The Director of Neighbourhood Services informed the Committee of additional funding that had been received from the Department for Communities (DfC) and proceeded to provide an overview of the recommended approach for the allocation of the funding.
He advised that the need for the provision of accessible funding, to enable service recovery and promote agile and responsive community development approaches within local areas, had been demonstrated as one of the key and most successful funding mechanisms introduced during the pandemic. Based on this, Council officers had submitted a high-level proposal to the DfC which had detailed that any additional award would be used to support the provision of Micro and Medium Grants and to allocate grant awards to Strategic and Thematic partners. He stated that it was felt that this approach would help enable the delivery of community development projects to meet a variety of locally identified community needs, in line with previously agreed DfC outcomes.
The Director then provided the Members with the background to the allocation of the previous micro and medium grant aid funding that had been used to support programme delivery from September 2021 – March 2022. He explained that this round of funding had provided support for a total of 350 projects across the city, representing a total investment of £990,552 and advised that it was recommended that the Council allocate £631,360 from the confirmed £1,031,360 for general Community Support towards the costs of this grant aid.
The funding that had been allocated through the August/September rounds would support activity until the end of the financial year. The community and voluntary sector had advised that managing programme delivery in the context of Covid recovery remained challenging and groups did not have the capacity to deliver projects within a short time frame. He explained to the Members that it was felt that it would not be operationally feasible to deliver another open round of funding for micro/medium grants across the city as all activity had to be delivered by 31st March 2022.
To ensure that additional support could be directed at an area and thematic level towards communities in greatest need, an allocation of £250,000 to the 9-area based strategic partners across the city was being recommended, with a further award of £150,000 to be made to the Thematic partners that had delivered services to the most vulnerable communities of interest across the city.
He advised that if organisations required short term financial support, they could contact their local community development officer to obtain information on available resources to support local programming.
In addition, officers were currently developing the grant aid application process for Medium/Micro grants to support programmes running from April – September 2022, it was likely that these would open in early 2022.
The Director explained that financial inclusion funding was provided by DfC and it was intended to support activity that provided debt, benefit, and financial education/support services. DfC had issued a funding award of £212,350 to Belfast City Council for the delivery of agreed outcomes in relation to this area of work. DfC had provided a previous award of £175,148 for financial inclusion which had been primarily awarded to the 5 generalist advice partners across the city. It was being recommended that, given the alignment between DfC outcomes for this fund and the ability of the advice providers to deliver eligible activity by 31st March 2022, the allocation be made to the 5 generalist advice partners. With the recommended allocation to be based on population and deprivation indicators in line with the Council’s previous funding model.
Moved by Councillor Garrett,
Seconded by Councillor Magee,
That the Committee agrees because the allocations had already been committed, that it diverts £400k on top of the £250k onto the strategic groups to give a total of £650k; and 30k to the thematic groups giving them a total of £180k. This would enable support of real-time issues immediately and throughout the winter period around the costs associated with fuel poverty, energy price rises, Universal Credit Cuts, and the end of the furlough scheme.
On a vote, seven Members voted for the proposal and eight against and it was declared lost.
After discussion, it was
Moved by Councillor Smyth
Seconded by Councillor Collins,
That a review of the strategic partners be undertaken, based on the monitoring information supplied by the returns and alongside the funding being issued.
On a recorded vote, six Members voted for the proposal and nine against and it was declared lost.
Councillors Collins, Flynn, M. Kelly, McReynolds, Mulholland and Smyth.
Alderman McCoubrey, and Councillors Baker, Black, Bunting, Cobain, Corr, Garrett, Magee and McAteer.
(i) agreed to accept the additional funding allocation of £1,243,710 from the DFC under priority areas of General Community Support and Financial Inclusion;
(ii) agreed the following allocation model for the additional funding:
£631,360 (Micro & Medium Grants Programme 21/22)
£250,000 (Area strategic partners)
£150,000 (City Thematic partners)
£212,350 (5 City generalist advice partners)
(iii) agreed to recommend to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee that it establish a specified reserve to the total of £631,360 from the Councils COVID reserve for use to top up the micro/medium grant scheme during 2022/23. This reserve would be ring fenced to allow the Council to deliver a comparable fund value for the micro/medium grant during 2022/23 to the actual funds awarded during 2021/22;
(iv) Granted delegated authority to the Director of Neighbourhood Services to allocate any additional monies that might be received by DfC in-year to relevant delivery partners based on the agreed delivery approaches as outlined within the Committee report.