A £2.6bn government levelling up fund has been undermined by delays and risks failing to deliver on its objectives, charities warn.
Plans for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to replace funding from the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund
The government published the full prospectus for the fund shortly before the bank holiday. Local leaders will be expected to work with charities and community groups when developing their applications.
Michael Gove, levelling up secretary, said: “We have taken back control of our money from the EU and we are empowering those who know their communities best to deliver on their priorities.
“The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will help to unleash the creativity and talent of communities that have for too long been overlooked and undervalued.”
‘Limited opportunity for local areas to plan effectively’
Voluntary sector leaders have long called for more clarity around the fund so that communities can plan.
Sam Mercadante, policy and insights manager at NCVO, said: “The UKSPF has been five years in the making. The delay in publishing detailed guidance has undermined the government's stated goals for the fund and will have limited the opportunity for local areas to plan effectively.
“Now that details of the fund are available, we hope that local areas will work closely with charities to assess and meet the needs of their communities.”
The European funding streams would have amounted to around £2bn per year, instead of the £2.6bn being allocated by the UKSPF over three years.
Mercadante added: “Ultimately local communities will be disadvantaged by this and we’re disappointed that the government hasn’t upheld its public commitments.”
Gaps in funding
Charities had feared that some employment programmes could face a gap, with the money not being made available for these projects until 2024-25.
In February a coalition of 32 organisations meant this would create a funding gap for some projects that were previously supported by European funding, which could force programmes to close.
“We encourage the government to carefully consider whether the level of funding, two-year gap in employment support, and rushed timelines will provide the support that communities truly need,” it said.
Richard Sagar, head of policy at the Charity Finance Group, added: “While there are some positives to be found in the prospectus, including reduced bureaucracy and scrapping the requirement for match funding, there is more to be concerned about.
“The confirmation that new funding for people and skills will not be available until 2024-25 in England except in very specific circumstances, is deeply disappointing. The government could have done much more which would help during a cost-of-living crisis where organisations are struggling to fill vacancies.”
Meanwhile, Theo Clay, policy manager at NPC, described the funding as a “mixed bag”.
“On the one hand the government is making it really hard for charities delivering skills and employment programmes in England to access funding,” he said.
“On the other, there is funding for arts, culture and heritage projects as well as for much-needed capacity building and infrastructure support for local civil society and community groups. But with over 200 authorities developing investment plans over the next few months, charities and their umbrella bodies are going to need to move quickly to make the case for funding in their area.”