Craven volunteers face ‘body blow’ cuts to funding

Craven Herald: Proposal: Councillor Mark Wheeler Proposal: Councillor Mark Wheeler

Community and voluntary groups in Craven say they are facing a “body blow” to funding at a time when they being asked to provide more services.

Craven District Council is being forced to save an additional £650,000 over the next three years – so is looking at removing a £70,000 budget which helps organisations such as Settle Swimming Pool and Craven Community Voluntary Centre.

Opposition councillors have labelled the move as “shortsighted”, but the council says it is trying to protect frontline services in the face of “sustained and unprecedented” cuts in government funding.

Last year Settle Swimming Pool received £17,700 and Craven Community and Voluntary Centre (CVS) received just under £6,000.

Trevor Graveson, chairman of the Settle Area Swimming Pool Committee, which has already seen its grant reduced by around £1,000 over the past three years, said the grant was vital to the organisation.

Speaking to councillors at a policy meeting, he said the pool is run as a charity on a tight budget and costs around £170,000 per year to run. He added that any reduction by the council, which had been “so generous in the past”, would be a “body blow”.

CDC has decided to protect its small and medium grant scheme of between £100 to £1,000, which next year will have a budget of £16,000, although an option to remove that has also been considered.

But it will reduce its “core funding” budget of £72,738 by 10 per cent over the next two years before stopping it entirely. CDC will take money from the New Homes Bonus fund, which is also being used to fund £220,000 improvements to Skipton Town Hall, to help plug the gap.

Coun Mark Wheeler (Lib Dem) whose proposal that the core fund remain unchanged was lost, said the New Homes Bonus should be used for the community. “It is not there to plug a hold in the council’s revenue budge, it is there for the community,” he said.

Coun Wheeler also suggested Skipton Town Hall was a “money-pit”, and said: “The [New Homes Bonus] should be put back into the community and put to work where it will eventually save this council money. In the long term, this would be a wise investment.”

Coun Paul English (Lib Dem) added that everything should be done to protect the voluntary sector, although it could not be immune to cuts.

Council leader Coun Chris Knowles-Fitton (Cons) reminded councillors that it was not a statutory duty of the council to provide community grants.

“There are a number of services that we are required to deliver, but this is not one of them,” he said.

He added it was discretionary services that would suffer, despite emotive comments of some councillors. “There will be other authorities where cuts are much deeper and where grants are not given at all,” he said.

He warned opposition councillors that the council’s finances were likely to get a lot worse, saying: “You should bear that in mind when you’re happily saying grants should be retained or increased.”

After the meeting, Mr Graveson, of Settle Pool, said he was pleased funding would at least continue for the next two years and the the pool would continue to apply for grants, while making up the difference by fundraising.

“Beyond the two-year period we will present a case for further support from the council, on the basis that we deliver services for the health and well being of the community in North Craven.”

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