WIRRAL community groups face losing a £1m funding package after it was suspended while the council tries to deal with a budget crisis.
Council leader Phil Davies said the decision to suspend the Neighbourhood Funding project was a “responsible decision” as the authority faces a £17m overspend this year alone.
But Tory group leader Jeff Green said he had been “horrified” by the move and many community groups which depend on small grants via the neighbourhood funding would now struggle to continue, and road safety schemes planned by area forums face being set aside.
He said: “This funding is about giving communities a say in identifying needs in their areas and being given the resources to meet them.”
Lib Dem councillor Mark Johnson said 181 community groups had applied for grants and added: “Although we have not yet signed a contract with them in ink we do have a moral contract.”
He said : “These groups can do things at a fraction of the cost the council can, and help people the authority struggles to reach.”
Cllr Johnson plans to bring the issue to the next meeting of the full council, and has launched an e-petition on the authority’s website.
The fund is aimed at community groups, businesses, voluntary organisations, social enterprises and public sector bodies which have a “project that will help the community”.
They are distributed via area the 11 forum meetings held across the borough which have funds ranging from £53,044 to £85,771.
Cllr Green said: “The whole process is in danger of being thrown into disrepute, when a further £200,000 of new expenditure is being approved to expand the human resources department, taking on three senior staff members.”
Cllr Davies said “no definite decisions” on funding have been made but the freeze is needed until they get the budget under control – and hit out at the Tory criticism of the move saying: “We are in this position because of Jeff Green’s party in government making massive cuts to our budget.”
He said: “We have not cut this funding, we have suspended it while we make sure we’re in a position to balance the books by the end of the year. If we do not balance the books the budget will not be legal.”
Chief executive of Wirral Council, Graham Burgess said government funding cuts meant the council had “no choice but to take immediate action, which includes freezing all non-essential spending and releasing reserves we no longer require”.
Thousands help cut Council budget – Page 16