Yesterday we had some good news. The DCMS Select Committee issued their first report of their Inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on the charity sector and by Jove, they ‘get’ it! The committee asserted that “charities are not the same as business and that to suggest they should be treated the same ignores the fundamental principles upon which their work is based and the nature of their contribution to society”.
Once this basic premise is accepted and celebrated, it’s clear that we are not lobbying to save charities or the institution of charities through special pleading, but for our beneficiaries who rely on our support, and who the government rely on us being there to support.
The report of the Committee went on to echo all the recommendations which we made, namely that we want government to:
- Recognise that existing measures, including the £750m fund from government, are not enough to enable charities to continue to deliver essential services that have never been more needed. We want government to address the medium and long-term scale of the financial challenge ahead, and to ensure that the critical support civil society provides will continue to be able to meet need both in time of crisis and beyond.
- Ensure the distribution of funding available is speedy and efficient, and that equality and human rights are designed in from the outset so that we meet everyone’s needs and that decision making is transparent.
- Make necessary regulatory changes to existing schemes to make them fit for purpose for civil society organisations.
On the last point, it’s particularly welcome that the Committee recommended the speedy introduction of a separate Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for charities, which would allow furloughed employees of charities to volunteer for their organisations, and that all amendments to schemes should be introduced within 4 weeks. The Committee has asked the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, to report back by 5th June, so the clock is ticking!
Our ‘Temperature Check’ survey, which ran between 8-16 April to assess the effectiveness of government-run schemes for charities found that the value has been limited to date and while over 73% were accessing the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, over 91% of applicants to the CBILS loans were being rejected. The findings of the survey and feedback from our members have helped to inform our work to lobby government on making amendments to the schemes to make them fit for purpose, on which we’ve already had some success which you can read up on in Richard Sagar’s blog post.
It took 5 solid weeks of effective joined-up campaigning by the sector to eventually obtain a £750m relief fund on 8 March; £370m of which is to be distributed through the National Lottery Community Fund. The remaining £360m distributed through government departments includes £200m specifically for hospices and £76m for Domestic Abuse charities. We are expecting announcements any day now on which other charities and causes have been allocated the remaining dwindling cash pot by government departments and more information on the transparency of how those grants will be or have been allocated. We also expect the National Lottery Community Fund to open its applications imminently and CFG will be helping to promote how to apply for and access available funding. Watch this space.
This is an unprecedented injection of cash into the sector and represents a win for the campaigning efforts of civil society organisations. After all, despite it being late in coming, we are one of the sectors who were successful in obtaining new cash. However, we know, and the DCMS Select Committee agree with us, that “the job is not yet done”. This represents the first step in a long journey to a new landscape. Summing the total of financial input to date, including government grants, philanthropic contributions, sums raised at the Big Night In, the 2.6 Challenge and grants and foundations stepping up, the gap in meeting lost income for ‘business as usual’ to the end of May is still in the region of £1bn. And we know that the loss of income will continue well into the future as lockdown continues and the environment has fundamentally changed. We are all facing a brave new world in more ways than one.
We will shortly launch the second of our joint detailed surveys with the IoF, NCVO and PWC to build a more detailed picture and to help us track the impact for charities across the medium and longer terms so that we can continue to press government for support and build on the momentum bought by the DCMS Select Committee recommendations. This data will inform our next detailed ask of government and is key to informing our policy asks for the medium and long term, so please do complete it as soon as you are able to.
Whilst focusing on the immediate survival, we will also turn our attention to the longer term and issues around safe return to work (see Charles Nall’s blog), impact on reserves, investments, pension deficits, cash flow and liquidity concerns, as well as keeping an eye on CFG’s long-standing policy and influencing priorities around Gift Aid, Fraud and financial reporting.
We are clear that the future landscape has changed considerably for us all and that we must be part of shaping what role civil society plays in a post COVID brave new world, and we rely on your support and our community to help us do that effectively.
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