On leaving the European Union (EU) the UK Government committed to replacing the millions of pounds formerly invested through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). Previously administered through the Scottish Government, the replacement is managed and allocated through the UK Government as part of its post-Brexit levelling up agenda.
But what does this actually mean in practice and in particular, what does it mean for island and remote communities which, on account of their particular territory, needs and geographical constraints, previously had special status within EU policy. EU investment has been massively important to island and rural communities and with many questions about the new funding programme, SIF partnered with Scottish Rural Action to produce a one-page fund guide and in depth report, reviewing the new programme and analysing its fit with the needs and priorities of island and rural communities.
Key observations from the review include:
- UK Government metrics used to prioritise areas for investment or set investment amounts appear to disadvantage Scotland’s rural and island areas.
- Smaller local authorities require high levels of resourcing to engage with the levelling up agenda.
- While the Levelling Up Fund was perceived to give positive momentum to large-scale capital projects, key drivers of wealth in rural and island places are micro entities – community and third sector organisations and micro/social enterprises. There is limited recognition of the importance of community animation and of capacity building for micro enterprises to enable them access levelling up opportunities.
- Decision-making on grant awards has been described as ‘opaque’.
- There is no clear alignment between the UK Government levelling up funds and the range of Scottish Government and local authority fund programmes intended to support community development.
As noted by SRA, the report evidences a need for wider discussion on the levelling up funds in a Scottish context, in particular the Shared Prosperity Fund. It is critical we ensure that local authorities and other stakeholders such as Third Sector Interfaces, Community-Led Local Development partnerships and second-tier organisations, are resourced to enable significant investment to reach grassroots communities and enterprises in the form that most benefits them.