided opinion at a select committee meeting in Chichester on Monday (January 14).
While some members called for the CIF budget to be cut completely, others were furious with the whole idea.
George Barton (Con, Sompting & North Lancing) said: “Why is it always the customer that suffers? We’re always taking something away from them or charging them more for something. There are other ways of saving £140,000.”
In April, the council changed the way groups applied for CIF grants, introducing its own crowdfunding platform – West Sussex Crowd – through which all applications were processed.
The system, which is due to be reviewed in the spring, allows businesses and other organisations to pledge their own funding to the projects.
While £118,000 has been contributed, figures put before the committee showed that the number of CIF applications received and funded had fallen significantly.
Questions were raised about the difficulty of using the new system, especially for smaller groups.
Daniel Purchese (Lib Dem, Rustington) said: “There’s a lot of organisations that are after small amounts of money who don’t necessarily have the time, ability or whatever to go through a crowdfunding process.
“And quite frankly, if they did they would do it through one of the mainstream providers and not have to jump through our hoops.”
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) said: “Demand for community groups isn’t falling, not in my experience. It’s just the system is not necessarily as inclusive as we might like.”
Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown) gave a more blunt appraisal, saying: “Just say it, the system’s rubbish.”
There was an opposing view from Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East), who suggested reducing the CIF budget to zero.
Mr Oakley said: “Though these grants are going to causes that are of benefit, compared with the other priorities that this council has overall, I’m afraid I believe that we should cease being involved in this whole process of sending out micro-grants.”
The committee recommended that the plans to cut CIF grants be postponed until after the review had been conducted.
They also asked that all unspent CIF money be put back into the system next year and not diverted to the council’s reserves.
The final decision will be made by Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, who said she had ‘taken on board’ what had been said about West Sussex Crowd.
She added: “It’s a new project and we’re collating the difficulties to put forward to the review. Moving forward we are taking into account the smaller funds and the difficulty there is for smaller groups.”