There’s been a lot of misconception going around – some of it accidental, but some of it deliberate. Let’s get to the facts of the matter and provide some more detail. As is often the case in this social media age, the accusations can be wrapped up in a single line, whereas the actual reality of the situation is a bit more complicated. I’ll update this post as new things come up. Here goes:
The claim: Redditch Borough Council is cutting support for charities in the town.
The reality: Rent subsidies for 9 organisations are being phased down (but not out) over three years – only some of which are registered charities. The level of support for the approximately 9 organisations (not all are registered charities) who rent from the council will stay the same at 70% for 1 year, before going down to 50% discount in year two, and then finally 20% discount where it will stay until a new policy is decided.
The Accusation: Redditch Conservatives don’t care about volunteer and community sector (VCS) groups.
The Response: The council, under Conservative control, is setting aside £525,000 over the 3 year period to support VCS groups in the town. That’s nearly 2% of the council’s entire budget at a time when it is under a ‘Section 24’ notice, which means the money will run out in less than two years unless drastic action is taken. In this situation the council would essentially fold and all but the legally required services would be cut, including funding to VCS groups in full. To be able to carve out 2% in these times is actually an achievement, especially if you look around the country and see some councils provide nothing. Previously, the level of support was around 4% of the council’s total budget.
The Accusation: Councillors increased their allowances whilst cutting support for VCS groups.
The Response: The decision to increase allowances was based upon an independent remuneration report that was rejected by the Labour-led administration for 11 years. This meant that Councillors were left severely out of pocket the more active they were – meaning the harder they worked for local residents the more out-of-pocket they would become. Allowances are not wages. They cover the cost of envelopes, stamps, paper, and petrol whilst working on behalf of residents outside of meetings, along with other incidental expenses. If a councillor holds a surgery at a cafe, as I like to do sometimes, the cost of me buying a tea/coffee for my constituent whilst we have a chat comes out of my pocket. If I have to write letters on their behalf the cost of the paper, the ink and the postage is on me. If I drive to a meeting on behalf of a constituent the cost of the petrol and the parking ticket is on me. No councillor goes into politics for the money, but how can we encourage people from poorer and working class backgrounds to get involved if the reality is they will be quite a lot poorer for doing so. This leads to only wealthy and usually retired people becoming Councillors and that’s jut not representative of the demographics of Redditch.
Claim: There aren’t any VCS groups who don’t rent from the Council
Reality: That’s just not true. There are around 9 organisations who rent from the council. According to the Charity Commission there are over 1,997 charities registered across Worcestershire and there are many groups across the town that rent from private landlords – and get no subsidy for their rent.