Passions ran hot during a discussion on the withdrawal of grant funding which is distributed by the forums to good causes in their communities.
A community stalwart in Gornal says she is disgusted by the behaviour of councillors at a community forum. Chris Bate, who volunteers for a variety of organisations including Friends of Gornal Library and the Royal British Legion, hit out after bad tempered exchanges during the Dudley North Your Home Your Forum meeting on February 7.
Councillors joined members of the public in criticising the change while Conservative council cabinet member, Cllr Damian Corfield, insisted the cash was still there. Chris Bate, said:
“I used to come to community forums but this is the saddest one I have ever been to. It shouldn’t have happened, it was disgusting. It was political, it got out of hand, the meeting had more of the feel of a cabinet meeting.”
The usually reserved meeting sparked into life when the recent removal of funding for the small grants was raised by a member of the public.
Committee chairperson, Labour’s Cllr Sue Ridney, said: “We appreciate there are financial difficulties and there will be cutbacks.”
Cllr Ridney added when councils make cuts to services the burden then falls to the voluntary sector but she warned “it is foolish to cut funding that supports those little organisations. “It’s a concern for all of us.”
Independent councillor Shaun Keasey described stopping funding for the grants as “one of the most awful decisions that he has seen that council make”.
Cllr Mark Westwood, Independent, slammed plans for big regeneration projects in town centres while small grants are not being paid. He said: “We have got away from looking after local people – who would want an ice rink in Dudley?”
Cllr Corfield hit back, he said: “The money is still there, there have been spending restrictions put in place, it has been frozen. Residents need to know the truth.”
The budget for the next financial year, which will be debated and voted on at full council on March 4, has plans for around £7.7m in savings. Among the proposals is cutting £240,000 per year by removing discretionary grant funding per ward distributed via the community forums.
Tory councillor Matt Dudley said: “We have got to look professionally at pots of money, let’s not get carried away, especially this side of an election.”
Long-time Conservative councillor and former mayor, Cllr David Stanley, said: “We have got to work together rather than bickering and that is what has happened tonight.”
Council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, gave his support to Cllr Corfield’s remarks and added community grant funding would be considered once the council is confident it can deliver legal budgets. He said: “Councillor Corfield gave a bullish defence of the council’s position, he is correct.
“We have to show savings in order to have a balanced budget. “We would like to, at some point during the next three years, introduce some sort of community fund.”
Chris Bate said: “To community groups this funding is really vital, the system for community groups is shrinking and it’s really worrying.”