Editorial: Was the Transforming Local Infrastructure fund a fish to the cats?

The government programme is effective but inequitable, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook
It seems likely from the evidence so far that sector support organisations in many of the 74 areas of England that received funding from the government’s Transforming Local Infrastructure programme will become leaner and more viable. Some necessary amalgamations have taken place, as in Suffolk, and some promising projects for better links with local communities and businesses have been established, as in west London and part of Manchester. So much is clear from our analysis and case studies.

But what of the consortia in the 66 local authority areas that did not succeed in the competition for funds, the results of which were announced 14 months ago? What will happen in Northumberland and County Durham, for example, where recent local government reorganisation made a similar rethink of sector support desirable as well? Such areas will presumably have to find their way forward without financial help, even though their case for it might have been better than those areas that received it.

This is where the essential inequity of the programme lies. There was little apparent attempt to look beyond the ability of consortia to put together a convincing bid; no attempt at an objective assessment of comparative need seems to have been made; and the whole thing has been pushed through at breakneck speed with little allowance for local circumstances. It’s hard to resist the early conclusion of one sector observer that TLI has consisted of "throwing a fish to the cats and walking away". The inescapable result will be that some cats will thrive while others will not.

But this kind of competition and the methods of the market appear to be the prevailing approach to public policy and administration as the government seeks rapidly to reduce all kinds of public spending and achieve what Whitehall would call "quick wins" in time for the next election. And when the £30m TLI fund is spent in four months’ time, any financial support for local sector infrastructure from the Office for Civil Society will all but cease for the foreseeable future.

- Read Analysis

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