Query over In Bloom funding
A startling discussion took place at Caistor Town Council on Thursday night (March 10, 2016) querying why councillors agreed to award nearly £4,000 to Caistor In Bloom.
The discussion arose after the council heard there had been a communication problem between the organisation and a member of the public who had offered to help with sustainable planting near the new town signs.
“We don’t want people to be offering help and then not feeling they have been dealt with,” said Mayor Carol Mackenzie.
It was not clear why the communication problems had arisen, but Cllr Michael Galligan, who is on the Caistor In Bloom committee, told the meeting: “I would take an offer of help from anybody.”
“In the past, some people have thought there is nothing being done sometimes, but that does not mean to say nothing is being discussed,” added Cllr Deborah Barker, who is also chairman of Caistor In Bloom. She added that in winter, frosty conditions did not always make some work practical.
Cllr Steve Millson then sought clarification about £4,000 in grant funding, which had been agreed at the council’s budget meeting on December 7. “The minutes say for an enhanced irrigation system. Can we clarify that it was £4,000 towards an irrigation system – not an enhanced one, but one still to be designed – and where we are in that design?”
Cllr Barker replied that although the figures still had to be confirmed, the amount to be spent on the irrigation system would probably be about £500. She said the irrigation system would be designed to connect to equipment on Caistor In Bloom’s utility vehicle.
There followed a tense discussion about what information had been presented to the budget meeting in December. There was even a suggestion that the council’s grant funding system should be reorganised and Mayor Mackenzie asked for the matter to be put on the agenda of another meeting.
In response, Cllr Barker told councillors: “On the grant form, it does not say it was for an irrigation system.”
WHAT WAS SAID AT THE BUDGET MEETING:
The Citizen’s article about the budget meeting in December had reported the amounts requested by each organisation and whether they were approved. The article did not outline how Caistor In Bloom was going to spend the £4,000.
However, the Citizen did take shorthand notes as the budget meeting was in progress.
According to the notes, the meeting first discussed whether to award £2,000 to Caistor In Bloom. The request for £2,000 was listed separately from another request from Caistor In Bloom for £3,900. There was a query about whether the £2,000 was “for watering.” Cllr Barker said the phrase “for watering” should not have appeared on the agenda and said it was to pay for contractors to help with the “big planting” as volunteers struggled to do a lot of planting all at once. The debate on the £2,000 was deferred until later in the meeting at Cllr Barker’s suggestion.
During the discussion on the request for £3,900, the shorthand notes refer to the meeting being told that “figures have already been circulated,” and a response, “Yes, on Friday”.
Town Clerk Helen Pitman then said £3,900 had been requested for “plants and irrigation, production of a portfolio, insurance and public liability insurance, administration, a printer costing £150, a lawnmower repair bill of £150, and £200 for ink cartridges.”
There were comments about the cost of ink cartridges and whether they could be sourced more cheaply. The Town Clerk said the funding was retrospective, and that the previous council had recommended that grant funding be awarded for tangible assets only.
Steve Millson then asked if it was possible to extend an amount allocated to spend on an irrigation system, as it would reduce the amount of time on watering. “You could get a really good system for £4,000. It will be a good use of the money from my perspective,” he said.
He then proposed that the council awarded £4,000 to Caistor In Bloom “for an irrigation system,” which was agreed. Three councillors abstained from the vote because they were involved in Caistor in Bloom.
In the context of the other items listed at the meeting, the Citizen assumed the money was awarded for a number of items including an irrigation system. But it is possible the report did not refer to how the money would be spent because of the ambiguity.
The budget meeting then continued by discussing the request for £2,000 for Caistor In Bloom. There were fears that if the request was granted, it would boost the percentage increase in the precept by 2%. The percentage increase overall, if the £2,000 grant funding was approved, would be 4.06%, the meeting was told.
When it came to the vote on the £2,000 award, Cllrs Martin Sizer, Michael Galligan and Deborah Barker – as members of Caistor in Bloom – abstained. One other councillor also abstained.
The photograph shows In Bloom judges touring Caistor last summer.