Charity warns government funding in Northern Ireland not enough to replace previous scheme

A £57 million funding package allocated to charities and community groups in Northern Ireland will not be enough to replace the previous scheme, a charity has warned.

Eighteen projects covering around 100 organisations across the region will receive backing through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) with a focus on helping support people into work.

The Government announcement came on the day financial support provided by the European Social Fund (ESF) came to an end as a consequence of Brexit.

The ESF funding had been worth around £40 million. This money was 35% match-funded from Stormont, raising the sum to £54 million. However, the Stormont executive is not operating and civil servants are limited in the spending decisions they can take.

 "The stark reality is that today's funding is half of that previously available,” says Rev Andrew Irvine, chair of the Community Sector Peer Group.

"Today's last-minute intervention will only provide a lifeline for some Services.

"This will have a devastating impact on those groups who have not received funding, their staff and those who rely upon them.

"It will take time to assess the impact of this debacle."

He added: "The indecision of the past four years has shown that there is no strategic, long-term, joined-up thinking by Government in London or Belfast towards employability services or the wider contribution of Northern Ireland's community sector."

The community sector only found out at the last minute whether they'd been successful in securing funding earlier today and some charities in Northern Ireland had warned they would have to cut staff numbers and support programmes if funding was not replaced.

“The treatment of our staff in bringing it literally to the last day is really reprehensible,” says Andrew Irvine from the East Belfast Mission.

He added: “A number of the 22 organisations who have been in the peer group over the last year have been very successful and they are very grateful for the funds although there is a very strong conversation to be had with the Department of Housing Levelling Up and Communities over the timing of this.” 

Making the announcement, Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison said the Government was increasing the pot originally earmarked for economic inactivity support in Northern Ireland by £15 million.

"We are making the most of opportunities outside the European Union to deliver for people in Northern Ireland," she said.

"It is fantastic that organisations have come together in new partnerships to deliver creative solutions to economic inactivity through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

"In recognition of the huge impact charities, businesses and colleges are having on the ground, I'm delighted to announce that we are boosting the

original funding pot for this competition by an additional £15 million to help them support even more people into fulfilling jobs.

"This is an important milestone in the investment we are making to level up Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK."

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris welcomed the announcement, saying: "The £57 million funding will support the vital work of community and voluntary organisations, enabling them to support people in Northern Ireland into secure and sustainable employment.

"Through its People and Skills strand, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will invest in skills training and interventions to support economically inactive people in Northern Ireland.

"This is key to boosting productivity and harnessing Northern Ireland's growth Potential."

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