To receive information on the background to the current approach and the proposed approach to the policy for allocation of Council community properties, setting rent and provision of rent subsidy and rate relief to Voluntary and Community Sector organisations.
The Cabinet Member for Safer Croydon and Communities delivered the presentation and answered questions arising.
During the presentation the following points were noted:
· The Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) was a fundamental part of Croydon which played a vital role in the delivery of services and support for residents.
· This policy had been drafted to provide a transparent, criteria guideline driven formal policy of funding as there was no existing policy, to ensure that funding was widely distributed as possible, towards areas that will have as high an impact as possible for the community.
· Due to the amount of funding available, only a small amount of the borough’s large voluntary sector could be supported, making it important that a clear policy was established.
· Through engagement with the VCS the lack of availability of affordable premises was highlighted as a major challenge. It was clear that actions such as the monitoring of performance and property usage, using clear criteria for the allocation of premises and having rent subsidies which encouraged organisations to share available space were all actions that that this policy would seek to implement.
· In drafting the policy, careful consideration had been given to the criteria, eligibility and allocation process, in particular the possible exclusions of any particular organisations or groups and the impact this could have on the organisations.
Following the presentation the Sub-Committee was given the opportunity to ask questions on the content of the report and the information provided during the presentation.
The Chair informed Members that the focus of questioning should be on the eligibility criteria and the proposed timetable.
In response to a question on how to assess newly established organisations to ensure that they met the needs of residents, the Cabinet Member stated that this was the reason why these arrangements were being proposed. The Policy provided a clear process that required organisations to demonstrate that they fitted the criteria for eligibility and could meet the needs of residents.
It was further questioned how organisations would be asked to provide evidence to substantiate their proposals, to which officers responded that supporting evidence would be requested from applicants. Including documentation such as terms of reference and annual monitoring reports on the services they have delivered.
Additionally the Council would reserve the right to review each organisations activities and random spot checks would be carried out by the administrative team, in particular instances when in receipt of any intelligence that required further investigation.
There were concerns raised regarding the proposal to exclude social enterprises, with a consensus that organisations should not automatically be excluded should they meet the criteria.
It was questioned how much time and effort would be required from organisations to complete forms, officers said that the application form would be proportionate and should take no more than 30 minutes to complete. It was expected that there would be over subscription, and in shortlisting, evidence of the use of the policy framework to complete applications would be sought. Organisations and their trustee boards would be advised and expected to submit proactive applications.
It was confirmed that due to a lack of control over schools and usage of school buildings, this rate relief would not be extended to community groups that use school building. Planning policy required schools to have a community use school policy and prescribed that rates be affordable.
It was acknowledged that this investment should support the VCS but not be used to subsidise other areas. There was a small pot of funding and if eligibility criteria was widened the money would be spread too thinly and would not have its intended impact.
There was concern raised regarding the timeline and the suitability of length of time before applicants were notified of the outcome of their application. It was acknowledged that during a re-valuation year it would be beneficial for notification to be made later, but that there was little benefit to applicants to be notified late in other years.
At the conclusion of this item the Chair thanked the Cabinet Member and officers for their attendance at the meeting and their engagement with the Committee and questions.
In reaching its recommendations, the sub-committee came to the following Conclusions:
1. It was not deemed appropriate for Social Enterprises and Co-Operatives to be automatically excluded from submitting an application for Rent Subsidy.
2. The timeline for the notification of any award of discretionary Business Rate Relief should be amended to ensure that organisations were notified as early as possible of the decision made; to enable alternative arrangements to be made ahead of the beginning of the financial year should they not be eligible for the rate relief.
The Sub-Committee resolved to Recommend:
1. That Social Enterprises and Co-Operatives should:
a) Be eligible to submit an application should they meet the criteria and their application be considered on its own merit.
b) Officers to discuss and formulate a plan as to how to assess the eligibility of these groups if there was to be a difference in application criteria to that of Voluntary Organisations.
2. That in order to reduce the length of time between the submission of applications and notification of the decision, organisations should be notified of the outcome of their application for discretionary rate relief no later than the January following submission. Except in a re-evaluation year when notification should be made in March following submission of their application to ensure that a definite decision is provided in the first instance.