Big Choice, Big Deal

Transparency and choice – two values that we are all in favour of here at The Chronic.

Which makes us sound worryingly like a bloody Tory politician.

But no worries, we are in good company – *not* a bloody Tory politician, but the good @Colchestersoup, who was also thinking about transparency when it comes to Colchester’s Big Choice.

You may remember how following a slight surplus in the budget, CBC was able to magic up £200k for local groups to apply for.

And all just ahead of a set of local elections as well.

Fancy that.

We had hoped that the application process would be transparent, honest and open.

And whaddya know – Labour’s Cllr Rosalind Scott of Wivenhoe Quay ward felt the exact same way.

But to be honest we’ve heard enough bullshit coming out of the Town Hall in recent weeks. And so in the absence of the transparent, honest and open application process for Big Choice, we thought that we would slap in an FoI to try and understand a little more.

And so we asked CBC:

“Please can you provide me with a full list of the organisations or groups that applied for the Big Choice grant. I would also like to know the value that each organisation or group asked for, and a brief summary of the project that they wanted the funds for.”

It’s a shame that we had to ask for this in the first place. Any transparent, honest and open process would publish this data by default.

The response that we have received asks more questions about the transparency, honesty and openness of Big Choice than it does provide answers.

The short list of 12 successful runners and riders that will enter into the public beauty contest was announced last month.

These were decided by the transparent, honest and open judging panel consisting of LibDem’s Cllr Paul Smith, Cllr Bill Frame and Cllr Annie Feltham, plus Cllr Tim Young, the Leader of the local Labour group.

Cllr Young is most definitely transparent, honest and open, something that a late night Twitter exchange certainly proved last week.

Touchy, but not feely, Comrade.

Our FoI however has revealed some interesting applications from other local organisations that were unsuccessful.

The full list is:

Colchester Buddhist Centre – £25k

CCVS – £50k

University of Essex – £75k

Open Road – £75k

Colchester School of Gymnastics – £100k

Firstsite Colchester – £50k

Home Start Colchester – £25k

The Rotary Club of Colchester – £25k

Colchester Archaeological Trust – £25k

Outhouse East – £25k

Swarm Apprenticeships – £25k

Football in the Community – £25k

Colchester Korban Project – £75k

CEE Cricket Club – £100k

DNA Networks – £50k

Only Cowards Carry Weapons Awareness – £25k

Age UK Essex – £75k

Action for Family Carers – £25k

Age UK Colchester – £100k

Rowhedge Juniors Football Club – £25k

Wivenhoe Town Council – £50k

All Saints with St Cedds – £50k

5th Colchester Scouts Group – £25k

Colchester Presents CIC – £100k

Destination Colchester – £25k

Fingringhoe Parish Council – £25k

Myland Community Council – £50k

World Food Aid Ltd – £25k

GO4 Enterprises – £100k

Careerserve Co-operative Ltd – £25k

Colchester Free Festival – £25k

Find Your Spark – £25k

HN Training CIC – £50k

Horse Rangers Association – £25k

Kids Backs 4 The Future – £25k

Cemand Productions – £25k

Refugee Action Colchester – £75k

Stillwaters Bus – £50k

Our FoI also asked what the proposed funds would be used for. You can read a little more over here [xlsx file].

The figure of £25k seems to be cropping up quite a lot. This is due to the bizarre decision by CBC to set a relatively high minimum grant that could be applied for.

We have had conversations with a number of local groups that were keen to apply to Big Choice, but didn’t really want £25k. A figure of £5k could have made a huge difference to their local work. But they were priced down, rather than out.

As for some of the notable names?

We did raise a wry smile at the cheeky ask of £75k from the notoriously cash-strapped University of Essex.

The Colchester School of Gymnastics wanted £100k for… a car park.

Our friends at Firstsite fancied another £50k to commission photographer Martin Parr to take some snaps around Sunny Colch.

Nice work, etc.

But it is the transparent, honest and open rejection of Age UK that will no doubt lead to further fall out.

Two separate bids were put in – Age UK Essex asked for £75k to pay for a Project Co-ordinator and Assistant.

Age UK Colchester was looking for £100k for a ‘one stop shop’ for services.

Sadly the transparent, honest and open approach of Big Choice hasn’t allowed us to see any further details. But anything that describes itself as a ‘one stop shop’ usually has us looking for an alternative.

Perhaps the biggest loser in Big Choice is Sir Bob of Sunny Colch.

Twice the ex-MP has asked CBC to give some dosh to Age Concern – once at Cabinet, once at Full Council – all in his apolitical role as High Sheriff. It seems that the Cabinet top bods have treated the apolitical requests in the manner in which they were presented.

Did the transparent, honest and open panel of politicians get it right with the shortlist?

Big Choice was always going to be a subjective choice – both the short listing and the final round of voting itself.

Perhaps a better clue however can be found by looking at the locations where the final 12 short listed orgnisations are based, and the current political control of each area.


Ah. Now we see…

Voting for Colchester’s Big Choice ends on 4 March.

Speaking of voting, all out local elections are coming up in May…