The independent London newspaper

Getting funds is a bureaucratic minefield

07 November, 2019 — By John Gulliver

WHEN I chided the council the other week for not helping organ­isations in their fight against knife crime, the scandal of school exclusions and the menace of drug dealing, I overlooked something.

I had pointed out at least two voluntary bodies whose pleas for funding in the past year had been turned down by the council. Surely, on moral grounds alone, I argued, the council had no defence against its apparent meanness.

Then the Town Hall press office sent me an extensive list of special funds – totalling well over a £1million – that the council offered those who were “mentoring” youths who had run in trouble.

So what’s going wrong? Why are perfectly eager, intelligent altruistic citizens feeling dejected, that the council doesn’t want to help them help these troubled youngsters?

I think I know what is going wrong. It may be all down to form filling. The application forms are so difficult to fill in for the average person unfamiliar with the jargonised responses demanded of them, that they fail at the first hurdle. The merest hint that you are not aware of such fashionable concepts as “cultural diversity” and multi-culturalism, for instance, and you are likely to stumble. If the boxes aren’t ticked in the right way, you’re out – no matter how worthy your cause or how many children you are helping.

To get funding is so complicated that a small cottage industry has emerged of companies selling their services to help applicants fill in the forms in the right way, using the prescribed phrases the funding bodies want to hear.

A person who helps after-school children in Camden told me in a rather matter-of-fact tone, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, that their last application to a council department for funds was turned down because they had exceeded the “word count” in their application.

“We were so careful but we must have written a few words too many – enough to lose the whole application,” she told me. All sorts of “language” traps await them in these forms – and the slightest mistake will bar them from help.

Council officials need to be less officious and more helpful to the applicants – if not, the only people who suffer are the children who need help and are probably not getting it.


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