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CONFUSION surrounds a decision by Melksham Town Council to “review” its existing grant agreement with local charity Young Melksham.
The decision to “delay” and “review” town council grant payments to organisations that receive an annual grant, including Young Melksham, has been branded “dangerous” by cllr Jon Hubbard – who is also the chair of the board of trustees at Young Melksham – and a decision that could have “serious and significant financial implications”.
Young Melksham was expecting to receive its second grant of £10,000 from the town council as part of a three-year agreement – an agreement made by the council in December 2018.
However, at a meeting of the town council on Monday 14th September, it was proposed by leader, cllr Vanessa Fiorelli, and supported by the majority of councillors, that the majority of “fixed” or “ring-fenced” grants be put on hold and reviewed, including Young Melksham’s.
Melksham Christmas Lights’ annual grant escaped the review, with councillors agreeing to increase their grant payment from £7,500 to £10,000 – a motion that was not on the agenda prior to the meeting.
At the meeting cllr Fiorelli explained that the review was to ensure that the town council is supporting all local groups and organisations “correctly” in light of the impact that Covid-19 may have had on them.
Cllr Fiorelli also offered some reassurance that the review did not mean that existing grant agreements were being “cut”, and that the review could result in some organisations getting more than originally intended, if needed.
About the town council’s £55,000 grant budget, cllr Fiorelli said, “This council should be prepared that we may have to offer additional support and go into reserves or find more money elsewhere to support these groups and organisations.”
At a town council meeting two weeks later, a Young Melksham volunteer, Sharon Thayer, raised concerns about the decision to “review” the charity’s grant, and queried why the charity had to reapply when the council had already committed to £30,000 over three years.
Sharon also highlighted that there had been no communication from the town council about its decision and queried why no notice had been given.
In response, cllr Fiorelli tried to explain that “nothing has been agreed” by the council yet, and that Sharon had been “misinformed” by cllr Hubbard who had reported back to Young Melksham that their grant had been “withdrawn”.
When Sharon asked if that meant Young Melksham could still expect to get its £10,00 grant this year, cllr Fiorelli added, “You can still apply. All grants need to be approved – you are entitled to apply.
“You can’t apply for a grant in previous years and have a guarantee for the future – it can be reviewed every year – but the council has to approve it.”
Cllr Hubbard has labelled this statement as “factually incorrect”, reiterating that the council had passed a motion in 2018 and that it was “matter of record” that the council had agreed to give Young Melksham £30,000 over three years.
Sharon was later told by mayor, cllr Pat Aves, that her question was “irrelevant” and that she had been “misled” by cllr Hubbard.
Speaking to cllr Hubbard at the meeting, cllr Aves said, “You’re misleading people, it has not been withdrawn, you’re perfectly able to apply for a grant, and it will be considered along with the rest of them – you may even get lucky and get more if you ask in a way that suggests that you need it, as many of the organisations do.
“Do what you’ve been asked to – then we can have an argument about it.”
Cllr Fiorelli added, “It will be done, it will be sorted, and I really don’t appreciate the scaremongering that you’re trying to instill.”
Melksham Town Council was approached for clarity about Young Melksham’s grant agreement and if the charity has to reapply for support.
Local organisations, groups and charities have until 28th October to apply for a grant. Application forms are available by calling the Town Hall on 01225 704187 or by emailing email@example.com.