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Funding for community projects needs spending well, not just quickly

Wherever you live, the odds are it is near a community or environmental project that has benefited from the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF). But there could be tricky times ahead for this mainstay of the UK funding landscape. 

The LCF has been in operation for 16 years, and allows landfill operators to contribute a percentage of their landfill tax liability to independent not-for-profit organisations. Since 1997, more than 25,000 projects across the UK have received their share of £1.1bn.

The Veolia Environmental Trust is a significant part of this, awarding £4m to around 150 projects a year and having awarded more than £49m since it started. It has helped to build community halls, resurface footpaths, improve nature reserves and install playgrounds.

In its 2011 and 2012 Budgets, the Government challenged LCF organisations to cut the amount of unspent funds held by at least 25%. This meant that organis-ations needed to start spending funds as quickly as possible and reduce any delay in projects completing and benefiting communities in which they operate.

This affects everyone who operates under the LCF, and other funders have been working hard to review our operations in light of this.

So what is The Veolia Environmental Trust doing about the Government’s challenge? It is important to clarify that most LCF funds (in our case more than 80%) have already been awarded to projects yet to start or submit claims for funding.

The trust only pays on evidence of expenditure. Due to the amount of funding it receives being linked to the variable amount of waste that is landfilled, it does not award funding in advance of it being received. Apart from being common sense, this keeps fraud and non-compliant expenditure low, and assures applicants that it can honour its awards.

Nearly all funding received by the trust is awarded within six months of it being received. But in an effort to reduce delays, it has recently amended its processes to require projects to have all preliminaries such as planning permission in place. It has also tightened up criteria on how long projects have before they have to start.

The biggest remaining reason for delay in expend-iture is that applicants, after securing funding from the trust, often still have other applications underway to raise the full project balance.

A fundamental principle of operation has always been that funding decisions are made based on a project’s merit rather than simply the speed at which funding will be spent. This is particularly true for larger community facilities or biodiversity projects, which are often measured in years not months.

Although the trust can withdraw awards, it is a priority to do everything it can to make sure projects go ahead.

Supporting applications that take longer to get underway is a key part of its operation, and sometimes this longer-term support is vital to a project. These often benefit the harder-to-reach sectors of society, and can be submitted by people with either less experience of fundraising or who are volunteers with other commitments such as families and jobs.

It is too soon to know whether the LCF will be able to meet its target. But we at The Veolia Environmental Trust will redouble our efforts to spend funds as quickly as possible, while not reducing the quality of the projects that we support.

We hope the Treasury will recognise these efforts and agree that the funds are better spent well rather than just quickly.

McNabb Laurie, executive director, The Veolia Environmental Trust

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