The government’s initial focus on financially backing smaller charities during the Covid-19 pandemic was mistaken, a former special adviser to the prime minister has said.
Samuel Kasumu, who advised Boris Johnson on charities policy until April 2021, said in hindsight the government would have “got more value” by focusing its funding towards larger charities with stronger infrastructure.
Speaking to New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) trustee Delroy Corinaldi, Kasumu also argued that charities needed to have more politically right of centre trustees in order to form better relationships with the government.
‘Government should have funded larger charities’
In April 2020, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £750m coronavirus fund for charities, with £350m earmarked for smaller organisations.
Kasumu said so much of the money was directed to small charities to ensure they had “enough resource to stay afloat and to deliver their work on the ground”.
He said the decision to do this had been rushed and not based on data, as it was not available.
Kasumu said he now thinks the government should have focused its efforts “more on the mid-sized charities, maybe even those who are slightly larger”.
“They had the infrastructure already, they understood how to deliver work at scale,” he said. “And actually, in terms of the impact, perhaps for what we were looking for, we would have got more value from those who were more organised and structured and had better systems in place.”
Most smaller charities, Kasumu said, were “probably already being supported through more local provisions” so the need to support them through central government funding was less.
“If I could go back in time, I reckon I probably would have started with the slightly larger organisations and got them round the table a lot quicker and maybe focused my energies on them,” he said.
Kasumu said the government successfully partnered with larger charities later on in the pandemic when it worked with St John’s Ambulance to rollout the vaccine programme in 2021.
He also hailed the government’s £25m Community Champions scheme, which funded volunteer recruitment and training during the coronavirus crisis.
‘Charities need more politically diverse boards’
Kasumu said charities should improve their relationships with central government by ensuring they have a “good representation of different [political] groups” among their trustees.
He said charities should ask themselves: “Does everybody on that board evidently support the Labour party, or Greens or whatever?
“Do you have anyone who might have the semblance of a centre-right world view, which is of course at the moment, a majority view, as we have a Conservative majority government, on your board?”
Kasumu said having more politically diverse boards, including trustees who are pro-Brexit, would help charities to allay suspicions from the government that any objections they express about government policy are ideological.
“I don’t think we need to get to the point where everybody on the board from the Terence Higgins Trust for example is a paid-up member of the Tory Party but we need to get to a point where the government can at least feel like there is some kind of balance because that balance will allow people to have that trust that motives are completely pure when you’re trying to have those policy discussions and you are trying to overcome those interventions,” he said.
Kasumu’s discussion with Corinaldi is part of NPC’s series of blogs published to celebrate its 20th anniversary.