A FUND setup by the Council’s new ‘Borough Partnership’ to help Tunbridge Wells’ ‘neediest and poorest’ through the cost-of-living crisis has no money in it, the Times can reveal.
Back in July, the coalition Cabinet at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC), which is made up of Lib Dem, Labour and Alliance councillors, announced that it would provide a £100,000 Community Support Fund.
The pot of cash was meant ‘to provide support for those struggling on low incomes and help them cope with the cost-of-living crisis amid rising inflation and energy and fuel prices’.
Council Leader Ben Chapelard (Lib Dem) announced the financial help during the July 20 Cabinet meeting, saying afterwards: “Tonight, the Borough Partnership Cabinet took decisive and urgent action to tackle the multi-million pound deficit that we have inherited from the previous administration.
“As part of that action I am proud to say that the Cabinet has agreed to look to raise £100,000 to support the neediest and poorest residents in the borough through our Community Support Fund.”
But the Times can reveal that three months on, the balance of the fund still stands at zero with no money having been paid into the cash lifeline since it was setup.
It had been hoped the £100,000 for the Community Support Fund would come from any surplus money the Council had left over following its budget review that it began in July.
In that review, the Borough Partnership laid out plans to scrap free parking at Council-run car parks in Southborough and Paddock Wood, as well as introducing parking charges at Dunorlan Park.
The Cabinet subsequently U-turned on these decisions following a public outcry that led to petitions and protests.
It has now emerged that the Council has no surplus following the review, leaving the Community Fund empty.
The news emerged during a TWBC Finance and Governance Cabinet Advisory Board meeting last week (October 11), when Cllr Marguerita Morton (Lib Dem, St John’s) asked the Council’s Director of Finance, Lee Colyer, whether the fund had been abolished.
He replied: “The fund exists but it does not have any money in it as there was no surplus at the end of the budget review.”
The lack of surplus means there will be no cash available to help struggling families until after winter, when household bills are set to rocket.
But Leader of the Council, Ben Chapelard, said ‘advice’ was available to struggling families at this time of year.
He told the Times: “The Borough Partnership is very conscious of the financial challenges people are facing and to this end we are focusing efforts on working with our partners and have recently held a cost-of-living crisis summit.
“Anyone experiencing difficulties in paying their bills can go online to the Council’s website.”
But the Tunbridge Wells Conservatives said the coalition had been too ‘quick to make announcements’ since taking over the Council in May this year.
Head of the group and the former leader of the Council, Cllr Tom Dawlings, said: “During the meeting the Director of Finance confirmed that there were no funds in the Community Support Fund – a fund which the Liberal Democrat-led coalition had announced the creation of in the summer.
“My assessment of the Liberal Democrat-led coalition is that it is very quick to make announcements, especially on matters it perceives are popular, but this is done well before gaining much understanding of the difficulties of delivery and especially of the financial constraints under which the Council has to operate.”