The government’s levelling up agenda will falter unless it taps into the “unique contribution” charities can offer, NCVO has warned.
In its report Levelling Up: The role of charities and volunteering, published yesterday, NCVO warned that charities in regions targeted for levelling up funding may struggle to work as effective partners with government because of a lack of resources.
The government has pledged to invest in areas of the UK which it claims have previously been overlooked for funding, although these plans have been criticised for ignoring civil society.
The report, which is based on contributions by more than 200 charities, has been sent to Neil O’Brien MP, the prime minister’s main advisor on levelling up plans.
It calls on the government to “redesign” the main levelling up funds to make them more accessible to charities, and to give community groups priority in taking over local assets.
‘Vital role’ for charities
NCVO said: “We want the government’s levelling up agenda to succeed. This requires all parts of government – central, devolved, and local – to collaborate with the public, private and voluntary sectors.
“Charities and volunteers are embedded in the communities they serve, so have a vital role to play.”
The report identifies four key roles charities can play in levelling up:
- Improving opportunities for individuals
- Strengthening regional economies
- Supporting better public services
- Building “life and pride” in local places
NCVO argues that voluntary organisations are “crucial partners” in this work, because “addressing inequality and promoting equality are at the heart of what charities and volunteers do”.
It adds that “communities and groups have the potential for effective local action” but warns that “many have been deprived of the support and resources needed to sustain and grow this action”.
Government should redesign funding
Its recommendations to government include the “redesign” of the three funding schemes being used to support the levelling up agenda.
Analysis by the think tank NPC has shown that nearly 90% of this funding is likely to go on traditional infrastructure projects like road building and transport.
Yesteray's report says: “We believe these funds should be redesigned to prioritise spending on social infrastructure. In particular, we would like to see the Levelling Up Fund redesigned to focus more on social infrastructure and support collaboration with charities to achieve levelling up.”
NCVO also recommends that local authority funding is increased, both to help local councils and support charities which have “worked to fill the gap” left by cuts.
Prioritise local groups
The report says the government should reform legislation so that communities have “first right of refusal” to purchase local assets.
The new system could be based on rules in Scotland, NCVO said, with local groups given priority to purchase assets of community value which come to market.
Communities would then have a year to secure the support and funding they need to purchase the asset.
This would “provide communities with a genuine route to force the sale of neglected assets, if there is a powerful case for community wellbeing and sustainable development”, the report said.