The Road Ahead

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Rebecca Young

Rebecca Young

Policy and Influencing Lead

Rebecca manages our work to influence government across a range of policy areas

Policy and Influencing Lead

Levelling up White Paper: What it means for charities and volunteering

Rebecca Young

Rebecca Young

Policy and Influencing Lead

Rebecca manages our work to influence government across a range of policy areas

Policy and Influencing Lead

The Levelling Up white paper was published last week, alongside the government’s response to the Kruger report on civil society.

The white paper sets out how this government plans to address geographical inequalities, with a focus on opportunity, economic growth, pride in place and local leadership. It also includes proposals in response to the Kruger report (pdf, 764KB).

Our analysis

Last year NCVO worked with other infrastructure bodies and our members to influence government thinking on levelling up, and produced some key recommendations. We also fed into the Kruger report, which you can read about on our blog.

We’re pleased to see some of our recommendations in the white paper, particularly a strategy to improve social infrastructure. The paper recognises the role of civil society, social capital, social infrastructure and community power, which is a significant step given how little these elements were considered originally. While there is more work to be done to develop actionable policies, we think this is a strong foundation for further work with decision makers.

Given the initial focus on economic growth, we’re pleased to see the 12 missions include bold commitments on wellbeing and health. We doubt the proposals are enough to achieve the scale of ambitions, and note the lack of commitment to, for example, reduce poverty.

While there is much to welcome in the white paper, it’s hard to see how entrenched inequalities will be reversed without significant, sustained long term funding. We knew there wouldn’t be much additional funding beyond what was announced in the Spending Review, but the work needed to level up communities goes far beyond a three-year spending round.

It also remains to be seen whether these proposals will support those who experience inequality resulting from, for example, racism, sexism or disability discrimination, as well as where they live.

What you need to know

Shared Prosperity Fund

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) was announced in 2017 as the main replacement for EU structural funds. From 2014 to 2020, the UK received an average of around £2bn per year, which partly went towards boosting skills and making the labour market more inclusive.

The UKSPF has still not launched, though new guidance suggests funding will start to become available later this year. Even once it ramps up to £1.5bn per year in 2024/25, the UKSPF will deliver less support than the funding it is replacing. It will also not focus on employment and skills support until 2024/25, which is likely to result in significant cuts to services and far fewer people being supported into work.

Alongside many other organisations, we have called for the UKSPF to take a holistic approach to communities’ needs, but we still don’t know how government will allocate funding or assess local plans, or how the UKSPF will interact with other pots of levelling up funding.

Volunteering and the National Youth Guarantee

A new National Youth Guarantee will be created with £560m, with an aim to ensure every young person in England will have access to volunteering opportunities by 2025. The Guarantee will also expand the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and increase participation in the Combined Cadet Force. This is a positive step, but it won’t fill the gap left by cuts to youth services and provision over the last decade.

The response to the Kruger report confirms the government will not develop a national volunteer passporting system or a national volunteer reserve. The government will target funding to reduce barriers to volunteering through the Volunteering Futures Fund (announced November 2021).

Strategy for community spaces and relationships

We called for a social infrastructure strategy, so we welcome the white paper’s commitment to develop a strategy for community spaces and relationships. The government has also recognised the importance of building the evidence base on community activity and economic data on civil society. We hope this new strategy will consider the vital role of local voluntary and volunteering infrastructure and understands that civic pride is more than liking how your neighbourhood looks – it’s about belonging.

Devolution and community power

The white paper proposes extending devolution and bringing decision making closer to communities. Further work is needed to ensure that devolution arrangements are transparent and inclusive, and truly address inequality. It will be vital for charities to consider how they build relationships with new leaders and structures, with a critical role for local infrastructure.

We welcome commitment to a review of neighbourhood governance, pilot community partnership approaches and test Community Covenants (agreements between communities, councils and public bodies). We have long advocated for a Community Wealth Fund to put power and resources in the hands of communities, so we are pleased the government will consider this in a consultation on dormant assets later this year.

Implementation and scrutiny

Setting clear lines of accountability and robust measurement will be vital to ensure these proposals drive change.

The government will legislate to drive forward these proposals, and consider what reporting is appropriate. The white paper also sets out several scrutiny mechanisms including local panels and a levelling up advisory council with subgroups, including one on social infrastructure.

In addition to cross departmental work on metrics with the Office for National Statistics, the government also plans to create a new body on local data, transparency and outcomes. Notably, there seems to be no additional funding for local government to support these proposals or new structures.

What next?

We will continue working with other infrastructure bodies and charities, including the Civil Society Group, to influence the implementation of these proposals.

In the first instance, we’re working with a stakeholder group convened by NCVO and ERSA to influence the design of the Shared Prosperity Fund. We’re also keen to ensure the civil society are represented in decision making structures about levelling up. We will keep speaking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other government departments on how best to capture data about the sector.

We look forward to working with our members to influence government proposals over the course of the year. Keep an eye on the NCVO blog for more information and contact us if you would like to discuss this work.

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