Reprieve for two-thirds of Hunts voluntary sector cash cuts

TWO-thirds of the money Huntingdonshire District Council proposed to slash from its budget for voluntary organisations now looks set to be reprieved.

The council’s original plan was to reduce the �379,000 earmarked for the voluntary sector – nearly �170,000 of which goes to the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux – to just �73,000 over four years.

But, when the administration changed last May with the election of Councillor Jason Ablewhite as executive leader, the new man vowed to seek ways to reverse a number of cuts.

Now it looks certain that much of the CCTV coverage of the district’s market towns – scheduled to be mothballed in April this year – will be retained, and the budget for supporting the voluntary sector will fall to just �273,000 by 2013/14 – instead of suffering a planned drop of �243,000 in that year.

The extra money has been found in part by Cllr Ablewhite’s cabinet working harder. Instead of the nine members of the previous cabinet, the new body has just six executive members, saving one-third of the previous level of allowances and expenses.

HDC has also cut its staff and costs much more quickly than it originally expected in the four-year austerity plan put forward by then leader Cllr Ian Bates in autumn 2010 immediately after the Government’s comprehensive spending review.

“We’ve put money back in [to the budget for supporting the voluntary sector] because of the extra efficiency savings,” Cllr Ablewhite told The Hunts Post. “But the challenge is still there for the voluntary sector, and some organisations do recognise that.

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“For example, the Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations makes our money work ten-fold, whereas until now CAB has relied totally on the district council for funding for years. It’s now being realistic.

“We are not going to hang them out to dry, but we like to think that our money is doing some good, not funding someone in an office somewhere.”

The leader has long been an admirer of the voluntary sector’s ability to deliver services to residents better than the council and at lower cost, and reversing the cuts was a key plank of his election pitch last March and April, when he and deputy leader Cllr Nick Guyatt prevailed in the leadership bid.

“We need services to be delivered in the best way and not duplicated,” Cllr Ablewhite said. “We are also looking at other ways we can help voluntary services, not just with money.”