Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt has revealed the extraordinary scale of the failure of the Social Investment Fund, an initiative from the NI Executive to tackle poverty in Northern Ireland. Announced in March 2011, it was intended to target £80 million at areas of dereliction and deprivation over the following four years. However, three years beyond the original deadline, Mr Nesbitt has had confirmation that only around half the money has actually been spent.
Mike Nesbitt MLA said:
“The Head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, has confirmed that as of the end of February this year, a full seven years after the scheme was announced, only £45.2 million of the budget has hit the ground. Given we are living in times of austerity and this money was for those living in poverty, it seems incredible that the Executive Office, or the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, as it was, has proven so incapable of spending money. The DUP and Sinn Féin will tell you they stand up for the most vulnerable, yet there is an underspend of £35 million in the budget for an initiative to assist the vulnerable.
“We are getting used to a daily diet of tales of incompetence and poor governance from the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry. Sadly, for our people, it’s not the only failure. We must add the Social Investment Fund to the list. The last Programme for Government made clear the milestone target for SIF was to have achieved full expenditure by financial year 2014-2015. I am now being told that full completion of the scheme is not expected until financial year 2020-2021. That means a four-year scheme is going to over-run by five years. I suggest Sir Patrick Coghlin doesn’t book time off after the RHI Inquiry because we could do worse than ask him to cast his forensic skills on what went wrong with SIF."