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December 3, 2019

Investing in Communities

A longstanding criticism of Scottish Government’s funding of the community sector has been the lack of coherence in the way that funding flows to communities from different parts of government, via different application processes and often with different monitoring systems etc. As such the Investing in Communities Fund, conflating five different funds into one big pot, was seen as a significant step in the right direction. But from early reports it’s clear that, however well-intended, this process needed more time and planning to make it work. Here’s a pretty measured account of one community’s unhappy experience.

Vice chair of a Community Development Trust

Early June was a busy time for our volunteer board this year. Amongst the usual development trust business we had our grant application to finalise for the Scottish Government’s exciting new Investing in Communities programme. Having come late to the community ownership game, we wanted to catch up by securing the funding to employ our own development officer, as well as carry out feasibility studies on a couple of projects.

With four of us working on the different parts of the 24-page form, we just managed to upload our application by the 6pm deadline on June 14.  Then we imagined the scene at Grant Towers as legions of shirt-sleeved civil servants piled eagerly into the masses of applications flooding out of the ether.

And so we waited. While we expected the bulk of the available cash to go to CDTs with existing staff commitments, we thought we had assembled a good case. Then we heard that the promised decision-day of the end of September had, er, slipped a month.

The end of October passed, with silence. Then we started to gather from other trust contacts that word was seeping out to the successful CDTs, though they were sworn to secrecy. Still no word, so we investigated further and found the list of successful applicants: by default one was supposed to realise that we had failed.

As of the last week in November we have had no formal communication about the fate of our application. The CV that we had drawn up for a staff job, and the tenders we had received for feasibility studies, lie in the desk drawer. We’ve resigned ourselves to continuing to push the community ownership wheel up the mountain through part-time volunteer effort.

We know we’re not alone in our frustration. We understand that SG was overwhelmed with more than 700 applications. What’s most annoying though is the sheer incompetence, lack of foresight and discourtesy demonstrated by SG’s grant-making machinery. A primary school pupil could have worked out that when you wrap several grant schemes together into one, and invite Scotland’s near-300 CDTs to bid, the inbox will bulge.

We’ve spent the last two years foraging through the dense undergrowth of the bureaucratic jungle that SG has allowed to flourish around its imaginative community empowerment legislation. Starting from far behind those creative, energetic trusts that have led the way on this important agenda, it’s been dispiriting to find out that, like hill-climbing, each peak crested merely reveals another obstacle.

It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be this way. The Investing in Communities grant shambles should be the end of the first stage of this potential revolution. The experiments have been made, the lessons hopefully learned. Let’s sit down with SG and help them (because they need help) to work out a sensible long-term way of funding Scotland’s important community development trusts movement.

Enough is enough!

This piece was contributed by the vice-chair of a CDT who necessarily must remain anonymous, given the risks of silent retribution.