The Department for Communities has launched a consultation on the impact of proposed 5% cuts to its arm’s length bodies, including those responsible for museums and culture in Northern Ireland.
The department is proposing to reduce the budget of organisations including National Museums NI, the Northern Ireland Museums Council and Arts Council NI in order to address a funding shortfall of around £170m in its resource and capital budget.
There is also a £8.7m decrease in capital funding for 2023-24 compared to 2022-23. While the department has stated that it will meet its existing statutory and contractual obligations, it says that the remaining capital funding "will have to be carefully prioritised to take forward a limited number of projects".
According to the department, the budgetary challenge is compounded by resource reductions of £290m over the last decade.
The department has published an Equality Impact Assessment of its budget proposals. Interested parties are invited to respond to the assessment by 7 June.
The assessment finds that a reduction in funding impacting frontline staffing at National Museums NI will "have a negative impact" on groups that benefit from the organisation's onsite and outreach activities, including those with mental health issues and physical disabilities.
It also finds that reduced funding at Arts Council NI will damage delivery by, and sustainability of, arts and cultural organisations supporting communities across the region. The assessment notes that there is already a disparity in per capita arts investment in Northern Ireland compared to other UK jurisdictions.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities said: "It is important to emphasise that the budget reductions set out in the Equality Impact Assessment are proposals only at this point and are subject to change as a result of the consultation process."
The proposals have been criticised by Northern Ireland’s arts and heritage sector. A protest attended by almost 200 creative practitioners was held in Belfast last month after the Arts Council NI warned it would be forced to reduce the annual funding it provides by 10% in response to the budget cuts.
There are also concerns about the lack of democratic scrutiny and executive oversight of the spending plans. The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly has not been formed since power sharing collapsed following Sinn Féin's election victory in May 2022.
There have been renewed calls for the DUP to resume power sharing following last week’s local elections, when Sinn Féin became the biggest party in local government.
Department for Communities budget 2023-24
|Actual budget 22/23 £k||Proposed budget 23/24 £k|
|National Museums Northern Ireland||14,547||13,820|
|Northern Ireland Museums Council||245||233|
|Arts Council Northern Ireland||10,192||9,682|