Despite the council acknowledging that the levels of homelessness are rising in the Borough, and that there is an urgent shortage of social Housing, Kettering Council last night decided to cut funding to the local charity Accommodation Concern!
The charity has nearly thirty years of experience and expertise helping vulnerable families with housing issues and has impressive results from their work. Their Chief Executive told a meeting of the Council’s ruling executive committee last night about the reputation they have and the high regard with which solicitors dealing with such matters and others in the voluntary sector have for them and reminded them they had been awarded the 2015 award by the Northamptonshire Community Foundation for tackling disadvantage and exclusion.
Opposition Councillors lined up to support the organisation and to ask for a rethink of the decision but still the executive agreed to take away the £30,000 a year grant and give it to the Citizens Advice Bureau.
I spoke of the huge number of housing issues I was now dealing with as a councillor, and of the help that my residents had received from Accommodation Concern. Citizen’s Advice do a great job but they are not housing experts and don’t have a track record in this field, often sending their clients to Accommodation Concern for help.
The decision was taken after council officers received bids for the grant from the two separate organisations and scored them on a points system relating to a number of questions. Unfortunately details of how this scoring system worked or any details relating to the bids or the organisations themselves were not presented to the meeting. The meeting was however told that three of the Councillors from the committee had met privately to analysis the scoring system and were satisfied their colleagues were being asking to make the right decision.
There had been no pre-decision scrutiny of this decision by any other councillors and I addressed the committee asking them to defer the decision to allow the relevant scrutiny committee to look in detail at the bids and the track record of the organisations making them to ensure the right decision was being made because I feared they were going to get it wrong.
One Conservative councillor said that he was being asked to make a decision only on the report presented to him and that he “can’t go on anything other than the report”. This presumably means that he wasn’t willing to consider any of the comments made by others to the meeting, and more importantly wasn’t willing to ask any detailed questions himself about the decision.
The report presented to the committee basically only said that Citizen’s Advice scored 44 points compared to Accommodation concern’s 38. There was no other detail and no discussions from members questioning or asking for more information of the two organisations. For example the report did not include a list of the eight criteria that Accommodation Concern were judged on. I was able to find a list of those eight points before the meeting and found out that on half of them they had ‘more than met the requirements’ while meeting the requirements for the others about from one about capacity where ironically the point was made that cuts in funding may contribute to them having a problem.
How can it be right, that I had that information, and the members being asked to make the decision didn’t, and that when I pointed this out to them they didn’t ask for those details?