Northern Ireland’s Charities Face Funding Black Hole

Northern Ireland’s voluntary and community sector is facing a black hole in funding of up to £85m from this year, a leading economist has warned.

Home helps, hostels for the homeless and meals-on-wheels all face a precarious future.

Charitable organisations have been reporting low donation levels and looming public spending cuts present an added pressure.

It is not yet known where the axe will fall, but the Northern Ireland Council of Voluntary Action (NICVA), which oversees voluntary groups, has expressed grave concerns for the sector as a whole.

NICVA admits that there are tough times ahead as more than £1bn will be slashed from public spending over the next five years.

Casualties of the impending cuts could also include summer schemes, care services for older people and vital support services for disadvantaged groups.

In an investigation for the Belfast Telegraph using exclusive figures, leading economist John Simpson has forecast a reduction of 14% in VCS revenue.

That represents a fall of £60m in government funding plus £25m in individual donations.

Mr Simpson said that a combination of Government cutbacks and the impact of the recession will result in the removal of a massive chunk from the £570m currently dedicated to the sector.

Ironically, in the current economic climate these bodies have never been more necessary.

Mr Simpson said: “The sector could potentially be hit for about 14% of its turnover or, in monetary terms, around £85m.

“Unemployment is rising and incomes are falling, and it is impossible to rule out further financial hardship for many others over the coming months.”

The £85m is likely to be slashed over the next three years, although it is still not known where the axe will fall.

Charitable organisations have been reporting low donation levels and looming public spending cuts present an added pressure.

In a major report on the challenges facing the economy, NICVA chief executive Seamus McAleavey warned major frontline services could be in danger.

“A storm is gathering because of these cuts,” he said.

“We are concerned that voluntary and community organisations will be vulnerable to unfair and disproportionate cuts.

“And the irony is that those who are helping the deprived could be deprived themselves. Never has a sector needed the public’s help more and we would like to appeal for their support.”

Mr McAleavey said NICVA believes that organisations providing public services offer a smart solution to the tough economic decisions that lie ahead.

He added: “The NI Executive needs to operate as one. We can’t have ministers protecting their own departmental interests.”

The Executive faces making £128m in spending cuts following the recent emergency budget. It is not yet clear whether that will be incurred this year or next.

Some £367m of so-called ‘efficiency savings’ have already been announced for this financial year.

Charitable organisations contacted by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper have highlighted a sharp decline in revenue over the last 12 months.

Those who are reliant on state funding must now wait and see where the axe is going to fall.

One of these is the Northern Ireland Community Addict Service (NICAS), which annually helps more than 1,000 people affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

“If the health service cuts our contracts, we will be forced to employ fewer staff and we won’t be able to help this forgotten group in our society,” said Dr Claire Armstrong, NICAS director.

(source: Belfast Telegraph)