If, like me, you recently read through the hundreds of pages of the Levelling Up White Paper, the pre-launch guidance on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF)or the analysis that followed, you may have spotted some good bits, and some less good. Most importantly, whether you read it all or not, you will still have many questions as to how this agenda will be implemented in Scotland.
Levelling Up and UKSPF are names we have had in our heads for quite some time now and yet few of us really grasp what they mean and what their impact on the voluntary sector might be. Today’s debatein the Scottish Parliament is a chance to hear more about the issues at stake.
Engagement and collaboration with voluntary organisations are key to delivering Levelling Up in Scotland. The sector does so much more than ‘performing a million acts of kindness daily’ as outlined in the White Paper. It is crucial that decision makers understand that the voluntary sector is an important economic asset, that it delivers vital public services and specialist support, and that it has great expertise that it is willing to share. These are the reasons why the sector must be considered as an equal partner in the delivery of Levelling Up.
At SCVO, we are looking forward to seeing more details about how the proposed missions will impact our communities and how funds will be distributed. We also believe that policy alignment between the UK and Scottish Governments is essential. This needs to be given much greater attention now to avoid an ever more confusing landscape where transparency and accountability are simply lost. As a starting point, while we understand that the role of local leaders is central, it would be helpful to get a better understanding of the remit of the devolved nations in this agenda.
On the UKSPF more specifically, while we await further guidance in the spring, SCVO has already shared its concerns about the timings and potential delays in funding. These were also raised by the Convener of the Finance and Public Administration Committee last week as they took evidence from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP. As EU funding comes to an end, voluntary organisations need reassurance that long-term, multi-year funding will be available in the 2022/23 financial year and, if not, that bridging arrangements will be put in place for voluntary organisations in Scotland who are facing a cliff edge and have little or no resilience to manage this, due to long-standing dependence on short-term funding streams.
On this issue, we welcome the Secretary of State’s statement in parliament last Thursday that the UK Government will do everything they can to ensure worthwhile projects can continue as European Structural Funds come to an end. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) has also recently established a team in Scotland. We hope to work closely with them in the coming months to ensure that funding that the sector needs and has a right to expect is delivered on time, as noted by Mr Gove.
We also look forward to seeing greater engagement between the voluntary sector and the UK Government on these matters. As the Secretary of State also suggested in his evidence, we would encourage organisations to contact their elected representatives, and MSPs to check with organisations in their constituencies, so that any concerns they have about replacement funding can be shared with Mr Gove’s office promptly.
Finally we are working with our sister organisations across the UK to raise these issues and you might be interested in joining the next meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering that will take place on Wednesday 9 March and will consider the role of communities in levelling up. SCVO and its partners will also continue to gather evidence from the sector to best inform DLUHC plans as we move forward. We are hoping to arrange a couple of events soon to discuss it all more widely. In the meantime, if you any have thoughts or concerns that you’d like to share with us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.