Community leader calls on Stormont to make up shortfall after loss of EU funding

A community sector leader, due to meet with Stormont's Permanent Secretaries over the significant loss of EU funding, has said it would be "financial madness" for Departments not to make up the shortfall.

Andrew Ervine, Chief Executive of east Belfast Mission, represents over 50 organisations impacted by the loss of European Social Fund money that is set to run out in March.

He told UTV that 300 people who work directly in communities across Northern Ireland have already been put on redundancy notice and that hundreds more could lose their jobs.

"There are 800 jobs in communities at immediate risk and, as I speak to you, 300 people in community organisations like this have already received their redundancy notice," he said.

Sector leaders have warned that vital services, which support the most vulnerable, are about to be lost.

Action Mental Health, which runs programmes that help thousands of people across Northern Ireland, have said they will have to slash services unless extra funding is found.

Chief Executive David Babbington said: "These are vulnerable people, they're far away from the workplace and need specialised help over time. They've said to us that they fear they are going to be abandoned."

The organisations that are losing out are now applying for money from a new pot, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, but those in the sector say it is only worth half of what was on offer before.

A group from the community sector is set to meet with the Permanent Secretaries of several Stormont departments on Friday. They insist that there is a statutory onus on the departments to make up the shortfall.

Andrew Ervine said: "We understand that the Assembly's budget is tight but not spending money on this preventative work is financial madness because if these services collapse people are going to fall back on much more expensive public services; services that are already stretched.

The Department for the Economy responded in a statement: "The Department is very well aware of and empathises with the concerns of the entire sector... Decisions made and allocations to projects from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be made solely by the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities."

While the Department for Communities told UTV: "DfC officials have been engaging regularly with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to help them maximise the positive impact of the Shared Prosperity Fund in Northern Ireland."

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