The government has failed to work sufficiently closely with the charity sector on a coronavirus rescue package and is treating the ongoing financial crisis in the sector as an “academic exercise”, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has told MPs.
Speaking in a virtual meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee yesterday, Karl Wilding said that although the government had last week promised a rescue package for the charity sector, he had not been told any details, despite colleagues providing the government with ample evidence of the sector’s need for financial support.
“I feel at times we are informed, but not involved,” said Wilding.
“I have no details on what that package will look like. I have no details on what the scale of that package will look like.”
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said during Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday that ministerial colleagues were working on a “package” for the charitable sector, but no details have yet been forthcoming.
Wilding told MPs – who appeared on video link – that “literally every day counts” in rescuing the nation’s charities during the pandemic. He added that “it feels at times like this is an academic exercise in government”.
He said only a quarter of charities had reserves sufficient for the next three months, let alone the possible six months that social distancing measures could last to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“We are not just here with a begging bowl,” Wilding said. “We are not here because I think charities have a right to survive.
“But I absolutely think that people have a right to the services we provide.”
The government’s understanding of the sector “lags somewhat behind what the reality is”, Wilding said. “We’re not better than the public sector, but we are partners with the public sector,” he told MPs.
“We are part of the solution here. And it is frustrating sometimes that we are not seen as part of the solution, but are seen as part of the problem.”
Wilding also said that furloughing staff was suitable for only one in three charities at the moment, with staff paid for by public money excluded from eligibility for the scheme.
Furloughing is where staff are temporarily stood down from work, with up to 80 per cent of employees’ wages covered by the government during the pandemic up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
Wilding said charities were facing increased demands for their services at the moment, and for this reason many were unable to take up the furloughing scheme.
“The furloughing scheme is welcome, and it works for some organisations,” Wilding said. “We agree with the intent, but unfortunately the design does not match.
“The problem is that the furloughing scheme means you are standing down staff at exactly the time when you want them to step up. Mothballing staff when demand is increasing is the opposite of what you need to do. You need to mobilise them.”