UNISON has welcomed the West Sussex County Council Labour group’s criticism of the recent decision to award the Weald & Downland Museum £100,000 from council ‘Kick Start’ funds.
This adds to further funding ‘in-kind’ of around £115,000 when a WSCC senior officer was seconded to the museum last year.
WSCC Leader Louise Goldsmith – a ‘Friend’ of the museum – asked Cabinet Member for Finance Michael Brown to visit the museum and make recommendations on funding to her, to try to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing.
It compares well to funds granted to another of the council’s pet Chichester-based projects, the Festival Theatre, which received £1.5m of council tax payers’ money last year.
The award to the museum has bypassed the established channels for requesting Kick Start funds by approaching the council directly. No other bidder has been given this ‘fast-track’ to funding. Not even those which have greater social benefit to the county (such as its food banks) or greater economic benefit.
Though the decision to award this funding was not made until 10 December, a letter from Michael Brown (dated 29 October ) to the Chair of Trustees (former WSCC Chief Executive, Paul Rigg), states the council ‘is delighted to allocate’ the £100,000.
Indeed the whole decision-making process for this funding is – to say the least – foggy.
The council’s priorities must be seriously challenged. In the past two years, the council’s ‘Be the Business’ programme has awarded £1.3m to boost private companies’ activities and profit margins, without any direct financial benefit to the council. This is almost the same amount being cut from the Fire & Rescue Service budget and more than the amount saved by cutting Highways staff by one fifth.
UNISON Branch Secretary Dan Sartin said: “Our local politics need to adapt. This is not the nineteenth century and councillors should not see their roles as playing Lord and Lady Bountiful – they are there to be the custodians of our essential public services. As such, these monies should not be given away to favoured pet projects but used to support the essential services our members work in and deliver to the public. Anything else is a dereliction of duty.”