TAVISTOCK’s county councillor has stepped in to reassure community groups that money she has promised them is safe – as a cash-strapped county council puts the brakes on ‘locality funding’.

Cllr Debo Sellis, like all Devon county councillors, had £8,000 to give out to local good causes in her division of Tavistock and Gulworthy in the current financial year.

However, the county council’s leading executive has halted the scheme until April 2023 – as it scrambles to fill a £40 million blackhole in this year’s budget.

Cllr Sellis, who had already allocated most of her 2022/23 budget – to causes as varied as a girls’ football team to Tavistock Youth Cafe and CCTV to prevent vandalism for Whitchurch Primary School – was dismayed to hear the news, which was announced by the Conservative-led county council on Friday.

‘I call it my Fairy Godmother account and it is just brilliant being able to support so many interesting, diverse and enthusiastic groups in the area,’ said Cllr Sellis

A statement from the county council said: ‘From August 5 2022, the locality budget application process has been suspended until further notice, allowing the county council to review in-year expenditure and ensure future financial sustainability. No new applications are currently being accepted.’

Cllr Sellis said she had not been party to the decision-making process but said she ‘understood that the financial pressures on the council are eye-watering’.

‘I would be upset to lose it, yes, because I firmly believe this scheme gives people an opportunity. With a finger of support, you can move mountains. The scheme gives people the opportunity to contact us and it also allows us as councillors to find out what is going on in the community and help where we can.’

She went on to extoll the virtues of the scheme, which up until this year, when it was reduced to £8,000 allowed £10,000 to each local councillor to give out to good causes in their area.

Recently, Cllr Sellis has given out £2,500 for a refurbishment of Gulworthy Parish Hall and £1,000 for the Tavistock Youth Club for their summer programme.

‘It means that the kids are able to do lots of exciting things and I have always been very happy to support Vicki at the youth club because she is so enthusiastic,’ she said. ‘It really helps the kids a great deal and give them opportunities. It is nice for them to meet up.’

She said she had also given £1,000 to the Tavistock Specials FC to establish a football team for girls with disabilities, which organisers hope to have up and running alongside the women’s team.

Meanwhile opposition leaders at the county council have criticised the move by the Tory-controlled Devon County Council which council leader John Hart has defended, saying: ‘We currently face an unprecedented overspend of £40 million in the current financial year caused by the cost-of-living crisis, rising demand for our services for vulnerable children and adults and potential wage settlements.

‘We are currently looking at our budget line-by-line to see where we can be more efficient and effective and where we can make savings.

‘We are serious about cutting expenditure and balancing this year’s budget and working towards setting a balanced budget for 2023/24 in six months.

‘The locality budget is worth around half a million pounds and cannot be exempt from scrutiny. But this is a temporary suspension and we will honour payments that have already been approved.’

Opposition leader Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said he was ‘incredibly disappointed’ at the move.

‘This is a vital connection that the council has with its local communities and the money spent by the council is worth five or ten-fold when you take into account match funding and voluntary and community effort.

‘It’s very short-sighted. We weren’t consulted about it and the idea that we’re just going to support it is unacceptable.’