AN arts group is to ask the local government ombudsman to investigate complaints about how and why they were refused grants by Fenland District Council.

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AN arts group is to ask the local government ombudsman to investigate complaints about how and why they were refused grants by Fenland District Council.

According to the council’s corporate director officers praised the application by Atelier East and recommended funding but Cabinet overruled them.

But in an astonishing admission Council Leader Alan Melton revealed the application “was certainly not discussed with me or Cabinet. I am now getting a response”.

Karen Harvey runs Atelier East and applied to Fenland Council for community grant funding to support a Poet Laureate project: her application was rejected in August, despite scoring 80 per cent in its assessment.

She has written several times to Alan Pain, corporate director of Fenland District Council, asking for clarification but says she has become “frustrated with his contradictory answers”.

She said: “I am disappointed that, after all of the time that has passed, I am still receiving contradictory responses from Fenland District Council, and that for the past six months each letter I have received has failed to answer my questions or fulfil my requests.”

She accused Mr Pain and his team of “continuously contradicting themselves throughout this process and it has been dragged out unnecessarily, wasting time and resources”.

Ms Harvey was told she would get the answers she wanted on January 29 but instead received an e-mail stating that was in fact the date the letter would be drafted.

When Mr Pain’s letter eventually arrived, it said officers praised her application and recommended funding but Cabinet overruled their decision.

He said: “The officers who initially assessed your bid felt the project looked to effectively engage with the local community and provided new opportunities for residents to get involved in the arts.

“They also mentioned that the project helped to develop literacy skills and they liked that the outcomes provided opportunities to work with children and young people.

“The recommendation to Cabinet by officers was that the project should receive funding to help pay for the Poet Laureate bid.

“When assessed further, Cabinet requested details on how the outcomes would be measured for each person accessing the events. It was difficult at that stage to measure the impact of individual people to ascertain their ‘journey travelled’.

“FDC had to scrutinise every bid which was submitted due to the limited funds we had within the Community Grants Scheme. As a result I’m afraid your bid was unsuccessful.”

Mr Pain said FDC decided to withhold some funding during the meeting with a view to reviewing projects and new requests for funding, but Atelier East’s bid, when reassessed, was again unsuccessful.

He told her: “Your bid was reassessed with the new information you provided but I’m afraid that the initial recommendation was upheld.

“Officers do offer the opportunity to feedback on every bid, whether successful or unsuccessful but groups have tended not to take advantage of this opportunity.”

But Ms Harvey disputed Mr Pain’s claim that she submitted new information to be considered when Atelier East’s bid was reassessed.

She said: “In my original letter to Hetty Thornton, dated 1st August 2012, I asked if I could appeal and if I could have a meeting with the decision making board so that I could explain further the importance and developments of the project.

“My request was ignored and I didn’t receive the opportunity to give more information.”

In a letter to Mr Pain she says “you state that Cabinet did request further information, and that my bid was reassessed with the new information that I provided. I was not given this opportunity, my request was ignored.

“I also asked Sarah Gove, in my letter of 10th September 2012 for a copy of the scoring of my funding bid. I thought that under the Freedom of Information Act that I had a right to see this information, and I felt that it could be of help to me in the future. I have not received this information at all.

“Although you state in your letter that officers do offer the opportunity to feedback in every bid, my request was not granted, it was ignored.”

Atelier East raises young people’s aspirations and skills by offering internships and work experience.

They have founded the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, Fenland Photographer of the Year, Young Curators Forum and the annual summer art exhibition.

The Fenland Poet Laureate project has received international recognition and won the prestigious Clore Poetry and Literature Award.

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