Observer column: 15 June 2018
More investment? Granted
As more and more money is cut from their budgets, we've had to look increasingly to external funding sources. There are many of these. The EU has been a major source of funding for Hastings, which we still can apply to, until after the Brexit transition period. But there are other sources too, within the UK. These include Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Coastal Communities Fund (CCF), and various one-off government schemes. But it's never straightforward, and never easy.
Applications to any of these funds is usually competitive, so there are more applications for funding from councils and other bodies than there is money available to pay for proposed projects. This means a lot of work and effort has to go into preparing the bids, which is consequently expensive in itself. But even after the bid is approved, there are often huge bureaucratic hurdles to overcome before funding agreements are signed.
One of the biggest applications we've made in recent years has been for the Community Led Local Development scheme (CLLD). This will make £7m funding available to fund projects in the most deprived parts of Hastings and Bexhill. Local organisations will be invited to submit bids to a community-led panel, which will decide on proposed projects to provide employment skills training, business skills training, community development, and physical improvements to local neighbourhoods. So it is, in effect, a competitive fund that was in itself made available through a competitive funding process. But the bureaucratic process to get CLLD funding was excruciating, and took over two years. The council had to work with two UK government departments, each responsible for a different European funding stream; each with their own, sometimes conflicting, rules that had to be fulfilled. The projects funded from CLLD will have a significant impact in the more deprived parts of town. Getting there was a difficult, frustrating experience, but it's now all approved and in place, and the bidding process for local projects will open soon.
Other externally-funded schemes include EU projects to improve energy efficiency in factory units and social housing. The Fisheries Local Action Group, with two rounds of programmes to help the local fishery, provides a total of around £2m. We've been successful in all three of the four bids we've put in to the CCF, which has given us money to pay for improvements along the seafront, as well as local employment schemes. We're putting in a big bid (around £2m) to the next CCF round for improvements to the town centre, Harold Place and the pedestrian underpass, as well as for a business incubator scheme. Other recent successful bids have included a UK government fund to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and EU money for the country park visitor centre and developing a seafront transport link.
So external bids have enabled projects that we would not otherwise have happened. But we have to spend money employing people to write the bids, and the process makes it very difficult to plan for the future. We don't know which bids will be successful, and we don't know what funds are going to be available, and for what, in the future. So while I'm very pleased we've been so successful at getting funding in this way, it's no substitute for proper, planned, mainstream council funding. And that just gets cut back further each year.
Council Leader's column