Voluntary sector organisations have given a cautious welcome to the government’s new £4bn Levelling Up Fund amid concerns about the need to prepare for a shrunken economy and difficulties in the labour market.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who announced the funds in his spending review yesterday, said the money would provide cash for local projects in areas hit hardest by the pandemic and where investment had lagged behind the rest of the UK.
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said: “The ‘Levelling up’ £4bn investment is welcome and we are keen to see how it will be distributed, how quickly, and to whom.”
But Bradshaw said the funding needed to be set in a context that took into account the depth of local authority cuts over the past decade, the immediate rising demand in unmet needs caused by the pandemic and the potential consequences of Brexit.
She said she was no longer surprised at the absence of reference to charities and social enterprise from successive chancellors in anything other than pet projects and giveaways.
“The government needs to shift its thinking away from the short-term gimmicks to strategic investment if it is ever to succeed at ‘levelling up’ and see Britain ‘build back better’,” said Bradshaw.
Jonathan Werran, chief executive of the think tank Localis, said the promise of a Levelling Up Fund would bode well, but the need for departmental and parliamentary consensus suggested good local dialogue and a requirement for strong, well-defined local delivery vehicles would be required.
Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of the independent trust Power to Change, said: “While we welcome the spirit of the Levelling Up Fund, to support ‘the infrastructure of everyday life’, there is a real risk that this centrally controlled funding does not deliver against its aims.”
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said it was good to see the Chancellor keep to his promise that people "will not see austerity" next year because communities could not level up while funds to services were cut.
Paul Winyard, policy manager at the umbrella body, said: “The government has the unenviable task of trying to navigate some very choppy economic waters created by the pandemic and the forthcoming end of the Brexit transition period.”
“But the failure to focus more on social infrastructure and recognise the financial hardship that the voluntary sector is facing was a missed opportunity for a government attempting to ‘level up’ communities.”
The local infrastructure body Navca said it would be looking closely at the details of the new fund.
Clare Mills, its head of communications and external affairs, said: “Many people are already walking a tightrope, every day, trying to make their income meet the costs of living.”