Rochdale Town hall considering ‘cruel’ cuts to crisis funding

Monday, June 24th, 2019 9:00am

By Nick Statham (Local Democracy Reporter)

Town hall bosses could cut crisis support for people setting up home after fleeing domestic violence or suffering a period of homelessness.

But councillors have urged chiefs to find different ways of saving money, with one describing some of the proposals as ‘cruel’.

Rochdale Council’s Discretionary Crisis Fund (DCF) provides white goods and basic furniture to help those in difficult situations to set up home after living in temporary accommodation.

Single beds with mattresses, energy payments and crockery and cutlery were among the most requested items for support over the last financial year.

The fund is also be used to help people who find themselves in financial difficulties, such as those struggling to pay basic household bills.

But the cost of the scheme is expected to rise by around £50k over the coming 12 months, with both the price of items and the management contract going up.

To bring the cost down the council is considering no longer paying for pots, pans and cutlery. Applicants with children are currently bought carpets, but this could also be removed under one of the options.

The town hall could also limit spending to community schemes only or stop providing emergency help for those unable to pay energy bills.

But members of the council’s regeneration and environment overview and scrutiny committee made it plain these were unacceptable.

Councillor Tom Besford noted that all four of the cut’s options suggested would need to be made in order to achieve a saving of £50k.

Tom Besford, cropped

He said: “I think every single one of these options is absolutely vital in order to support the most disadvantaged people in the borough.

“Of course, people need cutlery, crockery and pans when they move into a new home.

“No carpets for children seem like a very, very cruel step and in terms of household energy, I think that’s really important. I think we would all agree that.”

He ‘strongly urged’ the council to maintain funding at its current level, while exploring alternative savings that would not affect residents ‘under most pressure’.

“These are our most vulnerable people and we need to do whatever we can to support them,” he said.

Picking up on Coun Besford’s call to find money from elsewhere, Coun John Hartley suggested savings could be made by either buying ‘recycled’ rather than new items.

And he also asked whether the council – via contractor Northgate Solutions – was getting the best deal by buying items such as pots and pans in bulk.

Meanwhile Coun Peter Winkler asked if the criteria for receiving help had been relaxed too much given this was the first time the scheme had overspent.

Sue Ayres, the council’s economic affairs manager, said the authority received a ‘very good service from Northgate at a price that’s very good’.

She added that the cost of the contract had been frozen for the past four years, while the council report notes the rise in its cost over the next two years is ‘very slight’.

Ms Ayres also told councillors she felt the criteria for help was not too relaxed – but spending may need to be monitored more closely, particularly towards the end of the financial year.

Councillors’ comments will be fed back to the authority’s officers.

The meeting was held at the council’s Number One Riverside offices.


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