Moray charities under threat

At a time when the communities of Moray will increasingly rely on community-led activity to maintain their quality of life and their social fabric, the groups taking forward that activity face a double-whammy. Not only will they be expected to do more, usually with less, but they may face increased charges for the privilege of serving our communities, and in many cases the most vulnerable members of our communities.

A proposal going to the Policy & Resource Committee of the Moray Council on Tuesday, 12 February, sets out a number of options for the withdrawal of what is known as ‘discretionary rate relief’.

‘Statutory’ or ‘mandatory’ rate relief entitles charities to an 80% discount on their business rates. Charities are also entitled to apply for discretionary rate relief, that waives the remaining 20%, which enables them to focus their resources on their charitable purposes.

The proposals going in front of Councillors next week identify 158 awards of discretionary rate relief, most of them to registered Scottish charities, all of them to groups carrying out valued work in our communities.

The total value of the awards to the charities is in the region of £224,000. The cost to the local authority is in the region of £56,000, with the balance coming from the Scottish Non-Domestic Rates ‘pool’. In addition to this, there are six groups benefitting from 100% rate relief, costing the Council around £10,000 but adding a total of £39,000 to the local economy.

Among the groups at risk of losing this support are those who are taking on the responsibility of keeping local facilities open through Community Asset Transfers, including a number of Town Halls, and those who have done that for a very long time, like Community and Village Halls associations across Moray.

The report makes an assessment of the monetary impact on the Council of the various options presented to Councillors. However, no consultation has been carried out, so nobody currently knows the potential impact on the groups affected, many of which operate on a shoestring or on very narrow margins.

Debbie Herron, Development Manager at Forres Area Community Trust, who is going through a Community Asset Transfer application for Forres Town Hall, commented: “We completely appreciate that there are savings that need to be made in regard to Moray Council budgets going forward as they are in a challenging situation financially. However, the proposal to reduce or remove the discretionary rates relief for charities and other third sector organisations in Moray could have a devastating effect on these groups to deliver services and support for communities across Moray.

“This is particularly relevant to those organisations such as FACT who have taken on the management of facilities that were under the control of Moray Council and have now been passed on to communities to run.”

Members of the Federation of Community Halls and Associations have also been urged to make representations to their local Councillors to avert the threat. However, given the lack of consultation, there is very little time available for anyone affected by the proposals to comment, whether as groups running facilities or communities benefitting from those groups’ activities.

More information on the proposals can be found on the Council website at https://moray.cmis.uk.com/moray/CouncilandGovernance/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/105/Committee/5/Default.aspx