Detailed below is an Executive Office briefing note on the Social Investment Fund (SIF).
1) The Social Investment Fund (SIF) is an innovative Government programme to tackle deprivation. A total of £80m has been allocated to SIF projects across the province. These schemes are already making a positive difference.
2) They include 50 capital projects worth over £44million and 19 revenue projects worth £35million. The capital projects will make vital improvements to 115 premises across the local areas. The revenue projects focus primarily on employment/training support, early intervention services and educational support with others incorporating mental health services, social economy support, transport, fuel poverty and community capacity.
3) Over £18.3million is being invested in projects to support people back into employment. While none of the projects are completed yet, over 150 people have already secured full time jobs and credit their success directly to the SIF projects.
One participant has spoken about how her children felt like they had a different mother since she has been on a placement. Another person, now employed, was previously unemployed for 26 years, and said: ‘I would never have had the confidence to look for work, go for interviews or do up a CV without the support from the programme."
4) The agreed model for delivery of SIF, implemented across all SIF zones, has been based around Steering Groups involving community/voluntary representatives and local political representatives. Opportunities were given to community/voluntary groups to apply for Steering Group membership, with the appointments made by OFMDFM (now the Executive Office).
5) The agreed model was decided upon after a public consultation process and details of how it would operate were fully disclosed and explained as SIF was taken forward.
6) The five main Assembly parties all took up places on SIF Steering Groups. The overriding political criticism of SIF has not been about the process but about the time taken to distribute funding.
7) The Steering Groups' role was to identify the most pressing needs in their areas and develop projects to help address them. OFMDFM then approved the projects. This model was adjudged to be better than a top-down approach where civil servants would have decided what was best for neighbourhoods.
8) As was explained all along, the lead partners for taking these projects forward were drawn from the Steering Groups. This helped ensure continued ownership of the projects by those who had originated them. The lead partners were chosen by a process of consensus within each steering group.
9) These lead partners receive some funding for their role in overseeing the individual projects. But the great majority of the funding for SIF projects is being passed to publicly procured delivery partners to actually deliver the projects.
10) Charter NI was one of the community/voluntary groups on the East Belfast steering group selected for specific lead partner roles – in Charter NI’s case for an employability initiative.
11) Reports that Charter NI has been given or is controlling £1.7 million of Social Investment Fund (SIF) money are creating a false impression.
The £1.7m allocation is for the employability initiative. Some £1.5 million of this funding is going directly to fund training, secure job placements and business start ups for hundreds of unemployed and underemployed people. This is being delivered by GEMS NI.
12) As Charter NI’s website explains, it has received grant-aid from a number of public bodies aside from TEO. As part of the normal SIF process, TEO/OFMDFM carried out a check on the governance and financial management arrangements of Charter NI, to ensure its capability to manage public money.
This included a site visit, a review of the organisational structure including confirmation that a board is in place; there are appropriate management structures; a review of the financial and governance processes to ensure the necessary policies and procedures are in place and implemented to effectively manage and account for funding. On site verification and governance checks will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project.
13) The employability scheme is in the process of being established by Gems NI. Calls from Opposition MLAs for the funding to be halted would halt this work, and jeopardise the planned support for unemployed people.
14) Demands to halt funding need to have a sound legal basis. Governments cannot withdraw funding simply on the basis of media allegations; or because politicians don’t like the outcome of disciplinary or personnel processes within organisations. It also appears to be being suggested that funding of the community sector or appointments linked to any public money should be subject to vetting processes based on police intelligence. Is this what Opposition parties are actually advocating?
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