Six things we learned at yesterday’s DCMS committee hearing

Digital, culture, media and sport secretary Oliver Dowden gave evidence yesterday to parliament’s DCMS committee, alongside the department’s permanent secretary, Sarah Healey. The session was about the department’s work, so while discussion of financial support for charities kicked off the questioning, it soon moved on to other areas. In that time a number of interesting points were raised however, some of which will not be surprising to charities, so we thought we’d round up some of the key ones.

Charities are engaging with policymakers

The committee’s chair Julian Knight started proceedings by saying that 60 charities had made submissions to the committee’s ongoing inquiry into support for the sector. Given how many are refocusing to deliver coronavirus support, that is a significant demonstration of the challenges being faced by charities.

Charities working directly on coronavirus will be prioritised

The secretary of state made clear that one of the criteria for funding from the National Lottery Communities Fund will be that organisations are working directly on providing support for coronavirus. It seems charities outside of this will be expected to seek funding from government departments.

And they’ll be expected to make use of reserves first

He was also questioned on the suggestion that charities would be made to use up their reserves before receiving funding. While he didn’t say that charities with reserves would be excluded from the funding package, he gave a clear indication that charities would be expected to draw on reserves, and that those in greatest financial need would be prioritised. In practice we know that many are relying on reserves, but for many charities, that may not be enough unless they very quickly find alternative sources of income or ways to cut costs.

Departmental funding is oversubscribed

The secretary of state also said that the funding made available through departments was oversubscribed, which is not that surprising given the scale of difficulties we are being told about. He revealed that they are looking at ways within government to prioritise those requests, but it should also give a clear signal that the funding announced so far will not be enough.

Some funding is on the way soon

He also said that some of the funding from departments is likely to reach charities next week, though those hoping to have money distributed through the National Lottery Communities Fund are likely to have to wait longer.

The government still wants other schemes and philanthropy to fill the gaps

The secretary of state was asked whether the funding announced was likely to be sufficient, given our estimate of a £4bn loss of income to the sector over 12 weeks. He again pointed to the availability of other schemes, particularly the job retention scheme, which is being accessed by a number of charities. He also highlighted areas where significant philanthropy and fundraising was making a difference, citing the £100m announced by Barclays and the efforts of Captain Tom Moore. He also touched on the government’s pledge to match fund money raised by the Big Night In event, with a minimum of £20m.

Parliamentary attention for charities will now switch to the House of Commons for DCMS questions on Monday, and the House of Lords on Thursday (30 April) where there will be a debate on financial support for the sector. There is a full list of peers intending to speak during the debate if you want to send a briefing, or tell them about your organisation’s experiences.

 

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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