A review of Glasgow’s controversial Communities Fund – which saw hundreds of groups miss out on a share of £47m – has found the council needs to “work hard to rebuild trust” with the third sector.
An independent assessment, carried out by research firm Ipsos MORI, revealed charities and community groups had concerns over “inappropriate political interference” from councillors, a lack of transparency and poor communication from the council.
Some organisations had to cut services or needed to make people redundant as a result, the review found.
The Communities Fund was set up by the council to ‘open up’ the old Integrated Grant Fund to more organisations, but it was oversubscribed, with applications “close to three times the amount” of the fund’s budget.
In total, 224 groups missed out on money and the 258 that were successful only received part-funding.
Originally closed to applications in October 2019, an extension was granted in January last year as around one quarter of the 506 bids were incomplete or submitted late.
The deadline for decisions was also extended to October last year, rather than April, but focus groups reported these moves caused frustration.
They felt it reflected “inappropriate political interference” in the process, and one successful applicant said: “The council should be saying ‘I’m not giving money to organisations that can’t fill in application forms’.”
However there was “some sympathy” with groups who made mistakes due to problems with the application form.
Some believed “excessive” information was required and 83% of survey respondents felt the time between submitting the bids and receiving a decision was too long.
Participants in the focus groups describe how the delay in decision-making had created substantial uncertainty and difficulties for some organisations.
Participants (both successful and unsuccessful applicants) described having to reduce or, in some cases, close services, and reduce or lose posts as a result of GCF funding decisions.
One unsuccessful applicant said: “Everything was delayed, and that’s really hard for organisations to deal with because no one knew whether they were getting funding or not.
“They were having to issue redundancy notices to people. It was very hard for a lot of organisations.”
Almost half of survey respondents felt the fund had been “unsuccessful in promoting partnership working between the council and the third sector” and this was reflected in “the strength of negative feeling” expressed during the focus groups and interviews.
The review found: “There was a recurrent view that the council will need to work hard to rebuild trust with the third sector.”
There were negative views around the scoring process and feedback on applications, and a “perceived ‘disconnect’ between council officials and elected members”.
Perceived poor communication was also a “recurrent theme”, the review added.
“This lack of direct and specific communication from the council around decisions and, in particular, application scores contributed to a perception that the decision-making process lacked transparency.”
A successful bidder said there was “no information on the role of elected members who, looking back, were heavily involved in trying to overturn decisions”.
Improving communication was one of the most common suggested changes, as well as sticking more closely to time scales and enhancing transparency and feedback on decisions.
It was suggested an external independent body could take responsibility for making decisions on applications and that a simplified application form for group’s making smaller bids might help.
An unsuccessful applicant claimed: “Funding should never be through the council – they are too biased.
“They have their own wee pet projects. If it was an (external) funder, everybody would be on an even keel, where they feel that even if they don’t get it, that’s okay.”
In September last year, the council agreed to a review to learn lessons and provide recommendations for the fund’s future.
Ipsos MORI received 241 responses from the third sector to a survey, and held focus groups and interviews with a mix of successful and unsuccessful applicants.
In the report, it said the “consistency of many findings between the survey and the research indicated that the views reported are far from being outliers, and represent the views of a significant proportion of applicants”.
There were 42% who thought the fund had successfully opened up to a wider range of organisations, and the report added: “There were pronounced differences in the views of those who had been allocated funding compared with those who had not received any funding.”
The council has said details of future phases will be “clearly documented and communicated” and the approach to feedback will be explained.
It added the application and assessment process, including the roles of councillors, will be communicated too, and said the extension to allow more complete bids had been “considered reasonable”.
The impact of provided part-funding will also be considered, the council said.
A cross-party working group of councillors will be formed to shape the next phase of the fund, which is expected to be delivered from April 2023.
The review’s findings will be reported to a council committee this week.
By local democracy reporter Drew Sandelands