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Social Fund overspend of £13m sparks call for probe

By Noel McAdam

The Audit Office has been urged to investigate the Social Investment Fund (SIF) after a leaked memo revealed the scheme was likely to run £13m over budget.

A document issued in the name of the First and Deputy First Ministers referred to the predicted overspend.

The SDLP said auditors should investigate the controversial fund, which is meant to deliver 68 community projects, 17 of which are already operational. These include the east Belfast group Charter NI.

Police previously claimed that at least one individual linked to the organisation is connected to the UDA.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said: "If it wasn't bad enough that the Executive is handing millions to organisations linked to paramilitaries, we now discover they are also running £13m over budget and, surprise, surprise, are extending the scheme to just before the next Assembly election.

"This fuels the view that this is nothing more than a slush fund, and this latest revelation further demonstrates that (the Executive) is incompetent and incapable of managing public money.

"The public demands and deserves better than this. That is why we are reiterating our call for a full Audit Office investigation into this debacle.

"If the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have nothing to hide, they've nothing to fear."

A memo sent to government departments last week said that while the cost of the programme was supposed to be £80m, it was likely to hit £93.1m - and there are reports it could climb higher.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they were seeking the Executive's agreement to increase the budget and timeframe of the SIF to allow for full delivery of projects.

Although the fund was supposed to have finished last year, it will now run until 2020, and the money to meet the shortfall has already been identified under "existing annual central capital funds".

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson warned that the SIF could turn into another drain on taxpayer's money.

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