Posted 9 August 2023
UK Shared Prosperity Fund NI Investment Plan Launched
Aidan Campbell RCN Policy Officer shared initial thoughts on the launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) NI Plan.
The last time we blogged on UKSPF was in November 2020 (see post here). At that stage, the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced funding for the Community Renewal Fund and Levelling Up Fund as part of the Spending Review.
Since then, we have had a round of Community Renewal Funding worth £12M in Northern Ireland. The Levelling Up Fund was also launched and two rounds of Levelling Up Funding have been opened. The Levelling Up Fund will be a £4.8B Fund across the whole of the UK. The £150M Community Ownership Fund was also launched in 2021. Click here for further detail on these funds.
The UKSPF NI Investment Plan will be worth £127M up to March 2025 and funding will be distributed under the Fund’s three priorities,
- Communities and Place,
- Supporting Local Business and
- People and Skills.
The Communities and Place Priority, which is of most interest to RCN members, is made up of £11M capital funding along with £2.8M revenue. The Plan states that this priority will be Council led and that Councils will seek local NGO partners depending on the bids they wish to progress. The plan identifies the following interventions to be funded under this priority:
- Funding for new, or improvements to existing community and neighbourhood infrastructure projects including those that increase communities’ resilience to natural hazards such as flooding.
- Creation of and improvements to local green spaces, community gardens, watercourses, and embankments, along with incorporating natural features into wider public spaces.
- Support for local arts, cultural, heritage and creative activities.
- Support for active travel enhancement and measures to improve connectivity in the local areas, including undertaking active travel needs assessments at the local level.
- Funding for impactful voluntary and /or action projects to develop social and human capital in local places for example.
Our concern is that whilst capital funding for green space, active travel and infrastructure is welcome this is not necessarily the current priority for our member groups. Our members are more concerned with providing services to their communities to address the cost-of-living crisis and the poverty it is exacerbating. The Communities and Place priority is heavily weighted towards capital, so although an intervention is included on voluntary action projects to develop human capital there is only £2.8M of revenue funding spread across 11 Councils over the next 3 years to deliver on this.
At the end of our November 2020 blog post we posed three questions from a rural community perspective in relation to the development of the UKSPF.
- How will local communities be involved in shaping any NI programmes and projects that emerge?
At the start of Summer 2022 a UKSPF NI partnership group was convened to develop a NI Investment Plan for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The UKSPF NI partnership group met four times and notes from their meetings can be found here. NICVA and CO3, who were both represented on the partnership group, held consultation events at the start of the Summer for their members. Department of Levelling Up officials also held meetings with a range of officials and stakeholder organisations. However, key stakeholder groups were missing and there appears to have been no formal engagement with or input from trade unions, or political parties. There has been no public consultation on the outcome of the partnership group’s work with the NI Investment Plan announced on 5th December – click here for details. RCN met with officials twice between July and October 2022 and raised issues in relation to rural accessibility and the need to ensure funding met need in rural communities. There are references to rural communities in the plan and rural access/take up is mentioned as a “core design principle” which all project promoters will be required to consider. What this will mean in practice is unclear.
- How will UKSPF integrate with work the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has already done in developing a Rural Development Policy Framework for NI, which is likely to go to public consultation early 2021?
The NI Investment Plan lists three NI Departments that were part of discussions in the preparation of the NI Investment Plan. These included the Department of Finance, Department for the Economy, Department for Communities, and Invest NI (sic). DAERA are not mentioned and DLUHC officials also confirmed that UKSPF is designated as a successor programme for the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund only. It is not, however, a successor programme for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
- Will a ring-fenced pot of funding remain for rural development activity post Brexit?
There is no ring-fenced pot within the UKSPF NI Investment Plan set aside for rural communities. The level of funding available for the Rural Policy Framework which was developed by DAERA as a successor programme for the EU Rural Development Programme is still unclear. This press release issued by DAERA at the start of September stated that:
“Funding has been reallocated to a number of agricultural, rural, and environmental projects being taken forward by DAERA in 2022.”
Our understanding is that NI has received an allocation of £320M in this budget year as the agreed replacement to the Common Agricultural Policy, funding for which has been guaranteed by the Treasury until the end of this Parliament. The Minister’s press release states that £287M of this allocation has already been paid out as Direct Payments to farmers but part of the remaining £33M is for support to rural communities. As yet, there is no confirmation of the budget allocated to the Rural Policy Framework this year.