A ‘row’ has broken out between the two major political groups at Cotswold District Council over the rejection of several community support grant applications.
Every year, Cotswold District Council allocates each of its elected council members the facility to award grants totalling £2,500 each, to projects that foster community spirit, reduce social isolation, increase youth activities or youth facilities across their individual wards.
In the past, grant awards have been given to projects such as youth clubs, community cafes and community events.
At last Wednesday’s full council budget meeting, the Conservative group put forward a motion requesting the grant remained linked to the local councillor and the local community, but the motion was rejected by the ruling Liberal Democrat group.
The conservative group fears that smaller parish councils or small community groups will lose access to valuable funding. They also fear an unnecessary barrier is being placed between local councillors and the local communities they represent.
Leader of the opposition Conservative group on the council Richard Morgan said: “It’s obvious that because the Lib Dems want to cut out local Conservative councillors and control this grant centrally, and because they have started wholesale rejections of Conservative applications in the last phase before the new rules come in, this is purely motivated by party politics.
“I think the CDC Lib Dem leadership group have watched too many episodes of House of Cards.
“I just hope they realise it’s real people and our local communities that are being affected.”
However Cllr Mike Evemy, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance says it’s a shame that the Conservatives have created a ‘row’ over their poor understanding of the council’s community grants scheme.
He said: “A total of £85,000 was made available in 2019/20 to support activities in our communities.
“This figure is equivalent to £2,500 for each councillor.
“The Conservatives seem to believe this means that individual councillors can decide how the money is spent in their wards.
“This is not, and never has been, the case.
“These decisions are made by me as the responsible cabinet member.
“Under the previous Conservative administration they were taken by the leader of the council.
“I make these decisions following review of the applications by council officers.
“So far this year, 70 applications have been received, of which 26 have been declined, 10 of those are from wards held by Conservative councillors.
“To suggest that grants have been politicised demonstrates that the Conservatives don’t understand how decisions are taken in the council despite having run it for 16 years until last May, or, that they do not accept that they no longer take the decisions after residents elected the Liberal Democrats to run the council last year.”
Cllr Evemy said all decisions on grants can be evidenced.
Cllr Tony Berry of Kemble had his youth club funding turned down.
“This is just a ridiculous situation,” Cllr Berry said.
“I have given the same grant to the same youth group for the last five years.
“Now suddenly it’s rejected because the youth club is part run by the local church, so it’s been rejected on religious grounds! It sucks of party politics to me and it’s the youth of Kemble that will lose out!”
Cllr Evemy said he declined the grant because it was made by a group whose aim is to ‘advance the Christian faith in Stroud, Gloucestershire and the surrounding villages’.
He says he judged that the proposal included religious activities and therefore was not appropriate to be supported by public funds.
Cllr Richard Norris who represents Tetbury with Upton had supported an application for St Mary’s playgroup to receive funds.
“Tetbury has seen a number of nursery closures recently so I wanted to support this one,” Cllr Norris said.
“I was given guidance from the CDC grants team that this application was worth submitting, but it’s obviously been rejected.
“Previous applications of this nature have been successful, I am still not really sure why this one has not, but I can make an educated guess.”
Cllr Evemy said he declined the grant because the application was asking for support to subsidise a service rather than a community activity, and therefore was not an appropriate use of scheme funds.
Cllr Richard Morgan also had his application to support the Christmas Lights switch on event in Avening rejected.
“I first spoke to the grants team in August 2019 about the event, and they advised we should submit the application but remove a specific food item which would not be acceptable,” Cllr Morgan said.
“The parish council took this advice and submitted the application without the specific food item, but it was rejected in January because the event had already happened.
“Apparently, the Lib Dem group no longer accept retrospective applications.
“This decision now leaves Avening Parish council with a hole to fill in their budget.”
Cllr Evemy said he declined the grant because the application was submitted in January after the event for which it was made had taken place and that the council do not fund retrospective applications.
“We will be designing a new grants scheme for 2020/21,” Cllr Evemy added.
“If the Conservative councillors would like to discuss how this could help the communities they represent then I’m happy to meet with them.”