EXCLUSIVE: Council secretly pulled plug on £1.3 million of funds for Northampton's volunteer groups

The winners of this year's Northamptonshire Community Foundation Awards ranged from boxing clubs to foodbanks.
The winners of this year's Northamptonshire Community Foundation Awards ranged from boxing clubs to foodbanks.

More than £1 million has been stripped from vital community groups over the course of the next three years in a secret county council cut – even though the authority is looking to the voluntary sector to take over the running of its libraries.

Northamptonshire Community Foundation – the organisation which hands out hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to small child and parent groups, neighbourhood associations and much more across the county, has revealed that about a third of its yearly funding has been axed by the county council.

Chief executive of Northamptonshire Community Foundation, Victoria Miles.

Chief executive of Northamptonshire Community Foundation, Victoria Miles.

Chief executive of the foundation, Victoria Miles, has confirmed a three-year contract to hand out £1.3 million worth of small grants to voluntary groups on behalf of the county council was terminated via letter in July.

The announcement was not made public by the council and is not subject to any form of consultation. Mrs Miles, who has been working behind the scenes following the news, has chosen to speak out about the secret cuts now because she says the council’s plans to hand 21 libraries over to community groups is “hypocritical”.

“The implication of this plan was that community groups would step in to run the libraries. But my biggest concern is, if you are pulling funding from the voluntary sector, how are you expecting them to deliver library services if you are not providing decent support to the voluntary sector?”

It comes in a week that saw dozens of local groups who benefit from the foundation’s funding over the years attend an award ceremony at the Royal & Derngate. Among the nominees for awards were the Spencer Bridge Foodbank, Kings Heath Boxing Club and The Good Loaf – an artisan bakery that employs ex-offenders in the Mounts.

Victoria Miles says the council is taking a large chunk out of the voluntary sector by making the grant cut.

Victoria Miles says the council is taking a large chunk out of the voluntary sector by making the grant cut.

The average grant size given out by the foundation is roughly £3,500 each time – so Mrs Miles says the loss to its grant-making ability will see hundreds of groups going without funding. It just feels like the voluntary sector is being hit the hardest again.

“In the longer term, this is a time bomb waiting to happen. We are going to see less and less support for these services.”

As part of the recent raft of cuts announced, bus subsidies could be slashed in rural areas in the hope that – once again – voluntary groups could fill the void. But Mrs Miles believes the cut to the foundation’s contract is so wide-reaching, it should have been made subject to a public consultation. Furthermore, she first learned the contract would be terminated via a phone call in July.

“It just wasn’t very well handled,” she said. “My board were very upset by it.”

Mrs Miles has written to the MPs in Northamptonshire to state her concerns about the cut.

The foundation does receive additional funding for its work from other donors and from other charitable trusts. But the county council contract made up about a third of its overall grant-making funds.

Mrs Miles added: “We still want to talk about opportunities going forward.”

In response to the announcement by the community foundation, a spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Because of the council’s financial challenge, money is now being prioritised towards statutory services.

“On August 1, the county council gave three months’ notice to Northamptonshire Community Foundation, which was in line with the terms of the contract.”

The council is also considering another major cut to community groups across the county.

The Councillors’ Empowerment Fund sees £5,000 given to each of the authority’s 57 elected councillors to spend on small schemes in their wards from coffee mornings to Scout huts. However, it is set to be axed as part of the £9.4 million cost-saving plans.