By Neil Irwin
The Department of Finance in a response to a Freedom of Information request has confirmed that not one penny has been spent in Northern Ireland from the £7.3million funds released from dormant accounts.
The Department’s response also reveals that the scheme has been announced four times by four Finance Ministers; Sammy Wilson, Simon Hamilton, Mervyn Storey and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir since it was enacted in 2008. Many will ask why the fund was announced but nothing delivered.
Many in the charity and social enterprise sector must also wonder why this money has not been prioritised for spending given the urgent needs they face and the huge challenges to raise enough money to keep services going.
The 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. The public has not been asked since for its opinions on how – or indeed when – funding should be distributed.
The tantalising prospect has also been raised again in the Department’s response with the answer to my question “What is the current policy for distribution of dormant accounts in Northern Ireland?”
In reply the Department has stated: “The Policy for the New Opportunities Fund which will enable the utilisation of the Dormant Accounts funds is currently being developed.” (Those of us in the charity sector long enough to remember the New Opportunities Fund will twitch at the choice of name).
Which does indeed beg more questions – the policy of the New Opportunities Fund is being developed by whom, with whom, for whom and when will it actually spend any money?
• Neil Irwin – an independent advisor, trainer and sometime commentator on the Northern Ireland charity sector.
Twitter account: @neilirwin