Devastating: area committee funds could be slashed to zero

UNDER THREAT The free street entertainment at Cleckheaton Folk Festival may be threatened under proposed area commmittee budget cuts.
UNDER THREAT The free street entertainment at Cleckheaton Folk Festival may be threatened under proposed area commmittee budget cuts.

Community events are under threat as Kirklees faces “the worst budget the council has ever had”.

Area committees could see their funding slashed from £291,000 to zero as council chiefs struggle to balance the books.

In the past, Spen Valley’s committee has funded street entertainment for Cleckheaton’s nationally acclaimed Folk festival, and regularly stumps up funds for town centre floral displays.

It has also given grants to Spen Valley Civic Society for the Luddite Park at Liversedge, and the petanque pitch in Heckmondwike, as well as supporting numerous community groups.

But all that could change if the proposals, which were backed by a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, go ahead. The plans will go out to public consultation for six weeks from Monday.

Deputy council leader David Sheard said: “It is a great blow to the area committee groups. It is the worst budget the council has ever had – we have never been in a position like this before.”

LibDem leader Kath Pinnock has vowed to fight the proposals saying: “This is an attack on small communities which rely on these pots of money to pay for things the council’s central budgets fund in bigger areas.

“The council should maintain some funding for all communities, many of which are already doing the lion’s share of the work themselves and have historically taken very little.”

Folk festival director David Minich said the free street entertainment was the “public face of the festival”.

“I would hate to see it go. It’s had nothing but praise and I’m sure it would have a massive effect on local businesses if there was no free entertainment.”

Matthew Crowther, from Cleckheaton Totally Locally group, said the funding cut would be ‘devastating’.

He said: “It brings Cleckheaton to life and draws a lot of extra trade.

“It’s always the busiest weekend of the year and without free entertainment a lot of businesses would lose out. I am really concerned.”

Donal O’Driscoll, Heckmondwike Crown of Lights free festival organiser, said he was worried for its future.

He said: “Some might argue a music festival isn’t life or death, but for many it’s a highlight.

“Nobody is willing to put sponsorship forward. The festival puts Heckmondwike on the map – it’s the reputation and spirit of the town.

“If we don’t have a festival, many will be disappointed.”

Simon Thirkill, Heckmondwike Business Alliance chairman, said: “Most events are rare opportunities for whole communities to come together and are of financial benefit to local economies.”

He said people understood the council’s financial strain and would do their bit, but groups needed support to put together self-sustaining events with impact.

Tory leader Coun Robert Light warned many groups would miss out on things which improved their local area. He said: “It would take away local decision making and centralise services to Huddersfield.”

And Coun Andrew Pinnock (Lib Dem, Cleckheaton) said the move would be a backwards step and a ‘real blow’.

He said: “The area committees were set up to devolve some decision making.

“They also have the power to disperse money and they have a much broader knowledge of what goes on locally.

“A lot of Spen Valley area committee work has been held up as a model for others.

“I am very disappointed at this proposal and we will do our best to overturn it.”

He confirmed grants issued this year would be honoured.