DSD Consultation Meeting - 7 Key Asks
Seven key asks from the sector
- Reductions of £2.5m in the Urban Regeneration resource budget will impact on a range of funded programmes and their posts, significantly in Neighbourhood Renewal. We ask that Neighbourhood Renewal is instead guarded as a priority area. Indeed, the Executive’s priorities were to safeguard the economy and vulnerable people and we believe that Neighbourhood Renewal serves both of these purposes. A 14% reduction to its budget in 2015-16 (following on from a 10% reduction in 2014-15) will work against the important objectives that the programme delivers and lay waste to many of the organisations that deliver these needs.
- We also ask that the Neighbourhood Renewal budget is protected when the delayed transfer of responsibility to the new councils as part of Local Government Reform is made in April 2016. The Department was unable to provide assurance that the funding that councils receive in respect of Neighbourhood Renewal will be distributed proportionally by councils – if fact, it was stated that councils are free to do with this money what they like. As the legislation is not yet in place, it is important that DSD ensure that this situation is avoided and that the Neighbourhood Renewal money can be ring-fenced.
- There is a disconnect when community and voluntary organisations apply for match funding to European Social Fund (ESF) projects that require 3 years of support, but DSD can guarantee this for only one year (as it ceases to be a funding body when powers are extended to councils in 2016). A provision of more up to date information and guidance would be helpful for many groups so that they know where they stand.
- £70m of mitigation to reduce the negative impact of Welfare Reform proposals has been committed by the Minister. The burden of these changes, however, is greater than this in sum, and it will be left to community and voluntary organisations to pick up the pieces and deliver services to those impacted. This is not achievable under the proposals that have been put forward. Many groups will suffer from a lack of funding or assurance within 3 months’ time, and the 350 people working on Neighbourhood Renewal projects will be put under strain. A lack of information is leading to the powerlessness of the sector in planning for the future. This has particular effect when changing departmental priorities are conveyed, leading to equivocal strategies being taken.
- We back the protection for Supporting People and for the voluntary advice services (regional and front-line). The additionality that this intervention provides reduces demand on other services, including those outside DSD. However, the impact analyses that could be used to prioritise elements of Supporting People is embryonic and requires further development, as the compliance and probity data that is currently collected provides little worth as to the value of individual services offered.
- We appreciate that DSD has not taken a “salami slicing” approach to its reductions and is aiming to carry out economic appraisal on areas that can be targeted for savings. However, the Executive’s entire budget would benefit from a high-level equality impact assessment (EQIA) being carried out and an approach that addresses cross-cutting themes rather than focussing on individual departments. In addition, the impacts of individual organisations’ work benefit more than one departmental area (if not more than one department) and a multidisciplinary approach would be better placed to appreciate the overall picture of what can be gained and what will be lost.
- The Department for Employment and Learning is £9m short of being able to provide match funding to the ESF in 2015-16. A conjoined approach together with other departments such as DSD could have identified this shortfall and ensured that a match funder is on hand to ensure that the ESF is not lost and continues to maximise the spending power available to the Northern Ireland Executive.
Key points from the Department
Officials were keen to stress that the budget consultation process does have an important impact and that it is essential that the community and voluntary sector make representations both to the Department and to the Executive on the overall Budget. The points outlined below were raised. Relevant pages in the DSD Draft Budget 2015-16 document are referenced. Also available is a presentation given by DSD officials.
- The reduction in the Department’s 2015-16 baseline is 9.9% (£64.8m). However, £14m of recurrent savings required and £20m of in-year pressures (£11m of which in NIHE) included in the opening position means that there is an effective cut of £99m when compared to the 2014-15 baseline.
- The Minister and the Department have sought to mitigate the effects of Departmental budget cuts by protecting services that the vulnerable rely on and maximising alternative sources of funding. The Social Fund and Supporting People budgets have been protected from reductions (though not ring-fenced) in 2015-16. Voluntary advice services will also be protected from cuts. DSD also have a number of statutory and legal duties to discharge, requiring significant commitment of resources that reduces the number of areas from which cuts can be made. (p7-9)
- The Draft Budget document puts forwards a high-level assessment of the impact of reductions. It does not provide evidence for the impact of cuts in specific programmes. This is instead occurring through an ongoing process of appraisals within the Department. For instance, Urban Regeneration is prioritising the detail of projects not yet put in place and there is still time for stakeholders to influence the approach that is taken (p14-15).
- The baseline for the Co-ownership Scheme is £15m in 2015-16, previously £25m in 2014-15, attracting an additional £25m of additional resources in-year. In the forthcoming year the allocation will be £10m which will provide the purchase of 330 new homes. Making use of Financial Transactions Capital (FTC) will help to mitigate this cut in the scheme's overall size.
- £98m has been set aside for 1,500 new starts in social housing. The current target in order to provide for all those presenting with needs for housing is 2,000. The Department will bid for £10m to cover 250 additional new starts.
- Urban Regeneration’s capital budget of £25m is made up of £5m to be realised in receipts, £15m that has been contractually committed and £10m available to commit to new public realm schemes. Though this is less than the £33m committed in 2014-15, £13.5m of that was “additional” funding that was added in-year (p18-19). As this budget will transfer to local government in 2016, DSD are seeking to ensure that appropriate schemes are put in place for a smooth transfer.
- Large areas of the Department’s planned capital spending hinges on receipts being realised from the sale of assets. In the event that the total amount of capital receipts anticipated (£97.1m) are not returned, there will be a shortfall in the planned expenditure putting pressure on the overall capital budget grossing £216.4m. £2.3m of capital is ring-fenced as FTC and £10m for Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC), meaning less flexibility is available elsewhere.
- DSD will bid to the Finance Department for £9m extra resource funding to add £3m to Neighbourhood Renewal, £2m extra for the Social Fund, £4m for Supporting People. Capital bids of £10m for 250 additional social housing units, £10m for the co-ownership scheme and £5m for Urban Regeneration will also be made. Success in securing this funding is subject to DFP discretion and the level of other Departments’ bids.