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Gillingham’s town council has agreed to provide a £10,000 grant to help keep the local Citizens Advice branch running after an extraordinary intervention by other groups and associations in the town who said they would be prepared to see their own funding cut rather than to see CA go short of money.

Mayor Barry Von Clemens told fellow councillors of his immense “pride” in the town after the groups queued up to say that with council funding tight, the money for Citizens Advice took priority.

Councillor Von Clemens told fellow councillors: ‘Why I am so proud is that when we looked at the books and we said that’s all we’ve got left, all the groups – representing  most of our community – stood up and said “we would rather go without money rather than  see Citizens Advice go without its grant.”  It was just amazing.’

In all councillors had just £20,000 to allocate in grants against a total of £42,827.24 in funding requests from local groups and charities.

And when councillors on the town’s finance committee had considered all the other applications they had just £6,345 left in their grant budget to pay the £10,000 that the town’s Citizens Advice had requested.

It was at this point that other associations said they were prepared to see their funding reduced in order to allow CA to get its full request so it can carry on its work.

Councillor Von Clemens said: ‘They weren’t just offering 20 or 30 pounds, but in one case they were offering £1,500 back.  Another just offered to hand the whole lot back.’

He added: ‘I cannot emphasize enough the fact that many of these groups are very hard up for cash. We didn’t ask – all of a sudden they slowly put their hands up at the back of the room and said “we will withdraw”.’

However, councillors on the finance committee agreed to defer the decision to the full council which on Monday 23 September agreed to find an extra £3,655 from another budget to ensure CA got their full £10,000 request without the need to cut other grants.

But councillors were not unanimous about backing the move – the vote was 8 to 5 – and some expressed reservations about finding extra money for CA.

In particular, councillor Mick Hill told Monday night’s meeting he found the ‘pontificating’ of some councillors at the finance committee ‘disgusting’ and claimed that the other groups had effectively felt obliged to offer to forego some of their grants.

‘To pull the rug out from under them and pretty much embarrass them into handing the money back I thought was terrible.  It broke my heart to see them,’ said Councillor Hill.

‘If we have twenty grand to spend on grants then that’s it.  If six-and-a-half grand is all that Citizens Advice can have then so be it.  I don’t see why we should be robbing Peter to pay Paul.’

Meanwhile Councillor Paul Harris, who is deputy mayor, said he would have preferred to take money from another of the grant applicants to give the CA a total of £7,845 in all.

Councillor Harris said: ‘The amount of £7,845 is 78.45% of the £10,000  they requested which is a favourable percentage when compared with all of the other awards made.’

But other councillors declared how important it was that CA got the full £10,000 to help their run their office in Gillingham.

Councillor Von Clemens said: ‘I don’t shy away from the fact that the advice and help offered by Citizens Advice does save lives. Is a vital service to our town.’

Councillor Val Pothecary, who said she ‘totally disagreed’ with Councillor Hill, added: ‘I would hate to see it go .’

Councillors agreed that the extra £3,655 needed to meet CA’s grant request in full should come from the ‘devolution’ budget which has been earmarked to pay for any extra duties the town council might have to perform following the abolition of the district council and a switch to the new unitary system of local government.

The other list of applicants, their requests and the amounts agreed by the town council:

(a}Blackmore Vale Tourism and Development Limited.
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: Nil
(b} Christmas Fair.
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: Nil
(c} Citizen Advice Central Dorset,
Application: £10,000. Amount awarded: £10,000.
(d} Dorset Blind Association.
Application: £250. Amount awarded: £150
(e} Gillingham Carnival Committee.
Application: £2,000. Amount awarded: £1,500.
(f) Gillingham Community Cinema.
Application: £4,500. Amount awarded: £1,888.
(g) Gillingham Community Church.
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: £500.
(h) Gillingham and District Angling Association Ltd.
Application: £2,000. Amount awarded: £700.
(i) Gillingham Duke of Edinburgh Open Award Centre.
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: £1,000.
(j) Gillingham Imperial Silver Band.
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: £1,000.
(k) Gillshed (Gillingham Man Shed).
Application: £3,000. Amount awarded: £500.
(I) Gillingham Singers.
Application: £1,500. Amount awarded: £500.
(m) Gillingham Social Table Tennis.
Application: £150. Amount awarded: Nil.
(n) Gillingham Town Team.
Application: £465.67. Amount awarded: £465.
(o) Hipp!! Bones.
Application: £1,051.57. Amount awarded: £1,052.
(p) Home-Start North Dorset.
Application: £3,000. Amount awarded: £1,500.
(q) Mindful.
Application: £500. Amount awarded: £500.
(r) Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre (Wessex) Ltd.
Application: £250. Amount awarded: Nil.
(s) North Dorset Disability Information Services (NorDDis).
Application: £1,000. Amount awarded: £500.
(t) North Dorset Rugby Club.
Application: £5,000. Amount awarded: £1,000.
(u) North Dorset Club for the Visually Impaired.
Application: £200. Amount awarded: £100.
(v) Read Easy Gillingham and Shaftesbury.
Application: £660. Amount awarded: £500.
(w) St Mary Gillingham Scout Group.
Application: £300. Amount awarded: £300.

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