Haslemere Youth Hub is to receive a £4,000 cash injection to support struggling families locally, after Haslemere Town Council reversed a proposed cut to the charity’s grant funding at last week's budget-setting meeting.
In a Town Hall session again mired in confusion and disagreements over claimed conflicts of interest, councillors united in expressing their “discomfort” at plans to give no grant in 2023/24 to a service supporting some of the town’s most vulnerable residents during the cost-of-living crisis.
Instead, members agreed to strip funding from the Charter Fair, as well as shaving £1,000 from the mayor's own £6,000 funding pot and asking tax payers for another £500, to give the Youth Hub £4,000 to support its vital services.
The town council’s budget working group had recommended only offering grants in 2023/24 to those given revenue funding by the council in the previous financial year, to cap an increase to its share of the council tax bill to around ten per cent.
But while this would have seen Citizens Advice, hoppa, the Place to Be Youth Club, Visit Haslemere and Weyhill in Bloom retain their town council grants, other applicants – including Haslemere Youth Hub – would have missed out.
The youth hub did previously receive revenue grants of £5,000 from the town council in 2020/21 and 2021/22 – but crucially did not receive such a grant last year, and so was set to miss out when judged against the new criteria.
But after an impassioned plea by hub trustee Jim Edwards at last Thursday’s Town Hall meeting, councillors agreed the hub’s offer of inexpensive and free advice and support for local families was needed more than ever during the cost-of-living crisis, and deserved their support.
Citing a lucrative 2022 for Visit Haslemere – which runs events such as the Charter Fair and Haslemere Christmas Market – Councillor Melanie Odell offered to forego the group’s proposed £2,500 grant “for one year only” in support of the youth hub.
Councillors took up the offer, also trimming £1,000 from the mayor’s funding pot, and asking for another £500 from taxpayers to award the hub £4,000.
Speaking afterwards, hub trustee Mr Edwards said: “We provide the facilities to allow over 30 youth support groups to operate, including a focus on children and adolescents’ mental health needs, which is of real importance after the pandemic. We are very grateful to the town council.”
Haslemere Town Council's budget for the 2023/24 financial year includes planned expenditure of £486,810 and a recommended precept increase of 10.4 per cent for an average Band D property.
Council papers released ahead of last week's budget-setting meeting state this year’s budget was a “difficult” process because of high levels of inflation and “a desire to not add to the burden on residents if possible”.
The council’s budget working party was asked to limit the increase to roughly 10 per cent, leading to some “difficult decisions” and the creation of guidelines for decision-making. These included prioritising the safety of staff and the public, protecting the most vulnerable, focusing on projects that benefit a “wider group of residents over narrower groups”, and maintaining existing revenue grants over new ones.
Other special projects that have been included in the budget are Town Meadow Playground Equipment (£50,000, from the council’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) pot – see below), King Charles III’s coronation (£5,000), Town Hall maintenance works (£6,000) and works to trees at Town Meadow (£1,500).
The council’s expenditure will be met by a combination of council tax (precept), budgeted use of reserves, CIL contributions arising from major developments in the town, and other “miscellaneous income”.
The proposed precept of £409.6 thousand equates to around 84 per cent of the council’s total expenditure, and a cost per Band D property of £52.64 – adding £4.74 to the town’s council’s share of the average yearly tax bill.
The precept set by Haslemere Town Council is only a small portion of the overall council tax bill, as it also includes charges from the county and borough councils, as well as Surrey Police.