In May 2012, the Executive agreed to set aside £80m to ‘deliver social change. It aims to make life better for people living in targeted areas by reducing poverty, unemployment and physical deterioration’ – OFMDFM.
The UUP branded the fund a ‘DUP/SF slush fund’ in its response to the announcement of the fund, and the Alliance Party said it was was a ‘pet project’ of the big two Executive parties.
Jumping to the present, 89 projects have been identified by the Steering Groups set up across the region. As part of the process to have an application approved, it must comply with what OFMDFM referred to as ‘the economic appraisal process’. This is how the process is described on their own website listing successful projects:
List of all projects within the affordability limits
This list includes projects that are approved and are currently at Letter of Offer stage, these are the 23 projects announced by ministers on 10 February 2014.
The list also comprises the projects which are currently within the funding allocation of each zone but have not yet been approved by the economic appraisal process. It should be noted that these projects, with the status ‘awaiting approval’ are not guaranteed funding.
Seems fairly straightforward – if a project is marked ‘Approved’ on the list to be found here, then it will be funded – and it would only be marked ‘Approved’ if it has passed the economic appraisal process and is affordable.
However, BtP can reveal that this is not entirely the full picture. We asked OFMDFM specifically in relation to capital projects, what was their status and are any of them projected to go over budget – which should not be possible, given the economic appraisal process.
In it’s response, OFMDFM tells us that one capital project has been completed and is operational, two have begun construction and a further two have appointed contractors – all good news.
But, in relation to costs – the Department tells us that ‘Robust costs for capital projects are not determined until the contractor is appointed’. To date, four projects have appointed a contractor and already, one is over budget.
Cloona House in West Belfast is that project. Now, if we look at the list of approved projects, which are to have undergone an economic appraisal process, here is what we see.
And there is the Cloona House project, marked Approved.
And who, pray tell, is a central figure in the project and a member of the Board? Junior Minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, Jennifer McCann MLA (alongside the SDLP’s Cllr Brian Heading) as well as Jim McCarthy, a senior operator in Community Restorative Justice.
Will other capital projects that were supposed to have passed a process of scrutiny now go over budget and will the public be asked to pick up the tab?