Northern Ireland's Department of Education has announced a u-turn on funding cuts that would have impacted thousands of people.
It has said it is not proceeding with proposed cuts to Youth Services and a range of Early Years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox.
It has also said it is not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools.
The department's permanent secretary said the cuts would go against the aim of the department and cause lasting budgetary pressure into the coming years.
He said the decision to cut the funding was for a minister and not a civil servant.
With rising costs and a £66million cut from the Education budget for 2023/24 the department had been facing a funding gap of around £382m.
Officials said they were left with an "extremely challenging financial position".
The department has already taken significant decisions to reduce expenditure by £172million.
These included the cessation of the Engage, Healthy Happy Minds and School Holiday Food Grant schemes from the end of March 2023 and reductions to the Education Authority’s Aggregated Schools Budget and Block Grant. Education Permanent Secretary Dr Mark Browne said: “The department’s vision for all children is that they will be happy, learning and succeeding.
"Delivering on this is particularly challenging in the current budgetary context, especially in terms of addressing the needs of our most disadvantaged children and young people.
"We know that early intervention, especially for our most vulnerable, is critical for development, improving learning outcomes and supporting longer term societal benefits. “Accordingly, having carefully considered all of the principles in the Secretary of State’s decision-making guidance, I am not cutting funding to Youth Services and a range of Early Years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox.
"In addition, I am not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools. “In considering the scale and cumulative impact of the proposed cuts, which represent a major change to long standing ministerial programmes and policies, I am of the view that such a decision should be taken by a minister, not a permanent secretary."
He continued: “Evidence shows that the scale of the proposed cuts to Early Years, Extended Schools and Y
outh Service programmes would create greater budgetary pressures for the next financial year and beyond across a range of areas, including special educational needs. “Furthermore, the reductions would cause significant detriment to the provision of services for our most vulnerable children, young people and families, and run counter to all the department’s efforts to tackle educational disadvantage.” The department is to publish an Equality Impact Assessment Consultation as part of the final budget. The consultation responses received will be used to inform further mitigation measures and reallocation of any additional funding available during 2023-24.
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