Julian Knight's Westminster Diary, 30/04/20

Solihull Mail

Fighting Covid-19 has required one of the most dramatic economic interventions by any British government in history – and so far, the Chancellor has stepped up to the plate.

Rishi Sunak pledged to do “whatever it takes” to protect lives and livelihood. Since then the Government has unveiled a furlough scheme to protect employees and a range of grants and loans to support businesses.

But a good start isn’t enough. We’re in uncharted waters, and ministers need to ensure that our programme can adapt to feedback on the ground and close gaps in the safety net before vital sectors fall through them.

That’s why I and my colleagues on Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee have been lobbying the Government to ensure that charities receive the support they need.

Charities play a vital role in our society, often providing expert front-line care for the vulnerable and helping to ease the pressure on the NHS, social care, and other public services which have their hands full against coronavirus.

Yet the current economic situation will be extremely challenging for them: the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) estimate that the sector could miss out on an extraordinary loss of £4 billion of anticipated income over a 12-week period.

If charities go under, it will not just place a huge additional strain on the welfare state in the short term. An important part of our social fabric will also be lost.

That’s why I have written to the Chancellor and urged him to provide: emergency funds for voluntary organisations fighting Covid-19; a ‘stabilisation fund’ to help charities and social enterprises keep functioning in the months ahead; and exemptions for charities to some of the rules governing business loans.

I also want his assurance that furloughed charity staff will be allowed to volunteer their time back to the charity to provide front-line support.

Our Committee also recently questioned Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, on what his Department plans to do to support charities. More than 60 charities have responded to our inquiry into the voluntary sector, and I will continue to champion their concerns to ministers.