Call goes out for level playing field for council funding

Galashiels councillor Harry Scott.
Galashiels councillor Harry Scott.
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A plea is being issued for a level playing field for council funding for events and community groups in the Borders.

Under current rules, community groups aren’t eligible for Scottish Borders Council funding if the money is to be used for employees’ wages, but events getting such handouts, such as the Borders Book Festival at Melrose, are allowed to spend them on salaries and consultancy fees.

That’s not fair, according to Galashiels councillor Harry Scott, and he’s now calling on the council’s ruling administration to remove that restriction on funding for community groups.

At the full council meeting to be held in Kelso tomorrow, May 16, Mr Scott will put forward a motion asking: “The guidance notes for the 2019-20 community fund state that grant funding given to groups who undertake projects for the benefit of their communities cannot be used for the payment of wages, salaries, or fees of sessional workers, and yet it would appear that grant money paid to organisers of events, as defined by the Scottish Borders Council events plan 2014-2020, can be.

“This seriously disadvantages community groups who wish to undertake projects for the improvement or wellbeing of their communities but which do not have the capacity to undertake these projects without paid assistance from outside their group.

“Will this restriction be removed so that groups applying for community grant funding are placed on a level playing field with organisers who wish to fund events?”

Mr Scott’s question follows similar criticism from Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer about only Melrose Sevens, out of all the rugby sevens tournaments in the Borders, receiving council funding despite having far and away the highest income in terms of sponsorship and ticket sales.

Commenting ahead of this week’s meeting at the Tait Hall, Mr Scott said: “Whilst Watson McAteer makes the case for more equality in the distribution of sevens funding, this is another area of Scottish Borders Council funding which is clearly not equitable.

“This year, the Melrose Sevens, which attracts major sponsorship, was awarded a grant of £8,000.

“The Melrose book festival has in the past received a grant of £25,000. The last published accounts for the book festival for 2017 show a total income of £336,941, and two of its directors got paid £25,000 each, not in their capacity as directors, but ‘as part compensation for their contributions of skill and experience in the field of literary festivals’.

“The spouse of one of the directors was also paid a £5,000 consultancy fee ‘for services provided to the festival’.

“This places those undertaking purely community projects at a serious disadvantage compared to those organising what Scottish Borders Council classes as events.

“Both bring benefit to the community in general, or a section of it, but why discriminate against unpaid volunteers who undertake projects aimed purely at securing the improvement or wellbeing of their communities?

“I am not suggesting that Scottish Borders Council ceases providing financial support to events which bring economic benefit to the community. However, the discrimination needs to end.

“The restriction prohibiting, as a condition of receiving community grant funding, the payment of wages, salaries, or fees of sessional workers should be removed so that community groups are able to access the finance to achieve satisfactory outcomes for the communities which they work so hard to serve.”