Revamp likely for community purse scheme

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WIGAN’S community funding scheme could be overhauled to stop the public suffering when councillors are suspended.

Council chiefs believe that 17 years after coming into being it is now time to change the way Brighter Borough (BB)is administered.

Currently the programme gives every elected member £5,471 per year which can be doled out to community groups and environmental projects if the applications are deemed suitable.

The cash allowance is suspended if the ward councillor responsible is the subject of an investigation into alleged mistreatment of town hall officers or members of the public.

But now the ruling Cabinet is to consider new rules which will stop residents’ being penalised for the alleged misdemeanours of their elected representatives.

This would allow groups and organisations in such wards to side-step their councillor and apply directly to the town hall for access to the ward’s Brighter Borough funding.

Currently Couns Bob Brierley, Robert Bleakley, Gareth Fairhurst and Paul Valentine have had their funding frozen because they are the subject of complaints lodged with the Standards Committee.

Cabinet will also consider a proposal that all councillors seeking re-election will not be able to apply for BB during a live election period (purdah).

Director of legal John Mitchell said that four serving councillors have had their ability to support applications for BB funding suspended due to alleged breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct involving a breach of the councillor/officer protocol are subject to investigation.

And this “obviously” had an effect on the communities’ ability to access BB funding which could have a “negative impact” in the council’s reputation. He said: “It is recommended that, should a councillor have their ability to support application for BB monies removed, organisation within their ward may still request support for community projects, they think suitable for the areas they live in.

“These applications may be approved by the Assistant Director of Legal in consultation with the Leader or Deputy Leader of the council.

“This will ensure that while complaints are dealt with, the community will not suffer.”

Any applications approved in this way will be funded out of the councillors’ original application.

Initially the scheme operated on a combined per-ward allowance, but, after cross-party differences came to light, is now largely per councillor.

Five wards, where all councillors are from the same party, continue to operate BB on a ward basis.

It is also proposed that the BB funding year be moved to align with the municipal year.