Ministers asked private consultants to ensure decisions about emergency charity grants did not "undermine public trust" in the government's coronavirus response, it has emerged.
A team from PwC is also advising officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on any grants which might "raise policy issues" relevant to the government.
In a freedom of information response, DCMS said that help from PwC is sought for “rapid reviews” of any grant decisions “that raise policy issues, are of particular strategic interest or whose work is noteworthy, and where a grant award might undermine public trust in the integrity of the [funding] programme and government’s Covid-19 response”.
This review process has been applied to thousands of initial grant decision made by the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF), which manages the £200m Coronavirus Community Support Fund (CCSF) on the government's behalf.
DCMS said that it aims to complete these reviews within 48 hours. Officials provide a short description of the grant, along with the details of the recipient charity, before the consultants, working with civil servants and the NLCF, use “publicly available data” to assess that application.
If these reviews raise any issues which officials decide need further investigation, a further panel of DCMS and NLCF officials look at the grant again.
Government officials stressed that PwC does not make any decisions on allocating funding.
The FoI response says that the PwC team, working with DCMS officials, has passed on 128 applications for further consideration. This represents around 1% of all grant applications, according to DCMS.
The role of consultancy firm PwC in "vetting" initial decisions by the NLCF was first revealed last month.
PwC is being paid £1.4m for the work.
Grants from the CCSF are part of the support package for small charities announced by the Treasury in April, worth a total of £750m.
DCMS and the NLCF have both faced criticism over the way CCSF has been run, first regarding delays in opening the fund, and then for jeopardising the future of small charities when it was revealed that some organisations may not receive grants until October.
NLCF declined to comment.
No word on match-funding scheme
Civil Society News has also learned that charities still do not know whether they will receive cash from the government’s £85m match-funding programme, more than a month after it closed to applications.
The Community Match Fund scheme, which was announced in July, is also part of the £750m support package. It will match public funding to money raised by foundations and philanthropists to help address the impact of the pandemic.
DCMS aimed to reach funding decisions by the middle of last month, according to published guidance.
The match-funding scheme was announced weeks after a different programme, run by DCMS alongside large foundations, collapsed at the eleventh hour.
Editor's note: This article was updated on 7 September to correct details about the number of grant decisions reviewed by PwC, and to clarify that PwC's work with DCMS is taking place through a single contract.