Calls for community to help bankrupt Woking Borough Council by supporting groups

Bankrupt Woking Borough Council has asked “those with the broadest shoulders” to support community groups that had their funding cut when the local authority went bust.
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The council went under on the back of a failed regeneration plan that saddled the borough with more than £2billion of debt.

It was ordered to cut all non-statutory spending meaning community groups and volunteer services across the borough had their grant funding slashed. Among the more high-profile cuts have been Citizens Advice Woking, community transport, and the Lightbox theatre.

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Fees at Pool in the Park are also increasing to cover the loss of its council funding. Woking Borough Council is now hoping to encourage residents to donate to a community fund – although opposition members have described the measures as “a bit cheeky” given the expected 10 per cent tax hike later this year.

Woking Borough Councillor Will Forster (WF)Woking Borough Councillor Will Forster (WF)
Woking Borough Councillor Will Forster (WF)

Councillor Josh Brown, (CON, Byfleet and West Byfleet) chairs Woking Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee. He said: “It seems a bit cheeky of the council to cut all your services and propose to increase council tax by a shocking 10 per cent and then ask you to contribute even more.

“The council needs to seriously think about providing the right quality and good quality services to residents of all ages.”

The Woking Community Fund is managed by the Community Foundation for Surrey and the council hopes to encourage people to voluntarily contribute to it – particularly those in “Band H houses to support our vulnerable residents and top up the support” the council can offer, Cllr Will Forster said during the council meeting.

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Residents will be asked whether their donation should go to particular priorities such as hardship advice, transport for the vulnerable or more general priorities. Deputy leader of Woking Borough Council Will Forster introduced the item during the February 8 meeting where local authority confirmed it was to make £8.4million in spending cuts and lose 20 per cent of its staff.

He said: “The council just doesn’t have the cash to give out to non-statutory services” but that it still needed to ensure community groups got help. The scheme has already received positive feedback from from Citizens Advice Woking, according to Cllr Forster.

He said: “It’s positive even if it’s done because the council has gone bankrupt.” Introducing the measures, he said: “I appreciate the voluntary sector needs more money, but we as a council don’t have it….this council should ask residents, especially those in the Band H council tax group, the most expensive houses, to voluntarily contribute to the Woking Community Fund to support our voluntary sector.”

He said the scheme – which would be open to all, not just those in big houses – has worked in Bath, Sheffield and in particular Westminster where it raised £1m in two years. He added: “Let’s get those with the broadest shoulders, like those who live in Band H houses, support our vulnerable residents and top up the support this council can offer.”