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Q&A on government financial package: notes from Vicky Browning

I took part in a call with sector leaders and DCMS officials on Thursday 9 April (please scroll down for the 16 April update), including the charities minister Diana Barran. A more formal Q&A is being developed by the department, but I wanted to share my brief notes on some of the issues raised and answered. I will link to the department’s own (almost certainly more comprehensive) briefing document as soon as it appears.

  • The government’s £750m funding package is split into two main components:
    • £370m for smaller organisations delivering essential frontline COVID-19 related services for vulnerable people, to be delivered via the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF)
    • £360m to be distributed by other government departments (eg health, justice etc) targeting services already within their remit being delivered by the sector (eg mental health, children, domestic abuse victims)
  • The definition of what constitutes a ‘vulnerable person’ is still being worked on. It needs to be clearly focused but also ensure it meets real need.
  • The NCLF fund will not be exclusively focused on small organisations but will consider applications from larger organisations. However, it anticipates the majority of the funding will go to organisations with incomes under £1m. Most grants are likely to be up to £100k.
  • Priority will be given to those organisations directly working on COVID-19 services, as well as others which provide services which contribute to managing the demand on public services (including mental health and wellbeing, loneliness and isolation).
  • Charities with some levels of reserves will not be excluded from the NLCF fund – in fact, the government wants to support organisations which in usual circumstances have a reasonable level of financial stability. But it will less likely be given to those with large levels of reserves.
  • I asked a specific question about what measures are being put in place to ensure the distribution of funds takes into account issues of race equity. One of the subsectors DCMS is interested in is those that have specific health issues related to COVID-19 of which BAME communities are an important part. DCMS wants to work with organisations supporting those communities, as does the National Emergencies Trust (NET) which wants to reach out specifically to BAME groups to make sure no one is left out. The NLCF also said it will continue to run every decision through its diversity and inclusion lens and welcomed feedback if there is something it should be doing differently.
  • This is money for UK-related work only: the fund does not cover international charities.
  • The NET fund which has already started distributing grants is making very small grants, often under £1k and very rarely over £10k. This is aimed at very small, very local community groups.
  • Social enterprises can now apply to Big Society Capital which has launched a £100m programme of loans and investment to help get much-needed emergency funding to social enterprises, charities and small businesses in disadvantaged areas affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The NCLF Award for All programme will continue to run separate to the government-funded grant scheme – these are all grants under £10k.
  • Flexibility for charities around the Job Retention Scheme and furloughing will be very limited due to the opportunity this would present for fraud and misuse.

Notes from DCMS meeting 16 April:

  • National Lottery Community Foundation hopes to be able to share its criteria for applications for funding next week. The NLCF has two pots of funding – £300m of its own money which has been brought forward, plus the £370m from the Exchequer. It is anticipated that the government funding will go towards applicants needing cash for emergency response plus a little bit of recovery funding, whereas the NLCF grants will be for organisations needing recovery funding plus a little bit of emergency response cash.
  • The £360m to come from other government departments includes a one-off (not quarterly) sum of £200m for hospices, ie there is £160m remaining. Departments have been asked by DCMS what services they want the voluntary sector to deliver and an idea of who they wanted to work with. The deadline for the departments to submit their requests is 17 April. Different departments are operating differently around how they reach their decision, but there is no formalised bidding process for this funding. The ratification process for who will get what will happen over the next week.
  • DCMS has raised the issue of the challenges of the Job Retention Scheme for charities with Treasury (ie can an adjustment be made for charities to be able to deploy furloughed staff into the emergency response without losing furlough payments). We were told there is no movement on this from Treasury.

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