2016-17 Department for the Communities Budget
Deborah Brown, DSD Finance Director and Ian Snowden, Deputy Secretary of Resources and Social Policy delivered a presentation on the plans and participated in a Q&A session.
Deborah Brown stated as a result of the tight timescales that the Budget had be reached within, there was not sufficient time for a normal formal public consultation. Each department were asked to come up with plans to make 5% and 10% savings. The Executive then made budgetary decisions based on these prospective savings plans. It was agreed on Thursday 17th December by the Executive that the Department of the Communities would get a cut of 5.7%. Deborah was keen to state that although there wasn’t a formal consultation period, DSD were keen to hear views on what areas should be prioritised.
In addition to the 5.7% cuts agreed by the Executive, the Department is facing an additional £10m in pressures. In the 15/16 budgetary period, the department had already absorbed £63m or 9.9% in cuts.
DSD had submitted a number of bids to the Department for Finance and Personnel (DFP):
- £20m in welfare reform mitigations
- £5m in Supporting People
- £4.3m in Housing Benefit Rates
- £3.7m Lagan Dredging
- £1.4m in Women’s Childcare fund
- £1.5m for Social Enterprise Innovation Hubs
- Fresh Start Outworkings
- £130m New Social Housing
- £25m Co-Ownership
- £56m Urban Regeneration
Housing Benefits rates relief and the Social Fund had both been ring fenced. The Social Fund was not moving to the Department for the Communities and was instead staying within the Executive Department.
The bid to protect Supporting People had not yet been agreed but the Women’s Childcare Fund bid was not accepted. If the Department for the Communities is to continue this fund (which is currently made up of top-slicing budget lines throughout the department), the department would have to prioritise this in the distribution of scarce funding. The officials stated that the Minister had hoped the OFMdFM Strategy would subsume the fund into its implementation. However this strategy will not be implemented until 2017 at the earliest.
There were concerns raised by the audience at the process given the departmental restructure context. Deborah Brown explained that DSD had been asked to make their recommendations for cuts in the Department for the Communities for the DSD functions that are moving. The Department of the Communities Project and Programme Boards are liaising constantly with the DSD Finance team to ensure there is transparency in the process and any concerns raised are brought through these channels.
Ian Snowden stated that although the regeneration fund has not been transferred to councils, the department is currently undertaking evaluations on how to fully transfer this fund to local government level.
Officials also stated that there had been an extensive range of efficiency savings made within the department to ensure the impact on service delivery was minimal. This included 22% of Finance staff and 18% of HR staff.