NI Charities Face Funding Troubles due to OFMdfM Delays
Eileen Chan-Hu, CRAIC NI interviewed by Off the Record NI on September 12, 2014
The ongoing political crisis at Stormont is having wide reaching effects that are directly impacting charitable and not-for-profit organisation across Northern Ireland.
As Stormont struggles to function properly, making headlines, with even First Minister Peter Robinson calling it “not fit for purpose” in its current state, this website has learned that one of the unintended consequences of political failure has been that a number of charitable and not for profit organisations are facing funding difficulties and the very real prospect of being forced to make staff redundancies.
The matter was first raised by a concerned Section 75* charity worker, who told Off The Record that “many charities all across Northern Ireland are in serious jeopardy.”
When asked to elaborate, our source said that “they are at risk because government ministers can’t agree budgets and release funds. Political inertia currently grips the charitable sector in a cash flow crisis. Landlords and debtors don’t care that ministers haven’t signed off on a budget. They also need paid.”
We contacted a number of charities to clarify if the scenario was widespread. Many declined to comment on the issue of funding. When we asked our original source why this could be, the response was clear. At times of such financial uncertainty, who would want to bite the hand that feeds?
A number of the contacts we spoke to provided information which backed up the notion that the entire sector is currently running on fumes. Some charities spoke of the money ‘simply not being there’ and others raised frustrations over the contract system which has left many without long-term planning capabilities. More spoke of layoffs, staff redundancies and cuts.
The Belfast Islamic Centre was at the eye of a political storm earlier this year, when Mr Robinson was widely criticised for making his now infamous comments about trusting muslims to ‘go to the shops’. Thousands of Belfast citizens came on to the streets in support the Islamic community in light of those comments. The Islamic Centre has raised concerns over funding.
Dr. Raied Al-Wazzan of the BLC noted his concerns in comments to this publication via email correspondence. He stated that “even if the politicians agree on the budget, it will take several months to the application process and if we don’t get a confirmation before the end of March 2015, then we have to make some of our experienced staff redundant.”
“Usually we submit our claim every three months and it takes OFMDFM about two months to reimburse us. This can make it sometimes very difficult to pay our bills when we don’t have enough cash in the bank. This really a serious issue for some charities and they have to borrow to pay their bills, fortunately we have managed to get some donation which we use as cash flow until we are reimbursed.”
According to its website, “Belfast Islamic Centre was established in 1978 by a group of Muslims from the local community to provide a focus for all Muslims living in Northern Ireland. The centre operates for the benefit of all Muslims irrespective of their ethnic background, gender, country of origin or age.”
The centre provides a wide range of services including youth development, adult education and social welfare services to Belfast’s Islamic community.
Green Party Councillor Ross Brown told us that he had heard that delays in funding from OFMdfM meant “real problems for groups”.
Mr Brown continued,
“I heard some groups were being left without funding for what I think is the current financial year because decisions were taking so long. But definitely, there is no certainty regarding the next financial year.”
The TUV has said that “There is a growing funding crisis in the innocent victims’ sector”.
In a letter to First Minister Peter Robinson, Jim Allister noted that “the sector generally is seeing its funding stream traumatically impoverished.”
“The phasing out of PEACE III funding, with no gap provision made by Stormont, has coincided with severe cuts by OFMDFM in such funding as their Victim & Survivors Service provides. Even payments under the individual needs programme have been unilaterally ended. Victims who may had had a range of help, be it physiotherapy treatments or respite care, now find this funding has been terminated”
We also reached out to those who work in the charity, not-for-profit or voluntary sector for comment. After correspondence with numerous charities, we found many unwilling to commit to ‘on the record’ statements.
Eileen Chan-Hu, who has worked in the ‘community and voluntary sector’ for over 20 years, told us that “there are days I count myself lucky to have been in a paid job and without a break. This does not encompass the anxiety of living on short-term contracts, funding and resources for staff, overheads and equipment, redundancies, pension contributions and extra revenue for that rainy day.”
“Northern Ireland does not escape from the fact that politics plays a huge part in our communities. OFMDFM for example hold a lot of power with the MEDF (Minority Ethnic Development Fund) and the Race Equality Strategy. The FM and DM must agree. This is not easy even on a good day.”
“Some projects just close down overnight. The community sector is at risk of being a ‘stressed’ sector in the backdrop of political uncertainty and shakiness up on the Hill.”
The Charity Commission, the ‘independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, responsible for ensuring Northern Ireland has a dynamic and well governed charities sector’ responded to this publications request for comment saying that “it is a non-political body and so does not comment on issues such as this.”
At the time of publication the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), an umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector, is yet to reply to our request for comment.
Off the Record is an online magazine based in Northern Ireland covering politics, arts, culture and comment. Founded by Jason Murdock and Jason Ashford in 2013. It can be reached on Twitter @offtherecordni or contacted via email email@example.com