Foundations and Brexit: A view from… Wales
In this series, we are taking a closer look at what Brexit means for foundations. We will include perspectives from across the UK and from funders with a number of specialisms and approaches. Although the situation changes daily and the implications are still uncertain, this series will explore some of the thoughts and reactions from within the sector. The fifth article in our series comes from Phil Fiander, Direction of European Operations, Consultancy and Business Development at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).
A view from… Wales
Many voluntary sector organisations in Wales are in shock trying to absorb what the implications of Brexit might be, and there is a lot of uncertainty and nervousness around. Voluntary organisations are seeking reassurances that the UK government will replace the money Wales will lose when we leave the EU and without those reassurances they cannot plan. Importantly for Wales, none of the devolved nations are around the negotiating table. While I understand that the government cannot expose the red lines of its negotiating position, it is possible to explain the principles of how the devolved states can engage in, support and influence that process.
People do not understand – and to a certain extent I blame the politicians for this – how much European money is used within government funds to support major programmes in Wales, including community programmes. I have seen research that suggests the gap is going to be around £860 million a year – that’s about 6% of Wales’ total budget from the UK government. It’s not difficult to foresee that civil servants and politicians will make decisions that support the government priorities promised to the electorate in the election, such as apprenticeships and training, and those are likely to be considered more important than, say, potentially funding community activities, for example.
On the other hand, there could be potential opportunities for the sector in that a UK or Welsh scheme utilising repatriated EU funds could be less cumbersome and easier to access, and possibly open to more areas of community activity.
Community and voluntary organisations (CVOs) are in a kind of hiatus at this moment in time, not knowing what to do next. We have been given clear assurance from the Treasury that the European funds will be underwritten until 2020, but it is not at all clear if CVOs in Wales can deliver the programmes. They will still need to find the match funding required, whether it is from the devolved government, the UK government or foundations facing ever-increasing demands on their resources. The Cabinet Secretary has already announced the phasing out of the Communities First programme in Wales over the next nine months – that will leave a huge gap to fill. Some groups are using Communities First money as match funding for European funding. If that programme goes, they could also lose out on European funding as well. It’s worth noting that, alongside the Communities First programme, the Welsh government runs the European-funded Communities for Work programme, which is set to continue, highlighting my previous point about government priorities.
Over the next few years I think we will see a growing need and trend that as UK and Welsh government funding become more and more difficult to access, foundations and other funders like Big Lottery Fund are likely to face increasing numbers of applications, thereby increasing competition, with everyone trying to access very limited pots.
It’s been getting tighter and tighter over the past few years – I cannot see it getting better. The smaller organisations that are continue to worry about their day-to-day survival and are increasingly concerned about cuts in local authority spending and the increasing demand on pots of money that they traditionally bid into.
And if the UK can’t agree trade deals with Europe, what would be the impact of that, would foreign companies stay here? If they don’t, will this create more unemployment and deprivation, which the already over-stretched voluntary sector will be hard-pressed to tackle? We simply don’t know.
However it’s not just about economics, it’s the knock-on effects such as the increase in race crime, the divisive language used and the effect on those already marginalised communities that worries me. These are the very things the voluntary sector has been trying to combat for years.
We must remember that while we are leaving the EU we are not leaving Europe, and WCVA is still working with NGOs in Europe and trying to maintain our links, as we believe post-Brexit there will still be opportunities for transnational activity, possibly funded by international donors. We still have a lot to offer to NGOs across the world and Europe.
Director of European Operations, Consultancy & Business Development
Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Other articles in this series:
A view from… Scotland
A view from... arts & culture funding
A view from... science funding
A view from... Northern Ireland
A view from... medical research
A view from... environmental funding
A view from... Europe