Charities unlikely to receive much of the billions put into the government's 'levelling up' agenda, researchers find

The think tank NPC warns there are fewer charities per person in the priority areas than in wealthier parts of the country

(Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
(Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Charities are unlikely to receive much of the funding earmarked through the government’s “levelling up”agenda because there are fewer charities in areas where the fund is targeted, new research indicates.

The not-for-profit think tank NPC found there were 28 per cent fewer local charities per 1,000 people in areas prioritised for the government's £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund than in wealthier locations. NPC said this implied there would be fewer chances for charity partnerships in the places where it mattered most.

The government has made “levelling up” a priority since the 2019 election, an agenda aimed at reducing regional inequalities and spreading prosperity around the UK.

Charities gave the Levelling Up Fund a cautious welcome when it was announced in November last year.

But NPC said it put too much emphasis on hard infrastructure such as roads and buildings and ignored social issues that could be just as much of a drag on prosperity.

The think tank said there was limited scope for social infrastructure services such as youth provision, addiction or homelessness, although there was potential for skills training.

When the government unveiled its Spring Budget earlier this month, voluntary sector organisations criticised the lack of announcements to support charities and the people they work with.

NPC’s analysis of the Spring Budget found as much as 87 per cent, or £4.5bn, of the Levelling Up Fund plus two other new local improvement funds, the Community Renewal Fund and the Community Ownership Fund, could go on capital investment, such as transport, purchase and repair of buildings, and new parks.

NPC said charities were most likely to benefit from this funding if they had a cultural investment purpose, such as regenerating heritage assets or creating new, community-owned spaces to support the arts and serve as cultural spaces.

On the £220m Community Renewal Fund, NPC said the charities most likely to benefit were those that supported people into employment.

NPC said the £150m Community Ownership Fund, which will support the takeover of local assets such as village halls, swimming pools or post offices, was where charities were most likely to be involved.

This is because the government said that “in most circumstances, bids should be made from community and voluntary organisations with formal governance in place, such as a community trust”.

NPC recommended that the upcoming UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is expected to be worth about £1.5bn a year to replace EU money, should be used to provide significant funding for social infrastructure.

Leah Davis, head of policy and external affairs at NPC, said: “Levelling up should be about more than transport and buildings. The social issues that Britain’s charities are tackling can be just as much of a drag on prosperity.

“The 'levelling up' funds announced in the March 2021 budget were a missed opportunity to close the gap in our social inequalities, so the government should be looking to rebalance its investment in the forthcoming £1.5bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund.”

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