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Council responds to Voluntary Sector claims and announces approach to sector funding

East Staffordshire Borough Council is announcing its approach to voluntary sector funding for 2016/17. During the forthcoming financial year the Council will:

  • Give out approximately £1m in business rate relief annually to charities and other organisations who meet our criteria. The organisations receiving this funding include: East Staffordshire Citizens Advice (ESCA), Age UK, Burton Albion Community Trust, Burton YMCA, Support Staffordshire and others.
  • Provide a number of voluntary sector organisations with accommodation for a peppercorn rate. This totals over 4,300 square feet of premises, which is approximately equivalent to £30,000, and has been made available to organisations such as Harvey Girls and Mobility Link.
  • Look to commission initiatives that the Council deems necessary and complementary to the core activity currently delivered by East Staffordshire Borough Council, as and when, through the third sector in East Staffordshire; and
  • Funding Burton Albion Community Trust through the Neighbourhood Development Fund to deliver a community sports astro pitch – equating to £40,000;

Overall, the Council is reducing its funding to the voluntary sector by 27.8% as the Council faces a 100% reduction in Revenue Support Grant itself.

The Council will not be awarding Grant Aid funding to voluntary organisations whose safeguarding policies have been unable to meet our assessment criteria which included the requirement for the documentation to: reference the principles, current legislation and guidance that underpin safeguarding policy; demonstrate annual review, approval and endorsement of safeguarding policy by their board of trustees.

This specific criterion required all safeguarding policies to be updated in line with the requirements of recent legislation. Disappointingly, 87% of applications for Grant Aid funding failed the safeguarding evaluation this year and 94% of those were because of that specific criterion. The Council was also surprised that there was a certain amount of ‘gaming’ when it came to the size of the funding requested, with one organisation knowingly requesting two thirds of the overall funding available.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Grosvenor said “The approach totally supports the Council’s strategy to target voluntary sector funding and responds to the situation the Council has found this year in terms of the lack of appropriate safeguarding documentation, in a post Savile world. It also removes the arbitrary way in which funding can be awarded and claimed for with organisations applying, in some cases, for double the amounts they have received or requested in previous years in the knowledge that the award could be reduced at assessment stage.

“The Council recognises the many benefits that an active community and voluntary sector brings to the Borough and as such, we would like to stress that the outcome of this process is not a reflection on the quality of the service provided by voluntary organisations.”

The Council would like to respond to the public statement made by Support Staffordshire (normal font face) with comments in bold below:

East Staffordshire Voluntary Sector – Public Statement – 12/02/16
 

In response to the decision announced by East Staffordshire Borough Council to make no voluntary sector grant awards in the coming financial year, the local voluntary sector would like to make the following collective public statement.

East Staffordshire Borough Council has only made private and confidential communications to the 39 organisations that applied for Grant Aid funding for 2016/17.

We acknowledge that the ESBC Grant Aid process needs updating and we offer our support and involvement in any proposed re-design.

The Council would like to thank the voluntary sector for their offer, however it would be inappropriate for those organisations who could be potentially receiving public funding to influence how the funding is distributed. That would be completely unacceptable to the East Staffordshire taxpayer.

However, the timing of this announcement, after an application process has already been undertaken, gives voluntary organisations negligible opportunity to find alternative resources to protect front line services, potentially affecting thousands of local residents including many individuals who are most vulnerable.

Each year the Council carries out an annual bidding process for voluntary sector organisations who are informed of the outcome this time every year. Each year the recipients of Grant Aid vary depending upon the outcome of the evaluation. As such, it is the responsibility of the individual organisation to plan for all of the potential outcomes which includes accessing funding at any time.

We acknowledge that the reality of the current environment for public sector organisations includes significant cuts to their operating budgets, and the voluntary sector is willing to bear a fair share of these reductions.

The Council has received a 100% reduction in its Government support grant. Grant Aid has never existed to support the operating budgets of the voluntary sector organisations. The Council has increased its voluntary sector grant budget each year since 2009 by inflation. It also gives on average approximately £1m of business rate relief to the voluntary sector and provides over 4,300 square feet of office space to a number of voluntary sector organisations at a peppercorn (nominal) rate.

However, we note that ESBC Cabinet meeting papers scheduled for Monday 15 February, propose a complete and unequitable reduction of £366,000 to all voluntary sector support, which we cannot help but link to the Grant Aid decision to award no funding.

Because of the reasons given to the voluntary sector organisations for the failure of their applications, the budget line has since been removed accordingly.

Several of the 43 local voluntary organisations affected have stated that they are now at potential risk of closure due to the Council’s decision putting local services to vulnerable people at risk.

As previously stated, the Council received 39 complete applications before the submission deadline. Each organisation is required to have 6 months of reserves in order to find alternative grant funding to prevent closure, again Grant Aid has never existed to support operating budgets. In addition, despite asking Support Staffordshire for their bank details on 4 occasions, we have not yet received a response and so have been unable to make some of this year’s Grant Aid payments.

Because voluntary organisations prevent people from needing to access public services, the impact of this decision is likely to increase overall costs to the public sector to a greater level than the total grant aid award, potentially leaving people without the vital services they need at extra expense to the public purse and tax payers.

As the Council does not fund operational budgets we cannot see how this can be. Grant Aid funding has never been a guarantee, the recipients of Grant Aid can change every year based upon the quality of their applications.

The main reason given by ESBC for the decision to withhold grant aid relates to organisational safeguarding policies.

Local taxpayer money is potentially available for distribution to the voluntary sector organisations each year, this has never been a guarantee of funding.

In response the voluntary sector would like to make the following statement:

The majority of organisations have reviewed and updated their policies in the last 12 months, and do meet the standard required by other public sector bodies and local safeguarding boards.

The Council found that 87% of applications failed our safeguarding assessment based on the explicit criteria made available to all potential applicants, found within the assessment framework. This included the requirement to update safeguarding policies either annually, or as legislation changes. 94% of failures were due to reasons which included this criterion, for example one organisation was only planning to next update their safeguarding policy in 2018, 3 years after the most recent review.

The highlighted issues are largely about terminology and minor technicalities rather than core principles, policy, procedure and most importantly actual practice.

The Council takes safeguarding very seriously including a requirement to abide by the law in a post Savile era. Any criteria relating to terminology or technicalities is as a result of Government legislation.

The decision does not offer the opportunity and any support to organisations to update their policies in order to meet ESBC requirements, and therefore to raise the perceived quality of safeguarding documentation in the sector.

The guidance document, made available with the Grant Aid application form, stated: “Your organisation will be required to have an appropriate Safeguarding Policy in place”. It then also made clear the availability of an Officer for support in this area. The Council only received minimal contact from applicants regarding this matter during the 12 week period, which led it to assume that submissions would adhere to the criteria stated.

The reputational impact of unsubstantiated claims such as this on the local voluntary sector could be catastrophic, in terms of trust of service users and other funders.

The Council has only contacted the individual organisations privately, Garry Jones has made this public and any reputational impact as a result of that is not of the Council’s making.

While there are always individual organisations who can improve, we are confident there are no fundamental policy or procedural issues around safeguarding in the local voluntary sector.

The quality of applications submitted does not support that stance.

Therefore, the local voluntary sector asks that East Staffordshire Borough Council honour their publicly made financial commitment to the voluntary sector for grant funding in 2016-2017, and work with us to plan appropriately for any proposed changes in future years.

The Council has made no such commitment, as previously stated the funding is not guaranteed.

This statement has been produced by Staffordshire Council of Voluntary Youth Services (SCVYS), Support Staffordshire and VAST, in dialogue with, for and on behalf of the East Staffordshire Voluntary Sector. For further information or enquiries it has been agreed that Garry Jones, Chief Executive of Support Staffordshire, will be the first point of contact: garry.jones@supportstaffordshire.org.uk or call 07494 483199

The Council is disappointed that the Chief Executive Garry Jones did not contact the Council to discuss the matter before breaking confidentiality by going public. The Council has not previously had any engagement with Garry Jones on Grant Aid prior to this public statement. Similarly, the Council is also disappointed that Support Staffordshire’s Locality Team Leader for East Staffordshire, Jacqueline Sowsbery-Moore, has not attended any of the 7 Neighbourhood Development Fund Panel meetings since July 2015, the purpose of which is to agree Council funding for projects across the Borough.

2016-02-15 00:00:00