The Director of Neighbourhood Services took the Committee through the details of a request received from the Belfast Citywide Tribunal Service (BCTS) seeking financial support for the 2022/23 financial year at a total cost of £342,278.
He provided an overview of the work of the BCTS and reminded the Members that it also comprised the following 5 area consortia which received financial support from the Council for the provision of generalist advice services:
ŸNorthBelfast Advice Consortium;
ŸEastBelfast Advice Partnership;
ŸWestBelfast Advice Consortium;
ŸSouthBelfast IndependentAdvice Group; and
ŸCentralBelfast Advice Consortium.
The Committee was reminded that, in the 2021/22 financial year, the Council and the Department for Communities (DFC) had provided a total amount of £198,900 towards the costs of delivering the Belfast Citywide Tribunal Service. This funding had been in response to a total funding request for the service of £257,000 and had included £128,500 of direct Council funding and £70,400 received from DfC towards Welfare Reform Mitigations - Tribunal Representation.
The Director detailed that, in addition to this financial support towards running costs, the service had also received £15,000 to develop a 3–5-year business plan. He advised that it was anticipated that this plan would help enable the BCTS to secure sustainable medium-term funding and to avoid the pattern where the service sought funding from the Council on an annual short-term basis. The plan was currently still being development in conjunction with Council officers and he drew the Members’ attention to a draft that had been circulated with the agenda. Currently there was insufficient information in the draft plan to assess the level of investment that would bring maximum benefit to the residents of Belfast.
The Director advised that the Council currently had an available 2022/23 budget of £90,000 which it could contribute towards the running of the Tribunal Service. In addition, the DfC had confirmed it would be making another allocation, in line with the 2021/22 award, towards Welfare Reform Mitigations - Tribunal Representation (£70,400). This would represent a total available budget of £160,400 to support the operation of BCTS in 2022/23. He continued that use of the total available budget would leave a shortfall of £181,878 to meet the full BCTS request for support.
The Members noted that a Notice of Motion was due to be considered at the March meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee that directly related to the funding of the BCTS in 2022/23.
The Director continued that, to assess other potential sources of funding for the BCTS, Council officers had contacted the DfC to explore whether it could offer any direct support. The DfC officers had advised that they did not anticipate that there would be any open funding streams to which BCTS could apply. In addition, there was no funds over and above what had been currently allocated (including the 2022/23 welfare reform allocations and framework). The DfC had scheduled a strategic planning day for regional advice services in March and had suggested that this would present an opportunity to review and consider any future advice funding framework.
During discussion the Members noted that any additional allocation would need to be considered by the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee. It was suggested and unanimously agreed that the £70,400, which was still subject to formal confirmation from the DfC, would be ringfenced for use by the Service.
Following consideration, the Committee:
· agreed to provide an award of £90,000 which was within existing 2022/23 budgets;
· noted the intention of the Department for Communities (DfC) to continue to provide £70,400 towards welfare mitigation – tribunal representation during 2022/23 and agreed that this would be ringfenced for use by the Belfast Citywide Tribunal Service, subject to formal confirmation of the funding from the DfC; and
· noted the total available budget was £160,400 (subject to confirmation).