Through our Future Places Network we’ve been engaging with Locality members who have received European funding. We wanted to find out what’s worked and what’s not, directly from the recipients themselves.
There is huge potential for a successor to EU structural funds to tackle inequality and help create a fairer society.
But to do this, supporting the work of community organisations needs to be a guiding principle for the government’s plans. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund must unlock the “power of community”.
No certainty about replacement funding
All political parties are committed to the creation of a “successor fund” to replace European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) when the UK leaves the European Union.
The government is currently focused on the creation of a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which is “specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities” and to “help deliver sustainable, inclusive growth”.
However, there remains great uncertainty about the exact nature of any successor fund: how much it will be, its purpose and structure.
New funding should support the work of community organisations
At Locality, we believe there is huge potential for a fund that tackles inequality and helps create a fairer society.
Central to this will be effectively supporting the work of community organisations – which is why we believe that a guiding principle for the UKSPF must be that it unlocks the “power of community”.
We believe that local community organisations provide solutions to many of today’s complex economic and social problems. They know the place, the problems, the people and they care. They bring local people together. They are adaptable, cost-effective and responsive.
But too often, the policy environment hinders rather than helps them to transform lives. In particular, mega contracts and complex funding arrangements have been crowding local community organisations out the picture.
It prevents them from doing what they do best: providing the services the community needs in spaces where everyone belongs.
Communities are facing a common set of challenges
Ever since the EU referendum, we’ve been speaking with our members about their communities. We wanted to know how their communities are feeling, and what they think the challenges and opportunities are for their areas at this crucial moment in our national life .
Our members are spread all over England, from the areas that voted Leave in huge numbers to the Remain heartlands.
What we have discovered is that, regardless of how their places voted, there is a common set of challenges that communities are facing. Our members are working tirelessly to address them. These challenges are:
- a growing sense of inequality;
- a disempowering democratic deficit;
- the challenge of community cohesion.
A new fund must tackle inequality
We believe that a successor fund must be designed in a way that harnesses the power of community to bridge these divides.
Through our Future Places Network we’ve been engaging with Locality members who have been in receipt of European funding to find out what’s worked and what’s not.
We’ve also heard more broadly about other UK government or independent funder programmes of which our members have been in receipt, to see what lessons we can draw from elsewhere.
How the UKSPF can unlock the power of community
As we leave the EU, our new paper draws on the experience of Locality members. It outlines what we think are the key principles for a UKSPF that unlocks the power of community to create genuinely inclusive local economies.
1. It must be targeted on inequality, removing the obstacles that stand in the way of many areas reaching their economic potential
2. It must support community economic development, the process of economic development within a specific area to benefit the local community
3. It must be long-term, maintaining ESIF’s current seven year time horizon, to enable a strategic approach and reduce political interference
4. It must match current ESIF levels and be ring-fenced, preventing these crucial funds being reduced or diverted to support short-term political priorities
5. It must continue to target area-based disadvantage, with government engaging widely to agree an allocation framework that ensures it supports economic development in the areas that need it most
6. It must be accessible to local community organisations, with a devolved, blended approach that sees some strategic funds controlled by combined authorities or LEPs, alongside significant targeted funding for place-based partnerships between local authorities and local organisations
7. It must be flexible, reducing bureaucracy and allowing community organisations to focus on programme quality rather than administration
8. It must foster collaboration, learning lessons from recent experience in commissioning and blazing a trail for a new approach that brings together the local public, private and social sectors to lead the local economy