Charities left in limbo as Stormont department suspends £3.6m grant scheme

The Department of Health has suspended a £3.6m funding scheme which hundreds of charities were depending on for their survival
The Department of Health has suspended a £3.6m funding scheme which hundreds of charities were depending on for their survival The Department of Health has suspended a £3.6m funding scheme which hundreds of charities were depending on for their survival

A £3.6 MILLION grant scheme for charities in the north has been suspended by the Department of Health - and no funding awarded - after an “unanticipated number of bids for more than £100,000”.

And a charity chief has branded the unexpected move as a “hammer blow” which will place a massive strain on organisations which are also facing cuts and redundancies because of the loss of European money.

The application process for the 2023/24 DoH core grant funding scheme ran last October and November, with a total of £3,615,000 being allocated.

But the health department's permanent secretary Peter May has just written to applicants to the scheme to inform them that the competition has been suspended with no funding awarded.

He cited the worsening budget situation and an unanticipated number of bids for more than £100,000, though he also indicated that 70 per cent of applications did not meet the standard required to be deemed eligible for assessment.

Many charities in Northern Ireland were depending on this funding for their very survival, and many were already moving on redundancies due to European Social Fund (ESF) money ending from March 31.

Valerie McConville, chief executive of CO3, which represents charity and voluntary sector leaders across the north, said her members are “aghast” at the decision, coming so late in the process and just days before the end of the financial year.

She said: “CO3 members have already been navigating the enormous difficulty resulting from the loss of ESF, with many forced to put staff on notice of redundancy as they await the outcome of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund competition.

“So this latest announcement from the Department of Health is a hammer blow to the sector, with dozens of charities now in turmoil as to how they will fund operations and keep going.

“These charities are delivering essential services to many of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities, and it is unconscionable, in 2023, that they are now in the worst funding crisis imaginable.”

The letter from the Department of Health confirmed that current recipients of DoH core grants would continue to receive that funding for a further three months as current arrangement roll over.

The department then aims to launch a new funding competition in the autumn of 2023, leaving a huge gap between now and the opportunity to reapply.

Ms McConville added: “Our members been hugely let down by the fact that the competition will not proceed to outcome stage now, and the already overstretched chief executives and senior staff in charities will now have to reapply in the autumn against a new criteria – taking even more time and resource away from vital service delivery as they scramble to get sufficient funding to continue operations.

“The year-to-year, hand-to-mouth nature of how charities are funded in Northern Ireland has placed a massive strain on organisations who are now facing cuts and redundancies.

“The sector is losing capacity as charities are forced to make staff redundant, and this news has exacerbated an already dire situation.

“A mark of civilised society is how well we look after the most vulnerable people in our community.

“As capacity shrinks, how will charities continue to deliver better quality of life, economic, health and social outcomes for our vulnerable citizens? And if charities can no longer do this critical work, who will?”