If it now feels that the political conversation on Levelling Up has moved on, last week was a reminder that funding is still being distributed in Scotland. The Chancellor announced £80million for the ‘expansion of Levelling Up partnership programmes in Scotland’ in the Autumn Statement, for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Argyll and Bute, Dundee, and the Scottish Borders. That same week the UK Government also announced the latest round of the Levelling Up Fund (LUF) with 55 projects funded across the UK (6 projects in Scotland).
As it stands however funding for programmes like the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) will end in 2025, with currently no assurance that more money will be provided to realise the Levelling Up missions that are due to be achieved by 2030. With the next general election just around the corner, we are unlikely to get any decisions on this anytime soon. But to inform future funding policies and processes, we need to know more about the impact of Levelling Up in Scotland so far.
At the Gathering, SCVO hosted a session with the UK Government to discuss Levelling Up, and the funds associated with it. One of the questions raised in discussions was how much funding has reached voluntary organisations until now. So far there is no answer. The UK Government acknowledged that this is an issue, and we hope that more will be done in the coming months to publicly share available data on the impact of these funds.
In Scotland, the TSI Scotland Network has recently published findings from a survey on TSIs’ collaboration with local authorities on the UKSPF. As expected, evidence of engagement varies across local authorities, but it is worth noting that some TSIs have had positive relationships with local partners. The report highlights the need for greater trust, longer timescales and better communication that would help improve partnership working in the future.
Another recommendation focuses on the need to continue funding to ensure the sustainability of the voluntary sector in Scotland:
'Continuation Funding: As there may be delays between the current and any future rounds of the UKSPF, we strongly urge that the existing funding stream is continued until a new programme comes on stream, to ensure the continuation of valued, local services at a time of social and economic challenges for many'.
We know that funding is an ongoing concern for voluntary organisations that provide essential services and support throughout Scotland. We also know that the year ahead promises to bring a lot more uncertainty for the sector as the country gears up for the next general election. Decision-making and funding processes too often remain opaque. We need greater transparency from government at all levels to improve partnership working. The sooner it comes, the better.