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30 September 2020

On 24th September 2020, Danny Kruger MP released his report Levelling Up Our Communities, based on over 500 submissions. Kruger was asked by the Prime Minister in June to consult on supporting civils society groups in the recovery phase of COVID-19 and how they could contribute to the Government’s levelling up agenda.


What does this mean for the youth sector?

London Youth has issued a statement in response to the report, which you can read here. While we welcome new thinking and the suggestion of new funding, our concern is that this report doesn’t provide answers to the big questions facing the youth sector.

It comments on the failure of Big Society policy thinking and the devastating impact of austerity on local authority-funded public services, noting that “youth services suffered the deepest cut of all, with a 70% reduction in funding between 2010 and 2020” (p. 12).

Yet, the specific policy proposals for supporting young people are limited to expanding the existing Kickstart Scheme to include ‘service opportunities’, where young people are paid to volunteer in activities with a positive social or environmental impact. This is echoed by a proposal to create a Volunteer Passport system to encourage and enable matching volunteers with the organisations that need support.

Youth organisations will also be interested in the proposals around funding, which largely repurpose dormant assets. The report calls for a new Community Recovery Fund, a £500m+ national endowment delivered by a consortium of foundations to support civil society in the recovery from COVID-19. It also recommends creating a Levelling Up Communities Fund of £2bn to fund long-term projects in communities based around community ownership. There is also a call to review the role of the National Lottery Community Fund and move towards a more local model.

The report also lays out the idea for a Community Power Act, which would give communities, charities, and social enterprises the right to challenge for delivery of certain public services in their local areas. These could include employment support, probation and offender rehabilitation, and early years education.


What’s in the report?

While this is the clearest indication of the Conservative strategy for charities post-COVID, it’s important to note that this isn’t official Government policy yet. The Prime Minister has accepted the report and it is now up to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to choose what to implement, following consultation.

The report calls for the creation of a new ‘social covenant’ between Government and civil society and communities, built around the principles of public purpose, subsidiarity and inclusion, strengths-based approaches, and social infrastructure. A lot of the ideas focused around using Government processes and commissioning and local planning to encourage place-based infrastructure building.


Recommendations

You can find a list of the key recommendations below.

Power

1. New official measures to understand and track the economic and social contribution of civil society.

2. Comprehensive and comparable data from government and civil society about what funding goes where, and what outcomes are delivered.

3. Negotiation with Big Tech firms to finance and co-design new, non-proprietary digital infrastructure for communities.

4. A new commitment to ‘social value’ commissioning, considering the whole of government accounts rather than a single budget.

5. A Community Power Act, creating the ‘Community Right to Serve’ by which community groups can challenge for a role in the design and delivery of public services.

6. Community Improvement Districts or ‘pop-up parishes’ with time-limited freedoms and flexibilities to deliver community-led change.

7. A new national institution to help local places and organisations improve performance and exercise greater responsibility; and to build an index of social infrastructure that can inform both national and local policy making.

People

8. A Volunteer Passport system to match the supply of and demand for volunteers, with options to: join a new National Volunteer Reserve to help with future emergencies and with environmental projects; deliver ongoing mutual aid to people in crisis; fulfil formal public service roles such as magistrates or charity trustees.

9. Service opportunities for young people, funded through the Kickstart programme, to work on a variety of social and environmental projects.

10. A new deal with faith communities, by which government supports a greater role for faith groups in meeting social challenges.

11. An annual ‘Neighbour Day’ bank holiday to celebrate communities’ work together; and greater use of the honours system to recognise the work of communities as well as individuals.

Places

12. Planning rules to promote the creation of social capital through good design, the recognition of the need for gathering places, and community ownership of public assets.

13. Policy to support independent social infrastructure, including professional ‘connectors’ charged with linking local services together, and physical hubs to co-locate services and enable gathering.

14. A new focus on the modern local library, often community-managed, delivering business start-up support and digital inclusion for local communities.

15. Policy to make it easier to start and run a charity, and create a modern version of the local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS).

16. A ‘match trade’ scheme to support social enterprises, which play a crucial role in economic and social development in disadvantaged communities.

17. Options to boost philanthropy, including civic crowdfunding, and social investment.

18. A new £500m Community Recovery Fund, financed by the allocation of the dormant National Fund, for charities and community groups supporting the transition from the ‘response’ to the ‘recovery’ phase.

19. Consult on the use of the £2bn+ which will shortly be available from new dormant assets: options include a new endowment, the Levelling Up Communities (LUC) Fund, for perpetual investment in long-term, transformational, community-led local projects in left-behind areas.

20. Review the National Lottery Community Fund, which is now 25 years old, with a view to a more local and community-led distribution model.


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Samuel Howell, Policy Officer