COUNCILLORS in a Gwent town are to have up to £1,000 to spend on local projects over the coming year as part of a trial.
Cwmbran Community Council currently awards funding to community groups and projects through council committees but has agreed to trial a system where its 19 members will have access to a funding pot they make direct awards from.
Neighbouring Pontypool Community Council already operates a similar scheme where its 21 councillors each have a fund of £2,500 a year to award to a variety of projects, with a maximum grant of £500 that can be awarded to an organisation.
Councillors then have to take on the administration, including that groups meet safeguarding checks in terms protecting youngsters and vulnerable people, as well as rules around making the grants, though they can have the support of the council clerk. Awards are also confirmed by the finance committee or the full council.
Torfaen Borough Council also allocates £1,500 a year to its 40 members for similar grants and both authorities allow councillors to combine their budgets to award a project more than one individual grant.
Members of Cwmbran council had been presented with three options; either adopting a scheme similar to Pontypool with additional training to support their decision making, allocating funding to the council’s 13 wards which councillors could then promote or to develop an “innovative grant funding approach” which would have seen a task and finish group established to provide recommendations to the council on how it should proceed.
However members opted to set up a pilot scheme for a year, with a £1,000 limit for each councillor, and the council will consider how it and members will undertake the administration of the grants.
Had the council adopted the ward level scheme the responsibility for checking grants could be made would have stayed with council staff.
One Voice Wales, the body that represents volunteer town and community councils, said it considered the “dangers” of a small grants scheme to be legal issues around how grants can be made and the possibility councillors could “unwittingly” fail to declare an interest.
It also said councillors should be aware of the risk of them being seen as favouring groups or that schemes awarded funding are too closely linked to individual councillors.
The body told Cwmbran council: “There might be an element of patronage or the perception of it.”
It said it doubted many councils operate such schemes due to the risks outlined and said councillors can still make organisations aware of the grants the council awards and how to apply and that ward level schemes are used to “ensure a fair allocation”.
Cwmbran council currently makes grants through its committees and most recently awarded Cwmbran Swimming Club £500 towards training equipment and £1,350 to the Henllys Scout Group to purchase five tents that can accommodate five people as well as cash towards clearing and repairing a marquee.
The council was told Barry Town Council, which is larger authority, has £85,000 available annually with all awards made through the council or subcommittees with amounts allocated to schemes such as a £10,000 books for schools fund or £3,000 for small business grants.
Penarth Town Council provides up to £250 to community organisations while Llanelli Rural Council has grants of up to £3,000 available for projects that can show a public good and which meets its identified priorities.