More funds needed to sustain blended finance for voluntary sector organisations, report concludes

Additional resources will be needed to sustain blended finance options across the sector once the main funding provided by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment – runs out next year, according to a new report. 

A review of Access, commissioned by the Oversight Trust, the charity’s parent organisation, found it has had a positive impact on the sector since it was launched six years ago. 

The government-backed body received £100m to support capacity-building initiatives to help charities and social enterprises access social investment. 

An independent panel conducted interviews with a wide range of stakeholders and reviewed materials provided by the charity. 

The review concluded that Access has had a “significant positive impact on the sector’s infrastructure and investment by providing subsidy into blended capital, via intermediaries, to small charities and social enterprises and developing enterprise capacity and resilience”.

The report also found that “Access activities have strong sector support and are delivered through an effective, agile organisation that demonstrates values and alignment with the sector”.

Interviewees reported that the charity is “consistent, extremely important, doing something that is very difficult to do and transforming some areas of the market”. 

The panel praised the £50m Growth Fund, a programme run by Access, that now accounts for about 20 per cent of the social investment market. 

But the fund will make its final investments in 2022 and the panel highlighted the need for further grants to be made available to support blended finance approaches to continue to serve the sector. 

Securing the sustainability of blended finance beyond 2022 is one of six strategic issues identified by the panel for Access to consider moving forward.

The panel called on Access to work to reduce complexity across the social investment ecosystem to continue to develop its role in supporting equality, diversity and inclusion in the sector.

The panel said it would be helpful to understand Access' views on successors to its entire portfolio of funds and activities. 

It also suggested that the charity should consider whether there are alternative, more flexible options to achieve the objectives of its various programmes.

Seb Elsworth, chief executive of Access, said: “The independent review into Access’ work represents a great vote of confidence in the Access team and our many partner organisations.  

“But the report also, rightly, highlights the ongoing challenge of finding the significant long-term flow of grant required to sustain blended finance models. 

“If we aren’t able to resource a successor to the Growth Fund, then many organisations will no longer be able to access the finance they need – just as the sector emerges from the pandemic.”

Elsworth said it was the charity’s number one priority to seek a successor to the Growth Fund and it would work with a range of stakeholders, including government, to achieve this.

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