Cambridgeshire Community Foundation Administering Cambridge City Council Community Development Grants

Monday, June 22nd, 2009. 1:55am

The Cambridgeshire Community Foundation Website is Advertising Cambridge City Council Community Development Grants

The Cambridgeshire Community Foundation Website is Advertising Cambridge City Council Community Development Grants

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

Jesus Green Association

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.

4 comments/updates on “Cambridgeshire Community Foundation Administering Cambridge City Council Community Development Grants

  1. Richard Article author

    I followed up on this by asking a public question at Cambridge City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee on the 25th of June 2009.

    I said:

    I would like to ask some questions relating to the new system for dealing with Community Development Grants at Area Committees, in which the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation are dealing with applicants and presenting recommendations to the committee. I observed the West/Central area committee last week, I think that was the first time the new system had been used.

    • What is in it for the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation? Are they being paid to service the area committees? How much is the council saving? Is this change making area committees cheaper to run?
    • There was no clarity on if some grant requests had been met from other sources.
    • Weasel words – “eligible for” “to be offered” were used making it unclear on if applicants had received money from other sources, or what the chances were of them receiving other money in a timely manner.
    • If some projects had received alternative funding; which the council officer was suggesting then surely the applications ought to have been withdrawn; they amounted to trying to obtain money under false pretences.

    I suggested the CCF recommendations need to be much clearer with respect to what has happened with in relation to attempts to get funding from other sources. Almost all applicants will be eligible for some other source. Being eligible is a world away from actually having received any money.

    The executive councillor responsible, Cllr Blair, responded.

    She said the council were working with the Cambridge Community Foundation in two ways.

    • Grants
    • Building up an endowment

    She told the meeting that the new process had been used at both the South and West Central area committees. Cllr Blair reported that the new arrangements were saving the city council £60,000 per year on the costs of running area committees. She reported that the CCF were being paid, they were to be given 10% of every Area Committee Community Development grant. That amounts to £5,000 per area in 2009/10 assuming that all the money is spent.

    Cllr Blair said she had not yet seen the process in operation, she had intended to attend the West/Central area committee but had not been able to. She said she would see it in action at the North Area Committee. She said the process was being refined and all suggestions, including mine, would be taken on board.

    I used my opportunity to follow up to say I thought it was very important that if a project had already been funded it ought not still be presented to councillors; it ought be withdrawn; and that there was a need to clarify the meaning of “to offer”.

    I also said I was expecting tree items (the new decision making process, and plans for public consultation on new planting on Jesus Green/New Square/Midsummer Common) at the Community Services meeting; I was told that these had been moved to Monday’s Strategy and Resources meeting. I was not given any reason as to why.

  2. Richard Article author

    I had questioned Cllr Blair during the public speaking slot at the beginning of the meeting. When the agenda item was eventually reached Labour Councillor Lucy Walker led the scrutiny of the council’s new approach to Community Development grants. Cllr Walker said the council was looking at “restructuring AKA cuts”, she said there were problems which the council needs to be alert to, with some groups feeling the pinch. She drew attention to section 3.5.2 of the report which states:

    The current method of awarding grants has resulted in some groups receiving funding from the Council over a sustained period of time, so any changes to priorities and processes will need to be carefully communicated and implemented in phases to ensure groups are able to manage the changes and protect services. There is a need for flexibility to support those groups who may face changes to their funding structure. This will be managed by a phased introduction, exit strategies for those affected and support to secure alternative funding linked to our partnerships with the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Support and other funders.

    Turning to what the committee was being asked to agree, she noted that the recommendation was to agree themes prior to consultation. She questioned the logic of agreeing priorities before, rather than after, consultation (such an approach is typical of a City Council “consultation”). Cllr Walker also asked how the changes to Community Development grants fitted in with the leisure and economic policy grant strategies.

    Cllr Walker said she was concerned about the £82,000 the council had allocated in 2009/10 for “Equality & Diversity – Support for BME and LGBT groups, people with disabilities, women lacking opportunities to live safe and fulfilling lives”. She said that in the past there had been a specific section for people with disabilities and said surely that group still needed what they did before.

    Asking about how the council monitored the effectiveness of its spending, Cllr Walker noted councillors had not seen the new criteria and scoring system referred to in the meeting’s papers and asked for that information to be made available.

    Talking about the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation’s role, she said she as interested in the points I’d made, and in how the CCF were going to work together with the council and locla groups. She said there was a need to look carefully at how different groups in the city get information about grants and what’s on offer via the CCF. Cllr Walker finished by asking about the staffing implications of the changes.

    The officer response was:

    • The priorities are to be a working document, therefore it was acceptable to agree them first and then consult.
    • The pot of money for people with disabilities had been difficult to spend over the last three years.
    • Out of the three “equality and diversity” pots the largest was for “BME” (Black and Minority Ethnic) and there was a lot of demand for that. There was a small amount for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), the other being “Disabilities”. The amalgamation had not resulted in an overall loss of funding.
    • Some significant disabilities funding came under the infrastructure heading, such as the “forum for disabilities” and “community initiatives”, at around £10K each.
    • In terms of measuring outcomes, the council does have a funding agreement with all groups, but it is difficult to measure “soft outcomes”, statistics are easy, but “impact” is much harder to measure.
    • Council officers are looking hard at “historic grants” (those which have been getting funded every year for many years), and putting “more resource into looking at how they are using our money”.
    • Officers agreed to circulate details of the new criteria and scoring systems

    Cllr Walker continued; asking about the area committee grants. She wanted more detail on how the CCF would direct groups to different sources of funding, and asked how would groups working in wards without community development officers be made aware of what was available. She also pointed to the two categories of grants which were not budgeted for on a per-area basis and asked how they would be allocated – would the area committees all be scrabbling for the same pot she asked.

    The council’s officers responded. On the CCF thee referred to the answer Cllr Blair had given me – saying it was early stages, they had yet to present the new system to all area committees and there were ongoing reviews on how it would work. Officers said that there had been “clear suggestions coming forward on how it can be improved”.

    The new single application process via the CCF is intended to enable applications to be considered for a range of funding pots, it would increase the total amount available and improve the chance of getting funded.

    The officers commented that the West/Central area spends least, and has trouble spending its budgeted funds which were there to try and stimulate community activity.

    After Cllr Walker had finished, Cllr Al-Bander asked about old people; he wanted to increase the proportion of the budget allocated to older people. The officer response was that this was unchanged from the previous year, and this was the kind of thing which could be fed into the consultation which would be reported on in October. Officers said they welcomed views both from members and the general public.

    Cllr McGovern asked about the correlation between budgets and the mapping poverty reports. He was told that allocation was calculated by two times the deprivation index percentage plus the population percentage all divided by three to give the funding percentage. Cllr McGovern asked why the North Area was getting more money – were people in the North getting poorer, were poorer people moving from West/Central to the North of the City? The officer who would know the answer was not present, and Cllr McGovern was advised to seek his answer outside the meeting.

  3. Richard Article author

    I attended the North Area Committee on the 2nd of July where that committee considered community development grants for the first time under the new system.

    The report to the meeting was still unclear on if funding proposed from alternative sources was guaranteed. However following questioning from Cllrs Pitt and Todd-Jones the CCF representative gave a very strong assurance that where the report said a group was “eligible” for other funding what that actually meant is they would be offered that funding on the day following the meeting if the councillors didn’t fund it themselves.

    There was some criticism of the CCF – with Cllr Blair complaining about the way numbers had been rounded up by the CCF. Some explanation was forthcomming – the CCF tend to round grants up. So a request for £760 rounded to £800, and one for £287.50 was to be offered £290.

    The committee decided to turn down a request from the Arbury Manor Branch of the Royal British Legion – for a coach trip. Their refusal was based on the fact the branch had £5,449 in their bank account in September 2008. The committee neither knew why that money couldn’t be spent on the trip, or had any more up to date information.

    The CCF representative explained that groups run by older people were often more cautious with their funds and reserves so often held so much they were not recommended for funding. It was pointed out this is a problem as older people are a target group for funding.

    Some councillors thought the CCF ought to have made more effort to contact the British Legion branch to find more details; others like Cllr Ward thought they’d done their job if they’d tried the contact details offered on the application form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Please consider saying where you are from eg. "Cambridge".
Required fields are marked *


Powered by WP Hashcash