Cuts to hit community centres
Date published: 01 November 2018
Wardleworth Community Centre
Cuts to community centres that provide services ranging from yoga and luncheon clubs to welfare advice and play-groups have been approved by Rochdale Council chiefs.
Funding for the 14 grant-funded centres is to be reduced by 50 per cent in 2019/20 and removed all together from the following financial year.
However a ‘transition fund’ of just over £93,000 will be created to allow the centres to bid for additional monies, based on a criteria yet to be agreed.
This pot will be available during the two year period and beyond into ‘future years’.
A council report acknowledges this could ‘significantly reduce’ the services they provide, and raises the possibility that some may close. Those affected include Wardleworth Community Centre, Syke Community Base, Deeplish Community Centre, Sparth Community Centre, Meadowfields Community Centre in Belfield, Crimble Croft in Heywood, Back O'th Moss Community Centre in Heywood, Burnside Community Centre in Middleton and Demesne Community Centre in Middleton.
The plans, which follow a six-week consultation, were approved by cabinet members and are expected to be rubber-stamped at the next meeting of the full council in December.
Mohammed Miah, manager of Wardleworth Community Centre, said the pulling of the funding would have a ‘devastating effect’ on the ‘vital services’ provided by his centre and others.
He said: “It’s basically going to be a sudden drought for many community centres that have been open for many, many years and eventually it will come to closure, because they will not be able to sustain a 50 per cent cut followed by no funding after that.”
Mr Miah added it would be ‘very difficult to survive’ on monies from the transition fund, noting that, divided between 14 centres, that only leaves £6,000 each on average.
However, despite the cabinet's unanimous approval of the plans, there were serious concerns raised over the future of the centres by members.
Councillor Neil Emmott said: “I don’t want to see a situation where some community centres may be having a grant cut and then left to sink or swim; I would not want that to happen. I want to come away with guarantees that there’s going to be support for community centres. I don’t want to set people up to fail.
“Very often we will say to people ‘you can go away and be self-sustaining' and we walk away and don’t provide any support or help so they can do that."
However he was reassured by the £93,000 annual pot available for bids and the promise of extra help where required.
It is understood that assistance will be available from the successor to Rochdale CVS and council officers post 2021, but the details are yet to be developed.
But together with other cabinet members, including Councillor John Blundell and Councillor Liam O’Rourke, Councillor Emmott questioned why the criteria that will be used to assess bids from the £100,000 could not be applied beforehand.
He said: “I’m uneasy about the blanket cut: there are some community centres that don’t always perform as well as we would want, but there are some that are outstanding and I would not see those providing a great service to fall by the wayside.”
Questions were also raised as to whether the results of the previous Pulse review could not be used to assess which were the best-performing and most valuable centres.
John Rooney, the council’s assistant director of information, customers and communities, said the authority did not have the information available to make a decision in a way that would be seen as a ‘fair approach’.
He added that the Pulse review was more than four years old, and centres had developed in their own ‘bespoke’ way of operating, concentrating on different services.
But Councillor Emmott said he did not ‘buy the idea’ that centres could not be looked at on a performance basis: “There are some providing absolutely first-class services and we have to remember they also provide services we don’t provide as an authority – and very often perhaps we should provide those services,” he said.
However, despite his concerns, he said the reasurrances given by council leader Allen Brett had reassured him sufficiently that he was ‘okay but not happy’ with the proposal.
Councillor Brett said: “I’m not happy having to bring these savings year after year and I have been doing them under finance and now as leader for a long time, we have got to the stage where we are not just cutting the sinew, we are cutting the bone. And some of those we have rejected for this year will be back next year, because that’s the name of the game.”
And Councillor Sara Rowbotham provided reassurance to her colleagues. She said: “We absolutely appreciate and understand community centres offer valuable roles within the community, we need them to do more and diversify and look at best practice across the borough, so a really good community centre will support other community centres that might not be operating on the same level.”
She added that the future would be defined by ‘co-operative model where everybody learns from the good community centres across the borough’.
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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