TOP executives and chairs of voluntary organisations across Thurrock are to be invited to give their ideas for helping Thurrock make the £40 million worth of savings it is facing in the next three years.
Introducing the Shaping the Council and Budget Progress update at Wednesday's meeting of Thurrock Council’s cabinet, Council Leader, Cllr John Kent said: “In view of the cuts being proposed, I want to see a special overview and scrutiny committee convened – the chairs and the vice chairs – to take direct evidence from the senior representatives of the voluntary sector locally.
“These people have been quite vociferous in their criticism of this council, I think it only right that we ask them to explain their reasoning, in public, and I think it only right that we ask them to use their undoubted and combined skills to do more than simply say ‘no’, but instead to propose what should be cut instead and what they are doing in their own organisations to make savings.
“The council has worked hard to recognise the positive impact and added value that voluntary sector organisations bring to the borough, and we have done our best to mitigate the impact of the cuts on the sector wherever possible.
“Indeed, this council has gone further than many in trying to build a vibrant voluntary sector.
“In 2011 we made £100,000 available to CVS to help invest in infrastructure services, including £50,000 to cushion rent increases to tenants at The Beehive.
”Over £120,000 has been made available to charitable organisations through rate relief, at a cost to the council of over £60,000 a year.
“Over £20,000 a year is provided to the sector in subsidised rent.”
He said the council had transferred the freehold for The Beehive from the council to the CVS to enable it to borrow against the asset.
Councillor said: “We have moved services into the voluntary sector – most notably Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions (£1½ million) and CARIADS (£120,000).
“This council has avoided making cuts to grants, recognising the value these bring back to the borough through additional funds and volunteering, and we have delayed cuts wherever possible to allow organisations time to plan “We have worked with the sector to develop a Social Value Framework and to improve our approach to commissioning to help create a level playing field.
“We are constantly looking at new ways to create opportunities to work with the voluntary sector and are seeking to enter smaller, community based contracts to deliver weight management services in the future.”
Cllr Richard Speight, the council’s communities portfolio holder, welcomed the proposal for a joint “cross-cutting” overview and scrutiny examination of the issue and said: “We’ve stated throughout this process that we want to consider the impact of the cuts in the round and I think this meeting will be a useful forum to do that.
“I think we need to harness the energy and the determination and the enthusiasm there is in the voluntary sector to work together to work out how we can get through this.”
Cllr Kent’s suggestion of an extra overview and scrutiny committee was supported by other members of the cabinet and – after highlighting that the proposals being discussed by the council were all out for consultation – he invited Kristina Jackson, chief executive, the Thurrock Council for Voluntary Service to speak to the committee.
She said: “In the voluntary sector we appreciate and acknowledge the savings the council has to make at this time and we welcome the opportunity of working with you to try and find those savings that need to be made. We know that some of those affected are among the most vulnerable citizens of Thurrock and I think we both can agree it’s about how we can work together to make those savings.”