Call to make South Tyneside Council chiefs' funding pot more transparent

Calls to make a South Tyneside Council funding pot more transparent have won support across the council chamber.

By Chris Binding
Monday, 25th October 2021, 12:22 pm
Updated Monday, 25th October 2021, 1:01 pm

A debate was launched at a full council meeting on the local authority’s ‘discretionary fund’ – which can only be used by the council’s leader and deputy leader.

Opposition councillor Glenn Thompson, leader of the South Tyneside Independents Group, launched a motion on the fund which aimed to set rules and parameters for its use.

This included clear documentation from the 2022 financial year with clear criteria and parameters, annual reporting and ensuring the fund is not used to fund any ‘politically-orientated events.’

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The amended motion won unanimous support across the council chamber.

“Of course a discretionary fund available to our council leadership at first sight makes absolute sense,” said Cllr Thompson.

“But when I was informed the fund had no existing criteria, limited records of spending and not reported to council in any way I was concerned.”

Independent councillor, Paul Milburn, added that councillors were “duty bound to oversee that local authority funding is administered fairly and openly” and that some kind of reporting structure should be in place.

Several independent councillors also said the fund had been used to support the 2021 ‘Rebel Town’ event in Jarrow, which had a “political slant” in terms of its programme.

Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, said there was “no political motive in supporting this event” and that the discretionary fund had not been used to “support the event in total.”

Instead, the Labour council leader clarified, it had been used to support a small community group with a brass band.

During the meeting councillor Joanne Bell, Labour cabinet member for resources and innovation, proposed an amendment to the original motion.

This included a single action for the £5,000 discretionary fund to be referred to the council’s Constitution Committee for review – with a view of putting a reporting mechanism in place in future.

Labour councillor Angela Hamilton said the amended motion was a “good way forward.”

Cllr Hamilton went on to say: “It puts something in place that will make the fund more open and more transparent, and people will be able to publicly see what it’s being used for and that it is being used correctly.”

Councillor David Francis, leader of the Green Group on the council, added the sums were “relatively small” in the context of the council’s wider budget but that clear rules were needed on the way the fund is applied.

“The bottom line is that this is public money,” he said.

“It can be only a good thing to make sure that if this isn’t already the case, there are clear criteria for what is and isn’t an appropriate use of that funding and that the way it’s spent is adequately reported on each year.”

The amended motion won unanimous support across the council chamber.

The amended motion in full reads:

This council notes that:

:: As a local authority we have a responsibility to be as open, transparent and accountable as is reasonably practicable. This creates confidence and trust with the residents of South Tyneside.

:: Currently in South Tyneside Council, we have a discretionary fund, which is not reported upon and is able to be utilised by the South Tyneside Council leader and deputy leader.

:: Currently the discretionary fund, has no documented parameters and or criteria to be adhered to. By way of background, this fund used to be the multi-Community Area Forum (CAF) fund for applications covering more than one CAF area.

This council resolves that:

:: The £5,000 discretionary fund be referred to the Constitution Committee to review with the request that the same or similar criteria and reporting mechanism, in line with the CAF grant funding, is applied.