By Brian Pelan, editor, VIEW
Many people who work in the community/voluntary sector in Northern Ireland are facing an uncertain future. Will my job be the next to go? they are now asking as the cuts start to hit hard.
We recently witnessed how a number of arts groups lost their entire funding or had it significantly reduced after the Arts Council of Northern Ireland implemented the 11.2 per cent cut to funding passed on to it as part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s 2015/16 budget.
A number of high profile environment organisation have also been badly affected. In some cases the cuts ran to more than £200,000.
And the decision by the Department of Education to cut £2 million in its early years budget has also been criticised.
Siobhan Fitzpatrick, chief executive of Early Years, the organisation for young children, said: “This will have a devastating effect on some of the most disadvantaged communities across Northern Ireland. If the proposals go ahead, up to 153 playgroups, day care facilities and services for youngsters with disabilities may have to close with the potential loss of 177 jobs.”
With further cuts to come, the community/voluntary sector will have to ask itself a hard question.
Essentially, it’s a case of has the lobbying approach worked or can it work? Whereby you seek a meeting with a minister and ask him or her to change their mind.
For many years now the sector has steadily dropped much of its campaigning activity in favour of the individual approach to funding. In the ‘good times’ that strategy obviously worked for many organisations. But funding also had an unspoken rule of do not criticise the hand that feeds you. This has led to to a type of self-censorship with many voluntary organisations unwilling to criticise government funding decisions in public.
Perhaps it’s time for a new debate that would argue for a renaissance of campaigning to allow voluntary agencies to assert their independence and reconnect fully with the struggle for equality, social justice, enfranchisement and sustainability.