It goes without saying that the biggest story on the Island at the moment are the proposed budget cuts put forward by the current Conservative administration.
Budget figures under scrutiny
Tomorrow evening at the full council meeting (which VB will be covering live), the budget proposals, which (despite the last minute alteration) include massive cuts to those services supporting vulnerable people, will be debated and voted upon.
Disgust from service providers
As regular readers of VB will know, we’ve spoken to many providers of these support services over the last couple of weeks. The message has been the same from all. Outrage at the proposed cuts.
However, amongst all the discussions of cuts to funding, there was one figure that stuck in our minds.
A figure of £1.9million relating to unallocated Supporting People funding was mentioned by Nichola Goom of ROCC when we spoke to her following the budget presentation given to the voluntary sector by Island Chief Executive, Steve Beynon.
£1.9m funding underspend
Nichola explained that this figure was the accumulation of an underspend in the Supporting People programme between 2003-09/10.
The money had previously been ring-fenced, but in 2009 the Government lifted the ring-fence in order to “provide councils with the opportunity to come up with flexible and innovative ways to support vulnerable people in a range of different situations”.
This meant that the council could choose where to spend this money, but it had to meet grant conditions and should still “support vulnerable people in a range of different situations.”
The subject was raised on the Julian Clegg Show a couple of weeks ago, during which Steve Beynon spoke of how around £2m was going to be invested into Adult Social Care.
Did council act improperly?
VB has today seen a copy of a letter dated 21 February, signed by Nichola Goom (ROCC), Naomi Somerville (Supporting People Provider Forum), Vic Rayner (Sitra) and Simon Nunn (South National Housing Federation) to Island Chief Executive Steve Beynon.
The signatories of the letter tell Steve Beynon that they believe the Isle of Wight Council may have acted improperly in diverting the £1.9m from the Supporting People Programme to Adult Social Care.
The letter goes on to explain that the £1.9m underspend which took place between 2003 and 2009 was clearly ring-fenced for Supporting People Services (prior to the lifting of the ring-fence in 2009).
The signatories state they’ve seen correspondence from the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Isle of Wight council, where it expressly states that the unspent funds from 2008/09 can be rolled forward to 2009/10 whilst being subject to the 2008/09 grant conditions.
From what we can gather, the Cabinet Member responsible is not aware of the conditions attached to the underspend. When the question was raised by
Nichola Naomi at the last Cabinet meeting, Cllr Dawn Cousins stated
“There are no conditions regarding any underspend from the current year and that local authorities may carry forward to 2010/11 any unspent grant from 2009/10.”
The point raised by authors of the letter to Beynon is that the underspend occurred before 2009/10 and is therefore subject to grant conditions and ring-fencing.
No legal advice?
The big question many are asking is why, despite advice to do so, the Isle of Wight Council did not seek legal advice before taking the decision to redirect the funding.
Some are saying this shows a clear lack of due diligence by councillors.