September 17 2014 Latest news:
West Suffolk reporter
Friday, March 21, 2014
The trial of a system of grants designed to empower communities looks likely to be extended in west Suffolk.
Under the St Edmundsbury Borough Council scheme, ward councillors will be handed a £2,500 budget to be spent on causes and projects in their area.
Council leaders have said the initiative signals the start of a new relationship with the communities they serve and will be a vital tool to help people improve their quality of life.
The 12-month trial follows the success of an identical system in Forest Heath which allocated more than £81,500 in its first 18 months and supported 183 community projects, including the creation of a children’s playground and a course for healthy eating.
The council’s cabinet are recommended to give the final go-ahead to the trial of the scheme – called the Councillor Locality Budget Scheme – at their meeting on March 25.
Robert Everitt, portfolio-holder for community at St Edmundsbury, said: “I do think it will empower communities. Listening to the stories coming out of Forest Heath, for small sums of money you can seed-corn ideas that the community have identified as important to them. Spending a few pounds helps them set up and organise themselves into an action committee or helps some worthy cause get off the ground. It’s about helping the organisations on your ward when they need it.”
Mr Everitt, who said projects started by the community for the community were more likely to endure, added: “Councils have to look to change the way they engage with residents and communities within St Edmundsbury.
“There are stories coming out about residents wanting to change the way things are and once they are on board and driving it, then all we [councillors] have to do is signpost them to places where they can achieve what they want.”
The scheme, which replicates the locality budgets of county councillors, would allow payments of at least £100 to community groups. In Forest Heath the average allocation has been £445.
The locality budget could also prove important for the region’s outlying villages and hamlets, with 19 rural wards seeing a direct investment of £47,500 if the trial is approved.