Butler Accuses Department of Health of Forcing Community and Voluntary Organisations Towards Financial Cliff Edge

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Butler Accuses Department of Health of Forcing Community and Voluntary Organisations Towards Financial Cliff Edge

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler has warned that the Department of Health's ongoing failure to resolve the Core Grant Scheme means that dozens of community and voluntary sector organisations will have essential funding withheld from next month. 

Robbie Butler said: "It has long been recognised that the community and voluntary sector plays a hugely important role in supporting and supplementing the work of the health and social care system across Northern Ireland.  For many years, the Department of Health has provided financial assistance via a Core Grant Scheme to help many local voluntary organisations meet some of their central administration costs.

"The latest Core Grant Scheme directly assisted 65 community and voluntary organisations, with financial support ranging from as little as £5,000 right up to £185,000. The organisations funded operate across a range of important policy areas such as mental health, support for families and children, elderly care, domestic violence, and a wide range of disability supports.

"In total, the annual Core Grant budget has been £3.6m, a tiny proportion of the overall Department of Health budget, but from which there was a hugely positive impact.

"The importance of a continued Core Grant Scheme was recognised by the former Minister of Health Robin Swann, and that is why shortly before the final departure of Executive Ministers last year, he launched a new application process for the 2023/24 scheme. At the time, he also stated that he had made it a priority that the necessary funds be found for the scheme. 

"From 2017 until the restoration of an Executive and Assembly in 2020, I warned of the harm that would be inflicted on the general public by the Sinn Fein political boycott. The very same is now happening with the boycott of the Assembly by the DUP.  No political oversight or long-term financial certainty in Health and Social Care has significant ramifications, particularly at this time. Due to the turmoil in public funds, the Department of Health is having to take short-term funding decisions when it knows the long-term impact will cost many millions of pounds more to repair.  

"Whilst the issue with the DOH Core Grant Scheme is partly due to the financial environment facing all Executive Department's, the current position is not solely down to lack of funding. 

"Unfortunately, in the absence of a Minister and a functioning Executive, applicants subsequently heard very little for six months until late March earlier this year when Department of Health officials announced that they were suspending the new competition with no funding awarded. Whilst the Department can try to bizarrely claim it was because there were many more applications received than envisaged, it is clear the process had been badly handled.

"In the intervening period from that announcement in March, there has been practically no further clarity provided, and as a result, the eligible community and voluntary organisations only have Core Grant funding in place until next month.

"If the current scheme is not extended, which appears to be an increasing inevitability, it will be a hammer blow to many organisations locally. The loss of this funding is coming at the worst possible time due to increasing demand and having to deal with the consequences of reduced ESF funding.

"The Department of Health will be well aware of just how important this funding is, and yet they could not even show the sector the respect it deserves by running a fit-for-purpose application process. There have been multiple missed opportunities in recent months to rectify the issue, and now confidence will be further knocked whenever these organisations are forced to cut their front-line services to meet the funding shortfall.

“The hard reality remains that the long-term solution lies with a reformed Executive and Minister in place to provide vision and stability in the future for our vital community and voluntary sector.”