The government’s failure to announce section 64 grants from April could cause job cuts or closures, says Simeon Brody
It is just days before the start of the new financial year but, as Community Care went to press, many charities were waiting to hear whether they had received key government grant funding.
The Department of Health had promised to inform agencies whether they had been successful in their 2006-7 section 64 applications by January. But with April looming, no decision appears to have been reached on a fund that totalled almost £18m, including continuing grants, last year.
The DH’s current financial woes, notably in the NHS, are believed to be behind the current crisis. It says it will not be able to make a final decision on grants until it has completed a review of DH spending.
Section 64 funding is given to voluntary sector bodies in England for health and social care projects that support the DH’s policy priorities. It is primarily aimed at national organisations.
The Cancer Counselling Trust, which provides a counselling service for cancer patients, applied for money for a longer-term support service for people in the terminal stage of the illness, and hoped this would be up and running by March.
But development co-ordinator Jane Fior says the section 64 holdup is making it impossible to plan for the future.
She initiated a letter to health secretary Patricia Hewitt, signed by 49 charities, urging her to resolve the matter quickly. Fior says: “The uncertainty that comes with the delay in decision is quite major.”
She says agencies in the middle of two or three-year grants have been left not knowing when they will receive their funding, and organisations which have put in new applications do not know whether to plan for the start of new projects.
“It is particularly hard for the smaller charities because we all know they have the hardest time anyway in raising funds. Where it is particularly crucial is if a charity has had reasonable or good expectation of some other funding and that also hasn’t come through. Then there’s the possibility that charity may even have to fold.”
Caroline Ellis, head of parliamentary affairs at the Disability Rights Commission, says the delay is leaving some disability organisations in a “precarious position”.
She believes the situation is part of a wider strategic problem relating to the funding of disability organisations, with user-led organisations particularly suffering.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Andrew McCulloch says the organisation is facing “severe cash pressures” as a result of the delay in deciding its three applications, which total £100,000 a year for the next three years.
He echoes Fior in saying smaller charities will be hardest hit: “We are a medium-sized and reasonably welloff charity, so think how it’s affecting small charities. They might have to proactively issue all their staff with redundancies at this stage.”
McCulloch says the department needs to “get its act together” and make a grant announcement this week. He says: “Considering government is talking about beefing up the independent sector and it working as part of the NHS there seems to be a contradiction here.”
He hopes the DH is not looking to the voluntary sector to help bail it out of its financial difficulties.
A DH spokesperson says it “appreciates” the difficulties created by the delay in notifying applicants, adding: “When [the budget] review is complete we will be able to finalise the grant decisions and inform all applicants.”