Labour leaders to decide on bids to local £500k fund in Oldham
Reporter: Charlotte Green (Local Democracy Reporting)
Date published: 09 July 2019
General view of Oldham
Only Labour cabinet members will be able to vote on where and how a pot of half a million pounds funding for local districts in Oldham will be spent.
In May councillors voted to scrap the borough’s seven district executives and centralise their local budgets into one entity, under the tag-line of a ‘local improvement fund’.
The changes, which will save the town hall £70,000, had been slammed as ‘underhanded’ at full council by the Liberal Democrat opposition group.
Now bosses have formally agreed how the new £500,000 fund will be managed, which council leader Sean Fielding described as an opportunity to create ‘long term impact’ for communities.
The final decision about where cash will be spent is be taken by a subcommittee of the cabinet, manned by councillor Fielding, deputy council leader Arooj Shah, and finance chief Abdul Jabbar.
An opposition councillor from the shadow cabinet will be able to sit on the committee, but in a ‘non-voting capacity’.
Coun Fielding said: “This isn’t about politics and about favoured areas within the borough, this is about a transparent approach so that each part of Oldham gets a fair crack of the whip.
“This is about having a pot of funding where we can make real, lasting change in our districts in a way that our district executives prevented us from doing so because of the way they’ve been salami-sliced over the years.
“It can be invested in things that are important to local people, such as parks, traffic calming schemes or refurbishing community buildings.”
For a decade, district executives had been the public committees which decided how to spend money locally and had been responsible for £20,000 of funding per ward a year.
The powers held by the executive will now be given to individual councillors under the role of ‘district leads’.
To access the £500,000 funding pot, district leads would have to make an expression of interest and a formal bid with the support of a majority of councillors in that district.
An advisory panel will be established to review the applications and make recommendations to the sub-committee on which projects should be funded.
The panel would be made up of two members of the Labour administration, and one member from the main opposition group.
Bosses said this would ensure ‘fairness and transparency’, although the cross-party panel would have no formal decision-making powers.
Bids will be scored against a range of criteria, and end up with a total score out of 50.
These include whether the project ‘clearly aligns to the district plan’, has considered risks, has a clear timeline and evidence of residents’ support.
Coun Shah said the changes were ‘long overdue’.
“It’s just needed so much because districts are so important to us as ward members,” she added.
“That will encourage us and enable us to be able to interact with communities in the way that we should.”
Councillors’ individual annual budgets, which can be used to support resident and community groups, will be increased from £5,000 to £6,000.
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