At Cambridge City Council’s West/Central Area Committee on the 18th of June 2009 a new process for giving out grants to community organisations was used for the first time. Applications for City Council grants had been pre-screened by the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation (CCF). Requests for grants were not presented to the committee by a council officer, as has previously been the case, but by Jane Darlington the CCF’s Chief Executive. Prior to the meeting the CCF had considered if there were alternative sources of funding, administered by CCF, which could be applied to each of the projects seeking funding. The decisions on how to spend City Council funds were still taken by the area committee.
This appears to be a good deal for at least two groups involved; the organisations seeking funding benefit from access to a greater range of funding sources via a common application form; and the council no longer have to pay an officer to write a report and attend committee meetings to make recommendations for spending the council’s community development grants. Quite what the benefit of the arrangement is to the CCF is less clear; I cannot imagine they will benefit from a significant number of additional applicants for their funds, certainly not enough to warrant the amount of time they are to spend servicing the area committees. Perhaps the CCF itself has received funding from the City Council to provide this service? There are few details of the new arrangement online. Prior to the initiation of the scheme all that had been in the public domain was an aim to initiate a “partnership with the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation”. The first time councillors will have an opportunity to question this change will be at the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 25th June 2009, a report the new arrangements to that committee states:
CCF will advertise available funds; support potential applicants; assess applications; present recommendations to Area Committees; advise applicants of Area Committee decisions; make grant payments and seek feedback and monitoring from the funded projects.
Marketing the Grants
The Cambridgeshire Community Foundation will be marketing the grants via their website, newspaper articles, posters and leaflets which are distributed around the city.
Community Development Officers publicise the grants via their mingle munches, and local neighbourhood newsletters. Local community centre managers/workers encourage relevant groups to apply.
Members may encourage groups they know about how to apply. If the group is not yet constituted and doesn’t have a bank account – they can still ring the Foundation who will advise them.
Councillors at the West/Central area committee appeared confused about what they were being asked to do, not least because the basis of, and rationale behind, the new arrangement had not been explained. New Market ward County Councillor Sarah Whitebread didn’t help by asking: “how much have we got to spend?” following the introduction of the item. She was referred to page three of the report where the committee’s £5,833.00 budget for the year was clearly given. She later claimed to have been asking how much Cambridgeshire Community Foundation had to spend, a question which a council officer intercepted and suggested was irrelevant and none of her business – as councillors were there to make a decision only on the funds they control. (If, as a county councillor, Sarah Whitebread had a vote on spending these city council funds at the area committee was unclear to me.)
A further problem was the lack of clarity over any offering of money from other funds which the CCF had arranged. It appeared to me that the person from the CCF presenting the report never confirmed that any organisation applying to the area committee had actually received money from the CCF, just that there was an intent “to offer” money, or that a project “was eligible” for money, or that a scheme had been “agreed for funding” these all sounded like carefully chosen weasel words to me.
After the item, during a brief break in the meeting, I pointed out the lack of clarity to Cambridge City Council’s Service Head for Community Development, Ken Hay, who was in attendance. I asked what the status really was with respect to the sums of money which the CCF reported were to be offered from other funds. He told me that “to offer” meant the organisations had in fact already got the funding from those other sources. I suggested this be made much clearer in future area committee meetings. I find it hard to believe that this really is the case, as surely any organisation which has had its needs fully met from other sources would withdraw its application to the area committee; any request for funding an already funded project would amount to an attempt to obtain money by deception, a criminal offence. What I believe was missing, based on the report and presentation, was a probability that any project would receive the money they sought from another fund managed by the CCF, and an estimate of how quickly that money might be paid.
The Grant Requests Considered
Request for £210 – Hire of hall at Wesley Church, 2@ £45 total, £90.00; publicity materials, 2 @ £15 total £30.00; public liability insurance, total £40.00; domain name for JGA, £30.00; misc expenses £20.00.
The committee decided to refuse the application on the recommendation of the CCF who advised they would be able to offer (or had actually given?) the £210 from another fund they managed.
The Harambee Centre
Seeking £5,000 towards a Cambridgeshire Wide Project costing £70,000 intended to: “improve the lives of communities by challenging stereotypes and negative perceptions of marginalised communities. The project will also reflect community cohesion strategies based on valuing diversity.”
Councillors wanted to know more about what would specifically be done in the area they represent. The CCF representative said that attempts had been made to seek more detail prior to the meeting but no extra information had been forthcoming.
Windsor Road Residents Association
Councillors had a long debate about if they ought fund social gatherings for residents associations. They came to the conclusion that people ought pay for their own social gatherings and the kind of things the council were prepared to fund were start up costs, and some basic support costs.
A couple of councillors appeared interested in funding the mobile phone expenses for the “Helping hands” mobile service, but Cllr Bick urged the committee not to spend any time discussing the item on the grounds the CCF verbal advice was that the association was “eligible” for an alternative source of funding. Other councillors agreed. Cllr Smith wished the Windsor Road residents good luck with their charitably funded socialising; she had quite rightly in my view, been opposing any public money from Cambridge City Council going towards such parties.
Richmond Road Residents Association
A committee of five, supported by Cllr Hipkin, had asked for £250 to get an association started. Cllr Hipkin had argued that residents of both Windsor Road and Richmond Road were not all rich and middle class, “as one might think from the appearance of the area” and that they were in fact, like the vast majority other areas of the city, very socially mixed. The CCF reported that they had no funds they could offer to start-up organisations; councillors agreed to give £250 from their funds to the new organisation.
Under Fives Roundabout
This is an independent not-for-profit pre-school, offering pre-school, playgroup and toddler groups, in Warwick Road run by a committee of 11 parents. While the school is independent, the scheme benefits from state funding. Their application for £674 stated: “£300 would enable the project to start immediately. The pre-school had planned to walk children to Histon Road Recreation Ground as their summer outing, but the play equipment has been vandalised and the risks involved in using it are too high. As an alternative they would like to visit the Botanical Gardens, enabling the children to explore nature and make use of a beautiful local resource. This requires hire of 2 coaches, one for children who attend in the morning and one for the afternoon.”
Councillors were told the scheme did not fulfill the criteria for any other funds held by the CCF, and approved a grant of £300 from the City Council’s funds.
Potential Questions for the Scrutiny Committee on Thursday the 25th
- How much are the CCF getting paid by the council (or other public bodies?) for administering the area committee grants, and how much are the council saving by not doing it in-house? If it’s not money, what’s in it for the CCF? (There is likely to be a cost saving as administrative costs are shared among district councils throughout the county, if this is the case, why not shout about it?)
- Will future reports to area committees clearly state if a grant has already been given to a project from an alternative CCF source? If that grant is for the full amount requested, will the request be withdrawn from the committee’s agenda?
- If a grant is to be offered by an alternative source, will some idea of probability and timescale be given to the area committee to assist them in their deliberations?
The new executive councillor responsible for Community Development and Health is Cllr Clare Blair. While she did not attend the West/Central Area committee to see the new scheme in operation and there are no further area committee meetings scheduled before Thursday the 25th as an avid reader of this website she will now be aware of some of the initial teething problems with, and questions raised by, the new arrangements.