Opponents and supporters of community pilot make their case

Supporters and opponents of the Ilfracombe Neighbourhood Community Budgets pilot have their say non the scheme.

ILFRACOMBE’S Community Budget pilot is part of the ‘localism’ drive introduced by the coalition government and is being championed by Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government.

After making a successful bid for funding was given a one off payment of �136,500 to set it up, with the aim of pooling resources to better manage and run local services.

It is hoped it will reduce red tape and conflicting efforts from different councils or organisations.

Here, the Gazette looks at the arguments for and against the scheme:

Councillor Ron Ley: “Our town lacked vision for many years and now we have one through our Strategic Plan, adopted in 2010. No matter how clever it might be to create a written plan, without determination and leadership in taking action it remains only words,” said Councillor Ron Ley.

“Talk is cheap, criticism is easy, and opposition from a minority vocal people not uncommon. We must not allow this to deflect us from the greater benefits Localism will give to our community.”

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Cllr Paul Crabb: “We, as a nation, simply can’t afford to work in the inefficient ways of the past where individual agencies work in isolation, rule from afar and provide a one-size-fits-all service without an understanding of the local situation.

“Some councillors have chosen to, either by accident or design misrepresent what is being achieved in Ilfracombe. Our town council, for so long little more than a ‘pressure group’ with a begging bowl forever held out to Devon County and North Devon District councils, is now working incredibly hard to build the kind of new relationships, a new trust in each other, and the new structures which will ensure we are well placed to truly influence the new way local services will be provided in our town.”

Councillor Rod Donovan: “A few dissenting councillors are trying to prevent our community having the chance to have a greater influence in affairs of the town and setting the priorities at a time when budgets for public services are reducing.

“This programme is about integrating services and minimising waste, because we need to provide the same or better services with less money.

“We must ensure we protect the most vulnerable in our town and together work towards a better and healthier living environment and the involvement of the wider community and not just the council is vital to achieve this. This is the underlying theme of the Community Budget Pilot.”

Cllr Frank Pearson still believes cost is the main issue and says the forecast figures for next year’s budget showed staffing costs leaping from �124,000 to almost �201,000, a rise of 58 per cent, to pay for an additional full time and two part time posts plus overtime.

“What is worse, the money has come from community grants, which will be cut from �32,000 to �15,000, while �37,500 has been taken from the regeneration budget leaving it with little,” he said.

“In 2013/14 there are no grants, it is all coming out of the town’s money. Cuts in regeneration, community grants and the use of council reserves are all going to pay for this scheme.”

Cllr Bob Thompson said the proposed budget cuts amounted to ‘�50,000 year-on-year’ and would ‘deny organisations in our community the direct financial support that so many need, and seriously limit any opportunities to support regeneration projects’.

“The original intention of the Ilfracombe pilot experiment was that it should be at no cost to the ratepayer,” he said.

“We have no idea the damage future cuts will have on our community and this money should at least be saved and used to mitigate their inevitable negative effects.”

Cllr Margaret Blundell said the issue was ‘causing some disquiet’ amongst ITC members:

“We have already been asked to agree funding for three additional workers but without knowing what their roles will be,” she said.

“There is no evidence an appointed NCB board will provide a better service than the elected members of ITC. Certainly the decisions that can be made will be no different whoever leads the process.

“How has engagement with local people happened? ITC has appointed two paid workers who have asked people one question ‘Should Ilfracombe take control back?’ that leads essentially to one answer. I’m not sure that is true community engagement.

“I do not doubt the sincerity of members supporting this initiative, but I do think there is a little naivety.”

Wendy Butler has been a member of the steering group working on the pilot project, representing the voluntary sector.

“I have grave concerns about the rising costs of the NCB experiment – and, if it’s official, the fact that costs are to be funded by a proportionately massive reduction in the community grants budget which supports local charities and services for the most vulnerable.

“Vital community support funding is being sacrificed - all in the name of ‘localism’. What madness is this?”

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