< Ideas Bank, < Economic wellbeing
< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

There’s something rich about the idea of money being long-term unemployed. Made redundant by its owners then sitting, idle, for 15 years or more, an asset only for the financial institutions that hold it.

And there’s something noble about the idea of making such resources do community service, reaching the parts current public funding can’t - or won’t - reach.

A report published this week by the Commission on Unclaimed Assets shows a willingness to do things differently: to go beyond the kind of grant funding that meets immediate needs in disadvantaged communities and create wealth by effecting long term change.

The report contains two important words. The first is ‘investment’, with plans centred on opening a social investment bank to help communities buy assets and boost the future prospects of individuals. And the second is ‘independent’.

Independent is a big word. In Ireland, which passed legislation on dormant bank accounts in 2001, a decision has recently been taken to disband the organisation which once disbursed funds and put decisions in government hands, leading to fears that the money will be used by ministers to plug those persistent little gaps in public funding.

Now what does that remind you of? When the national lottery was formed the government initially insisted it wasn’t there to act as a substitute for public sector funding. Years down the line and you don’t have to go far to find some commentator or analyst who can point to a pot full of examples that suggest otherwise. In fact, such funds are great for the government which can use them to take the political sting and sensitivity out of some of its more risky funding decisions.

So, pleased as the voluntary and community sector must be at the prospect of up to £1bn to build their organisational strength and tackle disadvantage, they must at least wonder whether what they gain from the social investment bank will add to or replace what they get from the public purse. Whether the bigger, more established organisations will eat the cake. And whether public funders will start talking even more loudly about match funding, with even more hoops to jump through. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Susan Downer, assistant editor, New Start Online magazine

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