Editorial: A straitjacket on sector funding

Seven week spending window for Communitybuilders fund is nonsensical, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Both before and since the election, Conservative politicians have repeated ad infinitum the mantra that they want to make it easier to run a charity, get more resources into the sector and make it simpler for sector organisations to work with the state.

In the case of the Communitybuilders fund, it has become clear that the two latter precepts have gone by the board. This £70m programme for projects that develop community cohesion - central big society territory - still has £28m to distribute. But applicants have been told that they won't be successful unless they can spend all the money they might get in a seven-week period between the date when decisions are announced and 31 March next year.

This clearly nonsensical state of affairs is being blamed on the Treasury by the Social Investment Business, which administers the fund on behalf of the Communities and Local Government department. The rule is apparently being more tightly enforced that money allocated in a given year must be spent within that year. So the straitjacket is being imposed by George and Danny.

Well, everyone has to defer to the all-powerful Treasury. But what about those pledges of better government grant-making and greater consistency in dealing with the sector? This case makes all the fighting talk about cutting back the thickets of bureaucracy and spreading the word across Whitehall sound a bit hollow. It reinforces the suspicion, always lurking beneath the surface of the voluntary sector, that politicians use it for window dressing but don't always live up to their rhetoric.

It has also given rise to the conspiracy theory that this is a manoeuvre designed to retain the Communitybuilders funds in order to transfer them to the Big Society Bank, which is due to start doing business next April. We will have to wait and see about that. A better outcome would be a rethink and a relaxation of the seven-week spending rule.

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