Charity experts have criticised a £10m government fund for youth projects, which they say is “rushed” and does not have “a hope in hell” of achieving its aims.
They were reacting to plans for the first phase of the Youth Investment Fund, which were published this week.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is looking for a partner to help distribute £10m to charities working with children and young people in England. This will fund capital projects, and requires charities to complete those projects before the end of March next year.
DCMS acknowledged that both the partner and frontline charities will need to work “at pace”, but sector experts say the timetable means the scheme is unlikely to accomplish the goals set by the government.
This Youth Investment Fund (YIF) was first announced in 2019, and is separate from another government programme with the same name launched in 2016.
The YIF (2019) has pledged over £500m to youth organisations, of which around £170m is already earmarked for the National Citizens Service.
Charities have repeatedly asked for clarification about when this fund will be delivered. In September organisations behind a project in Brighton revealed that they had put the work on hold because of government delays.
Government: ‘Fast-paced delivery’ needed
Charities have until the middle of December to apply to become an “intermediary grantmaker” on the first phase of the YIF (2019), according to government guidance released on Tuesday.
The guidance indicates that the grantmaker will then have a little over a month to discuss plans with councils and civil society in different regions, design and publicise the fund, create an application portal, assess applicants, and award grants. Successful charities will need to complete their capital projects in just five weeks.
This will require “fast-paced delivery”, the DCMS guidance says.
The government documents explain: “We expect a grant competition to open for bids from left-behind areas in January/February 2022, with successful projects funded and delivered by the end of the 2021-22 financial year.”
Chances of success ‘close to zero’
John Wilson, the project manager at Community Matters (Yorkshire) and an expert in charities managing large assets and capital projects, told Civil Society News that there was “not a hope in hell” that the scheme could meet the government’s aims based on this timetable.
Wilson said that charities already “can't find contractors to do the work at the moment. The possibility of someone being able to take something from design to completion [in a few weeks] is close to zero”.
The deadlines make it “completely unrealistic to deliver good, effective programmes”, he added.
Wilson said: “The sort of projects which might be able to get through is if you've got a manky toilet and you want to upgrade it. Maybe a partition wall. But not large-scale capital projects.”
He was more optimistic that DCMS could find a suitable partner to deliver the grants, but warned: “Whether they could talk to local or regional stakeholders in that time - that would be very limited.”
Angela Kail, director of consulting at the charity think tank NPC, said that the fund appeared to be designed to suit the government’s needs, rather than what worked best for charities and young people.
Kail said: “This YIF was announced in 2019 and the youth sector has been asking for updates regularly since then, so it is disappointing to see this rushed timetable.
“Our previous evaluation of youth work funding showed how investment in this sector increases social and emotional learning skills and social connectedness, and that there is a strong link between quality and better outcomes.
“It is therefore disappointing to see a timetable that seems to be more focused on what works for government departments than what works for youth organisations and the young people they are working with.”
One senior charity grantmaker, who asked to remain anonymous, warned that such short deadlines would make it hard for the government to ensure funding reached parts of the country it claimed to prioritise.
They said that the roll out of the first phase of funding “should be a great opportunity, but this timetable will be achievable for few organisations. Smaller youth-led organisations will struggle to mobilise the resources to put in rapid applications and make projects happen”.
They continued: “Implementation timescales are unpredictable, no thanks to the supply chain crisis, so is the end of March realistic for spend down?
“This scheme will favour well-resourced organisations that have a pipeline of fundable projects readily at hand, not necessarily those working in the target ‘left behind’ places.”
DCMS: Fund is part of levelling up agenda
Further YIF (2019) funding will be released in 2022-23, after phase one is complete.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “The Youth Investment Fund will improve access to youth facilities and help to level up and provide more opportunities in underprivileged communities across the country.
“This initial £10m will strengthen our local youth services offer to young people. This is part of £560m we will spend on youth services over the next three years, which includes ongoing support for the National Citizen Service.”