Cambridge City Council has criticised Cambridgeshire County Council for planning to divert around £4m of government money originally earmarked for the voluntary sector to fund super-fast broadband, without consulting charities in the area first.
The £4m in funds is from the government’s Local Public Service Agreement (LPSA) with Cambridgeshire County Council.
A first tranche of £4.5m of funds from the LPSA went on a variety of social projects in Cambridgeshire, with much of the funds going to the voluntary sector.
However, a second tranche of £4.5m was initially cancelled last summer by the coalition government. However, Cambridgeshire managed to claw back the funds from government after a campaign from local councils in the area.
But now, Cambridge City Council has condemned the County Council’s plans to use £4m of the funds on a superfast broadband project, leaving £500,000 for social projects, without consulting the voluntary sector.
The leader of Cambridge City Council, Sian Reid, told civilsociety.co.uk: “The voluntary sector is experiencing great difficulty with an increase in demand for their services, a decline in income from investment and donations, and the threat of cuts in public funding. And I have said that this decision should not be made without consulting the voluntary sector and others in our local strategic partnership. This money was earned in partnership and should be spent in partnership.”
She added that the decision had been taken so the County Council could reduce its borrowing charges on broadband.
“Faster broadband will happen anyway. The funding won’t make a difference, but it will reduce the County Council’s borrowing for the project.”
Broadband will 'do the most good'
However, Cambridgeshire County Councillor Ian Bates, cabinet member for growth and planning, said better broadband would bring business to the area - leading to a better quality of life and less strain on the voluntary sector:
"I am pleased that the majority of councils and public bodies across Cambridgeshire could come together and find a way to spend this money that will do the most good for all our communities," he said. "It is what residents expect of their councils.
"Better broadband is vital for Cambridgeshire. It brings business, jobs and therefore opportunities and better quality of living. In turn this means less strain on our support services and charities freeing up their resources to deal with the most needy."
A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said the move was supported by district council leaders from Huntingdonshire, Fenland, East Cambridgeshire and South Cambridgeshire, as well as the Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Cambridgeshire NHS.
He added: “Unfortunately, many of the projects the £4.5m had been earmarked for had either been stopped or not even started, making it difficult to share out the rest.”
Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet is expected to vote on the plans next week.