Councillors urge cabinet not to scrap Social Action Fund

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Council will finalise its budget in February but has to make millions of pounds worth of savings - Credit: Ken Mears

Redbridge councillors from both parties are asking the cabinet to reconsider plans to cut £40,000 worth of support for the voluntary sector out of next year’s budget.

The council predicts a £83million budget gap by 2025 and needs to make more than £25m in savings in next year’s budget alone.

At a cabinet meeting on December 15, deputy leader Cllr Kam Rai said the council has identified some possible savings, which it will now consult on, but has “£19million more to find”.

Councillors from both parties objected to plans to get rid of the Social Action Fund, a grant scheme set up this year to support groups helping those affected by the pandemic. 

Not-for-profit groups earning less than £100,000 a year could receive a one-off payment of up to £1,000. Previous recipients include organisations for the deaf or sufferers of arthritis.

Speaking at a strategy and resources scrutiny committee on December 10, Cllr Judith Garfield (Lab, Barkingside) said: “The voluntary sector has worked incredibly hard over the last eight or nine month and it’s obviously smaller organisations that get hit the most by cuts like this.”

Cllr Michael Duffel (Con, South Woodford) said: “I’m concerned that this is the year we are choosing to do this.

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“I have been a member of these voluntary organisations in the past and every penny does count.”

Cllr Helen Coomb, the cabinet member for transformation and engagement, agreed the sector has done “an enormous amount of good” and that it was a “difficult decision”.

However, she argued other sources of financial support set up this year, such as the Local Lottery, would mitigate the effect, which satisfied Cllr Garfield.

However, the majority of the strategy and resources scrutiny committee voted to recommend the cabinet reconsider the proposed cut. 

At the cabinet meeting on December 15, Cllr Howard Berlin (Con, Fairlop) asked the cabinet to respond by removing this saving from the budget proposals.

Cllr Rai responded that this was only “the first iteration of the budget”, which will be finalised in February, and that all cuts “are being consulted on” with residents and other stakeholders. 

He added the cuts proposed “go a long way towards” fixing the huge budget gap caused by Covid-19 and historic deficits but the council “still has £19m more to find” in under three months.

He invited Conservative group deputy leader Cllr Berlin to ask central government to “stop penalising Redbridge in the grant calculation formula”, pointing out that in the last round of Covid funding the borough was awarded £3.8m.

“Other boroughs in London received many times over that per head but also in the gross amount,” he said, “So I really hope you will help us to get that reversed.

“The comments on this budget have been noted and will form part of the conversation in preparing the February report.”

Council leader Jas Athwal added there will be “ample time to look at the budget” before February.

He said: “We are not agreeing the budget tonight. There will be plenty of opportunity for the budget to be looked at and scrutinised and any changes that need to be made will be made.”

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