Cash grab fear

A CASH-strapped council yesterday re-iterated their commitment to a neighbourhood management group - despite major fears this week that they were threatening to take over more than £500,000 that had been earmarked for deprived areas of Lowestoft.

A CASH-strapped council yesterday re-iterated their commitment to a neighbourhood management group - despite major fears this week that they were threatening to take over more than £500,000 that had been earmarked for deprived areas of Lowestoft.

Board members of the Lowestoft Together initiative this week expressed their anger at Waveney District Council's efforts in “muscling in” and take thousands of pounds which has been identified for a number of projects for the community.

Having been allocated around £4m over four years via Go-East, Lowestoft Together has allocated over £1m to nine most deprived areas in Waveney in the Harbour, Kirkley, Normanston, St Margaret's and Whitton wards.

In this time, over 20 projects have been completed, while many more are ongoing.

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But this week, at a meeting of the Lowestoft Together board, the council addressed the group and told them that while they will honour projects that have applied for funding, others in the pipeline could be in jeopardy.

The meeting on Monday stunned those attending and yesterday a source told The Journal: “We were told they are going to use Lowestoft Together money to prop up the council's ailing coffers.”

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Since commencing the neighbourhood management initiative three members of staff have been employed at the Lowestoft Together office in Surrey Street. But The Journal has learnt that this is now threatened with closure as the staff move into the council corridors.

Community groups and board members told The Journal that the council was “moving the goal-posts,” and “shifting the rug from under our feet.”

Lowestoft Together chairman Sue Henderson said: “We are running a good ship here and we've received lots of positive feedback. But now we are worrying if we are going to continue and in what form - how do we go forward now?

“Waveney District Council is supposed to be a partner in all of this but they are asking for a distinctly different partnership now.”

And reflecting on some major achievements, including being the main sponsor of this year's Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival, funding environmental support officers and police community support officers for the town, as well as helping to fund many new community groups, there was dismay amongst board members.

“The scope of what we have done is unbelievable,” Mrs Henderson said. “But now the board members feel that the council is muscling in.”

But a council spokesman said that Waveney Council is fully committed to Lowestoft Together and the important work it supports across the town.

“It was funded through a safer stronger communities government grant via the council and in 2006/07 and 2007/08 this was delivered as a ring-fenced Local Area Agreement Grant, with its own specific spending conditions and financial reporting requirements.

“For 2008/09 the government moved Safer Stronger Communities funding into a non-ring fenced Area Based Grant - essentially making it a more flexible resource,” the spokesperson added.

The Journal has learnt that because of potential budget risks for the council, cabinet members were presented with an emergency report earlier this year.

“Measures have been put in place to address these risks,” the council spokesperson added.

“However, as a last resort and in special circumstances the council's director of resources must issue a section 114 notice to councillors, which would suspend all spending other than that capable of improving the council's financial position. This would apply to the money budgeted for Lowestoft Together.”

Confirming that the council has asked the Lowestoft Together board to support a delay on non-essential expenditure until November 30, 2008, the spokesperson continued: “This would therefore apply to awarding new grants. Ongoing support for projects and grant monitoring will continue but we are asking for operational spending to be minimised wherever possible.

“This will enable a full review of the Lowestoft Together budget and help identify efficiencies. This is consistent with work being performed across the council in all service areas. The council's employed Lowestoft Together team will continue to provide support to the board and the people of Lowestoft.

“We are looking to the long-term future of Lowestoft Together by seeking their agreement and support now, on these short-term measures,” the spokesperson concluded.

With around £275,000 remaining in the Lowestoft Together budget for 2008/09, The Journal understands that £258,000 remains in the budget for 2009/10.

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