Is it effective when only 5-10% of DSD’s £50,000 Laganside Community Activity fund was spent in last two years?

laganside boundaryNelson McCausland, Minister for Social Development, appeared before the Assembly’s Social Development Committee on Thursday 23 February. [Audio temporarily available on NI Assembly website, and should appear shortly on BBC Democracy Live.] In his opening statement, he explained about the decision to withdraw the non-essential Laganside Events Grant and pointed out that it only contributed 5-10% of many events’ budgets (as charted in a blog post last week).

The minister explained that he’d no need to know where Finance Minister Sammy Wilson found the £200,000 that has now been transferred across to DSD to help fund the Laganside Events Grants for one additional year (2012/13). Rather than have to deal with two departments, the DFP money has been transferred across to DSD which the Nelson McCausland quipped would

“keep Sammy Wilson away from the arts, probably good for Sammy and good for them [the arts]”

He also spoke about the Laganside Community Activity Grant. Since 2004, this fund has offered assistance of up to £300 to “inner city community groups” running events in the Laganside area. Fourteen wards adjacent to and within the Laganside area: North (New Lodge, Duncairn), South (Shaftesbury, Botanic, Stranmillis, Ballynafeigh, Rosetta) East (Island, Ballymacarett, The Mount, Woodstock, Ravenhill) and West (Falls, Shankill).

But how effective has this long-running community grant been?

Although the DSD announcement at the start of each year heralds a pot of £50,000 being available, only 5-10% of this tends to be allocated. The minister quoted figures for recent years to the DSD committee:

  • 2010/11 – 35 successful grants – total of £9,850
  • 2011/12 – 18 successful grants – total of £5,400

No surprise that Nelson McCausland’s information is more up to date than mine! I’d asked DSD about the Laganside Community Activity Grant three weeks ago. While the FOI hasn’t formally been responded to (it still has at least one outstanding question), information that I have received from DSD in the meantime on 17 February breaks down the spending of 15 groups in 2011/12:

I contacted of the groups last week through their websites or by email but so far haven’t heard back from any of them about the community activities that they were able to run with the help of the Laganside Community Activity Grant.

Pulling together the list and links for this post, I notice the close connection between LORAG and Shaftesbury Community Recreation Centre (the former manages and the latter) and wonder how that one group justified receiving three grants when the rules state that

“there is a limit of two applications for different activities per annum per applicant”

While the DSD website hasn’t caught up with their minister’s announcement, he told the Social Development Committee that the £300 cap would be increased up to £1,000 for 2012/13. In a later statement, the minister said:

I want to encourage our citizens living in Laganside to use the amenities in the area and have been concerned that the uptake of this grant by community groups has been low. This may be because the amount of funding available has not increased since the grant was introduced some years ago. I am therefore raising the cap from £300 to £1000 and would urge community groups to look again at how this grant can benefit their neighbourhoods. The scheme will have a total allocation of £50,000 in 2012/13 and could deliver up to 50 activities.

Though if some grant applications don’t ask for the full £1,000, the department might find that the £50,000 pot stretches further than just “50 activities”. In the meantime, if numbers of applicants don’t rise, they’ll still fail to use the full amount allocated.

DSD results in Delivery report into NI Executive 2008-2011 Programme for GovernmentIs a department that several years in a row only allocates 5-10% of its budget set aside for inner city community development a department that is meeting its targets? Maybe this contributes in some way to the red results in pie chart for DSD’s Public Service Agreements included in the Delivery Report of progress (up to 31 March 2011) on the NI Executive’s 2008-2011 Programme for Government?

(This unplanned underspend is the kind of money that is given back to DFP and available for reallocation to other departments in monitoring rounds … which is where £200,000 of this year’s Laganside Events Grant budget was found when the First Minister intervened with the Finance Minister to help reverse DSD’s decision.)

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.