Residents’ Association and Independent Councillors challenged Surrey County Council to restore a £385,000 cut in the funding used by individual County Councillors to support the work of local charities, faith and community groups within their Divisions. This attempt was blocked at last week’s Council meeting when the ruling Conservatives voted down the proposal.
The Conservatives had cut £35,000 from the budgets of each of the County’s eleven Local Committees. This money has for years been used by local councillors to fund local projects in their communities.
Examples given by Epsom and Ewell Residents’ Association County Councillor Eber Kington included IT equipment for the Citizens Advice Bureau, a state of the art side-by-side tandem bike for SeeAbility and a vascular probe for Epsom General Hospital.
This year’s funding cut follows a previous cut in 2014/2015, and speaking during the Council debate Cllr Kington argued that the funding was so important:
- “Each individual Member can react to a very local need or respond to a community request, targeting resources where otherwise something might go unresolved or unhealed”.
In Epsom and Ewell, the £35,000 cut has meant a loss of £7,000 for each County Councillor, equivalent to 40% of their individual funding allocation.
The Conservatives argued that the £385,000 has been moved to fund the school building programme. However this was argument was dismissed as false by Residents’ Association and Independent County Councillors.
Cllr Nick Harrison, Residents’ Association County Councillor for Nork and Tattenhams said:
- “The Tories could have made a different choice and taken the money from the Leader of the Council’s Community Improvement Fund of £500,000 a year. That remains intact, with power over support funding concentrated at the centre whilst locally we see our funds draining away”.
Ewell County Councillor John Beckett commented.
- “The Conservatives are spending £400,000 of council taxpayers’ money on a Magna Carta sculpture which should have been paid for by public subscription, donations and sponsorship. Instead they cut the funds which we have used for key local projects, making no effort to seek alternatives funding streams for the art work.”
The reduction of £35,000 in available funding is already making a difference. County Councillors now have to make even more difficult choices over which groups and projects to support in their communities. In one area some County Councillors have recently had to decline support for a charity giving employment advice to those with mental health problems, a friendship club at a local psychiatric unit and a choir festival.
Cllr Kington commenting after the Council Meeting said:
- “Enabling individual Members to fund local projects and community organisations within their Division through the Member Allocation process can make an enormous contribution to well-being and provides a real and positive connection between Surrey County Council and Surrey Residents. Cutting that Member Allocation year on year is a retrograde step which suggests that the current County leadership has lost its way on localism, and lost its sense of local priority.”