Leicester is hardly a city swimming in money; quite the opposite in fact. Around a third of children in Leicester grow-up living in poverty, and all the while the government are merrily going about the business of slashing central government funding for local authorities! The theft of such government grants will soon mean that our Council will be receiving £155 million less in funding every single year compared to just a few years ago.
Receipt of local authority funding is essential for sustaining vital public projects in Leicester. In a poor city, where increasing number of charities and groups are competing for limited grants (whether through funding from the National Lottery or from corporate foundations), local council funding is therefore a vital lifeline for ongoing public service provision.
However, even groups that are well-known and well-loved can fail without regular financial support from the Council. The latest case-in-point is the Shama Women’s Centre in Highfields. In a Facebook post placed online last week, the Centre notes:
“Please help save Shama Women’s Centre from closure. Due to recent funding cuts of £30,000 a year from Leicester City Council and lack of other funds we will not be able to continue to provide our services to thousands of women from March 2017. Please sign our petition at the centre or online to support our case for keeping the Centre open. We want the Council to reinstate this funding of £30,000 a year from 1st April 2017.” (Facebook, February 8, 2017)
“Without this Centre, thousands of women in Leicester will suffer isolation, mental health, inequalities, cultural and social barriers with nowhere else to turn to. It is the only women’s centre in Leicester that provides social, well-being and educational activities; in a culturally conducive environment for more than 31 years. It has successfully empowered thousands of women, many from vulnerable backgrounds, helping them overcome personal bereavement, domestic abuse and cultural barriers; enabling them overcome isolation, make new friends, gain lifelong skills and contribute to the local community. It has an onsite’ good’ Ofsted registered nursery to help women with children access the services.” https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/shama-women-s-centre-under-threat-of-closure?source=facebook-share-button&time=1486813059
This is no run-of-the-mill project, as just over a year ago the chair of the Centre, Yasmin Nathani was awarded an MBE for services to the empowerment of women in the City (2015). Moreover, early last year the centre was rewarded for their good work with an unusually large grant of just over £400,000 from the national Big Lottery Fund (for their “From Bereavement to Achievement” project — a project which also received £200,000 in 2014). But such generous grants are simply one-off sources of funds, as over the past two decades the total of all the Shama Centre’s other Big Lottery Grants only came to £126,000. Thus regular annual Council grants are vital to securing the future longevity of the Centre. This explains why despite being lucky enough to obtain a couple of large lottery grants the Centre’s future is still at risk.
The immanent threat of closure of course of the Centre should demonstrate why it is so important that public services are well-funded and are ideally maintained under democratic local authority ownership. After all, it is not easy to run a community centre if you are always worried about your future and your ability to even pay the bills. And indeed like many other community groups in the city, the Shama Centre has been living on the edge of closure for some years already. For instance in 2011, local Labour MP Jon Ashworth was invited to pop into the centre to pledge “to help it fight to maintain its funding” (November 15, Leicester Mercury).
Thankfully, Leicester at least has a Labour Council (with Labour councillors holding all but two of the local Council seats) and so the Council has the opportunity to refuse to implement further government cuts. On this score the Council has recently been helped out by the local public sector union, Unison (of which I am a member), which has just put forward a worked-out proposal for how no money needs to be cut from the Council’s budget for at least the next three years (that is, until a Labour government comes to power who will fund local services properly).
Now community groups across the city have the opportunity to demand that our Council investigate how they implement a legal “no cuts” budget, to not only safeguard the future of their own groups, but to protect the future for all public service provision in our fighting city!