The government has been accused of breaking a promise over emergency coronavirus funding for small charities, after it emerged that no “standalone review” has been conducted into the scheme.
This is despite the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committing in April to “review early learnings” from the £200m Coronavirus Community Support Fund (CCSF), arguing at the time that this was necessary to inform decisions about how to distribute the remaining cash.
Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, appeared to emphasise the same point in June, when he told parliament that he wanted to distribute small charity funding “in tranches”, so that his department would have the chance to “look again at the criteria” for grants before releasing more money.
However, no information about evaluating those criteria was released when most of the remaining funds were committed to a match-funding programme last month, and officials have now confirmed that no formal review of the CCSF was ever undertaken.
When Civil Society News requested a copy of the review from the DCMS, the department said that there was no written record because the review was “part of a general commitment” to consider its policy options.
Some charity leaders say that the absence of a formal review means the government is proceeding with “no evidence” about whether emergency funds are being used effectively.
DSC: Contradicts the government’s own statements
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, said: “Contrary to its own published statements, it sounds like DCMS hasn’t done any review at all of the ‘emergency’ funding of £310m that the chancellor stated would support small charities during the pandemic.
“Instead they decided to hive off £110m of that for a complicated Community Match Challenge scheme, with no evidence about the need for or effectiveness of such a fund.”
Kennedy added: “The government element of the CCSF has now closed to applications. But we still have no idea how much money has actually reached charity bank accounts, or how much is still stuck in the review process being conducted by PwC.”
The National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) manages the CCSF for the government. PwC’s role “vetting” NLCF decisions on behalf of DCMS, through a contract worth £1.4m, was exposed at the beginning of August.
Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England, said: “The promise to evaluate the learning from the first months of the national emergency and its impact on charities, to inform later spending the remaining amounts, was a good idea in rapidly changing circumstances.
“Now that the real scale of charity redundancies and closure risks is becoming clearer, it is very disappointing to learn that the promised evaluation didn't take place, and infuriating that the sector is having to push so hard for transparency about what's happening."
DCMS: ‘Evolving picture’
In the freedom of information response, DCMS said: “Throughout the Covid-19 response, DCMS has been informed by regular and consistent engagement about the impact of Covid-19 and in relation to government's emerging plans for the response, including weekly and then fortnightly meetings with representatives from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors and the Minister for Civil Society.
“DCMS committed to review learning from the early distribution of the Coronavirus Community Support Fund and the evolving picture on the impact of the crisis, to inform decisions on the distribution of the remaining funds.
“This was a general commitment as part of ongoing work to consider policy options and prepare advice. Because of the rapidly changing nature of the Covid-19 emergency there was no standalone 'review' as referred to in your information request.”
A DCMS spokesperson also said: “Our support package was designed to reach charities on the front line of the pandemic as quickly as possible.
“We have reviewed learnings from the distribution of the Coronavirus Community Support Fund on an ongoing basis, to avoid any unnecessary delays in funding reaching charities and organisations that need it.”
An NLCF spokesperson confirmed that it continued to share learning from the CCSF with government officials “on an ongoing basis”, and that they received prior notice that future funds would be committed to the match-funding scheme.