Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell’s letter to the Local Government and Communities Committee
I am writing to you to provide an update on our investment to support the people of Scotland during the Covid-19 pandemic, backed by an initial £350 million I announced through the Communities funding package on 18 March.
As the Committee will be aware, councils, charities and community groups, have been supported by our communities funding. It has been designed to be flexible, cutting down on red tape, to enable a swift response focused on addressing local need for people impacted economically or through reduced contact with society, including anyone struggling to access food. Our investment has been made to tackle the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19 head on.
The Scottish Government has taken a person centred approach in our response to the pandemic. We have put in place a range of services including a text information service and grocery deliveries. Since launching in April, almost 980,000 free grocery packages had been delivered to those unable to access food as a result of shielding when the service ended on 31 July. This support was backed by investment of £50.3 million.
We also worked quickly to establish a coordinated response for those at higher risk of adverse impacts of the virus but who were not required to shield, through our investment in local authorities and national third sector infrastructure, local community responses, and a national helpline to direct individuals in need to appropriate local sources of support. Almost 53,000 calls had been received between 14 April and 17 September but we know this number is just a small proportion of the calls our colleagues in local authorities are handling to support their communities.
We are acutely aware that the pandemic is widening social and economic divisions. It is very clear that COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally. Taking a human rights-based approach, officials have worked with local partners to put in place an enhanced response to support marginalised groups who, because of health and socioeconomic inequalities, are at increased risk during this period.
Organisations across all sectors have risen to the challenges presented by the pandemic, and the wide breadth of activity, flexibility and responsiveness that I have seen as a result of this investment has been vital to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our communities in these unparalleled times. Over the last couple of months I have met with organisations that have received our communities funding to thank them for their efforts, listen to their experiences and build on the effort to ensure support out of lockdown – and I will continue to meet with them as we move forward. Working collaboratively with local government, the third sector, business and communities has produced inspiring, collaborative, locally-based responses to the crisis. Communities and service providers have quickly come together, breaking down ‘institutional barriers’ to focus on the local priorities.
Whilst the Communities funding package as announced had eight distinct funding streams our investment has gone beyond this and the funding has been deployed in such a way that it complements both new and existing investment. This investment is summarised below.
Supporting our local authorities
We have announced over £380 million of additional support for local authorities which includes the £50 million of hardship funding announced within the Communities funding package. As advised in my previous correspondence, local authorities can use this hardship funding as they wish with no reporting requirements. £155 million of consequential allocations were confirmed to local authorities on 26 May and paid to councils in June. Distribution of a further £49 million of consequentials has now been agreed with COSLA.
In addition to the hardship fund, we announced that we would make a further £45 million available for the Scottish Welfare Fund and distributed £22 million immediately, according to the agreed SIMD model. This was in addition to the £35.5 million already provided for 2020-21. By the end of July local authorities had received almost 120,000 applications, a 28% increase on April to July the last year. This includes a 45% increase in applications for Crisis Grants which are used to help those facing financial emergencies. Despite this, expenditure has fallen slightly because applications for Community Care Grants, which tend to be significantly more expensive, reduced during lockdown. We continue to monitor demand and expenditure closely.
Of the £23 million, held in reserve to be allocated where needed, we have announced through Programme for Government that £3 million would be allocated to boost the budget available for Discretionary Housing Payments – making more than £80 million available this year to help individuals meet their housing costs. We are actively considering proposals to allocate the remaining £20 million where it is needed most.
We also announced, at the outset of the pandemic, a £50 million reserve to meet increased demand for both Council Tax Reduction (CTR) and Scottish social security benefits, both of which are demand driven and for which the numbers eligible have increased due to the pandemic. To support local authorities we have agreed to distribute £25 million to help them meet increased CTR costs and my officials are in discussions with COSLA about the best way to distribute this resource. The remaining £25 million will be allocated as necessary as we assess the costs of CTR and Scottish social security benefits due to the pandemic.
As noted below, we allocated £57.6 million to local authorities to lead a coordinated response to tackle food insecurity, including the continued provision of Free School Meals. To help local authorities manage the impact of the pandemic on their services and income we front-loaded the General Revenue Grant payments providing £455 million over May, June, and July.
Tackling food insecurity caused by the virus
Since March we have committed over £120 million to tackle food insecurity as a result of Covid-19 including for those at increased and extreme clinical risk from the virus, those at financial risk including families entitled to free school meals, and marginalised individuals.
Of this we invested £50.3 million to cover our nationally coordinated response for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, known as the ‘shielded’ group. As of 1 August, when the shielding programme was paused, 978,316 food boxes had been provided. The residual stock held following the pausing of the shielding grocery box parcels, equivalent to 338,196 meals, were reallocated to FareShare Scotland to redistribute throughout their network.
We have made £57.6 million available to local authorities, encouraging a ‘cash-first’ (direct financial transfer) approach to ensure those who can get to the shops have the money they need to buy food and other essentials. Local authorities have been given the flexibility to provide their allocation of this resource as cash where appropriate, backed by the increased investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund. Support put in place by local authorities includes direct financial support; financial wellbeing advice and support; as well as food delivery and shopping services for those who need it. Local authorities have worked closely with third and private sectors locally, as well as across public sector services, to provide collaborative and holistic support for households in need.
Of this £57.6 million, £30 million was made available from April to September to local authorities for structured public sector responses working with local resilience partners to support households who may experience barriers in accessing food. £27.6 million was provided to support delivery of Free School Meals including £12.6 million to provide Free School Meals over the summer period – enabling around 175,000 free school meals (or alternatives, such as cash or vouchers) to be distributed each week day by local authorities.
We have also made over £4.9 million available to support 50 third-sector partners through direct grants. These strategic investments, focused on delivering nationally or via community-based responses at local level, to tackle food insecurity include £2.1 million for FareShare to purchase and distribute food. From 23 March, FareShare have distributed 3,595 tonnes of food – the equivalent of 8,558,967 meals. A further £7.8 million was invested in projects focused on tackling food insecurity through our Wellbeing and Supporting Communities funds which are detailed below.
Throughout all of this activity, officials working on the Food Fund have engaged with local authorities and key third sector stakeholders Trussell Trust, Independent Food Aid Network, and FareShare to ensure a collaborative and strategic approach and facilitate the sharing of good practice.
Supporting third sector and community organisations
Around £80 million of investment has been made available to support third sector and community organisations through the Communities funding package to date. This investment spans across the Supporting Communities Fund, Wellbeing Fund, Third Sector Resilience Fund and Food Fund investment – as noted above. Through our Supporting Communities Fund we made over £17.06 million available to 373 Community Anchor Organisations (CAOs) enabling the funds to reach the many smaller community organisations and mutual aid groups that would not otherwise have been able to access funding and have been an essential part of the response and our resilience.
We have worked with national partners and a wide range of community networks including Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) and COSLA to ensure that the fund reached communities in need across the country. CAOs have supported a co-ordinated approach locally working together with public sector, local charities, third sector organisations, volunteers, and communities of interest to avoid duplication and help channel support where it is needed.
On 31 March, I announced up to £1 million towards a Business Improvement District (BID) Resilience Fund to support BIDs help local efforts and to support local businesses during the crisis. Our intermediary partner, Scotland’s Towns Partnership, has issued three tranches of funding currently totalling £989,000 to support BID areas. Applications from all BIDs have been received, with the exception of Giffnock which does not have the resources to take forward Covid-19 activity.
We are also providing a Towns and BIDs Resilience & Recovery Fund of up to £2 million from the Supporting Communities Fund. This will build on the £1 million BIDs Resilience Fund but with a wider towns focus, extending support to towns which do not have constituted BIDs, thereby helping to address immediate concerns for town centres.
The Wellbeing Fund, which has now closed, provided immediate support to third sector organisations, including charities and social enterprises, helping them work with people most affected by the pandemic.
£4 million was made available through small grants to support local charities, £2 million provided a 25% funding boost to all 32 TSIs, and £10 million was allocated to support national priorities. As part of the £10 million allocated for national priorities, over £9.2 million has been allocated to 70 organisations across Scotland, including Age Scotland, Women’s Aid and Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland. Over two rounds of open applications to the fund, 996 projects were approved and received funding totalling £21,648,438.
The Third Sector Resilience Fund, administered by Firstport, Social Investment Scotland and the Corra Foundation, supports organisations that already deliver services and products but find themselves in financial difficulties directly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The primary intention of the fund is to help third sector organisations to stabilise and manage cash flows over this difficult period. The fund is for charities, social enterprises or voluntary organisations based in Scotland and/or primarily delivering services/activities in Scottish communities.
There have been grants made to date totalling over £22 million to 1,323 organisations, and final applications are being considered with the fund now closed to new applications. This investment has helped save organisations that have a collective annual turnover of approximately £0.51 billion, safeguarding over 14,000 jobs.
As we transition from the emergency response phase into recovery and renewal, we will now refocus the remaining funding across these three funding streams into a new £25 million Community and Third Sector Recovery Programme, as outlined in our new Programme for Government. It will include business support and investment to help organisations adapt their operations and income generation to increase sustainability, as well as supporting communities as they work to re-start and adapt service and activity delivery.
This funding will also support our third sector to continue to support people and communities in responding to the ongoing impact of the pandemic. We will also continue to make strategic investment in national partners, committing up to £18 million overall across our Wellbeing and Food Funds.
Tackling digital exclusion
Throughout the pandemic we have seen the growing importance of access to digital technologies for individuals, enabling individuals to access information, training and learning and to stay connected with both friends and family. To tackle this £5 million from the Communities funding package was utilised as initial investment to launch phase 1 of our ambitious Connecting Scotland programme to help bring the digitally excluded online during the coronavirus crisis, as announced by the Health Secretary on 7 May. The programme provides not only devices, but the access, training and support to help people get online.
The first phase, which closed at the end of August, supported the award of over 7,500 devices by all 32 local authorities, focused on individuals who were classed as being high or extremely high risk from coronavirus. With over 800 digital champions trained we have established a network to support future phases of the initiative as a potential lasting legacy for digital skills and training.
Phase Two of Connecting Scotland was launched on 18 August 2020, with an additional £15 million funding to support up to 23,000 low income households with children and young care leavers who are digitally excluded to get online. Programme for Government also committed to a Third Phase, backed by an additional £23 million of investment. In total, £43 million has been allocated to Connecting Scotland in this financial year. This will bring an additional 50,000 digitally excluded, low income households on line by the end of 2021, and serves as a transformational legacy born out of the crisis.
I hope this update assures the Committee that the £350 million communities funding package has been instrumental in protecting the health, welfare and wellbeing of the people of Scotland throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and that organisations across all sectors in Scotland have stepped up and worked together to ensure our communities are supported throughout this time. I believe the learning and good practice identified from the myriad of projects across the country can help Scotland’s public, private and third sectors to respond effectively to future challenges, such as a potential second wave of Covid-19 or the impact of a possible no-deal Brexit.
That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Older People and Equalities, Shirley Anne Somerville MSP, and I announced in June the creation of a Social Renewal Advisory Board. The Board aims to build on the shifts in policy and practice that we have seen as a result of working across portfolios and in partnership with frontline service deliverers in local government, the third sector and communities during the response to Covid-19. It has a strong emphasis on delivering equality and social justice, and will focus on reducing poverty and disadvantage, embedding a human-rights based approach and advancing equality.
The Committee may also be interested to know that we have developed a digital mapping tool that provides a summary of the investment made by the Scottish Government through the communities funding package to help communities across Scotland affected by the pandemic.
The mapping tool can be accessed at: https://community-funding-mapping-1-1-scotgov.hub.arcgis.com/.
Further information on our third sector and community funding, including organisations supported, can be found on the SCVO website.