DFID sets out measures to support UK NGOs

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A view of the London skyline. Photo by: Matthew James Ferguson / CC BY

LONDON — The U.K.’s Department for International Development has announced measures to help struggling organizations in the development sector, but NGOs are calling for more support.

The lockdown measures and economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic have caused significant financial problems for the development community.

UK NGOs 'deeply concerned' about £20M for COVID-19 work in 15 countries

Organizations say they are ready to respond but need the appropriate financing, with one comparing the £20 million allocation to an amount that would typically be provided for emergency response in just a single country.

Many NGOs have been forced to furlough staff or pause programming, as unrestricted public fundraising dries up. Some organizations fear they could go bankrupt in several months without support.

The government announced measures to help charities working within the U.K. almost a month ago, but until now, there was little on offer for those focused elsewhere.

On Friday, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, secretary of state for international development, sent a letter to DFID’s supply partners outlining support for “relief on services and goods provided in the UK, to DFID aid programmes” to be made on a case-by-case basis.

There will be “payment in advance to meet ongoing costs where there is a strong value for money case, up to a ceiling of 25% of the value of the contract,” Trevelyan wrote.

“We are pleased that the Secretary of State recognises UK civil society as a key partner to ‘meet the challenges of Covid-19.’”

— Graham Mackay, chief operating officer, Bond

In addition, she wrote that DFID will provide “support for continued cash flow for partners delivering essential aid programmes, including continuation of payments where all other options have been exhausted and the programme is paused.”

The decision was met with a mixed reaction from Bond, the U.K. network for development NGOs.

“We are pleased that the Secretary of State recognises UK civil society as a key partner to ‘meet the challenges of Covid-19’ and it is reassuring to hear DFID will fund NGOs in advance and provide cash flow support for existing funding agreements, including in-country staff costs and overheads for programmes that are currently unable to operate,” said Graham Mackay, Bond’s chief operating officer, in an email.

He highlighted that the support means NGOs would be better able to respond to the crisis as it emerges in low-income countries.

“However,” Mackay added, “we would urge DFID to make this a temporary default position until the situation improves, as other donors have, rather than deciding on a case by case basis. We would also ask DFID to provide further clarity on what the availability of cash flow covers to help prevent confusion.”

In the letter, Trevelyan wrote that she had an “overriding responsibility to the British taxpayer to ensure best value for public money” and could not guarantee “that DFID can or should make good all the financial impacts of the pandemic on your organisations.”

Mackay urged DFID to explore new funding mechanisms to support NGO programs, such as a stabilization fund.

U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £750 million ($930 million) package for domestic charities on April 8 but stopped short of creating a £4 billion stabilization fund requested by the sector, according to Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

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About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.