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Ritchie’s Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy becoming a shambles

6 June, 2008

Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has called on the Minister of Social Development to tell the truth about her commitment to the long term delivery of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy as the department's main weapon in dealing with social deprivation.

Fra McCann said:

"Sadly it now appears that Margaret Ritchie is turning a blind eye to her strategy for tackling social deprivation across the north.

"At a recent meeting I learned that the minister, who despite claiming that she is deeply committed to the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy, has not called a single interdepartmental meeting since August last year and does not intend to have one until this August - a gap of a full year.

"This interdepartmental committee is crucial in the battle to have other departments buy into this strategy which impacts on those most in need in our society.

"This is a disgrace and runs against the impression given by the minister of her support for the neighbourhood renewal process. Yet, this just one of several severe blows this major strategy has received from the minister.

"Several months ago she announced that she was moving neighbourhood renewal to local government under Review of Public Administration. However, it now seems that this may happen sooner than expected as a pilot scheme. This has brought angry comments from both local councillors and neighbourhood renewal boards."

Fra McCann also expressed concern that the minister had lost the ability to deliver this strategy. He added:

"The neighbourhood Renewal Strategy needs a long-term interdepartmental focus if it is ever going to effectively deal with the generational deprivation which is endemic in the 36 neighbourhood renewal areas across the north.

"I believe that Margaret Ritchie is prepared to hurriedly ditch this scheme because she has failed to make it a success. The buy-in from other departments is crucial to the success not just of the Neighbourhood Renewal but the entire focus on targeting poverty. The fact that the interdepartmental committee has not had a meeting since last August is an indictment on how the scheme has been run.

"The Social Development Minister has the lead on this yet she has not shown the leadership required to deliver the other departments. She needs to restore the morale of her department and of the many people that rely on this scheme to tackle social deprivation.

"Margaret Ritchie needs to ask for an urgent discussion at the Executive about Neighbourhood Renewal and she needs to tell them that this strategy needs the buy-in from the other departments. It is not an option to do nothing. We need to ensure that we deliver on this strategy.

"This is not the time to ditch this strategy. It is not he time to reduce funding. It is the time to invest in neighbourhood renewal." ENDS

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