As the Chancellor rightly acknowledged, we are now facing a societal level challenge with COVID-19.
Despite this close crisis we can’t all lose focus on our vital task to transform communities across the country. So really, we are now facing a societal level challenge on two fronts; one immediate, one generational.
As such, we welcome the Chancellor’s substantial measures designed to ease the pressure on our country. On the NHS, on sick pay, measures for the self-employed and small businesses: many of whom form a key part of the community business sector.
Yet the budget could have gone much further in helping our community businesses face this time of disruption.
Firstly, on COVID-19. Thriving community businesses are essential to meet people’s health and wellbeing needs and provide services for them, in essence helping government, central and local, to meet the needs of communities.
The small business rate relief measures are welcome, but those could have been extended to include business that claim the charitable rate relief, as many community businesses and enterprising charities do. And an explicit commitment that community businesses, charities and social enterprises will be able to access the new Business Interruption Loans, tax deferments and temporary waivers (for example on VAT) would have eased concerns. The Chancellor talked a lot today about supporting business through this short-term crisis; but organisations like those we fund are an vital part of the social and economic landscape and must be supported, too.
And on community policy, our frequent worry is that although strong rhetoric and warm words flow from government, we aren’t seeing the means to help community businesses on the ground. In that sense, hoped-for, real policy initiatives didn’t materialise.
There were no further details on the Community Ownership Fund, a manifesto commitment that could so easily have been given the go-ahead today. This leaves hardworking community entrepreneurs in the dark about their plans to take on local assets.
Small business rate relief will be a help to struggling high streets, but we hoped in vain for measures that would signal the shift that we believe is needed, to a more civic, community-owned high street.
And the Chancellor didn’t address the pressing issue of the Community Housing Fund. Therefore, no green light for the 23,000 homes currently known to be in the pipeline. There will now be a cliff edge at the end of the month for this scheme and a lot of good work will stall.
We hope that Ministers will look again at all these issues in advance of the upcoming Spending Review and work with us to deliver them.
Until then, we’ll have to wait to see if government is going to match its commitment to community power by, crucially, giving communities the means to achieve it.