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Mike Nesbitt: OFMdFm can't even give cash away


Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

If you saw it, you'll never forget the car crash television that was the launch of Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC).

There was DUP junior minister Jonathan Bell claiming he was looking at budgets amounting to half-a-billion pounds for implementing T:BUC, while John O'Dowd's contribution for Sinn Fein's half of the partnership was to dismiss the lack of consultation with the remarkably eloquent, "So what?"

T:BUC is now two years old and the spend to date is less than £10m. And, as it happens, most of that money would have been spent anyway.

But £10m is practically profligate compared to the spend on the Social Investment Fund (SIF). SIF is a Programme for Government commitment to spend £80m by the end of last March, split evenly between people suffering deprivation and areas of dereliction.

It transpired this week that the total spend over the three years has been no more than £1m. Really. One out of 80.

Martin McGuinness is howling at the Moon about austerity, but he has £79m in the OFMdFM bank account to mitigate its impacts. You couldn't make it up.

The "So what?", or moral, of the story is the need to consult, plan, prepare and bring people with you. The SIF had the worthy aim of being a "bottom-up" initiative, with the community deciding what they wanted, hence the creation of nine zonal advisory panels, populated by representatives of the statutory, voluntary and business communities.

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As it turned out, putting that fine principle into practice proved too difficult for OFMdFM. Ask the simple question, "Has the business community been represented on all nine panels?" and the answer is, "Don't know". It is shocking, truly shocking.

The message I am getting this week from foreign politicians and diplomats is that there is a long list of business people who want to invest in Northern Ireland, but they are losing interest in a country where the Government cannot make difficult decisions.

The news that OFMdFM cannot give money away is another nail in the coffin of those who deserve better. This cannot be as good as it gets.

Mike Nesbitt MLA is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

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