Opinion: 'We might all be relying on charity a little sooner than we thought'

Food bank
Food bank

The German stand-up comedian Henning Wehn has a routine about charity and the punchline is: “We don’t do charity in Germany. We pay taxes. Charity is a failure of governments’ responsibilities.”

And I couldn’t help thinking about that when I saw that charities, organisations and businesses can now apply to the Cheshire West and Chester Council UK Shared Prosperity Fund for project funding.

At last, I thought, the government doing something useful with our taxes.

According to CWAC, the council is allocating £1.805m to support ‘heritage, cultural and community projects’ as well as those that support business start-up and growth over the next two years.

The council says: “The funding is part of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

"This aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances though investing in three themes: Communities and Place; Supporting local business; and People and Skills.

"The Cheshire West and Chester Investment Plan sets out the focus and outcomes for each of these themes and was approved by Government in December 2022.”

So in a way, that is the government using our money to support charities, among others. Now I have to confess, I hadn’t heard of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) before so I did a little research.

Unlike those other government grant schemes such as the Towns Fund and Levelling Up Fund, SPF is not being allocated through yet another competition.

But here’s the thing, SPF is the domestic replacement for the EU economic development money for UK nations and regions. The EU funds were used to promote economic growth and social inclusion, with places that needed most help getting more money than those less in need.

Back in 2019, the Conservative manifesto said that the SPF would, at a minimum, match the EU funds in each nation of the UK. And did the Tories keep that particular promise? Absolutely not (no surprise there).

According to analysis by the think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) last year, the final figure announced by the government showed an annual SPF of £873 million on average, compared with average annual EU funds of £1.5 billion in real terms between 2014 and 2020. So despite all its promises, the Tories are giving us a 43 per cent cut.

The IPPR quotes two examples of what the implications from these allocations mean on the ground, Tees Valley is set to receive around a £13 million reduction in funding, while Greater Manchester will see a fall of around £26 million (adjusting for inflation).

It adds: “We’ve seen a 43 per cent annual cut in regional development funding, guaranteed for less than half as long, delivered in a way which encourages short-termism.”

That hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement and it seems like we might all be relying on charity a little sooner than we thought and for a little longer than we thought.

Which reminds me of a now infamous quote from ‘Fred from Hartlepool’ who went on an LBC radio phone in show to explain how and why the people of Hartlepool had elected a Tory member of parliament for the first time in more than 50 years.

Fred said he voted Conservative because they had given the town nine food banks whereas there were none when Labour were in power.

And that’s the kind of mentality that will see us all grateful for a 43 per cent cut in funding. We will be thankful for the crumbs from the table and glad that at least we have food banks.

Heaven help us.

On another topic, I was out and about over the Easter weekend and unfortunately ended up driving several hundred miles, mainly on the M6 and M5.

Of course I expected traffic to be particularly heavy on Good Friday and I question my judgement in heading towards the South West on one of the busiest days of the year. The return journey on Easter Sunday was much less eventful thanks to far fewer cars on the road.

But why, out of all the stretches of motorway I was on, was the section through Cheshire’s so-called smart motorway the worst?

The traffic crawled along, nose to tail in all four lanes and yet, quite remarkably, suddenly freed-up and started flowing normally once the ‘smart’ section ended and the motorway went back to three normal lanes.

It’s almost as though smart motorways aren’t fit for purpose.