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'Voluntary groups could close without extra cash'
CONCERNS have been raised that voluntary groups could close down without greater support from councils.
Liberal Democrats at Wycombe District Council have suggested that maintaining the current sum of £570,000 in grants may not be enough in the current economic climate.
A scrutiny committee at Buckinghamshire County Council has also warned that the authorities' partners in the voluntary sector are less able to cope than the public and private sectors.
Wycombe District Councillor Simon Parker, Lib Dem, told a public meeting: "One of the things we've had a problem with on our side was no increase in voluntary grants.
"Clearly at a time like this the effects of the benefit cuts are going to lead to increased demands on services of these agencies. One of the concerns we have is they may end up spending too much of their time chasing funding rather than providing services that they're there to provide."
Lib Dem leader Cllr Trevor Snaith said: "I'm asking how we can help these voluntary organisations when they come to us and say we have to close because we've cut their budgets?"
But WDC Leader Cllr Alex Collingwood, Conservative, said £570,000 is a significant amount, especially at a time when all residents are struggling financially.
Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Ron Gaffney, Conservative, said: "We're not a cold-blooded organisation. We feel for them but we're not talking about funding going down we're talking about it remaining the same.
"It may sound politically good but in reality I think it's a very good deal."
Cllr Lesley Clarke, part of BCC's scrutiny committee, told a meeting: "We have to protect the voluntary sector. It (the council funds) could be the last peg that shores up their organisation."
A report co-written by Cllr Clarke warns BCC could "unintentionally disfavour the voluntary sector" when seeking contractors because it is less able to withstand dwindling finances than private companies.
However, BCC has pledged £250,000 to develop the community/voluntary sector in both of the next two coming years.
Leader Cllr Martin Tett, Conservative, said: "I really support it and we have protected our grants certainly under the previous leader and myself, it has always been ringfenced from cuts."
In fact, BCC spent £57 million in the form of contracts and grants with the voluntary and community sector, including not-for-profit organisations, in 2011/12. It estimates in the current financial year this will rise to £59 million.
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