Northern Ireland Executive to Discuss Sector Cuts

A NICVA delegation has held productive meetings with the First and deputy First Ministers. Both Ministers agreed to urgent meetings at NICVA’s request and carried them out separately because of diary commitments.

Peter Robinson (First Minister), Marie Cavanagh (Gingerbread), Pauline Leeson (Children in Northern Ireland), Pauline Walmsley (Early Years), Lisa McElherron (NICVA), Seamus McAleavey (NICVA), Olwyn Lyner (NIACRO), Emma Pengelly (Special Advisor to the First Minister)

NICVA’s case to the Ministers was that the cuts being imposed by a range of departments were unfair, disproportionate and not judged in terms of their value for money. Speaking after the meetings Seamus McAleavey said,

“The call to the First and deputy First Ministers was to review what is happening and for the NI Executive to get an overview of the cumulative impact as individual budget holders in each department are only concerned with the decisions they have to make. In response to the points we raised the Ministers have agreed to put the issue on this week’s Northern Ireland Executive agenda for discussion and examination.”

The delegation told the First and deputy First Minister that the results of the NICVA cutswatch survey are confirming some worrying trends:

  1. Children and young people are the service users most affected by cuts.
  2. In the voluntary and community sector funding cuts lead directly to job losses and in some cases, closure.
  3. Cuts passed on to organisations are not proportionate to budget cuts faced by departments.
  4. Cuts are happening in isolations across a number of departments and funding streams but this is having a devastating cumulative impact.

The charge of unfairness relates to budget holders under pressure to make cuts, cutting external grant support as the easy option. These grants are regarded as discretionary and therefore can be stopped with little notice required and with no staffing or redundancy consequences for Ministers.

The charge of disproportionate cuts is typified by the Department of the Environment cutting its National Heritage Grants by 100% with a range of organisations being told they will have some funding for three months but nothing after that. However the overall cut to the Department’s budget was only 10%, so the sector is bearing the brunt of the cut.

The charge of no regard to value for money is raised because many of the activities funded deliver outstanding return for departments, and their absence is likely to cause a greater demand on the public purse in the short to medium term as the state replicates these services or deals with the negative consequences of the service no longer being there.

Marie Cavanagh (Gingerbread), Sharon McCullagh (Lenadoon Community Forum), Olywn Lyner (NIACRO), Seamus McAleavey (NICVA), Martin McGuiness (deputy First Minister), Caral Ni Chuilin (Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure), John O'Dowd (Minister for Education), Jennifer McCann (Junior Minister, OFMDFM), Michelle O'Neill (Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development) and Pauline Walmsley (Early Years)

In discussion with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness the delegation was united and clear that our established position was our sector should be treated fairly and judged on its value for money and the level of priority placed on the activities. This is not what has happened to date.The deputy First Minister was joined in the meeting by all his Ministerial colleagues, Carál Ní Chuilín, John O’Dowd, Michelle O’Neill and Jennifer McCann.

The First and deputy First Ministers gave commitments to ensure an overview was taken of the dangers of unintended consequences of individual departments making cuts that had a cumulative disproportionate impact on voluntary and community groups. Martin McGuinness also said OFMdFM Minister Jennifer McCann would take responsibility for that oversight with Sinn Fein ministers and liaise with the community and voluntary sector.

Reports from voluntary and community organisations to NICVA show at least 450 jobs are likely to be lost and more are at risk.

NICVA is also in touch with individual Ministers seeking meetings to discuss their planned cuts. 

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