Government report criticises the way in which a £750 million COVID-19 support package was managed by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

Since the Chancellor announced a £750 million support package for the not-for-profit sector on 8 April 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19, we’ve been providing regular updates on how the funding has been allocated.

Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee has recently published the conclusions and recommendations from its report in which Members of Parliament have criticised the way emergency funding decisions were made about how the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport managed the fund.

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) said that it was “crucial” that ministers listen to the recommendations in the report, while New Philanthropy Capital (NPC)said that it highlighted the need for “better dialogue” between charities and government officials.

The full report, which was published on Wednesday 9 June 2021, said that there was “notable opaqueness” over how some of the £750m emergency funding for charities was allocated. 

The report also questioned the role of consultants and special advisers in funding decisions. MPs recommended that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) report back within three months on how it was monitoring the financial health of the charity sector, and warned that officials must keep better records of how funding decisions are made.  

Duncan Shrubsole, director of policy, communications and research at the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said: 

As today’s PAC report highlights, however, there was a lack of transparency as to how the money was allocated and awarded, and the overall size of the programme was much less than had been provided to help other critical sectors.

Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at ACEVO, said her organisation supported the PAC’s report and recommendations.  She said:

There has been a substantive lack of transparency in government decision-making related to the support provided to charities. ACEVO and other infrastructure bodies have also repeatedly raised concerns about the level of involvement from contractors and special advisers in decisions about awarding grants.”

It is crucial that (the government) demonstrates how it will apply the recommendations made in this report so that charities can be there to support the government to maximise the impact of its flagship levelling up agenda.” 

Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change (DSC), commented: 

DSC had to resort to multiple Freedom of Information requests to get data into the public domain about the rollout of the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, for example.

The National Lottery Community Fund‘s (NLCF’s) distribution of that fund – which provided small grants primarily for small charities – was hampered by conditions imposed on it by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport from the outset, as well as the totally unnecessary inclusion of a private sector contractor in the process.

However, the PAC’s most important contribution for the future may be its conclusion that ‘DCMS cannot demonstrate that it understands the financial health and resilience of the sector’, and its recommendation that ‘DCMS should, within three months, set out the triggers that would prompt it to consider further government financial support to the charity sector.” 

The conclusions and recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee’s report can be found at this LINK, while the full news item on the publication of the report is available on the Civil Society News website.