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Big Society - but for one year only?

Liverpool City 3-year grant programme reduced to one year: total amount also still in doubt

At·its Cabinet meeting on August 6th, Liverpool·Council's Cabinet proposed to change its future programme of grants to voluntary groups from·three-year funding·-· renewable each year "subject to funds being available" - to what will in effect be a one-year programme. The grant programme·(awarded through the Council's Community Resources Unit) was changed as a result of the "severe financial constraints" facing the Council.

This decision was "called in" by opposition members, but at a special meeting on August 24th of the Neighbourhood Select Committee the "one-year only" funding was confirmed.

The Council also decided that even the one-year grant cannot be relied on until 2011. Groups applying for the one-year funding in September will be told that·the total amounts potentially available·(when decisions are made in March 2011) might be cut further because of the government Public Spending Review in October·and the City's 2011-12 budget decisions.

The grant programme for 2010-14 had been subject to two rounds of·consultations over the past six months, involving discussions about the way the funds are awarded and monitored, and the priorities between different LCC targets. The council had already decided to reduce the priority (and therefore the total funding) that·would have been available for infrastructure groups (groups like MDF that support other voluntary groups). However the decision·to limit the support to one year was only made in the last·three weeks, with no consultation with local groups.

It is not clear if groups awarded one-year funds·from·April 2010 will be able to apply for their grant to be renewed (if·the City·has funds to·make that possible) or·whether they will have to make an entirely new application. In either case, the change brings a greater uncertainly to a sector that the government's Big Society initiative sees as crucial in changing the way in which services are provided.

It also suggests that the hard-won promises to the sector about the importance of consultation, and the need for stable funding programmes of at least three years (as set out in the national Compact) are likely to evaporate in the heat of the spending cuts to come.

The timetable for the reduced funding remains the same. Applications must now be·made before October 14th for a final decision - following any appeals - on March 11th 2010.·Details for applicants will be on the Liverpool City Council Community Resources Unit website soon.·