Report from CSR event with the Department of the Environment
Lisa McElherron, Head of Public Relations at NICVA introduced the department officials Ian Maye - Deputy Secretary, Central Policy and Resources Group, Paul Duffy - Director, Finance and Business Planning Division and Graham Seymour – Director of Natural Heritage, Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Ian Maye and Paul Duffy outlined to the audience how the department is addressing the budgetary pressures for Budget 2010. This was followed by a question and answer session between department officials.
Mr Maye gave an overview of the department’s strategic context for the current spending review stating that over the past two years the department has already had to respond to the economic pressures coming from the economic downturn by taking corrective action such as applying for additional funding from DfP and reducing spending through:
- Conducting a corporate service review
- A moratorium on recruitment
- Suppression of vacancies/temporary promotions/agency staff
- Redeployment of staff
- Restructuring of Departmental functions
- Reductions in grants to District Councils and NGOs
Mr Maye said that decreasing budgets and having gone through the process of suppressing spending has forced discussions within the department on maintaining and improving services, posing the questions:
- How will services be delivered?
- Are there different ways of doing business in relation to services
- what is the potential of working with the voluntary and community sector?
To move forward the department will need to think about doing things better by working in conjunction with the voluntary and community sector. The Minister of the Environment is concerned that the voluntary and community sector should not be penalised to protect the department.
Following the presentation, voluntary and community groups had an opportunity to ask well-informed questions. Department officials were asked: “as the cuts have been occurring to the department over the past two years and the department is a small department with less flexibility, is the Executive aware of its position”. Mr Maye responded that he considered that the DfP had no desire to protect any department budgets and that each Minister is protecting their own budgets.
There was discussion about the department having conducted risk assessments, profitability of services such as DVLA and the possibility that profits could be used to pay for Road Safety programmes. Department officials suggested the need to look at the current planning structure, planning fees and cross departmental work.
Concern was raised from the floor about EU funding and the difficulties of sourcing match funding. Mr Maye said that discussion around EU funding had not occurred at department level, however he reassured the audience that EU funding still remained an important source of funding and that departments were still making applications to draw down European funding within their business plans.
Officials were asked “how will the department work with the third sector?” Mr Maye said that the department is keen to look at how it works with the sector and consideration has to be given to how joint ventures are put together. Tthere is a need move away from traditional methods and to consider how ‘risk’ can be shared. Consideration needs to be given to what structure needs to be in place to facilitate joint ventures. For example is there a need for one large voluntary organisation or joint smaller organisations? That this will be a challenge to the sector to have the conversations on mergers and alliances and working together on joint ventures.