The government could start distributing emergency coronavirus grants to charities next week, according to the government minister in charge of civil society.
Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told a parliamentary committee that DCMS has almost completed its work agreeing funding with other Whitehall departments, paving the way for those departments to start making direct grants to large charities.
In response to a question about Citizens Advice, Dowden said: “If they are getting money through bids from government departments, we are working through those this week and would look to start at least giving to government departments to start distributing to their relevant charities next week”.
The minister revealed that £350m in coronavirus grants for smaller charities, which are being handled by the National Lottery Community Fund (NCLF), may not be distributed in one go.
“We are still working through the criteria” for the Lottery grants, Dowden said, adding: “I have said that I would like to do this in tranches, so that when we have had the first tranche we can look again at the criteria, so that if we feel that there are some needs which are not accurately reflected by the criteria we could alter the criteria for the second tranche”.
Rita Chadha, chief executive of the Small Charities Coaltion, said that watching the minister’s announcement was “like being in a parallel universe”, and accused the government of “shifting the goal posts” over its decision to stagger the grants.
Dowden would not confirm when the scheme for small charities will open. The government and National Lottery were criticised last week over “bureaucratic wrangling” which was delaying the release of the funding.
‘Does the job’
Dowden also declared that the existing funding package, taken with the other schemes which charities can access, “does the job” of funding the sector through the coronavirus crisis, despite hopes among charity leaders that the Treasury might release more money at a later date.
“This level of support is pretty unprecedented”, the minister said.
Nonetheless, Dowden also warned that “we won’t be able to save every single business, and that would include not being able to save every single charity”.
Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at ACEVO, said: “While he did not say it in such blunt terms, the message from DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden was that charities should be more appreciative of the financial package already announced. ACEVO has been clear that £750m is not going to keep enough civil society doors open.”
Funds to tackle loneliness
In a separate announcement, DCMS has said that tackling loneliness will be one priority when choosing charities to receive coronavirus funding.
As a result, £5m of the money to be distributed to smaller charities in England will go to those “helping people to stay connected”, the department said in a statement.
Confusion over hospice cash
Charity leaders have moved to clarify how much emergency funding hospices will receive through the government’s coronavirus package.
A Treasury press notice, released to coincide with the announcement of charity funding on April 8, included a quote from Hospice UK, the umbrella body for the hospice movement, which said it was “delighted that the government is providing up to £200m of funding per quarter to hospices to help support the NHS and respond to the Covid-19 emergency”.
However, Hospice UK has now confirmed that it will distribute a one-off emergency payment from the government of up to £200m to cover April, May and June.
There will be further negotiations about funding after that date, but no extra money is guaranteed.
Government officials have also confirmed that they have only committed to a single payment, after questions were raised by sector leaders on a conference call with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Tracey Bleakley, the chief executive of Hospice UK, told Civil Society News: “We are working with government to distribute £200m for April, May and June. Depending on how long the crisis continues we will be discussing the needs with government each quarter.”
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 and other government departments."
The Treasury declined to comment.