SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has expressed concerns that a range of vital community organisations across Northern Ireland are at risk.
He was speaking given continued uncertainty around a replacement scheme to the European Social Fund (ESF) Programme. Funding provided through the initiative is set to end in March 2023.
Mr Durkan said the absence of clarity around the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), threatens the future delivery of support services which will impact some 10,000 service users. He has written to relevant ministers asking for urgent engagement with the British government.
The Foyle MLA said:
“The European Social Fund has been an important source of funding for a wide range of organisations within the voluntary and community sector, providing an estimated £26 million per year. It was agreed that funding under this initiative would run until March 2023 and time is fast running out to secure an alternative funding stream.
“In October last year I raised my concerns about the risk posed to essential services with the Finance Minister, in the absence of ESF. At that time, he stated the Executive had received limited information surrounding its replacement scheme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF). Almost a year on little has changed and organisations anxiously await further clarity.
“In recent weeks, I visited some of these groups within my constituency including the Cedar Foundation and Action Mental Health New Horizons. They expressed their fears and the knock on effect this loss of funding will have on their service and service users. Not to mention the worry to staff given the many jobs potentially at risk.”
Mr Durkan continued:
“These services are a vital resource, supporting some of the most vulnerable individuals within our communities. From developing social inclusion initiatives to assisting young people entering employment, the acute need for such projects has never been more evident. Their impact to date in transforming lives and improving opportunities for countless people across the North cannot be underestimated.
“These groups must be given assurances that their services will not be impacted. I’ve written to the Communities, Economy and Finance Ministers asking them to engage with the British government as a matter of urgency to release details around the Shared Prosperity Fund; how it will work and whether the available funding is an adequate substitute. Ministers must make this issue a priority, they cannot stand idly by when so much is at risk.”