Charities have been “scarred” by the experience of applying for institutional funding, sector leaders have heard.
Tejesh Mistry, director of external affairs at the Venture Trust, told an online audience that the £2.5bn Shared Prosperity Fund, one of the schemes central to the government’s levelling-up agenda, risked placing the same burden on charities.
The event, ‘What does the UK Shared Prosperity Fund mean for charities?’, which looked at the role for charities and other organisations in the SPF, was hosted by the think tank New Philanthropy Capital yesterday.
Responding to a question about the administration of the SPF, which requires charities to partner with other organisations, councils and local MPs and then wait for approval from Whitehall, Mistry said: “The third sector is quite scarred, I think, a little bit, by the burden that we have faced for many years.”
The SPF initially “felt like a real opportunity to change that”, he said, but the amount of consultation needed in a short time meant that charities might not be able to create specialised plans to help their local areas.
Mistry said: “People are using the same model [as for previous funding applications] because we don’t necessarily have time to start with a blank sheet of paper. It feels at the moment like there is a bit of a missed opportunity.”
About £2.5bn in funding is available from the SPF to local authorities, charities and other community groups to 2024/25. The government published more details about how to apply for funding in April.
Till Specht, head of SPF delivery at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, acknowledged that the timelines for applying to the fund were challenging, but said the government was aiming to make the fund less bureaucratic than the EU structural programme it was replacing.
Speaking at the same event, Heather Waddington, who works for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said the role of local MPs in funding proposals may not be helpful for charities.
She said: “I think that is going to be really challenging.
“I am not sure there would be lots of added value if you went and spoke to your MP about your particular project, because we have to come back to what is strategically important in an area and try to utilise the resources to help us deliver that.”
Specht described the involvement of MPs as a “strategic matter”, rather than something necessary in the design of local projects.
Elizabeth Taylor, chief executive of the membership body ERSA, warned that “the clock was ticking” on the fund and said she was worried that some local authorities did not yet have anyone in place to lead work on the SPF.