Speak up about replacement for EU funding, sector is urged

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, says she is worried that details of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund have yet to be published

Charities must speak out about the UK’s replacement programme for European Union funding when it is eventually consulted on by government, or risk losing out on future finance, the chief executive of the membership body the Employment Related Services Association has said.

Speaking at a discussion about Brexit and the charity sector, staged yesterday by the charitable think tank NPC, Kirsty McHugh said the UK’s replacement for the European Social Fund – the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – was likely to be consulted on before Christmas, and charities needed to ensure their voices were heard.

UK charities receive about £250m a year in EU funding, but McHugh warned that many of the details about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – such as the amount of money available, how it will be allocated and who will run the programme – were yet to be decided.

"When that consultation comes out, we need to respond in great numbers," she said.

"Those of us who have the greatest voice need to make the greatest noise, because I am still worried that someone in Number 10 will make a decision about that pot of money and that will affect all of us."

McHugh said that "clearly the social sector is not prepared for Brexit because the government is not prepared for Brexit, and business is not prepared for Brexit". She said that charities faced both risks and opportunities from the UK leaving the European Union.

Devolution in areas such as London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands offered charities an opportunity to bypass the "vacuum" in Westminster, she added, and achieve real change for beneficiaries.

"The government clearly does not have the bandwidth to do the thinking in relation to some of those pressing social issues at the same time as dealing with Brexit," she said.

"If you do not have a regional strategy and are not already embedded within your local authorities, combined authorities or whoever it might be in your area, you really should be. I think there will be far more opportunity in that space going forward."

McHugh added that charities should prepare for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government and must "get used to uncertainty" in British politics over the next few years.

Also speaking at the event yesterday, Swee Leng Harris, senior policy adviser on mainstreaming the rule of law in parliament at the Bingham Centre, which studies and promotes the rule of law, said there was a "real need for cooperation and collaboration" to allow charities to keep up with legal developments in Brexit negotiations and their impact on charities’ cause areas.

She said: "In the case of Brexit, cooperation and collaboration are necessary because in order to understand what is going on you need a range of expertise and skills that very few organisation could have in-house, and indeed it would be a waste of time trying to have them all in-house."

Harris said charities would need to understand the law affecting their cause areas, UK and EU law, constitutional and legal changes brought about by Brexit, public law, devolution law, trade and investment law, World Trade Organisation rules and how those treaties worked and would affect where those charities worked.

"Understandably, most organisations don’t have someone who is an expert in each of those areas in-house," she said. "Which means that there’s a real advantage to working in collaboration with others."

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