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Funding for voluntary sector saved, but it will be cut

Coun Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism.
Coun Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism.

Financial support for the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in Northumberland is to be retained – but faces a cut of more than a quarter.

The VCS support services commission represents the only generic financial support the county council offers to VCS infrastructure organisations to provide advice and support services across Northumberland.

The current contract was awarded to Northumberland CVA (Community Voluntary Action) in 2014 for a three-year period and is valued at £137,500 a year.

But in the budget agreed in February, the council approved the axing of this commission, subject to consultation which meant that the contract was extended until March 2019 to allow this to take place.

A report to councillors explained that the feedback from this consultation clearly confirms that the commission supports the delivery of a number of activities that are valued by the VCS.

In light of this, there was a desire not to scrap the funding altogether and at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Coun Cath Homer proposed reducing the support to £100,000 – a £37,500 reduction – which was agreed.

Coun Homer said that it was clear that not only is the commission valued by the sector, but that it’s also of value to the council and that getting rid of it altogether would increase the workload for council staff, meaning it could be a false economy.

“It would involve some changes in terms of the liaison group (between the council and the sector), but I think that’s a really positive thing,” she added.

At last Wednesday’s meeting of the communities and place committee, councillors were unanimous in supporting calls for a £100,000 contract for the next two years – not without reluctance but with the desire of saving it in some form.

In response to a question about what would be lost through a £37,500 cut, Tony Kirsop, the council’s community regeneration manager, said that it was hoped other initiatives could take up the slack so that ‘the impact will be minimal’.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, said: “I wouldn’t want to play politics with this and want to make sure we get as much out of this as possible.

“With this type of commission, it’s not just the funding, but in a year without money, the expertise is lost.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service