Community Funding

Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 24th May 2010.

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Photo of Conall McDevitt Conall McDevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 24th May 2010

2. asked the Minister for Social Development for an assessment of the budgetary and financial outlook for community funding in the next Budget round. (AQO 1285/10)

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank Mr McDevitt for his question, which is very important, for reasons that I shall explain. My Department currently has £38 million available to complete a number of community projects. I do not intend to rehearse what all of them are, but substantial funds are available across a range of initiatives.

On many fronts, considering the budget that we have and on the basis of what we currently have — in making that point, I am mindful of the announcement of the Treasury in London this morning — it appears that the funding commitments that the Department has entered into are satisfied by the budget that has been allocated, save for one issue, namely the single biggest challenge that has been left to me by Margaret Ritchie under the current budget: the almost total absence of any capital funding for regeneration activities this year.

There is a history to all of that with regard to how the Royal Exchange initiative is supposed to be funded. We are aware that that project has not been taken forward at this stage. The consequence of that is that substantial funds in respect of the Royal Exchange initiative may be returned to the Department of Finance and Personnel in the very near future. Given what I said about the almost total absence of capital funding for regeneration activities in the current financial year and given that my predecessor and the Department have rightly entered into some commitments in that regard, I trust that my Executive colleagues, in the event that Royal Exchange money goes back to DFP, will recognise the importance of regeneration and will allocate substantial moneys from those funds back to my Department to enable me to take forward various initiatives.

Photo of Conall McDevitt Conall McDevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer and wish him well in office. Financial pressures notwithstanding, will the Minister consider the reorientation of future community funding towards shared future projects as against single identity community funding?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I recognise that a lot of very good work has been done over the years and decades in the North in respect of single identity work. If we are to stretch ourselves as a Government and live up to the ambitions of our community and if the hopes and needs of our diversity of people are to be fully satisfied, we need to have a gear change when it comes to a shared future. A shared and reconciled future is not only the right way to go but the sustainable way to go. At a time when there is the potential that less money will be available, if we can do more about a shared and reconciled future for the people of the North, it will result in better services for all our people, because they will be able to share services and, in doing so, there may be less duplication.

When it comes to shaping the North over the next phase of government, therefore, a step change on a shared and reconciled future is required. In taking forward my ministerial responsibility, I would like to see that step change work itself through when it comes to community funding, and I would like to see greater emphasis on community and shared future development as well as on what the honourable Member referred to as single identity community funding.

I refer Members to what Duncan Morrow and Mike Morrissey recently reported. They said that the least segregated areas tend to be the least deprived and that the worst 10% of areas in Belfast are at least 80% segregated. That is not a healthy position to be in. However, we got to that place, and we need to correct it. I believe that this funding stream is one means to begin to do so.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I join in congratulating the Minister on taking up office. With regard to community funding, the Minister will be aware of the difficulties of the hard-to-reach communities, particularly where they exist in working-class housing estates across Northern Ireland. They have been mentioned on numerous occasions in the House and elsewhere. In the course of this financial year, will he undertake to examine how community funding can best be targeted to produce better results in the communities that are, by definition, hard to reach?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I agree with the Member, and I am mindful that he speaks for a constituency in which there have been some particularly appalling and tragic circumstances over the past 18 months. The answer, in principle, is that I agree. I agree because more and more people in this country are beginning to realise that, if devolution is to fully measure up, it has to measure up to what the Member referred to as hard-to-reach communities. That applies not only to community funding but across the range of government activity, economic activity, INI, the shared future strategy and interventions by the Education Minister that have made very valuable contributions to dealing with people who are in hard-to-reach or severely disadvantaged communities. Therefore, I agree with the principle. If the Member has proposals for directing community funding in his constituency or in the North in general to fulfil that purpose, I would like to hear them.

Photo of Billy Armstrong Billy Armstrong UUP

What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment about developing social enterprises in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I can say categorically that, in the five hours that I have been a Minister, I have had no such discussions with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I want to dispel any doubts in the Member’s mind about whether I have had any such conversations. When I was taking forward the Caravans Bill earlier, I made a commitment to meet the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment about a particular enforcement regulatory matter around residential caravans. I can confirm to the Member that, when I have that meeting with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, I will explore the issue that he raised.