Community funding ‘at risk’ in B&NES budget black-hole

Funding set aside to support community projects in Bath and North East Somerset could be raided to help cover a black hole in the local authority’s budget, a Council report has revealed.

Liberal Democrat-run Bath and North East Somerset Council is looking at options to cover a £1.6 million overspend currently forecast in its budget for this year.

One of the options under consideration is to divert £100,000 away from budgets currently earmarked for community projects as part of the authority’s Community Empowerment Fund, as well as dipping into the Council’s revenue budget contingency and reviewing the authority’s debt financing.

The large budget black hole is mainly due to a significant shortfall in the Council’s parking revenue and lower than expected bus lane and parking fines, which accounts for £1.4 million of the forecast overspend, with other factors including lower than anticipated revenue from planning application fees and the use of casual staff in the Council’s Registration Services.

Conservative councillors have criticised the Council for poor financial planning and have condemned the idea of using money set aside for community projects to cover budget shortfalls.

Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Community Resources, Charles Gerrish, said:

“It seems totally perverse for the Council to raid funding set aside for community projects in order to paper over holes in its overall budget. It would be completely wrong for local community groups to lose out on funding due to the Lib Dems’ weak financial planning.

“The Community Empowerment Fund was established with the aim of enabling local community projects and supporting community initiatives, such as youth activities. This is part of the localism drive to help communities help themselves. If some of this funding remains unspent, then the Council should be doing more to promote its use, not divert it into covering budget shortfalls.

“At the moment we are only half way through the financial year, so with careful financial management it should be possible to bring the forecast budget overspend back down without having to call upon other worthwhile projects.”