I wonder if you share my frustration? Time and again I am in situations where money and resources intended to find a solution for an individual or one group of people are largely soaked up in processes and structures that benefit an entirely different set of people. Sometimes I experience it from the side of the intended recipient, and sometimes, even more infuriatingly, I find myself caught up in complicity on the other side.
We are so beset by fear and inappropriate propriety and aversion to risk that it is almost impossible to deploy any resource, however small, straight to the spot where it’s needed. From the sublime to the ridiculous the problem pops up everywhere. At one end of the scale, how many times have you had to jump through ludicrous hoops to get a thousand quid for a small organisation to do something perfectly sensible which is saving the public sector quite a lot of money? Fill in forms, explain your mission and purpose, complete the magical accounting section enumerating the exact ethnicity, gender, age and social stratification of your unknown beneficiaries, make fervent pledges to comply with this year’s fashionable cause, demonstrate that you are getting credible guidance from a suitably accredited professional, and attach copies of your annual accounts and at least three inappropriately complicated policies.... It would save so much effort and money which could be better spent on the core purpose if the poor bloody Brownies could just be given their £613 for netball equipment or whatever and everybody moves on. There are still some charitable trusts which are noble exceptions and have retained some vestige of the ‘sounds like a good idea, let’s do it!’ approach, but they are becoming vanishingly rare, and I can't see any in the public sector.
There was something to be said for the old cliché along the lines of ‘give a man a goat and he’ll eat it, give him a breeding pair and he’ll feed his family for a year’ (I paraphrase ). At the very least he got a meal. Nowadays we don’t go near the goat, it’s much more likely to be ‘give a group/person what they’re asking for and they might sell it for drugs/use it sexually inappropriately/evade tax, horrors! What we will do instead is give them business advice from people who’ve never run a business/ peer coaching from a fashionable group who can share their lived experience/15% of what they’ve asked for provided they can match fund the rest and sign up to 5 years of monitoring. That way we will be able to meet our KPIs and justify our entirely sensible policies and decisions whilst ensuring that we have acted with prudence and propriety.”
I cannot think of a single way other than informal philanthropy in which an ordinary individual (as opposed to a tech genius looking for venture capital) can come with a good idea and a reasonable argument and walk away with a small amount of money on a basis of trust to have a go at their idea. The last time I can remember was the Enterprise Allowance in the 1980s, which funded an awful lot of ladders and buckets for aspiring window cleaners in my area but at least gave a lot of people a chance to step up their own ladder off the dole.
Of course there is risk - there will always be some people who abuse any system, and more who will just fail. That's life. But we could start teaching more people in positions of authority the value of defensible decision-making and trust them to make a reasonable choice at the time of asking.
As you go further up the scale, the contrast between the public money that is spent on delivering programmes and initiatives and the money that actually reaches the intended recipients becomes increasingly alarming. I have long wanted to invent and market a large clock to put up on the walls of meeting rooms which could be programmed at the start of the meeting with the cost of the resources in the room. Each minute would tick up the bill, and I’m sure it would sharpen minds. I was on a Health and Wellbeing Board for several years in one of the most deprived parts of the country. I would like to be able to point to achievements that I genuinely believe could be attributed to it, reductions in lung cancer, or increases in wealth for young people in the poorest postcodes, for instance, but I don’t think I can. I did some calculations this morning and I reckon that the cost of salaries alone of the people who sat round the table for the board itself was at least £5k for each meeting, and that wasn’t counting the endless sub committees and working groups and focus events and so on. Yet we couldn’t pay for a train ticket to get a young person down to London and look for a job where there were lots at the time, or just give a really good school the cost of one of our meetings to transform their library - or whatever. Not that anybody except me wanted to really - as a group we were much too busy being importantly strategic. It's not fair in a way to single this one out - I've been involved in countless other similar groups in many environments and I'm sure you have too.
We seem to have created vast pyramids intended to support people, but the lower down the pyramid of support you are, the more money and security you tend to have, working from the policy makers and important people at the bottom, up through the highly paid executives and managers, through the front-line organisations that actually deliver services or goods, whose staff are infinitely more precarious than the people at the bottom. Right at the top teeter the individuals who are the supposed beneficiaries. Some are caught as they topple off, but too many hit the ground.