Groups fear lifeline grants from council could be cut next year…

Pam Mills

COMMUNITY groups are worried for their existence with thousands of pounds in council funding set to be lost. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] has blamed central government cuts on their proposal to reduce grants to organisations by April 2020.

The authority provides a combined £255,000 to 13 groups, the largest of which being a £140,000 grant to Citizens Advice. Grants to Trinity Theatre and Shopmobility could also be affected.

A TWBC spokesman said: “Government funding continues to be cut and we are seeking to make financial efficiencies ahead of 2018/19, when we shall receive no further funding.

“We have been working with the organisations who receive grants from us to mitigate the impact of the inevitable reduction in their funding from us. “We have put three-year agreements in place which reduce funding to voluntary and community sector organisations year on year until 2019/2020.”

Members of organisations approached by the Times stated they had not heard from the council and were unsure about what, if any, cuts might be applied.

But while discussions are set to begin, groups are wary of the impact of any reductions.
Rod Dann, Curator of Cranbrook Museum, said: “This is worrying, we are run by volunteers and do not charge for entrance, so we rely on the £4,500 grant to keep going.”

He warned: “This could well mean the museum has to close. I hope the council realises this.” Amanda Bell is Chief Executive of West Kent Mediation – an organisation supported by Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells councils, with the latter authority providing £2,500.

She said: “If the funding was to pull out it would have a massive effect, and it would be hard to maintain the service we provide. “The council has been generous enough to fund
us and it is diffi cult to comment until they confirm things with us.”

The council has introduced the TW Lotto scheme, where public money goes to support good causes, as a replacement in part – although Mr Dann said this was ‘not enough’.

Caroline Riddle, Chairperson of Tunbridge Wells Shopmobility – a group who receive £12,000 a year – said: “The council has not told us anything. “If we did not get funding from the council we would have to close. The grant goes towards supplying scooters and keeping the service going.

“It has already been reduced from £19,500, and is a small amount to keep going on. “We are mortifi ed by the thought of it stopping and we all feel completely in the dark.”

Councillor says cuts will fund Civic Complex
Money gained from cutting grants will be used to support the opinion-dividing Civic Complex, according to a councillor. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] will tonight [December 6] vote on advanced plans for the project, which will cost a gross £90million.

The authority needs to find £2.3million in savings by 2023 to help finance the net revenue cost. Financial documents suggest TWBC will ‘find alternative ways to support community groups and environmental grants’ to save £280,000. A TWBC spokesman said: “The reductions to grant funding will have to happen regardless of the decision the council takes.”

However, Cllr James Hannam (pictured above), who represents Frittenden and Sissinghurst ward, said: “I know councillors who say they will vote against cuts but vote for the theatre. That is ridiculous, I’ve been trying to point out it is going to the theatre.

“In a committee meeting, I asked the council’s Financial Director if there was an alternative [financial plan to find the £2.3million], but he was not able to say.”

Mike Mackenzie (pictured below), Trustee of Paddock Wood Community Advice Centre, said: “We rely on the funding to help 500-600 people every year. In my personal view, TWBC has always been good at balancing the books. I am not saying the theatre is wrong or right, but they should think carefully where they draw resources from.”

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