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Delays over funding leave voluntary groups and staff in limbo

January 13, 2013 10:00 AM

Welsh Liberal Democrats in RCT have criticised Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant over his handling of the new Communities First Programme which has left around 150 staff and voluntary groups across the county in limbo.

Their campaign manager Karen Roberts has been involved with the programme in Clydach Vale since its inception eleven years ago, and says the latest fiasco is inexcusable.

"In 2011 an extensive consultation exercise was launched by the Welsh Labour Government on the future of the Communities First scheme. The scheme had come in for a great deal of criticism in recent years for not delivering the aimed for community regeneration.

"With huge amounts of public money being put into it then it was only right that changes should be made to ensure there was value for money across Wales. Whilst there are some excellent projects around that are making a real difference to the communities in which they operate, in other areas money has been wasted on grand scheme that have failed to make any impression

"However, the Minister has failed to give any real sense of direction as to what he wants the outcomes to be. In July 2011 he announced that 'from April 2012, the Welsh Government's Communities First programme will be a Community Focussed Programme that will support the Welsh Government's Anti-Poverty agenda.'

"Instead of ward based Communities first teams there are to be clusters with fewer staff and covering a wider area. This was initially supposed to have been in place for April 2012. It soon became apparent that date was not going to be met, and an extension was given until October. October came and saw a further extension being granted until 1st February. However it was not until December that RCT were given any indication of how many clusters they would have and what the budget would be, and the Labour Government are still negotiating over the details.

"The new scheme will mean a reduction in staffing levels from around 150 to 90, but until details are finalised no negotiations have been able to take place regarding redundancies or redeployment of staff. This means that the target date of 1st February will be impossible to meet.

"Hopefully the Welsh Government will agree to further extension funding as the existing staff will all need to be paid until the reorganisation takes place. However, the costs of this are going to be substantial."

Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell added

"This is just another example of the incompetence of the Labour Government, especially when it comes to their dealings with the voluntary sector. A huge amount of work has been put into the Communities First programme by volunteers across RCT and they must be wondering if it is worth them continuing.

"Missing the expected start date by a few weeks would have been one thing, teething problems could be expected with such large scale changes, but it now looks as if the start of the new scheme is going to be a year late. That is not good enough. The Minister needs to get his house in order."