Funding story: The Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission offers grants for projects that encourage political participation in apathetic communities.

Not everyone is as riveted by the endless powerplay in Westminster as the politicians believe. In fact, huge numbers of people can't be bothered to vote at all - despite moves to develop different sorts of voting and attempts by politicians to impress the electorate with blogs and YouTube video clips.

The Power Inquiry was set up to explore how party politics could be made more accessible. Its report, published in March 2006, made 29 recommendations. It concluded that although many people are actually involved in political issues, there is less engagement with formal politics.

Funding is available, however, for broadening involvement in the conventional voting practice. The Electoral Commission recently announced the second round of its Partnership Grants Scheme, which will award up to £100,000 a year to projects that encourage political participation.

The commission says: "Section 13 in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 makes provision to 'increase participation and understanding of the democratic process'. We've been giving grants since 2002 and are now targeting groups that are under-registered to vote. Some of last year's grants to black, minority and ethnic groups covered people who didn't know they were eligible to vote."

The commission's funding projects work with young people, people from ethnic minority communities and people with disabilities. Last year's grants included £198,749 to fund a three-year YMCA England project working with young people - particularly those not in formal education or training.

Angela Sarkis, national secretary of YMCA England, says: "The young people we work with care passionately about social issues, but many feel alienated from the political process."

Voting is not the only focus of the projects the commission funds. "A lot of this is about giving these young people the skills to engage with, say, local councillors," says Helen Dennis, policy and parliamentary officer at YMCA England.

None of these projects is likely to make a major impact on the turnout at the next election. But they might help chip away at the general disaffection from conventional political structures.

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