Fears of EU funding black hole as Brexit looms

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Ministers have failed to consult on alternatives to EU funding with charities fearing they will lose a vital funding stream 

15th January 2019 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Scottish voluntary organisations fear they are being left in the lurch because of UK government uncertainty on a replacement to vital EU funding.  

Despite Brexit being just over two months away, ministers have repeatedly failed to clarify how they will replace the European cash thousands of Scots groups rely on.

While the government has pledged to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), designed to replace £258 million EU funding distributed annually to the UK third sector, charities have become increasingly worried after a public consultation on the new fund, promised before the end of 2018, never emerged. 

European Social Fund (ESF) cash mostly delivers employment and skills support to people who are poorly served or neglected by mainstream provision, including disabled people, offenders and prison leavers, the long-term unemployed and people with multiple barriers to work.

ESF will last until at least 2020, but with no firm details about how much cash the UKSPF will have to distribute, what charities will be eligible and how it will be administered, many reliant on EU cash fear they will face a funding black hole.

John Downie, director of public affairs for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “We still don’t know how much the fund will be worth, who can apply, what it will be for or who will manage it.

“Given that this is one of the few Brexit-related matters that is entirely under domestic control, we would have hoped for at least some degree of clarity and certainty.

“Scotland’s third sector needs action, not assurances, to ensure this process gets underway immediately.

"Working together with the sector and the Scottish and UK governments, we can ensure charities and voluntary organisations are part of the design process and make sure the proper resources are available to allow the sector to continue delivering the support our communities need.”

The Salvation Army, which has relied on ESF funding since its inception, said that 60% of its employability support is currently reliant on EU cash.

Annie Dell, policy analyst at the charity, said people would no longer be able to access the specialist support that it provides with getting into work.

“Inevitably, uncertainty around this funding will make it difficult to plan the support the Salvation Army delivers every year to hundreds of individuals,” said Dell. “The UKSPF should consider the unintended restrictions that some match funding streams can create.”

SNP MP Drew Hendry waded into the debate saying: “It’s outrageous that, two-and-a-half months before Brexit, details of vital future funding are yet to come to fruition”.

A UK government spokesperson said it has planned an information session on the fund but failed to reveal a date for consultation.

The spokesperson said: “Engagement events have been held across the UK in order to aid policy development. We’ve made good progress on the design of the UKSPF over the past year, and we intend to launch our public consultation shortly.”