One of the debates at today's Cabinet meeting was on the discretionary grants review that has been taking place behind closed doors over the last few months.
The review has been looking at the grants given by Cornwall Council to a wide range of different organisations. The last budget showed that almost every service gives out grants in one form or another. Despite asking, I still haven't managed to find out what all of this public money was spent on, but it included money spent by the HR and properties departments - not normally council offices which you would expect to give out community grants!
Today's discussion was on a curate's egg of a paper. The good stuff included a recognition that the term community grant is very inappropriate for the way some of the money was spent. In effect, much is given to voluntary groups which provide a service on behalf of the council. In the future, such spending should not be lumped together with genuine grants which do not elicit a service in return.
The less good bit of the paper concerned the actual grants themselves. There was much talk about the straightened financial times and the confusing nature of having some grants given out by the council and some by individual councillors. Jim Currie, the Cabinet Member for Corporate Support said that these different pots might be brought together and doled out either by the community network areas or by individual councillors, but no decision has been taken.
I asked when a decision was likely and was told that the aim of this review was to inform next year's budget. If this is the case then the lack of a conclusion on this aspect is not a worry - but we hope to have some proper proposals soon.
However, as a parting shot, Alec Robertson, the Leader of the Council, suggested that grants may well be cut in order to give more money to frontline services. This would be a very contentious decision to take. The level of community grants (whether they come from the council or individual members) is comparatively small, but they help a vast number of organisations to survive and improve and they kickstart many projects and events.
To take one example in Launceston - I provided two grants of £500 each to organisations involved in the recent Causley Festival. I was told that without these grants the festival would never have happened. I am sure that each one of the 122 other councillors could name similar community events which brought interest to their town or village but which would never have happened without the community grants.
Of course, there are many difficult decisions to be taken, but I would be horrified if all community grants were being cut as they do so much good across the whole of Cornwall.