An article in the Birmingham Post yesterday reported that Nasim Awan, the chairman of Springfield Neighbourhood Forum has called for an investigation into how £21million of public money is being spent through the Enterprising Communities Programme, an initiative that covers the Sparkbrook, Sparkhill, Saltley and Small Heath areas and is put in place to provide jobs and improve skills in areas of high unemployment.
It appears that large sums are being given to schemes that do not fulfil the remit of the programme and that much of the work created is low-paid and unskilled. What is more, Awan claims that these funding decisions are being taken by a very small number of people and a recent council audit revealed that some of these members lacked the basic skills needed to take funding decisions and that board meetings are often poorly attended.
A total of £367,000 in grants were handed to the Ashiana Enterprise and Women’s Centre and Local Leagues, helping Asian women start up in business and providing sporting opportunities for deprived children respectively. Mr. Awan questioned whether either of these schemes would help solve unemployment in their areas and argued that funding should go towards training to help meet skills shortages.
Local Leagues claims to help young people towards sports coaching opportunities, yet of the 161 participants only 18 have moved into employment and a further 18 have gained NVQ qualifications. This is hardly an impressive strike rate, yet surely it could have been predicted when the scheme was conceived that 161 youngsters would struggle to find work as sports coaches?
The deprived area that the Enterprising Communities Programme covers does not need a surplus of sports coaches any more than these young people need insubstantial training for low-demand vocational professions. Taxpayers’ money should be funding the sorts of schemes that can lead to the economic development of the area - or not spent in the first place and given back in the form of lower business tax rates to encourage investment and job creation - rather than being used recklessly and without foresight by those who lack any understanding of what provision is really needed in these areas.