Agenda item

Review of Voluntary and Community Sector Grants

This matter is the responsibility of Executive Portfolio Holder for Community Cllr Chris Booth.


The report provides an update on progress since February 2020 regarding the Annual Review for Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Grants.



On 19th February 2020, the Localities Manager brought forward a report to Full Council outlining the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Grants Annual Review for 2019/20. This is a comprehensive report and no attempt is made to replicate it here. 


A link to the copy of that report was provided


Full Council resolved “that officers, in consultation with Councillors, carried out a review of current areas of funding and set new funding objectives in line with the Councils corporate objectives and current needs within the community and reported to the Scrutiny Committee, Executive and Full Council in September/October 2020;”


Initial work towards the review outlined above took the form of a workshop of officers who set a number of criteria that they felt VCS funding should meet. These included but were not limited to:

·         Money and debt advice

·         Housing advice and tenancy sustainment 

·         Mental health support and advocacy

·         Social enterprise, skills and training support in deprived areas

·         General information, advice and guidance

·         Support for rural areas

·         Support for families

·         Advice for Community buildings and village halls

·         Community transport 


From March onwards the country had seen the effects of the global pandemic known as COVID-19. This has had a profound effect on the voluntary and community sector in two ways. Firstly, this sector had been at the forefront of efforts to look after the wider community in often unexpected ways. There were countless examples of communities and individuals stepping forward to provide help and support. Secondly, this sector had been unable to raise funds for themselves in their normal fashion and were therefore vulnerable themselves to the effects of the coronavirus, albeit economically. 


The priorities set out in the report came from a workshop to act as a guide for decision making regarding 20/21 funding of the VCS. In light of the interruption and disruption caused by COVID, the aim of this review was to demonstrate if the Council is meeting these priorities and in which locations to identify any gaps by priority or geographic area. 


The original report recommended aligning funding with Corporate Objectives and current needs within the community. Corporate Objectives and the current needs within the community as espoused by the Voluntary and Community Sector are aligned – in particular, this work supported tackling economic, social and health inequalities within the groups and communities that need extra support. It was felt that employment and skills were generally picked up elsewhere and so were not fully reflected. 


This commentary formed part of the review of Voluntary and Community Sector Grants taken to Full Council in February 2020. Other issues recommended in the review referred to the Governance of the schemes, in particular clarity of outputs, outcomes and performance measures submitted by partner organisations. Further to that the grant proposal document included information captured on sustainability of projects, match funding and added value. This has been picked up as a business as usual improvement. Grants forms are continually reviewed and improved and work is in progress to try to align the application process to ensure that applicants have a clear and obvious process which signposts them to the right funding for their project. Additionally, each scheme is subject to grants monitoring, usually on a quarterly basis. These meetings often identify and implement incremental improvement to process and reporting mechanisms. 


All expenditure is outlined in the linked report above. 


A review of projects has taken place and where questions have been raised, these have been addressed with funding partners and in some cases additional measures have been put in place to better understand and quantify projects. For example, a project was being monitored in terms of hours received and number of referrals made. In order to provide additional assurance, additional qualitative measures have been put in place to give a better understanding of the work undertaken and the value achieved for the customer and the Council. 


A desktop review had been undertaken to understand the allocation and proportion of spend against the priorities outlined above. This is summarised in the table below:


During the debate the following comments and questions were raised:-

·         Establishing the cross party members working group was welcomed, renewing the understanding of this area for Councillors.

·         It was questioned if Engage still existed in a separate entity or were subsumed by Spark, this was confirmed by the officers. Spark undertook the role for all Districts in Somerset.

·         It was questioned if there has been a misuse of funds from a third party organisation, with this having been set out as a risk in the report.

·         The different levels resilience of communities across the Council area was considered, and if any work had been done to determine this. The levels of funding should reflect the levels of resilience and take into account the specific impact to community and organisation. This was recognised as an influence across the district, especially with a disparity of volunteers.

·         The disparity for the West Somerset Advice Bureau grant compared to the Taunton area was questioned, an increase in the grant was requested due to the outreach work undertaken.

·         The majority of enquiries are over the phone and by email and were staffed by volunteers. Further Councillor participation to address similar issues was requested.

·         A full review of voluntary and community sector grants was requested.

·         Increases to grants were needed for the future and ongoing impact of the pandemic.

·         The lack of information from the impact of Covid needed to be addressed to consider what additional future funding would be required. Further communication to establish the issues going forward to consider options around increasing funding.

·         The members working group would be in the best position to review the organisations and how grants were placed.








The Scrutiny Committee Recommended:-


1.    To maintain or increase current levels of funding for the final year of the current agreement to end in March 2022.


2.    To recommend to Executive that a cross party Members Working Group is established to work with officers to ensure that clear funding criteria are in place for future work with the Voluntary and Community Sector beyond March 2022.


3.    As part of the review of the Voluntary and Community Sector Grants, the increased workload for the two Citizens Advice Bureaus that cover the SWT area must be recognised accordingly with a grant increase in line with their objectives to meet increased demands due to Covid, and that this support is equalized across population areas that they cover, but not to the detriment of other organisations being funded by SWT.

Supporting documents: