A five per cent charge on West Sussex community projects using a new crowdfunding model has been described as ‘absolutely outrageous’ by Lib Dem councillors.
The Members’ Big Society Fund, Community Initiative Fund (CIF), and Small Grants Fund are set to be rolled into one scheme by West Sussex County Council from April.
A new model will be created and supported by an online crowdfunding platform, but the council grant budget has been slashed from £660,000 to £330,000 for 2018/19.
The crowdfunding platform will be run by Spacehive, with the county council paying the private company a yearly administration fee.
But now it has been revealed each project is charged an extra administration of five per cent by Spacehive, but only if it meets its target.
Daniel Purchese (LDem, Rustington) called it ‘absolutely outrageous’ adding: “I’m frankly gobsmacked we were not told about such vital information.”
Lib Dem councillors raised concerns about the changes and called-in the decision to move to a crowdfunding platform earlier this year.
Members of the Environment, Community and Fire Select Committee supported the idea in principle, but also backed a pause to the scheme’s introduction to receive more information in early February.
However Mr Purchese described how the committee’s views had been ‘ignored’ by the cabinet member who had ‘pressed ahead anyway’, when the committee met again on Friday (March 16).
In a written response Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “Whilst, I recognise some of the committee’s concerns, the reduction in grants from 2018/19 means we need to act promptly to ensure that our community has the greatest possible opportunity to access a wide range of potential financial support.
“Having listened closely to the points raised in the meeting, and given careful consideration to your recommendations, I intend to go ahead with my decision and to put measures in place to address the committee’s concerns.”
On Friday Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown) said: “I’m disappointed at the way it has been dealt with through the scrutiny process.”
Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North), chairman of the committee, described the extra five per cent as an ‘additional burden’.
Mrs Kennard described how the information about a five per cent charge was available if councillors had looked at Spacehive’s website.
After the meeting, James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “It is astonishing that this five per cent extra to be raised by the public to be paid to the commercial company in addition to their £30,000 annual fee, was not mentioned at either the member seminar, nor crucially at the call-in hearing. Then there is the two per cent levy if paying in by credit card.
“This may well all be a disincentive to the giver, and to the charity, and lessen the number of good causes supported.”
New community projects would be submitted to the crowdfunding platform with residents, organisations and businesses able to donate.
Verification would be carried out before any projects went live, while donations would be held by a secure third party until a funding target is reached when they would be released.
Organisers could then select the option of applying for CIF funding from the county council, with decisions on these grants continuing to be made by individual County Local Committees.
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