During the current Covid-19 crisis, community radio can provide a reassuring local voice and essential public health information to millions of people. However, many community stations are facing significant financial challenges as a result of cancelled activities and a downturn in advertising revenue.
In response, the government announced £400,000 of emergency cash funding to help to meet the core costs of providing vital programming to local communities.
The Community Radio Fund Panel (‘the Panel’), which is independent from Ofcom in its decision-making, considered applications for emergency funding grants in two stages. In the first round, in May 2020, the Panel awarded 81 grants totalling £333,152. The Panel met to consider a second round of applicants on Thursday 20 August 2020.
The Panel considered each application and awarded funding based on the information provided, and with reference to the Community Radio Fund (‘the Fund’) guidance notes. For each grant bid, the Panel decided whether to make a full award, a partial award or not to award any funding.
At the meeting:
The Panel awarded as many grants as possible in accordance with the strict eligibility criteria and guidance issued.
A statement from the Panel explaining the factors they took into account when making their decisions is below. Unsuccessful applicants may find this feedback useful. Any further queries can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org with an accompanying contact number for a member of the team to call you. We will respond to any queries as quickly as we can, but please note it may take us some time to respond should we have multiple requests from unsuccessful applicants.
Across the two rounds, the Panel made 111 awards and in doing so, offered financial support to more than four times as many stations than in previous years, in order to provide assistance across the sector.
The approach the Panel took in assessing applications and reaching their decisions is set out below:
The Panel favoured proposals which made a strong case that they required urgent support from the Fund.
The Panel noted that the Fund should be used to provide emergency funding to support stations that would otherwise be unable to continue operation due to the coronavirus outbreak. Some stations requested funding which, in normal circumstances, would have been favourably received (such as investment in marketing or business development posts). Such applications were not the focus of this funding round and were not offered funding.
The Panel prioritised applicants that did not receive a grant in the first round.
Nine stations which had benefited from funding in the first round, applied for additional emergency funding in the second round. In order to support as many stations as possible, the Panel prioritised new applicants who had not benefited from previous support.
The Panel noted that several stations who had received funding in 2019-20 also applied for emergency funding. Some of these applicants had not finished spending their current grant and did not ask to repurpose the grant. Licensees are reminded that the Panel will consider repurposing grants or extending the grant tenure for grants awarded in the 2019-20 funding rounds, where a station requests this, outside of the emergency fund application process. Such requests should be made directly to Ofcom via email at email@example.com
The Panel prioritised proposals from stations which are currently disproportionately reliant on precarious sources of funding, such as advertising, training or events income rather than those stations which benefit from significant grant funding.
It is clear that many stations have suffered difficulties as a result of declining advertising spend, particularly those stations who rely upon advertising from local shops and services which have been closed during this period. Furthermore, many community radio stations rely upon income from training and outside events such as outside broadcasting, and these activities have ceased.
The Panel favoured proposals from those stations which have reviewed their existing operations and exhausted other potential sources of funding.
Many stations have already taken urgent action to minimise costs and negotiate payment holidays or deferrals. Many have applied for emergency funding through existing alternative routes, such as furloughing staff or benefiting from a Small Business Support Grant. The Panel noted that, since the first round, some stations had significantly reviewed their operations and made adjusted proposals with realistic forecasts. A minority of applicants were still maintaining spending at relatively high levels (for instance paying show fees to all presenters) and some had not applied for alternative sources of funding; the Panel did not prioritise these applications.
The Panel decided to prioritise a wide range of stations to support the viability of the sector as a whole, and chose to fund those stations where a lower amount of money could make a huge difference to keeping that station on air.
The Panel prioritised those stations who were facing (hopefully) short-term funding shortfalls; rather than the minority of stations who applied for help to address long-term structural funding issues. The Panel noted that emergency funding would not solve these issues. Some stations also have no financial reserves while others have larger unrestricted reserves to draw upon. The Panel also recognised that some stations are part of wider organisations which may be able to offer financial support; the Panel noted that some stations were not clear about their relationship to these larger organisations.
The Panel offered several stations small emergency grants to purchase equipment to enable remote working.
The Panel was impressed by the inventiveness shown by many stations in endeavouring to stay on air and provide a useful service to their communities at this challenging time, when many of their volunteers are considered ‘vulnerable’ and are self-shielding.
Given the difficulties in predicting the likely long-term impact on station revenue, the Panel tended to fund fixed costs such as rent, rates and utilities, over a three-six-month period, where those stations have been unable to negotiate payment holidays or deferrals, rather than funding projected revenue shortfalls in the long term.
In choosing which activities to support, the Panel noted that some stations asked the Fund to support a forecast shortfall in revenue for a period of up to one year whereas others were less pessimistic and were already deploying creative tactics to raise money.
In order to be fair to all applicants, the Panel favoured applications where sufficient information was provided to enable the Panel to make an informed decision.
Despite clear guidance, some stations did not quantify their costs and liabilities and this may have resulted in no award being made or a lower amount being awarded than that applied for. A small but significant number of applications (more than ten per cent of all applicants) did not follow the guidance in completing their applications: using incorrect forms, not supplying required information such as statutory accounts, or requesting more than the maximum amount available. Two applicants did not hold Community Radio licences.