Last week we heard the Chancellor deliver his first spending review since the pandemic. As has become the norm with many of these announcements we often know a lot of the detail before the actual speech is delivered, but for many of us in the sector, we were waiting with baited breath for detail on the Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).
While we did receive some basic detail, overall, there was a general feeling of frustration and disappointment and we were left with more questions. The full spending review can be found here.
The UKSPF has been billed for some time as the replacement for the current funds we receive through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), once the current Brexit transition period ends. Wales has been a net beneficiary of ESIF since they were introduced in 2000. In the current programme of funding Wales was allocated £2billion of investment and when match funding is brought into the picture investment is driven to approx. £3billion. During the referendum campaign a key promise was made that Wales would not be a penny worse off post EU membership.
The Chancellors review did not provide sufficient reassurance that the government would keep the promise they made. While he stated that, ‘Funding for the UKSPF will ramp up so that total domestic UK-wide funding will at least match receipts from EU structural funds, on average reaching around £1.5 billion per year’, the only specific figures provided in the spending review document were that £220mil would be provided in 2021-22 to help ‘communities to pilot programmes and new approaches.’.
The vagueness of the statements around the spending commitments causes us significant concerns particularly for the next financial year and does not provide us with the longer term financial commitment needed to ensure that the funding can make as bigger impact as possible.
The statement lacked any information on how money could be ringfenced at a national or regional level, so this could mean that the UK as a whole could receive funds which match the average level of EU funding spent, but without specific provision made for Wales it could lead to a significant reduction in our allocation.
As with everything the devil is in the detail and the statement provides little clarity on the governance arrangements for any future funding. A UK wide framework is referenced which would lead us to believe that this fund will be managed at a UK level with no clarity on how the devolved administrations and their network of partnerships will be involved. Funding will be approved by the government among a ‘representative stakeholder group’. Further details have been promised in the new year and the next spending review in 2021.
Over the last three years we were repeatedly told that a full consultation on the UKSPF would happen, and it never did! It is imperative that the same does not happen on the design of the UK wide framework. The Chancellor has promised that ‘the whole of the United Kingdom will benefit from the UKSPF’, for this to work the whole of the United Kingdom must be fully involved in the design and all voices must be heard.
Wales has a long, successful history of partnership working, relationships have been strengthened even further in our collective response to the current pandemic. Any move away from a partnership principle which provides an equal voice across all sectors will be a major step back at a time where we should be looking to empower all partners to work in a way that can make a bigger difference together.
We were pleased to see some of the broad areas which the fund could look to provide activity, including helping places most in need by investing in people, cultural and sporting facilities, civic, green and rural infrastructure and community owned assets. We were particularly pleased to see the reference to supporting those people most in need through bespoke employment and skills programmes that are tailored to local needs. These are areas the voluntary sector in Wales have a strong history in delivering activities in and we would welcome a continued and increased investment to support this work.
While we did welcome the general areas of possible activity the fact that many of these areas sit firmly in devolved powers means we need some clarity of how a UK centrally managed fund will look to add value to existing provision and not simply duplicate or ignore the expertise that already exists in Wales.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Over the coming weeks and months, we expect some of the questions we have will be answered and we will work with our partners across all sectors to ensure that the voice of the voluntary sector is heard.
It is important to remember that beneath these discussions are people and communities in need. People and communities who have little interest of where the money to support them comes from or how it is managed. They just need the support to improve their lives and to be empowered to make their communities a better place for all. The way the voluntary sector in Wales has used European funding over the last 20 years has often provided a safety net to catch those who fall through the cracks of mainstream provision. At a time where these cracks are growing, we cannot remove the safety net.