Assets Recovery Community Scheme 2015-16

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Adrian McQuillan Adrian McQuillan DUP 2:00 pm, 22nd February 2016

2. Mr McQuillan asked the Minister of Justice how many applications were made to the 2015-16 assets recovery community scheme. (AQO 9669/11-16)

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

7. Mr McKinney asked the Minister of Justice how much has been spent on provision of the assets recovery community scheme in South Belfast in each of the last four years. (AQO 9674/11-16)

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

11. Mr Hilditch asked the Minister of Justice for his assessment of how funding from the assets recovery community scheme is distributed. (AQO 9678/11-16)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 2, 7 and 11 together.

First and foremost, I believe that this is a good news story. In 2011, we changed the law to keep recovered criminal asset money in Northern Ireland. Since it was launched in 2011, the assets recovery community scheme (ARCS) has awarded nearly £3.5 million to a variety of projects. This funding is money that has been taken out of the hands of criminals and returned to the community. It is clear to me from witnessing a number of projects at first hand that they make a real difference. ARCS is a popular scheme and, perhaps influenced in part by the current economic environment, is greatly oversubscribed. In the 2015-16 competition, 75 applications were received, and the available funding allowed awards to 23 groups. The recently launched 2016-17 competition has received around 150 applications, and their assessment is under way.

Applications are assessed individually against the criteria for the scheme. Although submitted via policing and community safety partnerships (PCSPs), they are not considered geographically. Those meeting the criteria are then scored on areas including evidence of need, actions proposed and value for money. These scorings are reviewed by a panel of senior officials before I reach a final decision.

Details cannot be given about allocations in South Belfast, as most projects extend across the city. In the last four years, projects in the Belfast area have received in the region of £170,000. In the current round, there are 30 applications from the Belfast area.

Photo of Adrian McQuillan Adrian McQuillan DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Minister, I do not know whether you have the figures with you, but can you give a specific breakdown of how many groups applied from East Londonderry? Will you give us a flavour of the support that the groups got?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I am afraid that I did not come with the full detail, but I will happily write to Mr McQuillan with the details for his constituency. Certainly, at the point when awards are made, the full details will be published. Part of the issue, of course, is that we are not sure, from month to month, how much will be received through the scheme, so there will be, in effect, a first list, and a reserve list should additional money become available.

Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister will be aware of the increase in burglaries in South Belfast in the recent past. Is any consideration being given to directing moneys at deterrence or awareness or to protecting the victims of such burglaries?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I can assure Mr McKinney that the principal aim behind the scheme is to fight crime, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour. The issues that he has highlighted on a number of occasions about burglaries in his constituency clearly come well within the scheme. At this stage, I do not have details of the 30 Belfast applications and what they might be, but they are being assessed. If there are schemes that score highly enough, they will certainly get a grant.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

I should probably declare a non-pecuniary interest as an official of a midnight soccer scheme that avails itself of some of the money. I acknowledge the work of the scheme and congratulate those responsible on its implementation. I have seen that work at first hand, which is done for the benefit of the young people who participate. Can the Minister give a commitment to its future in terms of length of time or how it could be enhanced going forward?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I can certainly give a commitment that, as long as I am Minister, the scheme will continue. Arrangements are going ahead for the scheme to run in 2016-17. We should be very clear that this was money that we only got after devolution. Prior to devolution, the half of the money that goes to the agencies responsible came back to the agencies within Northern Ireland, but the half that we distribute in community grants was simply not available in Northern Ireland. That, in itself, is good news. It is £3·5 million in community grants that would not have been made otherwise. I cannot imagine that there are any prospects under which the scheme would not continue. The difficulty is that we have to spend the money in the year we receive it and it is not as flexible as one would hope it might be.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answers thus far and welcome the scheme. One of the objectives of the scheme from the outset was the prevention of crime and the reduction of fear of crime. Can the Minister outline how that has been achieved to date?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I could probably stand here all afternoon doing that, Mr Speaker, but you would cut me off after two minutes if I gave some of the examples. For example, Mr Hilditch has just highlighted the midnight soccer scheme that is run in a number of areas and which deters young people from getting engaged in antisocial behaviour. I have seen schemes that are directly aimed at providing crime-fighting materials such as door chains, spyglasses and so on, to older and vulnerable people. So, there are a variety of ways in which confidence can be provided and in which crime can be fought, both in the sense of deterrence and direct provision of whatever resources are needed to make it more difficult for crimes to be committed. It really is a matter of a variety of imaginative ideas coming in from community groups, through PCSPs right across Northern Ireland and I think that it has been very positive in that respect.

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister outline the number of groups that work with people who have disabilities and special needs and which have been successful in applying to the assets recovery community scheme?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I am afraid that, no, I cannot give that level of detail at Question Time. Groups that work with people with special needs is a fairly wide category. I have no doubt that some of them are included within a general categorisation. If Mr McMullan has a specific question and wants to write to me, I will certainly answer it.