Support for voluntary and community sector highlighted in Assembly Budget debate

Monday 20 June saw a NI Assembly debate on budget allocations. The Bill is passing through the Assembly with accelerated passage in order to ensure departments receive their allocations before the summer recess. Alliance MLA Anna Lo used some of her ti

The South Belfast MLA began by saying that:

Many Members will agree that that sector plays a vital role in providing services to our community. It is not only innovative but effective and efficient, and it offers value for money. Unfortunately, it is also the easy target for many Departments when cutting funding to the many projects that currently operate. In many ways, the recession calls for more services in the voluntary sector, rather than less.”  

Ms Lo went on to say that many organisations were ‘in limbo’ waiting for funding decisions with some having laid off staff, reduced services or resorted to

... using their own reserves, if they have the resources, or trying to move money around different projects to try to make ends meet. Many have also had to go to the banks for overdrafts, and we have to remember that the interest they pay on overdrafts cannot be recouped from the Departments.” 

She added that she was aware that many organisations had been told not to complain too much as the funds would eventually come and noted that:

If department heads or officials were to tell their staff that they would not be paid until the end of June, I am sure that they would hear a lot of complaints from their staff, or the staff would all walk out of the offices. Being without pay for three months is unacceptable in any sector, but the voluntary sector is expected to get on with it.”   

Responding to the Alliance MLA’s comments, DFP Minister Sammy Wilson agreed with the importance of the role of the voluntary and community sector and added:

I do not believe that the voluntary sector is sustainable in its present form. Just as we look for better delivery from private contracts and from government, we must look for better delivery from the voluntary sector. However, one of the reasons for the four-year Budget is that the voluntary sector must have some certainty so that it can plan.”

Commenting on the debate, NICVA Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey said:

Through our Smart Solutions in Tough Times campaign, NICVA and our members in the voluntary and community sector have been calling on all departments to treat the sector fairly and make funding decisions based on the quality of the outcomes of the work of organisations.

"We believe that in the majority of cases voluntary and community organisations provide effective, efficient and value for money frontline services and the sector is happy to be judged on those merits. The comments from Anna Lo reflect the very real, practical difficulties many voluntary and community organisations are facing at the moment and it was important that they were brought to the attention of the Assembly and the Minister.”