City councillors have been banned from spending more than £1,700 of their ward budgets on coronavirus relief efforts.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council released a £5,000 ward budget to each of its 44 members at the start of the financial year.
And this year’s funding boost came at a vital time – with some councillors even wanting to spend their entire budget on COVID-19 support schemes.
But an email seen by StokeonTrentLive reveals that the council has put a £1,700 cap on coronavirus-related spending.
And ward budget cash cannot be spent on city-wide projects – such as The Nappy Project – which helps families across the Potteries.
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Labour councillor Candi Chetwynd has branded the new rules ‘outrageous’.
She added: “I find it overly frustrating and outrageous to be limited to only £1,700 out of £5,000 to donate to my community in its darkest hour.
“The amount of vulnerable people in our city is vast. They are invisible most days and today they go under the radar in the lockdown. It is falling to community beacons to ride to their rescue and as an elected member I want to be able to fund that.”
But other councillors have defended the new rules.
City Independent councillor Jean Bowers said: “£1,700 is still a lot of money across 44 councillors – and we’ve obviously got the rest of the year to go. People will be wanting help when the virus has passed through.”
Conservative councillor Ross Irving said: “In my patch everybody seems to be coping reasonably well. I’ve not heard reports of any people in serious need but that’s only on my patch. It doesn’t mean it’s not happening elsewhere.”
The capped spending means a total of £74,800 could be spent on coronavirus-related support efforts from ward budgets.
The email to councillors states:
“Guidelines have been drawn up in relation to the use of ward budgets to support the community response to COVID-19.
“Examples of expenditure could include specific support for smaller voluntary groups to obtain DBS checks for volunteers, fuel to support deliveries, or equipment to support communications.
“Some constraints will be applied to expenditure which is directed to support COVID-19. The maximum expenditure on COVID-19 will be limited to £1,700 and expenditure must be specifically within the member ward.
“Further support to our communities will likely be required in the recovery phase following COVID-19 and therefore further use of ward budget to support this activity will need to be considered at this time. Please note that the constraint of £1,700 only applies to COIVD-19 and not other ward budget expenditure.
“The aim of this guidance is to ensure that efforts are co-ordinated and that we maximise our overall community response to supporting the most in need. We hope the guidance is therefore received in the spirit it is intended.”