Charity policy round-up: May 2020

As we enter the third month of lockdown, our work – both in terms of influencing government decision-making and supporting our members – continues to be entirely focused on the issues that the covid-19 crisis is causing. This is evident in this month’s policy round-up, which once again is almost entirely about covid-19 policy developments.

Launch of the coronavirus community support fund

The National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) is now accepting applications for the funding that it is distributing on behalf of government to help organisations through the coronavirus crisis.

The initial £200m fund is part of the Government’s £750m financial support package for charities and social enterprises announced by Government on April 8.

The fund is aimed primarily at small to medium organisations in England, and the types of projects and organisations that are being prioritised are:

  • Organisations supporting people and communities who experience disproportionate challenge and difficulty as a result of the covid-19 crisis
  • Organisations providing services and support for vulnerable people, for which there will be increased demand as a result of the covid-19 crisis
  • Organisations which connect communities and support communities to work together to respond to covid-19

More details on how to apply are on the NLCF’s website.

We are also holding a webinar with the NLCF and the Charity Finance Group (CFG) to help organisations understand what is expected in their application, and how to manage their finances during the crisis.

Unlocking other financial support

As it becomes more and more apparent that the £750m will not be enough, it’s important to identify other opportunities and ways in which charities can be supported throughout the crisis.

So the government’s announcement that it plans to unlock a further £150m through the Dormant Assets Scheme is welcome: this includes accelerating the release of £71m of new funds from dormant accounts alongside £79m already unlocked that will be repurposed to help charities’ coronavirus response and recovery.

The funding will support:

  • urgent work to tackle youth unemployment
  • access to emergency loans for civil society organisations and
  • the availability of fair, affordable credit to people in vulnerable circumstances

We also need to ensure that the financial measures for business, and available to charities, are as beneficial as possible. This is why we have worked with the Charity Tax Group and the Charity Finance Group in developing a set of recommendations on how the measures can be improved.

Corporate insolvency and governance bill

The government has introduced the corporate insolvency and governance Bill 2020, which is intended to provide organisations with breathing space to continue to trade and potentially avoid insolvency due to the unprecedented financial pressures caused by the current coronavirus crisis. The bill also introduces measures to relax governance provisions for many organisations that are grappling with legal requirements relating to members’ meetings in the midst of the lockdown.

Charities structured as companies, charitable incorporated organisations and mutuals will be able to benefit from these provisions, since they are expressly included.

Bates Wells have produced a briefing with further details about the bill.

We are also holding a joint NCVO/Bates Wells webinar to explore the implications of these changes and what they mean for charities.

Lifting the lockdown – what it means for charities

Following the publication on the government’s covid-19 recovery strategy (you can read my blog about that this might mean for charities here) the government has announced that it will establish a number of ministerially-led taskforces to facilitate the reopening of businesses and public places that are currently closed. They include:

  • recreation and leisure, including tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)
  • places of worship (Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local government);
  • pubs and restaurants (Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy);
  • non-essential retail (including salons) (Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy)

We have also been engaging with our members about what coming out of lockdown will mean for them. Over 300 organisations fed into an online form asking what practical challenges and opportunities they will face, and here is what they told us.

Key issues for charities in public service delivery: procurement and contracts

Organisations delivering public services are facing extremely serious challenges due to covid-19. From drastic changes in the volume and nature of demand, to having to adapt or even suspend their services, many have had to quickly adapt. The government first published Procurement Policy Notes that encouraged all contracting authorities to support suppliers.

The Cabinet Office has further issued practical guidance on responsible contractual behaviour in the performance and enforcement of contracts impacted by the covid-19 emergency.

The guidance is intended to apply to all current contracts which are materially impacted by covid-19. Parties are encouraged to be reasonable, proportionate and co-operative to ensure just outcomes in light of the current public health emergency.

These are all welcome measures, but they should not be temporary or dependent on the existence of the crisis. Now is the time to permanently shift to a better way of working between authorities, voluntary organisations and communities. We are working in collaboration with other sector bodies including Children England, Clinks, Locality and Lloyds Bank Foundation to set out what the ‘new normal’ should look like for commissioning and contracting.

Impact of covid-19 on the charity sector – DCMS committee report

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee has published its report into the impact of covid-19 on the charity sector.

The report is critical of government support, finding that:

In particular, we have asked the government to do the following:

  • to publish an explanation of how the £160m departmental funding has been allocated
  • to set out what process and criteria each department is using to allocate the funding

Charity Commission answers to questions from the DCMS select committee

The Charity Commission has published its response to the DCMS select committee’s questions on the work of the Charity Commission.

The response provides useful information about the Commission’s recent compliance work, progress on its strategy and work plans going forward.

 

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth is head of policy and public services at NCVO. She has been part of the policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

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