Belfast Council argues over Resolute Winter Support funding with charities receiving additional money

A feud by Belfast council over how to allocate fuel and food aid this winter in the city has been resolved after council agreed to spend additional money from reserves on four local charities.

Small parties last week accused Sinn Fein and the DUP of a £ 650,000 ‘split’ in funding between nine community groups, after the two larger parties refused to support an amendment to split the money. public money between a wider range of organizations across the city. .

Eight councilors withdrew from the special plenary council meeting last Friday after declaring links to some community and volunteer groups. The parties had previously received legal advice on declaring links with groups receiving winter support.

However, at this week’s regular monthly council meeting, the council agreed with all-party support to find an additional £ 250,000 for St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army, Women’s Aid and the Men’s Advisory Project. to meet the needs this winter.

The money will come from £ 1,243,710 provided by the Stormont Communities Department in the priority areas of ‘general community support‘ and ‘financial inclusion’.

Council’s People and Communities Committee minutes last month show that the council proposal was originally to use £ 631,360 on a micro and medium grants program for 2021/22, £ 250,000 for “strategic partners in the area” or community groups, and £ 150,000 for “City Theme Partners”.

Last week the portion of micro and medium grants was increased to £ 650,000 and reallocated to the nine community groups. The £ 250,000 earmarked for community groups will now go to the four charities.

SDLP Councilor Donal Lyons made the proposal. He told the chamber on Wednesday: ‘I don’t want to reopen the discussion from Friday, but my understanding is that the £ 650,000 we have agreed to allocate to the nine strategic partners is separate from the £ 250,000 mentioned to the Committee. people and communities. meetings.

“If this is the case, and given that the nine strategic partners received the funding they deemed sufficient, I would like to suggest that we reallocate this £ 250,000. It would be £ 180,000 to St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, £ 55,000 to Women’s Aid and £ 15,000 to the Men’s Advisory Project.

Sinn Fein adviser Ciaran Beattie asked if the proposed groups need money and said, “Have we done an assessment on these groups. Or do we give it to them just for the sake of giving? “

Alliance advisor Nuala McAllister said: “St Vincent de Paul has seen a 46% increase in the last two months in terms of requests, and as I said last Friday they said that ‘there was an increase in the need for white goods, clothing etc.

“The support he needs is comprehensive by the minute. Last year was the first time that St Vincent de Paul obtained funding from statutory organizations.

CEO Suzanne Wylie said, “It is the power of the board to transfer this money to the focus groups in this way. After receiving clarification, the £ 250,000 could be reallocated as proposed, Sinn Fein decided to support the SDLP motion.

Green Councilor Mal O’Hara said: “It’s like the season of goodwill is breaking out across the board, which is remarkable – it’s remarkably pleasant.”

He added: “This is a follow-up to our proposal last Friday to allocate money specifically to these groups. We had done the preventive work with these groups to determine if they had a need and if this money could be used on time. The resounding answer was yes. We had done our homework.

“I’m still disappointed and frustrated – last week we got into a terrible argument, as we all try to do the same thing, which is try to meet the needs of this city for a period of time. really difficult.

“This is not necessary and we must redouble our efforts to work better together. We will have differing opinions on this, but we can do it without hard feelings in the speech of the last few weeks. Maybe we are stressed after more than a year and a half of the pandemic. “

People Before Profit advisor Fiona Ferguson said: “None of these votes, whether on strategic partners last week or tonight, is the kind of open and transparent funding model that we need to see to. through this board.

“We hope that in the future we will not have to go back to emergency amendments, motions and council meetings, and we will be in a place where we have a process to fight poverty and a process. open call, where requests are taken into account. and handled in a transparent and fair manner. “

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