27 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Largest Agency hit hard by Budget

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The fallout from Northern Ireland’s United Kingdom-imposed austerity Budget continues, with the Department in charge of housing and benefits facing an almost 16 per cent cut in day-to-day spending.

The Department for Communities (DFC), the largest Agency in the Provincial Public Service with more than 9,000 staff, was given £111 million ($A208 million) — 15.5 per cent less in day-to-day spending than it had asked for.

Reducing social home targets and significant cuts to employment support are among the areas likely to be most affected. Also likely to be slashed is social security delivery and discretionary support grants.

A decision has yet to be taken on the exact cuts, but it is understood this year’s allocation will fall far short of the £40 million ($A75 million) of discretionary support grants handed out last year.

There was significant demand because of the cost-of-living crisis putting more pressure on many households’ food and energy bills.

The Department also has more than 600 staff vacancies which can no longer be filled.

There could also be funding implications for arms-length bodies and funded third-party organisations like the Arts Council, Libraries Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and others.

In terms of the capital budget, the Department is facing a £59 million ($A110 million) shortfall, or 27 per cent, compared to what was asked for, against a backdrop of record inflation in areas like construction.

This will mean the Budget will not be able to meet the Department’s target to start 2,000 new social homes this year and is now only expected to achieve 1,400 new starts.

A spokesperson for the Department said proposals would be shared with staff, trade unions, delivery partners and representative groups in a series of meetings.

“The Department for Communities supports the most disadvantaged people, families and communities across Northern Ireland,” the spokesperson said.

“It does so against a backdrop of growing need.”

Belfast, 12 May 2023

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