The Social Investment Fund (SIF) was established to increase employment opportunities, tackle issues like drug and alcohol dependency, increase services and address dereliction in some of our most challenged communities.
After a slow start, the Fund is up and running with some 33 projects approved.
These projects are in every part of Northern Ireland and include examples such as:
· £1 million for the development of a purpose-built Community Doctor’s Surgery at Bryson Street, East Belfast;
· The Halls Together Now project which will refurbish St McCartin’s Church Hall in Enniskillen;
· £733,000 of funding for the Kilcluney Community Hall in Markethill and the YMCA in Lurgan;
· Improvements for Dromore, Banbridge, Corcrain and Clogher Orange Halls;
· A cluster of capital projects in North Belfast including support for PIPS the suicide prevention charity.
These are all worthy causes and good schemes. The Ulster Unionist Party, however, have taken a very different view.
This week, during the Budget debate, the UUP proposed an amendment which would strip away all £26 million of SIF funding for next year.
It doesn’t take a financial whizz to work out that no money in the SIF budget means no money for SIF projects.
This basic fact of financial life escaped the UUP who argued that approved schemes should still be funded.
But without any budget how is that possible?
In a crass example of self-serving party politics, the UUP further proposed giving 70 per cent of the SIF funding to their own Minister.
I know well that every Department will feel the strain next year and beyond, but trying to look after your own Party’s Minister’s Department at the expense of community projects to address educational underachievement, mental and physical health concerns and other social problems is pretty low.
UUP MLAs who voted to remove every penny of SIF funding from next year’s Budget leaving every single scheme high and dry must now explain, particularly to those community organisations who made the effort to develop projects, why they, in the words of their party leader, think that the money they’d been approved for could be put “to better use”.