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18 October 2017

Invest in communities

Cranhill Development Trust sits in a part of Glasgow which the statistics would categorise as being the most deprived (top 1% SIMD) part of the country. Last week, they held their annual meeting and reported back on their achievements over the past year.  Two things struck me. Firstly, the numbers of people who spontaneously expressed their appreciation for the work of the Trust. And secondly, the amount of funders needed to keep this show on the road – 23. That’s 23 different application forms and reporting requirements. We need to think differently about how this work is funded.


 

By SCA

Discussion paper on a shift to demand-led public funding for communities


Background


When Derek Mackay, MSP was Communities Minister he showed a keen interest in the way that Scottish Government funds the community sector and in particular wanted to do something about the fact that it’s possible for a single community organisation to receive grant funding from several different parts of government (and even from within a single department from several different pots). Each grant requiring a separate application, with different reporting and monitoring requirements, different timeframes etc. Apart from the obvious inefficiencies of this system and the time and effort required of communities to comply with all the application and reporting requirements, this supply-led funding system also had the effect of distorting the activities and priorities of community groups. Typically, when a new fund is launched with a set of criteria for applicants to comply with, applicant organisations will often present themselves in whatever way is deemed to best fit with the criteria.


Although Derek Mackay, MSP is now Finance Minister, he has maintained an interest in this issue and has recently charged civil servants within Housing and Regeneration Division with the task of coming up with a better solution for funding our sector than the current system allows. Currently they are describing this work as developing an Umbrella Community Fund.


The Challenge


Work is underway to establish exactly where all the government funding to our sector comes from, it is clear that it is extremely wide ranging. The challenge is not so much how to conflate different funding ‘streams’ into one ‘raging torrent’ but how to design a funding system that is more strategic, less of a burden to communities, and makes best use of an ever decreasing pot.


If the current arrangements could be described as 100% supply-led (Scottish Government and other funders determining who gets how much and when – albeit with some input from sector reps who sit on a variety of funding panels), how could we reform the system so that it becomes more demand-led?


In the current policy climate which is characterised by a strong commitment to community led regeneration, local empowerment and more effective local democracy, it would seem like an appropriate moment to begin the redefine how public funding is delivered to the sector and, as a consequence, how these funders relates to our sector more generally.


Proposition


That we encourage the Scottish Government commit itself to moving towards a demand-led system of funding. This would require the Scottish Government to adopt an approach whereby it considers itself to be investing in communities (rather than creating funding opportunities) and in particular, investing in those priorities which have already been agreed by any given community. This model of funding would have many implications both for Scottish Government and recipient communities and therefore any shift towards it would have to be gradual and incremental. It would require communities to systematically develop local place plans that would identify their priorities across a wide range of potential areas of interest and need – what community facilities are required, the needs of young people, social care for the elderly, leisure facilities, housing needs, action to combat climate change, how the local economy might develop, land use issues etc . The extent of a community’s ambition or willingness to address certain issues would, in a sense, determine their eligibility to receive certain funds. The Scottish Government would only provide for example, Climate Challenge Funding, if the community has already identified as a priority, action on climate change. This would preclude the more opportunistic communities from applying for any new pot of funding that comes on stream. It would also require Scottish Government to become more strategic and joined up in the way that they approached the funding of our sector.


One of the many implications of this approach is the question of how communities are to be helped to prepare the local place plans which would be sufficiently comprehensive to attract the available funds. This approach would shift the emphasis away from application writing and towards comprehensive plan production. None of this will be easy. The question is, is this a direction of travel worth pursuing?


Note: It is likely that Local Place Plans will be formally recognised in the forthcoming Planning Bill albeit these plans are intended to be about spatial considerations and feed into the Local Development Planning process. This proposal is therefore in line with and would build on current policy thinking.


SCA May 2017

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