Derry advice services 'demoralised' over lack of funding Councillors warn

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Derry City and Strabane District Council members say they must lobby for more Executive funding for “demoralised” advice service suppliers.

At the June Health and Community Committee meeting members approved the appointment of the two trial providers, Creggan Community Collective and Leafair Community Association for a six month period.

Strategic Director, Barry O’Hagan, reminded members that, within this year’s rates process an additional £30,000 was added to the budget for a trial provider programme, with both suppliers receiving £15,000 each.

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SDLP councillor Brian Tierney said suppliers provided quality advice and members should be doing “all we can to help them”, but said there were currently funding issues for advice services.

SDLP Councillor Brian Terney.SDLP Councillor Brian Terney.
SDLP Councillor Brian Terney.

“There is a finite amount of money, which currently is divided between three organisations,” he said. “If these advice service providers are both successful that same amount of money – with hopefully some investment by council at the next rates process – will then be divided by five organisations and the reality is that’s all not enough.

“There’s going to be less money, with more organisations potentially, so we have to double down on our efforts with Ministers to try and get extra money for advice services.

“So at the next Advice Service Panel I would like to see what strategy we’re going to use to try and get that budget increased, because when we write a letter to a Minister we don’t get a response and some years there’s not even a Minister there.”

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People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin said advice services were a key component of an anti-poverty strategy, but funding hadn’t increased since 2015.

Councillor Harkin said: “That’s nearly a decade of static amount of money coming from Stormont so our advice services, though they are providing a crucial service and doing very important work, are completely demoralised.

“Our council is struggling as well with its finances, so the solution has to come from Central Government and I agree, writing letters only matters when it’s backed up.”

“If the Executive doesn’t actually have a serious strategy, it will require people putting feet on the street for a humane benefits system, for advice services that are properly funded, and other measures like child payments.”

UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said he was worried there was a “dearth [of services] in the rural remainder” of the district.

“Councillor Tierney is perfectly correct; moving up to five spreads the pot that bit thinner,” Alderman Hussey concluded. “And there’s that lack of capacity in the rural communities.

“So I’m concerned that moving forward it’s not just feet in the street, it’s feet in the townlands as well.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter