With precisely one month to go until Christmas, yesterday (25 Nov) was the government’s spending review.
In normal times, this would see the Chancellor donning a proverbial Santa suit handing out gifts to government departments. But of course, these are not normal times, and Santa Sunak’s gifts don’t quite match what was on my wish list.
New three-year £2.9 billion Restart scheme
This is not to say it was all bad news – the size of the new “Restart” scheme to support the long-term unemployed is very welcome. This will be especially important for young people who were unemployed even before the pandemic struck.
Our Youth Jobs Gap research found that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) as their better off peers. 75% of NEET young people are NEET for the long-term, and these young people often faced the biggest barriers to employment, so targeted and tailored and support for this group is essential. The Restart programme will hopefully start to address this for young people in the Jobcentre Plus system, if lessons are learnt from past programmes.
The Shared Prosperity Fund
But if the news on this scheme is welcome, it’s a lack of news on an old promise that sets alarm bells ringing. The Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) was first promised in 2017, to replace EU investment funding. There’s still no formal consultation on what it will look like. And the spending review announced just £220m for next year for pilots, well short of the £1.5bn a year being promised for the future.
SPF is one of those things that’s easy to miss in an acronym soup, but the impact of not getting it right is potentially catastrophic.
- Which communities is SPF for?
- What kinds of approaches will it encourage?
- To what ends?
These are all basic questions that currently have no answer, except on outline of the two ‘portions’. Getting definitive answers to them is essential, because translating the answers into programmes that deliver for people is not a quick process.
Today, there’s millions of pounds a year worth of skills and employability delivery that depends on existing EU funds, with some charities highly dependent on it for their work. Some of these programmes will likely need to adapt to meet new, local agendas. And we need to improve on what currently exists, for example reducing bureaucracy in the system.
But if there is a gap in funding, schemes will start to be wound down and expertise will be lost, at a time when demand will be even greater. And this isn’t like a light switch that can simply be turned back on when SPF is up and running – like the most in-demand toy in the run up to Christmas, when it’s gone it’s gone.
SPF should be the cornerstone of the promised plan for “Levelling Up"
The uncertainty around SPF would be a looming scandal even without the pandemic, but this is money that has been promised to the areas that need it most. The Conservative party manifesto promised that £500m of the money would be for skills for the most disadvantaged people.
That’s an issue that the government recognises has become even more urgent in 2020, and yet progress with SPF continues to be negligible – despite the fact it should be the cornerstone of the promised plan for “levelling up”.
It won’t attract headlines like the economy shrinking by record amounts. It’s not the thing the government wants to talk about, like Kickstart or Restart. But getting SPF right, right now, is at the top of my Christmas wish list. Sadly, it looks like I am destined to be disappointed. How very 2020!
Samantha Windett is Director of Policy at Impetus, a social mobility charity; and Chair of the Youth Employment Group of over 170 organisations