Not much government support for Broken Spoke…

Of all the Coronavirus support schemes launched by the UK government, how are these structures arriving into Oxford’s community organisations?

It’s becoming clear that it’s not just Broken Spoke who doesn’t qualify for the £10k small business grant, as stories of other organisations in Oxford have been coming to the fore. In a city with notorious divides between rich & poor, it is unacceptable that people and organisations are still slipping through the gaps in support. Because of an extortionate commercial property market in the city centre, community organisations like Broken Spoke can only access affordable premises by, in our case, subletting from larger organisations. It is because of this subletting that we are able to exist as a charity, putting people before profits, community before capitalism. And since we aren’t the business rate-payer in our sublet premises, we can’t claim the grant.

The only benefit from the government we have been able to claim is their furloughing scheme, and that won’t last forever, putting the pressure on to un-furlough our staff before the scheme ends.

Broken Spoke relies on 3 staff (our fixed staff) working most days of the week to keep everything rolling; that is keeping the shop stocked, paying the bills, and keeping the organisation organised! And we currently have 6 part time staff (our casual staff) to deliver most of our activities; that’s anything related to cycle training, fixing bikes, and enabling bike fixing.

Now most of our staff are no longer available to us. With the arrival of the pandemic, and the UK government’s offerings, we chose to furlough 2 out of 3 of our fixed staff, and 3 out of 6 of our casual staff. To be clear, without this government scheme, we would probably have had to make staff cuts…definitely a worse outcome than furloughing them.

The crux of the problem is that, as per the advice from the government, an employee on furlough is unable to do any work for their employer that provides any services or generates any revenue for the organisation. I can appreciate that there’s a need to protect employees from profit-greedy employers manipulating them into working while on furlough. However, in the community sector that’s less of a worry – there’s far less profit, at least of the financial kind!

A strong negative consequence of furloughing the employees of a community organisation like Broken Spoke is that the activities that can bring real community benefit can’t be run by those best positioned to do so. While we can end the furlough of any of our staff whenever we want to (after a minimum of 3 weeks), if Broken Spoke isn’t generating enough income to cover their wages, the risks of redundancy are still too high. Given how we don’t have any substantial income generating activities ready to go, our people have to remain on furlough for now. But how do we build on any activities if we can’t get our staff back first? It’s a sad chicken & egg scenario, with no risk-free option.

So where does that leave us? Well our employees, a group of skilled and able workers, aren’t allowed to come to work, they’re limited in what they can build together, and they’re unable to put their throats to a collective voice and spread the word about the great chance for change that is upon us. We need a community-led movement focusing on sustainability now more than ever, and so we need our furloughed staff, people who are rooted into the communities of Oxford and well placed to get people fixing, riding, learning by doing, breaking down barriers, and striving towards a more sustainable & self-sufficient lifestyle…we need these people to be able to come back to work now, for all our sakes.

That’s why we need your support. What can you do?

– You can donate to us.
– You can ask your elected representatives (your local councillors, your MP) to take this on.
– You can share and spread the word loud and wide today!