Dormant Accounts Scheme living up to its name
It has been a tough couple of years for the third sector.
Revenue streams have been hit hard. Brexit, and all its uncertainty, looms on the horizon, Stormont has been flailing even if the spectre of the 75% budget was avoided, and all this has occurred in the context of tightened spending at Westminster.
Over £7m of practically free money sounds fantastic. It might not be a magic money tree but it’s not far off, the national equivalent of £20 lost down the back of the sofa.
Therefore it is more than reasonable to ask why money from dormant bank accounts, earmarked for social projects nearly a decade ago, has yet to be freed up to help Northern Irish social enterprises.
The Dormants Account Scheme began in 2008 and, across the rest of the UK, hundreds of millions of pounds have been redirected to the third sector – with much more on the way.
Stormont is in charge of allocation of money from NI dormant accounts. So far none of the over £7m available has been released, despite four different finance ministers announcing its availability.
Neil Irwin is Chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s Northern Ireland Committee and head of niFundraising, which provides third-sector organisations and other groups with advice on how to access revenue.
Over the past few months he has asked a series of questions of the Department of Finance, under the Freedom of Information Act, to try and find out when these finances will be unlocked.
He told Scope: “In some ways, £7m seems like not a lot of money – but it would mean a lot to the sector. Look at what else is available - just as an example there is Awards For All, which is worth about £2m in position. It’s a brilliant source of income so the £7m that is not being spent is certainly not insignificant, it’s hugely important potential funding.
“Dormant accounts would comprise a major funder in Northern Ireland, larger than some other well-known revenue streams.
“For some reason, politicians have been sitting on their hands about this. There must be disagreement on its allocation. The report on its consultation was never published, so they must not have been able to agree.”
Freedom of Information
The Department for Finance answered Mr Irwin’s first FoI request last month. The questions and answers speak for themselves:
- How much money is currently available for distribution in Northern Ireland from dormant accounts.
There is currently £7.3m available for distribution in Northern Ireland from Dormant Accounts.
- How much money has been spent in Northern Ireland from dormant accounts under The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008.
To date here has been no money spent from the Northern Ireland Dormant Accounts allocation.
- What is the current policy for distribution of dormant accounts in Northern Ireland.
The Policy for the New Opportunities Fund which will enable the utilisation of the Dormant Accounts funds is currently being developed.
- How many times and by which ministers has dormant accounts funding been announced since 2007.
The intention to develop a scheme for the use of Dormant Account funds in Northern Ireland has been announced on 4 separate occasions by the following Ministers: Sammy Wilson, Simon Hamilton, Mervyn Storey and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
- May I have a copy of the consultation response to the public consultation that closed on 29 October 2009.
A response to the “Dormant Account Scheme Consultation on Spending Priorities for Northern Ireland” which closed 29 October 2009 was not published as the outcome was inconclusive.
He submitted two supplementary questions that received a response a fortnight ago:
- Are there any more details available on the New Opportunities Fund currently being developed?
- Who is developing it.
There is currently no progression on the development of the fund due to the absence of an Executive.
Finance Ministers have enjoyed some great PR announcing the same money again and again – but it is a dismal set of circumstances that needs to be fixed, whatever the behind-the-scenes reasons for the lack of movement over this potential funding.
Mr Irwin said: “This money could be put anywhere, there is so much genuine need. Good organisations have closed in the time this money has gone unspent. You could think of 1,000 good ways to put it to use. It could even be used as a catalyst for more income generation in the sector.
“It would do a lot of good. The whole point of it is that people have needs, especially in a recession or during a funding crisis. For instance, many youth organisations have staff on three-month rolling contracts.
“Of course, there would be competing interests for this funding – there isn’t enough funding to go around – but that’s not a reason not to do something, it just shows how important these finances could be.”
Hopefully the next few months will herald some political stability – in one form or another – and concurrently some form of administrative structure for these funds can be put in place.
Don’t count on it.
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