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News | 05 May 2020

Scouts and COVID-19: How we're facing challenging times together

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Six weeks on since we suspended face to face meetings and activities, Chief Executive, Matt Hyde, and UK Chief Commissioner, Tim Kidd, talk frankly about the pressures facing the movement, locally and nationally.

They highlight the actions and difficult decisions we’re taking to protect our future, how we’re supporting members, while celebrating your great generosity, resilience and spirit in adversity. 

These are extraordinary times. COVID-19 has triggered a national and global emergency that has affected every single one us. We first need to acknowledge our fantastic NHS and the key workers doing such incredible work on the front line. But we’d like to look here, specifically, at how this crisis has affected our movement.  

As Scouts we’re naturally optimistic. You’ve proved this in your incredible response to this crisis, continuing to deliver meetings virtually and in your generosity - fundraising for Hike to the Moon. You have raised an astonishing £320,000 for BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief, which will be match funded by the government, supporting the communities that need it most. You’ve truly proved that Scouts are among our country’s shining lights – living our promise to help other people.  

Unprecedented challenges

But we cannot deny that these are incredibly challenging times for our movement – financially, logistically and, indeed, in terms of the impact on our members’ wellbeing. We must therefore be realistic and practical too. We will not sugar coat the challenging situation we find ourselves in. Without a clear end to the situation in sight, the future of our movement is at stake.

Keeping perspective

We know that many families across the UK are facing very difficult times too – either losing loved ones, coping with illness or employment uncertainty. Let’s keep that in our minds, and keep everything in perspective. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our families and friends.

Let’s be frank. We must take action now to protect our movement. We need to adapt the way we work, change our thinking and reprioritise. Why? Because Scouting is simply too important to risk. Doing nothing or carrying on as before, is not an option.  

Supporting those most in need

Our primary focus now is protecting the parts of the movement most affected by the current crisis. We’ve opened 1,280 new sections in our most deprived communities in the past five years. These very groups, and others who have unexpectedly found themselves in a difficult situation due to the impact of COVID-19, are now under threat. Thank you to the 1,900 volunteer managers who completed the survey last week, giving us a clear picture of where there is the greatest need.

Lobbying government, trusts and funds for new income

We are committed to finding ways to support local Scouting, particularly in areas of deprivation or where there are communities made vulnerable by this crisis. However, there’s no existing pool of money at Headquarters to distribute. That’s why we’re working round the clock to identity new sources of income. We’re in active conversation with Government, the National Lottery Community Fund, trusts, foundations and other funding bodies around the UK to identify new sources of income to support you. We’ll share details as soon as we know more.

What support is available now?

If your Scout Group is registered for business rates (often these are Groups that have sole ownership of a property) then up to £10,000 may be available to you from a scheme called the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. You can find out how to apply for this here. Please do seek this help. This money has been specifically set aside for supporting local community services, including Scouts. 

We also encourage you to claim Gift Aid. Only 2,500 Groups have claimed Gift Aid on donations. This is a valuable source of income, especially at a time like this. Find out how you can claim for donations made over the last four years. The average claim per year is £2,360, so the benefit is significant.   

How we’re supporting the movement in different ways

Just as you’ve had to adapt locally, we’ve had to rethink how we deliver services and support Scouts centrally. We’ve paused many of our programmes of work and are now concentrating on delivering services that have the biggest impact and benefit at this time.

  • We launched The Great Indoors to support Scouts and families at home with over 150 fun, free activities. This has attracted huge, nationwide interest and our campaign has been seen by millions of people around the UK.
  • We’ve created Scouts at Home to support you in delivering Scouting and many of our ambassadors have taken part in live broadcasts to our members on Facebook
  • We launched Hike to the Moon as a fundraising appeal to support local communities in troubled times.   
  • Our Insurance broker, Unity, has supported Scouts impacted by cancelled events
  • We’ve created advice and support to stay safe and ways to safely help others.
  • To support Groups offering Scouts virtually (and thank you for this) we’re in discussions to make software available to you. We’ll share more on this as soon as it’s confirmed.

Finally, we’re regularly updating our FAQs on all the questions you have about how COVID-19 is impacting Scouts and our response scouts.org.uk/coronavirus

Increased pressures – even before the crisis hit

Even before the crisis hit, it was clear that the demands made on Headquarters were outstripping our income. We receive £12 million from membership fees, but we need to spend £9m more than that to cover the cost of delivering our services. The shortfall is met by generating income from Scout Store, World Scout Shop, our six Scout Adventures centres, Unity insurance, Conference Centres, fundraising and investments – all now severely impacted by the crisis.

We’re also committed to continuing to invest in our safeguarding services and safety support to keep young people safe. This is fundamental to what we do and we will not compromise in this area. 

Our legal costs also continue to mount. In these litigious times we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the cost of claims. What’s unique to Scouts (and very few other national charities) is that these substantial claims are being met at the centre (Headquarters) even if an incident has taken place locally.

We’ve also seen a rise in the number of complaints. When something has gone badly wrong locally, we are now increasingly seeing the complaint come to Headquarters to be resolved. These are complex and often involve significant legal costs. We simply cannot meet the increased costs without reviewing our membership fee. To give you a comparison, The Boy Scouts of America have had to double their membership fee to meet their costs recently (from $30 to $60) and Scouting Ireland last year increased their membership fee from (45 to 65 Euros).

Let’s remember that for many families, but we know not all, Scouts is affordable.

Let’s also remember that Scouts represents outstanding value for money for many families, helping young people gain skills to succeed, make lifelong friends – and to live life more brightly. However, it is never forgotten that it is not affordable for all and we continue to look at ways to support areas of deprivation where cost may be barrier to young people joining.

This is a breakdown of the core services provided by UK Headquarters on behalf of the movement:

The UK Headquarters membership fee

  • £29 per youth member, per year (prompt payment discount to £28.50)
  • 60% of this fee in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is retained by the Nation Headquarters (40% goes to UK Headquarters)
  • UK Headquarters spends c. £21m each year on core activities
  • The membership fee contributes c. £12m
  • Commercial and fundraising income contributes c. £9m

Action we’d already taken to reduce costs

Even in the face of these mounting pressures, we knew we had to cut our costs. As a reminder, many of the costs carried by UK Headquarters are fixed, including insurance for the movement, or unavoidable costs like legal services or the cost of safeguarding.

Before COVID-19 struck, we’d just completed a review of our staff, resulting in a number of redundancies. We believe we‘ve now cut as far as we can to support the movement while continuing to meet our legal and regulatory responsibilities. We have fewer people doing more. You’ll know as well as we do how dedicated our staff team is, and how much they care for the movement.  

When the crisis hit, and face to face meetings ended, we saw a dramatic drop in income. Scout Store’s sales are down and our adventure centres and conference centres, including the hostel, at Baden-Powell House naturally have had to close their doors to keep people safe. The income that we rely on from these activities is simply no longer coming in at anywhere near the same level.

What action we’ve taken

We took immediate action to cut our costs. Some 56% of our 337 staff are now furloughed on 80% of their salary, and we’re utilising the Government grant to cover most of these staff costs. We’ve kept on staff from our Safeguarding and Vetting, Finance, Legal, Communications Teams and other key team members.

We’ve stopped all but essential spending and recruitment and inevitably this means we’ve had to take difficult decisions – not least stopping the production of Scouting magazine (with July being the last edition) which will lead to a saving of £400,000 a year. While the magazine has a proud tradition, the reality is that we have diversified our communications, with social media, targeted email and webinars proving highly effective. Just on the 29 April all members call alone, we had 14,000 people. One volunteer who joined us said ‘they had never felt so connected to Headquarters.’   

Financial impact of Covid-19 on UK Headquarters

In spite of the action we have taken above, we ended last year with a c. £2.5m deficit and are likely facing a minimum of a £3.5m deficit for 2020-21 principally as a result of COVID-19, and it could be a lot more. So even though we started 2019-20 with our reserves at six months operating costs (£10.5m) these reserves could well be eroded by the end of the 2020-21 financial year without government investment or other external funding support. 

Positive action for a brighter future

At this stage nothing is certain. We don’t know when we can return to face to face meetings and activities. We therefore need to plan as best we can in the face of this uncertainty. We will need to review our costs again and it’s likely we’ll need to sell assets – not an attractive prospect when the market is low, and so we will need to borrow more in the short term. But we will do what we have to for the good of our movement.

For the reasons explained above, membership fees will go up in the coming years. However, we’re looking carefully at how we can minimise the impact on local Scouting in the immediate term, protect those parts of the movement hardest hit by COVID-19 while making sure UK Headquarters can survive to provide vital services to the movement. We’ll continue to update and engage you, our members, throughout our deliberations. There will be further webinars for counties/areas/regions, districts and volunteers at group level in June and we’ll formally consult our Council before decisions are made about the next few years’ membership fees and any sale of assets.

We’ve faced challenging times in the past. Scouting has had to adapt and change before – during the two world wars, for example, while we pulled together for the national effort. We’re showing that great spirit again.  By being open, honest and transparent, and acting with humility, we can confront these challenges together. We will work together as a movement, do things differently if we need to, and support each other, because that is the strength of a movement.

One thing’s incredibly clear. We’ve got to find a way through this for the good of Scouting, for the good of the movement and most of all for the good of the young people of this country.  Thank you for everything you’re doing. We know everyone will have different pressures and priorities in these challenging times which may impact your volunteer time, but you should be so proud of your courage, pragmatism and kindness. That’s what makes us all Scouts.  

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