The government must provide urgent clarity on delivering the Shared Prosperity Fund as EU funding programmes tail off, a group of 32 infrastructure organisations has warned.
In a letter sent to MPs including the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, the former charities minister, Mims Davies, and the former shadow charities minister, Rachael Maskell, the coalition said it was “deeply concerned” about the impact that a delay in delivering the £2.6bn fund would have on people and communities in England.
“Clarity on the design and delivery of the SPF has never been more urgent. European-funded provision is rapidly coming to an end – in some areas, within the next two months,” the letter said.
It warned that without available funding to replace EU funding, disadvantaged people living in England would lose essential support and access to opportunities.
“While we welcome the commitment to funding voluntary organisations where their services are at risk due to EU funding tailing off, this is not a strategic approach to meeting the ever-evolving needs of communities in the long term,” the coalition warned.
It added that organisations would be “unable to sustain the capacity, expertise and infrastructure that currently support places and communities”.
The coalition outlined five recommendations for government, which included an immediate commitment to invest in people and skills, and engage specialist organisations and communities as critical partners in levelling up.
The coalition also called on the government to share learning from other levelling up funds to inform the design and delivery of the SPF and to involve devolved nations in decisions relating to the funding.
The government published its levelling up white paper at the beginning of February, which included a promise that the Shared Prosperity Fund would be “decentralised to local leaders as far as possible, with investments set to regenerate communities”.
The coalition said it welcomed the focus on local decision-making and partnerships, as well as the news that funding would be allocated by formula rather than competition.
However, the letter said: “We are deeply concerned about the impact that delay will have on opportunities available to people and communities, especially as the SPF does not intend to focus on employment and skills in England until 2024/25.
“By then, programmes and organisations working in this area may well no longer exist.”
Elizabeth Palmer, chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society, said: “Change must be informed by those at grassroots level, those who are supporting people in need and those being supported.
“Without listening to the voices of people who are directly and indirectly affected by regional inequalities, the government cannot hope to direct funding where it is most needed.”