Belfast Telegraph

'Political standoff' between DUP and Sinn Fein means only consultants gain from poverty fund

By Adrian Rutherford

Almost £400,000 has been paid to consultants involved in an £80m poverty fund – even though the communities it was set up to help haven't received a penny of it.

The Social Investment Fund was supposed to pump millions into deprived areas, but the money remains untouched – reportedly because of a political stand-off.

It has been claimed the DUP and Sinn Fein can't agree whether more of the money should go to Catholics or Protestants.

While community groups are left waiting on vital funds, £389,847 has been shelled out to civil servants and five consultancy groups involved in the project.

The figures were released to Ukip MLA David McNarry following an Assembly question.

In response, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said: "To date, £389,847 has been spent in relation to the preparation for delivery, such as provision of support to develop area plans, economic appraisals and undertaking gateway reviews of the programme.

"The parties in receipt of these funds were RSM McClure Watters, Wallace Consulting, Deloitte, Copius Consulting and Central Procurement Directorate." Mr McNarry told the Belfast Telegraph: "It is appalling that nearly £400,000 has been spent on consultants yet not one penny has gone to community groups.

"This verges on a corruption of the process for the sake of petty party politics."

The Social Investment Fund, aimed at reducing poverty and unemployment, was unveiled in March 2011.

The Detail news website quoted sources involved in operating the fund who claimed the DUP and Sinn Fein are squabbling over who gets the money. "If the money was allocated based on deprivation statistics, then more money would go in to nationalist areas than working-class unionist areas," the source told the website.

Official figures show that 16 of Northern Ireland's most deprived wards are nationalist.

FACTFILE

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister was contacted about the Social Investment Fund, but declined to comment. It follows a pattern where controversial questions from journalists are routinely ignored by the department. A separate Assembly question from TUV leader Jim Allister revealed almost £780,000 was spent on OFMDFM's Press department last year, which employs five press officers.

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