Voluntary and community sector government funding at cliffs edge.

Once again delays in government agreeing its budget has left parts of the voluntary and community sector on unsure financial ground.  

The political negotiations at Stormont led to the welcome ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement but the previous stalemate in government slowed financial planning and a final budget for 2016/17 is not yet agreed within departments.

As you read this, budget holders across government are finalising the funding they will provide to voluntary and community organisations and the services they deliver.  Hundreds of workers across the sector are on redundancy notice and organisations are unsure if services can continue after April.  Boards of Directors and Trustees are faced with almost impossible financial decisions as they are unsure of their income from government contracts and grant aid.

NICVA’s Lisa McElherron told the Social Development Committee last week ‘this time last year the sector was pushed to the edge of the cliff. It feels like we are back there again.’  Last year Departments made independent decisions that in many cases had a cumulative detrimental effect.  This year many organisations simply don’t know yet what their funding might be. Following last year’s budget the First and deputy First Minister asked the Junior Ministers to make recommendations on how to avoid this situation this year.  That report and action plan is expected to be released soon.

NICVA Chair Marie Kavanagh and Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey will be meeting with Finance Minister Mervyn Storey on Monday 29th Feb to discuss the budget process and will raise our serious concerns about this issue.  Ahead of the meeting Seamus said “we were pleased with how seriously the First and deputy First Minister took this issue last year but the delay in agreeing a budget has once again placed our sector in a dangerous position.  Frustratingly, we can’t be sure of the true extent of the problem until decisions are made and the axe begins to fall.  We will be seeking assurances that the outworking’s of the 2016 budget will not see multiple, unfair cuts to voluntary and community organisations.

Seamus added “the sector cannot be expected to continue in firefighting mode year on year. Government needs to turn the rhetoric of support for the sector into action. That’s one of the reasons why we are asking all political parties to agree to a White Paper on voluntary action and active citizenship in the 2016-2021 Programme for Government”.