By Richard Caulfield, Chief Executive, Voluntary Sector North West

At the beginning of February the Cabinet Office announced where the £4.2million democratic engagement money would be spent. I tweeted them earlier that week asking when we would find out so was delighted to see an announcement made so soon (I’m not suggesting a tweet from myself had such an influence!)

The trouble is the announcement has raised more questions than it answers so let me go back to the beginning. 

On 4th July 2013, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform launched the £4.2 million fund. We then received an email in early August and a deadline was set for 21st August for expressions of interest. Workshops were run and the feedback I had from them was that the government were looking for good local innovative ideas from the sector. There was always an aspect of this fund that suggested local authorities had a part to play but there was significant courting of local voluntary organisations, especially the youth sector.

The bid deadline was short and over the summer months – they had to be submitted by 3rd September. Not particularly good practice but then they wanted the projects up and running quickly as the deadline for delivery is 31st March 2014 (about eight weeks from when the recent winning bids announcement was made).

We received a couple of approaches to be part of partnership bids at VSNW but opted to direct people to more local groups and specialists working with young people. Organisations strapped for cash and resource found time to come together over August to develop real innovation and local solutions to an issue I think we all agree needs tackling. So fast forward six months and organisations had not been informed what had happened to the bids. As far as I know, there had been radio silence until now when the winners have been announced, and there are some surprises. 

Firstly there are only five winners, receiving funding totalling £215,932, who are named. Worthy organisations but notably national – nothing that has a local feel about it except that is, of course, for the catch all ‘shared by local authorities’ in the press release.

Secondly which local authorities will share the funding? Is the other £4m being shared between them all? If so it won’t go far! We need to understand if this split was always the plan. I reckon that if you added up the amount the sector put into in the bidding process for this fund, it is more than the £215k we have benefited from it as a whole and if that was always the size of the pot I don’t think it would have generated the interest it did.

Finally, what troubles me is that this is the Cabinet Office treating the sector shoddily. Cabinet Office, home of the Office for Civil Society, should be at the forefront of good practice with the sector, championing full cost recovery, operating to realistic timescale and being transparent, not letting us down like this.

I would like some basic questions answering by Cabinet Office that would help us understand what has happened here and prevent such things happening again:

  • Why was the funding delayed between September and now?
  • Who has received the other £4million and to do what?
  • How many applications were initially received from the VCS?
  • What was the value of the submissions made by the VCS in total?

Let’s learn from the mistakes made here please and let’s not treat the sector like this again. We need to be able to trust each other and the way this has been handled has not helped build that trust.