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Charity leader questions Throne Speech third sector loan idea

Major Rob Kerr, the divisional commander of The Salvation Army (Photograph supplied)

A charity leader yesterday questioned the Government’s Throne Speech announcement that it would help the third sector get loans.

Major Rob Kerr, The Salvation Army’s divisional commander for Bermuda, said his understanding was that the plan would be unsuitable for his charity.

He was speaking after the Throne Speech said that the Government, through the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, would work with lenders to “provide financial, loan and mortgage assistance to communities of faith and third-sector entities”.

Major Kerr said: “If I understand what is being said there, what the Government is looking to do is to work with financial institutions to provide loans or mortgages to third sector.

“I’m not sure that’s something that would help us.

“If we’re taking on a debt, we’re receiving cash now but in turn we’re going to have a debt to repay.

“It isn’t something that would work for us.”

Major Kerr added: “I’m not sure what third sector organisation would work that way.

“If it were something where they were looking to financial institutions to provide grants to organisations or the Government was going to guarantee the repayment of them or repay them over time, rather than the institution, that’s something different.

“But if it’s about us as an organisation being able to qualify for a loan, that’s not going to be too helpful to us at The Salvation Army.”

He explained: “We’d be receiving a lump sum now but then we’d be fundraising next year to pay off a loan or for the next five years to pay off a loan and that wouldn’t be helpful to us in the long term.”

Major Kerr said that The Salvation Army had suffered a tough 18 months, largely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that demand at family food banks had increased.

Major Kerr said: “We’ve been feeding more people through our street feeding programme and our street ministry van has been serving more people.

“So we’re seeing numbers go up.

“At the same time, some of our fundraising efforts where we are out in the public – like tag day and those types of things – have been hindered because of the pandemic.

“We have been struggling. Our fundraising this year is behind where it should be and we’re a bit concerned.

“We‘re putting on a big push now until Christmas but we are concerned about the fundraising we’ve done, whether we’ll reach our targets, reach our goals for the year.”

Major Kerr said that Government funding to the Harbour Light Programme – for people with addiction problems – was cut.

He added that the third sector worked with vulnerable groups and that “we’re all trying to work together”.

Major Kerr said: “The Government has a role to play in that as well, I think we all have a responsibility as part of the community.

“There needs to maybe be some funding or encouragement to support the third sector in different ways.

“I know the Government is also struggling – the economy is hard.

“This is always a time when your third sector charities and organisations need the most help … when the economy is hard – and that’s when it’s hard for other people to support us as well.”

Rena Lalgie, the Governor, who delivered the speech on behalf of the Government, said: “Social isolation and psychological stress have featured as part of the island’s pandemic experience.

“Communities of faith and third-sector charitable organisations have filled the void in the lives of the people and, along with frontline healthcare workers, have provided relief to many.

“This mission has been carried out with love and genuine care and concern, masking the fact that these organisations are in dire financial straits themselves.

“A reduction in outreach and in donations to support their work have stretched their ability to meet financial commitments, and the relief they have provided for others must now be provided for them.”

Ms Lalgie added: “Led by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, the Government will work with the island’s lending institutions to provide financial, loan and mortgage assistance to communities of faith and third-sector entities.

“The role they play has proven vital to community wellbeing and will be increasingly important as we weather the storms of economic recovery.”

But Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, said: “The One Bermuda Alliance finds it incomprehensible that the Government is asking the third sector to lean on the private sector for funding.

“As you all know, charities cannot afford to take out loans at this time – it is not a sustainable model for their longevity.

“It’s interesting that there was no provision for the Government to provide the support to our third sector, who is filling the gap in some of the social programmes that the Government should be delivering on.”

Mr Simons said examples included the service provided by the Meals on Wheels charity, as well as visits to homes and seniors.

He added: “Surely the Government can make an accommodation and provide them with the economic support.”

Ms Lalgie, in her personal remarks added at the end of the speech, said: “During this pandemic we have been reminded of the value of elected Governments working in partnership, of the need for compassion and the resilience of the human spirit.

“I wish to close by paying tribute to the charitable groups that have been feeding and caring for the people of Bermuda during their hours of need and paying tribute to the dedicated women and men across Bermuda’s public services for everything that they are doing to respond to the pandemic.”

The Government was asked for more information about the loan policy but did not respond by press time.

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Published November 06, 2021 at 7:34 am (Updated November 06, 2021 at 7:21 am)

Charity leader questions Throne Speech third sector loan idea

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