SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has said the British government cannot be trusted to deliver funding to community initiatives across the North.
He was speaking after being informed that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), designed to replace the EU’s European Social Fund (ESF), will be delivered by the government as part of its levelling up agenda.
Mr Durkan expressed concern given the paltry amount of funding previously provided to the North from the Levelling Up Fund and called for Stormont departments to be involved in delivering the funding.
Foyle MLA Mr Durkan said:
“Time is running out for the various organisations across the North dependent on the ESF, with funding due to end in just eight months’ time. Rather than putting minds at ease, clarification from the Economy Minister that the UK government plans to take the lead on the proposed replacement scheme, will undoubtedly add to existing anxieties.
“Minister Lyons has urged organisations to lobby the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) as they hold the budget and will essentially make the decision on future funding. Earlier this month we learnt that the North received the lowest share of the Treasury’s Levelling up Fund, just 2.9%, while other devolved nations received significantly more. These concerns were raised after the first rollout of this scheme, yet lessons were not learned and efforts not implemented to address the restrictive process in its second iteration. That is incomprehensible given that Northern Ireland is an area of high deprivation and arguably in greater need of this type of funding.
“Understandably this revelation will shake the confidence of many organisations here. Stormont Ministers must seek assurances that this glaring issue will be rectified, that the amounts provided under ESF will be replicated and receive a guarantee that the North will receive its fair share. This process would be much easier if the Economy Minister’s party ended their boycott of our institutions so we could properly advocate on behalf of organisations here.
“EU funding has been utterly transformational for our communities and much of the progress and good work we have witnessed in recent decades is directly attributable to grassroot services. Without EU funds, their work to improve lives across the North would not have been possible and we must do everything within our power to ensure these vital funding streams are not lost with the resulting huge negative impact on organisations here."