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 grants in two stages, in May and August 2020 respectively.
Due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, an additional £200,000 was made available by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for a third funding round in 2020-21 to support community radio stations which are taking steps to tackle loneliness and isolation within their communities. The Panel met on 4 February 2021 to consider applications for emergency funding grants.
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 53 grants totalling £200,560 (£560 having been returned to the Fund, following an amended application from Round 2).
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 email@example.com 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 three rounds, the Panel made 165 awards and in doing so, offered financial support to more than six times as many stations than in previous years, in order to provide emergency funding across the sector.
The approach the Panel took in assessing applications and reaching their decisions is set out below:
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. Many stations had already taken urgent action to minimise costs and negotiate payment holidays or deferrals. Many had applied for emergency funding through existing alternative routes, such as furloughing staff or benefiting from a Small Business Support Grant. The Panel noted that most stations had significantly reviewed their operations and made proposals with realistic forecasts. A minority of applicants submitted requests for the Fund to pay for items such as presenter show fees; the Panel did not prioritise these applications.
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. While the Panel took into account projected revenue shortfalls, it also noted the difficulties in predicting the potential pace of any post-pandemic recovery, so awards were made to cover essential fixed costs for up to six months.
Some stations were optimistic about a relatively swift financial recovery but no longer had the staff or resources available to put plans in place. A small number of awards were made to stations who wished to generate income from advertising sales in the coming months.
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.
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. Several stations reported that they needed to upgrade their playout software to enable successful remote working. The Panel made several small grants to help stations make the necessary adjustments.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite clear guidance, some stations did not explain why they held large unrestricted reserves, and this may have resulted in no award being made or a lower amount being awarded than that applied for. 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 wishes to commend those stations who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support their communities in difficult times: setting up online chat-rooms, hosting virtual awards ceremonies to mark local heroes, providing live coverage of religious services, carol concerts and Remembrance Day services, performing music outside care homes and at gravesides, and offering telephone support to those listeners who simply want to talk to a friendly voice from their community radio station.