Alison Pritchard, Sustainable Funding Manager at WCVA, looks at the recent move to longer-term grants by Welsh Government and what this means for voluntary organisations.
At the start of April, Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice, announced that Welsh Government will now be providing longer-term grants. This is a positive change for the voluntary sector, but how was the sector involved in the development of this policy? And how will it work in practice?
MAKING THE CASE FOR LONGER-TERM FUNDING
The voluntary sector in Wales has been calling for longer-term grant funding from Welsh Government (and other grant providers) for many years. More recently, WCVA highlighted the impact of short-term funding arrangements in our Sustainable Funding for the Third Sector Update 2021, and it was quoted (with lack of core funding) as an issue of primary concern in Community Foundation Wales’ Loud and Clear report in 2020.
Short-term funding creates burdens within voluntary organisations around recruitment and retention of staff, reduced capacity due to time spent making repeat annual applications and an inability to plan long-term.
Welsh Government have now acted on the concerns of the sector. Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice, recently announced that the Welsh Government will be moving to longer-term funding arrangements.
Grant programmes that start after 1 April 2022 will now have the option (depending on the policy area and what is most appropriate) of running for an initial period of up to three years with the possibility of being extended for a further three years on top of that. This means there is now potential for organisations to be funded for up to a total of six years.
A WELCOME COMMITTMENT
WCVA and the Third Sector Partnership Council (TSPC) are extremely welcoming of this positive step-forward in the Welsh Government’s grant-making.
In her letter confirming the implementation of this new approach to the TSPC, Jane Hutt thanked members ‘…for [your] continued support and engagement in the ongoing development and implementation of these improvements to our grant funding processes.
‘Improvements which I know contribute to making every penny of funding count and bring a wealth of benefits to individual lives and our local communities in Wales.’
ENSURING IT WORKS FOR VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS
The TSPC’s Funding and Compliance Sub-committee has been instrumental in the development of this change. The Welsh Government’s Grants Centre of Excellence consulted with the sub-committee on the initial proposal and the guidance that Welsh Government Grant Managers will use to implement this way of working.
This new approach will apply to the private and public sectors as well as our own, so a key part of the sub-committee’s work was to ensure that it will work as well for the voluntary sector as for others.
After the initial grant period, organisations may be required to under-go a benchmarking process before a further period of funding is agreed. The Sub-committee helped to clarify what was meant by benchmarking and ensure that the requirements of this review will be made clear at the application stage of the whole grant process.
Indeed, the sub-committee’s main focus during this process, and in our monitoring of how these arrangements work in practice, is early and regular communication between grant managers and grant-holders.
STILL WORK TO DO
As welcome as this change is, we also recognise that some in the sector are concerned about how it will work in practice. The Funding and Compliance Sub-committee will be ‘keeping an eye’ on how this new approach is implemented and will always welcome feedback from organisations on how they find the process, especially the benchmarking reviews.
At this early stage, we recognise that an unintended consequence of this approach is that there will be fewer opportunities for organisations to apply for grants if they are only open for application every six (at the most) years and have highlighted this to the Grants Centre of Excellence.
MAKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR FUNDING CLEAR
A suggested mitigation is to ensure that all Welsh Government funding opportunities for the voluntary sector are listed on Funding Wales (which now has over 14,000 registered users). We have begun this conversation with Welsh Government and will continue to work to make this a reality.
We also know that the way in which the benchmarking process operates will be crucial and we want to ensure that this is both fair and flexible to grant recipients, whilst also providing the robust information needed for funders.
The Sub-committee’s next focus will be to work with the Welsh Government to update the Code of Practice for Funding the Third Sector. The code sets out the key principles that will underpin Welsh Government funding for the voluntary sector and what the Government expects from the sector in return. With the advent of these new funding arrangements, the code needs to be updated.
The code currently acts as a guide for grant-making organisations for developing their grant programmes, and can also be used by voluntary organisations to hold grant-makers to best practice standards.
We will take this opportunity to ensure the code is accessible to the voluntary sector and reflects their needs. Look out for engagement opportunities around this from WCVA in the coming months.
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