Anna Lo MLA said: “I welcome the news that additional funds are now available from the Carrier Bag Levy to environmental NGOs, however I am concerned by the Minister’s calculations. Different figures available cited by the minister ranged from £750,000 to £1million over the last few weeks and now we are informed that this fund currently stands at £1.25million. It is difficult to understand how they arrived at such varying figures.
“When the Minister terminated the Natural Heritage Grants Programme, core funded organisations were given 3 months’ notice from 1st April to 30 June and £520,000 was spent on the disengagement costs. One could argue that had this money been kept and pooled with the money from the Carrier Bag Levy there would have been £1.77million to allocate to environmental organisations, which could have funded organisations with a manageable cut under the Natural Heritage Grants Programme for the year. This would have provided continuity and certainty for the NGOs had the Minister planned his budget appropriately.
“I appreciate the DoE has suffered the biggest budget cut amongst all the departments but clearly the Minister has not properly thought through the funding for the environment sector which helps the department to fulfil its function for the protection of the environment. Minister Durkan should have engaged with the environment sector as soon as he became aware of the likely cuts to his department months ago. Organisations now find themselves in the position of having to apply for the new Natural Environment Fund, which will then need to be assessed by departmental officials.
“I am concerned about the move to scrap the well-established Natural Heritage Grants to be replaced by a short-term new fund, the future of which is uncertain when the DoE is merged with the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development to become the new Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.