PCSP-supported projects facing potential funding crisis

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Local projects backed by Antrim and Newtownabbey Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) could be in jeopardy due to a shortage of funding.

Several youth and community initiatives are facing an uncertain future after the Joint Committee which funds PCSPs announced “significant in-year budget cuts” - and local councillors declined to use ratepayers’ money to make up the shortfall.

At their monthly meeting on Monday, August 24, councillors turned down a recommendation from officers that almost £167,000 of additional funding be approved to support PCSP programme delivery and running costs between October 1 this year and March 31 next year.

The Joint Committee (Policing Board and Department of Justice) funding allocation for Antrim and Newtownabbey PCSP for 2015/16 was expected to be more than £333,000, with council match funding in excess of £107,000. However, in-year budget cuts mean that the Joint Committee has slashed its funding contribution by more than £166,000 - something likely to have a significant impact on ongoing programme delivery.

Alderman Mark Cosgrove described the PCSP budget cut as “a completely unacceptable outworking of the failure to implement welfare reform”, claiming that the government is now “unable to fund basic community services.”

Saying that he couldn’t support the council paying the £167,000, Alderman Cosgrove recognised that such a decision would potentially hurt some projects already promised funding, but stressed that the shortage of money wasn’t the fault of the council.

His stance was supported by several others in the chamber, including Cllr Phillip Brett, who said ratepayers should not be expected to pay for “the failure of certain political parties” to implement welfare reform - a remark to which Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman took exception, accusing the DUP group leader of “political point-scoring.”

Rather than the hefty Treasury fines associated with the failure to implement welfare reform being the cause of the funding crisis, Cllr Goodman suggested that the fault lay with the British government and reductions to the block grant.

Hitting back at Cllr Goodman’s analysis of the current economic situation, Alderman Cosgrove claimed that “the people of Antrim and Newtownabbey are having to pay the price for the failure to implement welfare reform.”

Cllr Anne Marie Logue expressed concern that failure to provide the additional funding could mean “losing vital services to our locality.”

She claimed that the council was already “propping up Roads Service” by taking on grass cutting work and questioned why it couldn’t support another department.

DUP Alderman Billy Ball questioned what will happen to important local projects such as Newtownabbey Street Pastors and other groups should funding not become available.

Council chief executive Jacqui Dixon informed members that all groups that have been receiving money through the PCSP have funding in place until the end of September. She suggested that officers should bring back more information on the issue and details of other potential funding options.

Mrs Dixon also stressed the need to put more pressure on the department to find additional funding.

Members voted 26 - 0 in favour of Alderman Cosgrove’s proposal not to approve the additional funding. All three Sinn Fein members abstained.

Officers will now bring a report to the Community Planning and Regeneration Committee on September 14 detailing the potential implications for local projects and outlining options open to the council moving forward.

The Times understands that should more funding not be forthcoming from the Joint Committee, some PCSP-backed projects could end up being funded directly by the council.

Speaking to the Times this week, Glengormley Councillor Noreen McClelland stressed that more information is required about which organisations could be facing funding shortfalls and how their projects might be affected.

“The last thing any of us want is for some of the excellent projects that are on the ground to run out of money or not be sustainable. If they are good, viable projects then I think we should be looking at helping them if we can,” she commented.