Over the last few weeks my neighbourhood has been undergoing a traumatic experience. Nearly 8 years ago, we were selected to receive £52 million over 10 years of government money under a programme known as New Deal for Communities. I joined the Board about a year ago and gradually a story has been unraveling. At some point during the lifetime of the programme, the Board were told that most New Deals around the country would underspend and so if it spent more than it should in the middle of the programme, more money would be available later. Somehow in these later years no-one (neither the Board nor the council (the accountable body) nor the government office) noticed the planned expenditure equaled more than £52m. The government during this time of recession decided to claw back the underspend. Of course there was nothing in writing.
A few weeks ago the Board reluctantly agreed to terminate the programme early and so about 120 people have been made redundant a year earlier than they expected. I tell this sorry story not to apportion blame but to highlight some of the issues around this sort of grant related culture.
Money invested in a neighbourhood will always do some good. Of course it will. The problem is that all grant aid is time limited and finding alternative funding for established projects is difficult. The reality in my neighbourhood is that some valued work will disappear. But let us not forget, the problem has simply been brought forward a year, had the programme run its course, many of the same projects would have terminated.
Usually grant aid is tied to outputs, very often the objectives of the funding body will determine the activities of the applicant organisation. This way voluntary hours are recruited into government programmes; achieving outputs replaces the original purpose the applicant organisation.
These two problems, dependency and mission creep, are both consequences of a culture that is driven by grant aid. An additional problem with programmes such as New Deal is that they are saying to neighbourhood organisations, 'here's a sum of money, you work out what to do with it'. This approach does not encourage quality, it increases dependency and drives community groups in directions they would not normally go.
For Christians giving is seen as a good thing and hospitality as a virtue. I think Christians are mistaken to see hospitality as gift, when we do that our giving becomes something that encourages dependency. Conservatives would agree with me so far but, as I will show over the next few days, the idea of the gift is the wrong model. The generosity underlying Christian mission should not be seen as simply a gift.
Yesterday, I suggested my list of types of investment paralleled Kahane's list of types of dialogue. Gifts and grants parallel his first type, downloading. Either the giver doesn't care and walks away or the giver is purchasing outputs. At best it is a one way relationship and although much good work can be done it rarely has lasting significance. Just as in downloading conversations nothing new is learned. The neighbourhood soon forgets the project and simply moves to the next source of funding, responding according to their new funding body's whim.