Hertfordshire County Council to cut local budgets in half despite opposition

Opposition councillors called for the decision to be reversed
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The funding that county councillors can use to support local projects is to be halved – despite a bid by opposition councillors to have the plan reversed.

Currently all 78 county councillors have access to up to £10,000 a year to allocate to projects that support the social, economic or environmental well-being of their local area.

But from April – as approved by the Conservative majority of the county council on Tuesday (13 February) – that will be cut to £5,000 per member.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

At that meeting Liberal Democrat Councillor Allison Wren proposed that the cut should not go ahead.

She highlighted the increased demand for food banks, drivers and community kitchens – suggesting voluntary groups were “the very heartbeat of our communities”.

And she suggested the work of small local groups could prevent some from having to rely on the state – preventing future dependency on council services and reducing pressure on the NHS.

“Our locality budget is direct investment in the well-being of our communities,” she said.

“It sends a clear lesson that we listen, that we care and that we respond to those of our residents in need.

“We cannot and should not let the burden of financial constraints always fall heaviest upon the shoulders of those that can least bare it.”

Seconding the proposal Lib Dem Councillor Laurence Brass said his allocation was used to fund local organisations the “otherwise might sink in our worsening cost of living crisis”.

He stressed that all benefiting organisations were aware that it was the county council that was supporting them – and was “a way we can show that we do care”.

And he suggested that, compared to the overall budget, the £390k planned reduction wouldn’t “make a huge difference”.

But executive member for adult care, health and well-being Councillor Tony Kingsbury stressed that the reduction had to be seen in the context of the overall budget.

And he said the change was in line with similar schemes operated by other councils.

He stressed that councillors could prioritise these awards – not intended for ongoing support – for the most important applications.

And he highlighted the £16m support allocated for voluntary and community organisations elsewhere in the budget, which he said was “more significant in terms of money than the £390k reduction”.

Meanwhile Conservative Councillor Morris Bright highlighted that with just a few weeks left until the end of the financial year, 28 per cent of this year’s 2023/24 locality budgets – in excess of £200k – remained unallocated.

And he said: “Let’s not stand and spend half of the budget debate of £1.1bn talking about a saving of £350k, when there’s £218k still sitting in the kitty.”

And Conservative council leader Councillor Richard Roberts said the amendment did not recognise council’s ongoing support for organisations such as Meals on Wheels, Carers in Herts, Age UK, the CAB, HertsHelp and the “myriad of charities that support learning through life”.

At the meeting the Lib Dem amendment to retain the current £780k budget for members’ locality budgets did not get the support of a majority of councillors.