LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Councillors not engaging with community over funds

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Councillors not engaging with community over funds

By Admin | 07/01/2022

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Councillors not engaging with community over funds

AFTER being elected I was pleased to see there had been some disciplines introduced for councillors over the way they spend their community leadership fund.

Over the years there have been a number of concerns over this fund that this year sees £150,000 divided amongst councillors to support community projects in their wards.

There have been questions of what is known as warchesting, where politicians roll monies over to spend as close as possible to elections in the hope the electorate will notice that when thinking of their votes.

If not deliberately doing this there is the question of if councillors are engaging with their communities and time limiting budgets would help discipline them to do so. In 2019 following a freedom of information request I found out that the former Labour councillors for my area, elected in 2016, had spent a little over half of their CLF and of that half had been spent on projects that were in other areas or borough wide. Indeed another question has been if Labour councillors in particular have pet projects they support regardless of the area they represent.

The impression that the rules around CLF had been misrepresented by advice at the start of the financial year and not changed with a few weeks to go to save the embarrassment of councillors who have not engaged with their communities is a false one.

The original advice in written guidance authored according to the document by the head of neighbourhoods stated in bold lettering that budgets had to be allocated by the end of January and spent by the end of March. I’m not aware of any councillor objecting to these rules at the time.

This advice was repeated, again in bold, in the form we send out to groups applying for funding, unequivocal and clear. Again, no councillor I’m aware of raised this publicly as an issue.

The advice and briefings we’ve received throughout the year from officers has been that this money needs to be allocated by the end of January and those of us committed to our communities have worked to this.

The advice was still being officially given in November. The Member’s Update, a regular bulletin for councillors from officers, on November 11 regarding the Community Leadership Fund stated: “Just a gentle reminder that the above fund needs to be spent by the end of March 2022. There is no carry over facility for this revenue funding.”

Then just seven weeks before the deadline, when no member had publicly questioned the rules, we received advice we could carry money over. I believe that this is purely to protect a number of councillors from the embarrassment of being seen to have not engaged with their communities, and who after a failure by officers to provide the information on who had money left at the time of the rule change have had to submit a freedom of information request to find out who is benefiting from this rule change, potentially having a war chest as we enter the last two years of our term and approach the next local elections. Once available this will be published and your readers can make their own minds up on said councillors.

Anyway, more important than the politics is the fact this money is there and hopefully any of your readers running community projects will now know about it. Contact your councillors and ask for it. As examples I’ve used mine to fund camping equipment for the DofE programme at Thrybergh Academy, sensory play equipment at Dalton Foljambe, equipment for the friends of green spaces group and set up costs for the new SEND youth club in Dalton.

Actually if you have a project in Dalton, East Herringthorpe and Thrybergh that can improve in particular facilities for children, young people and families then drop me a line to michael.sylvester@rotherham.gov.uk and let’s talk about next year’s budget.

Cllr Michael Bennett-Sylvester, Thrybergh



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