Yesterday I attended the Coastal Communities Alliance meeting in London. I used the opportunity to confirm with DCLG officials what I thought I already knew and what I have, in part at least, conveyed to the British Destinations membership regarding the UK wide Coastal Community Fund (CCF) allocations. In particular, I confirmed the true status of the promised 4th and 5th year (2015/16 and 2016/17) bidding rounds.
As previously intimated the unexpectedly generous UK wide 2014/15 awards announced in January 2015 didn’t just come from the 2014/15, 50% of Crown Estates maritime revenues alone. Nor did they come from any earlier under-spend as we and others initially assumed. The true source of the additional funding was the promised 2015/16 allocations and remarkably also the 2016/17 allocations as well, or 3 times the original annual amount expected, albeit in practice handed over across two and a bit years! Treasury unusually authorized expenditure in advanced and has done so up to 31 March 2017. The future years allocations are based on the same revenue levels as those for 2014/15. This is a safe bet since the offshore revenue continue to rise year on year. Indeed the monies available will almost certainly prove to be number of £ millions more than currently calculated, but the “windfall” will in all probability be needed, according to officials, to cover additional and inflationary increase in the costs of those projects already approved, rather than for any new, smaller future bidding rounds.
The pr-election generosity of the 2014/15 awards were really good news for those receiving them and generally good news for the coastal sector as a whole, since that the “ruse” does at least ensure that the additional monies promised by the one Government can’t easily then be redirected by the next post May 2015. However, it is not such good news for those who might, not unreasonably, have been anticipating a further couple of opportunities to bid or rebid for CCF support. There will be one small bidding round in Wales in 2015 mopping up genuine under-spend there but nothing more is planned elsewhere before March 2017 or indeed currently beyond it.
The advanced allocation/spending of the 2015/16 and 2016/17 may also represents an additional challenge to any efforts to lobby a new Westminster Government on the continuation of a specific coastal sector focused funding mechanism. There is a danger that, despite current wide, cross-party support for CCF, any new Government might conceivably be anti a fund and funding mechanism gifted to them by a previous Government and gifted in such unusual pre-election circumstances. Alternatively the two-year pause in bidding process may be seen as a golden opportunity? It could give the coastal sector breathing space to properly illustrate the worth of the fund, to argue for improved, more utilitarian criteria and for a better, slicker process; and hopefully to do so in time to allow a new bidding round to be conducted in 2016/17, thus, allowing the 2017/18 awards to be announced and given out at the start of the relevant financial year, not at or near end of it. This would eliminate one of more serious drawbacks of the CCF to date; the late announcements and consequent mismatch between allocation and spending years. This is what is being recommended to the British Destinations Executive and Board over the coming weeks and what hopefully, with their subsequent guidance and agreement, will be put to our coastal group members for their consideration.
In the meantime we continue to seek specific ideas and opportunities to progress other sector specific funding mechanisms to support our none coastal rural, town and City members. A number of options are in train; they are just not as well advanced as the coastal work which we should all recognize has been ongoing now for well over a decade and a half. Big things (£116m of additional funding to date) takes time and a lot of effort to achieve but with your continued support we will continue to make headway elsewhere too.