The arbitrary cuts to Voluntary Sector grants back in March 2016 were cynical – they were never necessary. I wrote on a few occasions that the Council could not control their finances to the level of accuracy required to make that statement. A recent financial audit vindicated that assertion.
Cllr Repton also confirmed, at the time, through his evasive responses in the Council Meeting that he had no idea what the impact would be, both financially, and at a community level. “Voluntary Sector Grants: Council confirms no facts were used in making decision”
Anyone outside of the Council Cabinet “bubble” is clear that the Council could clearly afford to continue with these services, as the financial consequences would outweigh the initial cost….and the community impact could be far-reaching, and very damaging.
There are many examples of where this is now happening.
Nearly 18 months ago I wrote about Ravi from the Indian Community Centre. “Ravi: A Blessing from the Indian Community in Derby”. I illustrated her typical work:
When an elderly lady comes into her office, who can’t speak English, and who needs help with her bus pass, but doesn’t know where the Council office is, there are options. There are long term solutions but are they practical and realistic? What the old lady needs is a caring hand from someone who will help, not signposting, and courses. Ravi understands that – she knows that she can significantly help that woman’s life with one phone call, immediately.
Sometimes people come in to discuss their personal problems, and Ravi just listens. They share details and issues that they don’t divulge to their family – they just need to talk about it. She doesn’t necessarily solve anything but she provides a caring ear, and for many, that is important.
For many of the dozens of elderly Indian men and women, as well as others from the different communities in Normanton, Ravi created a safe and welcoming space. Not something that could be measured on spreadsheets, and reported with graphs….but the community value could be felt.
Her role was sustained by a £20k grant from Derby City Council which was cut along with everyone else in June 2016. The management committee were able to extend her employment for a further 4 months, at reduced pay, as the results of many external bids were awaited. They all proved unsuccessful – most funders want measurable, innovative, substantive projects with grand strategies, definable outcomes, boxes ticked, graphs prepared – all very corporate….and inconsistent with community work with elderly Indian people. Years of being funded by Derby City Council did breed a reliance on a simpler route for finance which meant that time was needed to allow a transition to new funding – this was not allowed.
30th September 2016 was Ravi’s last day, she had to move to support herself and her son. The volunteers, ladies and gents of the Centre were very saddened – life will not be the same. Everyone will try to maintain the spirit valiantly but they know it will not be easy. Those elderly who broke free from social isolation will probably slide back into their old ways at home, those with early stage dementia might become disorientated and stop being supported, the community atmosphere will fade, and something very vital will be lost, for ever….for what? To save £20k, when the Council underspent by £2.2m in 2015/16.
It’s about decisions, and priorities, and taking accountability. To blame it on Tory cuts is just empty callous rhetoric. Cutting grants of this nature was, monumentally the wrong decision, and the community will suffer in many and varied ways for a long time. As people leave the city’s charities and their influence lost, their good work, unlike the water in the fountains, cannot be switched on again, in the future, with the turn of a tap…..
Sometimes it’s not about cost…it’s about community. Something you would expect a Labour Council to understand.