This programme's current round ends in 2008, when its basis could change. The conclusion is: apply now.
The standard response from government departments about the future of any funding is that it "clearly depends on the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review". This will report in 2007 and set out departmental spending plans for the fiscal years up to 2011. In the case of the Local Network Fund for Children and Young People, though, the issue is not only that the current programme finishes in 2008, but also that the way the funding is delivered seems likely to shift from the voluntary to the statutory sector.
The fund comes from the Department for Education and Skills and supports locally managed small volunteer-based groups in England. Grants range between £250 and £7,000 and so far they've been delivered through voluntary sector agencies.
"It's a very local fund for small grass-roots organisations, so the approach is critical," says Laura Warren, chief executive of Essex Community Foundation, which has distributed £1.8m of this funding. "From our position, we've been able to work with a light but hands-on approach; we know exactly who the groups are, and we're able to be very accessible and very supportive."
Richard McKeever, publications manager at Community Links, which has produced two publications showcasing projects funded by the local network fund, adds: "Funding from a distributor who's closer to the service users is probably more effective in meeting local need."
After 2008, however, this is probably going to change. The DfES is vague about any plans, but concedes that "if any funding is allocated for this purpose, it is most likely to be routed through local authorities under the children's trust arrangements". This isn't necessarily good news for the sector.
"Unless the children's trusts make community-based smaller grants available to deliver their targeted outcomes, these groups will in effect be excluded from the process," argues Richard Hammersley, chief executive of the Community Network Foundation. "Some trusts have developed relationships with organisations that deliver the Local Network Fund, but many do not. It's too early to make any predictions, but if you're thinking of applying for funding, you should get in quick. And don't count on the same kind of funding being around in the next couple of years."