Way back in May the Salford Star put in a Freedom of Information request to Salford City Council demanding `all minutes, financial records and reports' of the Charlestown and Lower Kersal Development Framework Group'.
The snappily titled Development Framework Group was set up as `the guardian of the NDC legacy'. The NDC is the Charlestown and Lower Kersal New Deal For Communities ten year project which had a £53million budget and very little to show for it by the end, bar grass crofts, tinned up houses, no jobs and an angry community.
With the NDC long gone, the Development Framework Group (DFG) was supposed to look after the community's interests, with an annual income, or `annuity', coming in from rents off NDC backed buildings and stuff.
Unfortunately the Development Framework Group doesn't have a website, produces no publicly available minutes for any of its meetings, and no financial information has been made available to the community for which it is supposed to be the `guardian'.
Following the Freedom of Information request to the Council, which is the accountable body for the DFG, a reply finally arrived after almost ten weeks when it should have taken twenty days. The information on staff costs for the Group was blanked out (`exempt S40').
What the document did show was that for the year 2011-12 `Staff and Chair' were paid £34,638.93'. There is only one part time `staff', plus the `Chair'. The last available NDC report for 2009-10 shows that the NDC `Chair' got paid £10,583.82, so, using this as a guide, it's not too hard to estimate the part time wages.
To repeat. The full cost for one part time worker and a Chair is getting on for £35,000, from a total `community' budget of just over £60,000* in one of the poorest areas of Salford.
During 2011-12, the Development Framework Group also spent £2000 on `consultants and contractors' and £6,259 on `marketing and publicity' - mainly on Essence, the `everything's rosy in Charlestown and Lower Kersal' rag, which was set up specifically "promoting the positive activity which happens in the area".
Just £15,155 was spent on grants for six projects within the community (including £5,000 on a health impact study around the recycling centre, £5,000 on a community garden project at St Sebastian's Community Centre and £250 on mobile phones for the Police Community Support Officers), plus £1,700 on unspecified `events'…
As the previous Salford Star article showed, nearly 80% of the Development Framework Group's budget, according to its own pie chart, was spent on `administrative costs', `marketing and publicity' and `training expenses' (click here for full story).
One of the stated aims of the Group is "Investing the annuity in a way that has a positive and meaningful impact on the local community". A comment left by someone from the area following that article on the Salford Star website said it all…
"How can this be portrayed as a community run organisation, when no one in that community knows what's actually occurring, or even who and why people who they didn't elect claim to be representing them!...Why, you and I ask ourselves, after spending £53mill, are you now hiding such small spending?"
According to the Development Framework Group's Annual Report, "The Chair and Coordinator were invited to speak at the Economic and Social Research Council Salford Seminar. Our theme was community engagement in regeneration and was well received by those who attended."
One of the priorities for this financial year, the Report adds, is to generate more income for the Group, so it can be "less reliant on Salford City Council" – and even less accountable?
To this end the Group has set up a joint venture, with £1,000 support from the Leadership and Management Fund, to go out and get its own contracts based on "community development and social media".
One of the Group's partners is Liverpool based Pulse Regeneration - a `specialist social enterprise and community regeneration consultancy' - which has been raking in money from the NDC for years doing `sustainability' stuff.
The other partner is People's Voice Media, which trousered over £200,000 from the NDC at the last count (click here), and is currently based at the Salford Innovation Forum sharing the community space with the Development Group – paying no rent, only `running costs'. People's Voice Media currently produces the non-critical Essence ragazine too.
The three partners are currently going out looking for contracts. The community might well be asking whether the Development Framework Group's involvement in the joint venture is purely financially self serving or in the interests of the Charlestown and Lower Kersal community.
Meanwhile, for this financial year, a further £44,500 has been allocated for `Part Time Support Officer including on costs and Chair, including on costs'.
And as the Development Framework Group bigs up its `community engagement in regeneration' credentials, Charlestown and Lower Kersal is punctuated with closed down businesses, tinned up houses, grass crofts and more half cocked `plans' and `visions' for the area…
See previous Salford Star articles…
• Eight Year Whit Lane Regeneration Mess – click here
• NDC Regeneration Shambles in Whit Lane – click here
• NDC Legacy Group Accountability Blocked – click here
Copies of the Development Framework Group (Charlestown and Lower Kersal) Annual Report, minus financial details, are available in print from St Sebastian's Community Centre.
* The actual budget is just over £69,000 but the £9,000 rent figure is a paper stat as no rent is actually paid. It's shown as an expenditure and income figure.