councillors urged to be wary about business support grants
Burnham-On-Sea resident has called on the Town Council to be more
cautious about awarding business support grants to commercial
Groves, right, a former town and district councillor, spoke
out during Monday evening's Policy and Finance Committee meeting.
started by saying: "I would like to make absolutely and unambiguously
clear that I am not referring to long-standing organisations such
as the Chambers of Trade in either town which are properly constituted
and have always worked well both with the Town Council and the
wider community to the benefit of all, nor should this
be construed as criticism of any form of the business people,
who after all should and must act in the very best interests of
their respective businesses."
is the right of any resident to freely express their views and
it should be clear that it is this right which is being exercised
a statement of opinion and genuine disquiet with the current
clarified, I do wish to raise a number of concerns with this committee
in regards to grant applications which have a primary or sole
benefit to businesses within the towns, though with the possible
exception of Christmas lights and floral displays I am not aware
of any particular business support grants being made within Highbridge."
like a very large number of residents within both towns, feel
a great deal of unease at the significant increase of these types
of grants over the last few years and question whether it is appropriate
for the Town Council, which receives no form of receipts from
businesses within the area, to be financing this form of grant
added: "The argument used to support this form of grant funding,
which falls outside of the specific margins of the Tesco funding,
is so far as I am aware that the event or other provision will
either secure employment or increase employment. A laudable aim.
But I would ask this council to provide a single shred of evidence
that so much as one job has been secured or created as a result
of the high level of investment it has made."
secondary argument is amenity, this is a reasonable argument which
can justifiably be used to award grants for Christmas lights,
provision of street furniture, funding of some events if they
are primarily geared towards community benefit, such as the town's
annual fireworks event or the Foodfest which are both well supported.
But in many cases these events have not been well supported, are
unsustainable without continued large scale support from this
council and others and represent extremely poor value to the public
who are actually financing the endeavour."
is a reasonable question to be asked regarding what is a realistic
expectation from the business community. Most councils require
businesses to buy the hanging baskets from them for example. In
our town and in some part due to confusion over what the Tesco
funding is paying for and what the Town Council's duties actually
are, there seems to be an increasing perception that the Town
Council is obligated to provide a support that it simply cannot
without compromising other budgets."
added: "Further I am very concerned that there appears to
be an unequal approach to due diligence on the part of this council.
Some grant applicants seem to have very few checks imposed upon
them (beyond the submission of accounts etc. which are the minimal
requirements) whilst others are dragged over the coals."
seem to be expected to account for every penny, whilst others
appear to mismanage funding, constitutional commitments etc. Yet
are still able to return asking for grant increases or new grants
and worse still are awarded them on what appears to be the line
of reasoning, that as we have already awarded a grant, more will
have to be given to ensure the initial funding is not lost. It
is a good money after bad argument and implies insufficient checks
have been made to begin with."
is my view that this council suffers from mission creep. A one-off
grant often becomes a yearly expectation and this frankly does
not inspire faith in the observer."
is my view and that of many others that the Town Council needs
to set clear criteria for funding of businesses if it is to do
it at all - and whilst business is important to residents in terms
of employment and facility, it is necessary that if you financially
support businesses you are clear about why you are doing so and
exactly what the benefit is to residents - how is success measured,
for example, and is the same criteria being applied to everyone."
such policy must be fair and apply to both towns. There should
also be a yearly cap, because ultimately all the funding the Town
Council has at its disposal is drawn directly from the pockets
of householders, not businesses. You have a relatively small grants
budget and it is vital that the importance of community based
support is not overlooked."
fail to address the reasonable concerns of the residents of both
Towns will be read as contempt by the same. It is already creating
unfair resentment towards the business community and generates
an undeliverable expectation from all."
a clear and unambiguous policy is the only way that this council
can demonstrate it is acting in a fair, transparent and unbiased
manner and protect itself from accusations of nepotism, which
regardless of the opinion of elected members is precisely how
many view the actions of their councillors."