Lottery and government 'not moving swiftly enough' on coronavirus funds

17 Apr 2020 News

Fergus Burnett

The government and National Lottery Community Fund (NCLF) have been criticised for their handling of the scheme to help charities during the coronavirus crisis.

Jay Kennedy, the director of policy at the Directory for Social Change, said “bureaucratic wrangling” between Whitehall and the national funder is threatening to undermine efforts to get money to charities.

The chancellor unveiled £370m in emergency government funding for small charities on 9 April, in a bid to help the sector handle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Kennedy was responding to news that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and NLCF are still discussing the scope of the funding to be released.

'Funding needs to get out the door quickly'

Notes from a conference call held yesterday between government officials and charity leaders, published this morning by the umbrella body ACEVO, appear to confirm that there will be no announcements about the funding until next week at the earliest.

NCLF said that they are “working at pace with government” to design the emergency scheme for small charities.

Kennedy told Civil Society News: “None of it is moving swiftly enough at all. Funding needs to get out the door quickly, charities are closing down daily.

“The funding via NLCF is supposed to be helping small charities in crisis, but it sounds like we’re going to be bogged down in weeks of bureaucratic wrangling about detailed criteria. Delays to distribution defeat the whole purpose”.

Kennedy stressed that the expertise and national profile of NLCF made it an obvious choice for helping the government, but that much of that advantage was lost if money was not distributed quickly enough.

Funding for larger charities

He also warned that the £360m earmarked for funding larger charities directly by government departments “looks like a total mess”.

Kennedy said: “Government bureaucracies urgently need to adopt a very different approach to risk than they are used to if they want to effectively respond to the unfolding crisis and avoid widespread damage in the social sector.

“They need to err on the side of speed rather than caution, otherwise the very things they intend to fund will quickly disappear.”

ACEVO’s note says that government departments have until the end of today to apply to DCMS for the funds which will eventually be given to charities.

NCLF: 'We’re working urgently with the government to design, implement and then distribute this funding'

A spokesperson for NLCF said: “We recognise that every day counts. We’re working urgently with the government to design, implement and then distribute this funding. Our priority at this stage is to agree the scope of what might be funded so that we can publish this in advance of the funding coming on-stream.

“Our aim is to also ensure that government and National Lottery funding are complementary and that we present an integrated response. We are working at pace with government to achieve this, and will publish a date and further details for the government element as soon as possible.

“Right now, though, we’d like to reassure people that National Lottery Community funding is available – we’re prioritising Covid-19 related funding requests, we continue to honour our commitments and remain flexible in our funding approach”.

A spokesperson for NCVO said: “We’re having constructive conversations with government about how to get this money to the organisations that need it as quickly as possible.

“Everyone knows that speed is of the essence, but we’ve also made clear that fairness is too. We’re expecting to see announcements about distribution processes in the coming days.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: "Our dedicated charities and volunteers have a vital part to play in the coronavirus national effort, which is why the Chancellor announced a significant £750 million package to support their work helping vulnerable people.

"We will distribute that funding to those in greatest need as soon as possible, working at pace with the National Lottery Community Fund".

'Learn the lessons' from Grenfell donations

The grassroots activist group Charity So White has called on national funders and the government to “learn the lessons” from the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.

Writing today in the Huffington Post, Ayesha Gardiner and Henna Shah from Charity So White note that a report into the aftermath of the Grenfell fire called for greater power to be given to local community groups which can “act quickly and sensitively in line with the needs of communities they understand”. 

“So far, we have not seen these recommendations applied in the sector’s response to Covid-19,” Gardiner and Shah write.

More than £20m was raised by the public to support Grenfell survivors in the weeks after the fire, which killed 71 people.

Gardiner and Shah continue: “As Grenfell showed us, traditional models and processes for distributing funds do not reach the groups and organisations that are most in need. Unless we act now, history will repeat itself, with grave and long-lasting consequences.”

Charity So White are calling for some of the government’s coronavirus funding to be ring-fenced for charities and grassroots groups working with BAME communities.

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