Cabinet agrees to extend funding for voluntary groups in Northamptonshire by 12 months

A 12-month contract extension has been agreed to continue funding voluntary organisations in Northamptonshire.

By James Averill
Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 5:02 pm
The contract extension was agreed at One Angel Square yesterday
The contract extension was agreed at One Angel Square yesterday

The county council’s cabinet agreed yesterday (December 17) to continue its social wellbeing contract with Commsortia for another 12 months from April 1 next year, though the funding was reduced by 25 per cent.

However, the money in the contract designated to the voluntary groups will actually see them receive more than they did before as the council seeks a more ‘equitable’ contract.

And the cabinet member responsible for adult social care says that the authority remains ‘committed’ to its voluntary sector.

The Autumn Centre in Corby puts on a packed programme of weekly activities for the over 65s. Picture by Alison Bagley

Speaking at the cabinet meeting at One Angel Square, Councillor Ian Morris said: “We remain committed to our voluntary sector organisations, as do Public Health. And this is part of our commitment towards that. But we’re actually making a greater investment in public health outcomes and the voluntary sector, so we are fully committed to those outcomes.

“We will extend the current contract by one year. That allows for 75 per cent of the current funding, so it will reduce from £1.6 million to £1.3 million.

“But contrary to popular belief we are not reducing the funding significantly. We have had to look at how we prioritise our public health grant, but we understand the importance of this area specifically.”

The current £1.6 million contract between the county council and Commsortia is entirely funded through the public health grant and expires at the end of March 2020.

Groups such as AgeUK Northamptonshire had expressed concerns that the council may not be extending the contract, which could have led to the closure of some of their day centres. Those fears appear to have now been allayed.

Currently, seven day centre service providers across the county are funded at a total cost of £656,000 per year delivering services to approximately 1,500 people per month. Their funding will now increase to £800,000. The groups include Wellingborough Afro-Caribbean Association, Serve, The Autumn Centre, Marlow House, Glamis Hall, Age UK and Dostiyo Asian Womens and Girls Association.

The current contract also saw £949,000 given to five providers of homelessness prevention support across the county. That funding will now be reduced to £500,000, and will be allocated to the existing providers.

Council papers say: “£500,000 is ring-fenced for homelessness prevention in Northamptonshire on the understanding that it is used in a way that meets the strategic priorities of the borough and district councils and complements the funding that they are receiving from the MHCLG.”

But Councillor Anjona Roy, who is also the chair of the Dostiyo group which receives funding from the contract, still had some concerns.

She said: “This is an issue that commands a lot of attention. A petition raised on the issue has attracted more than 3,000 signatures. I know a lot of councillors will have had letters directly from people who are beneficiaries and who are affected. This contract year-on-year has had cuts of 10 per cent every year, and it’s worth a fraction of its original worth. Despite this, the organisations concerned have continued to deliver with bigger expectations.”

She added: “I don’t accept that there is enough money to deliver full funding for the next two years. This is a tiny drop in the overall budget of the council.”

But responding to her comments, Councillor Morris said: “I have a lot of sympathy with these organisations, and we have been working with them and Commsortia and all the providers.

“This has been in discussion for quite a period of time and I’m not aware of any provider that’s particularly vexed by this situation going forward. It is more funding, albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

“I think it’s been handled very well, and we’ve consulted throughout.”