Youth groups funding concern

Education Minister Peter Weir.

Education Minister Peter Weir.

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Education Minister Peter Weir says youth sector funding is being used as a “political football” which is causing “unnecessary anxiety” for workers.

Mr Weir spoke out amid concerns that jobs could be at risk if £3.5million of youth service funding is cut.

The Education Authority (EA) has written to some youth centres warning there is no indication further additional funding would be available from April.

However, in a statement Mr Weir said that “no funding has been withdrawn and no decision or proposals have been taken to remove funding.”

“This is an annual exercise which has been carried out by the Education Authority,” he stated.

“My concern is that some people have chosen to use this issue as a political football and as a result have caused anxiety for youth sector staff. “This is unnecessary and unfair. I want to again reassure those working in the youth sector that I have not received any proposals to cut funding. Moreover, I have not proposed to withdraw or reduce support for these important initiatives.”

EA Chief Executive Gavin Boyd added: “The provision of this funding is reviewed annually and is always subject to availability. As the youth budget for 2017/18 is not yet known, in line with statutory procedures, EA has written to the management committees of the relevant youth organisations to advise that the continuation of funding cannot yet be confirmed beyond March 2017.”

Sinn Fein representative Oliver McMullan voiced concerns that youth groups would be required to manage their own budgets without EA support.

“They could have more responsibility and more work on a reduced budget,” he said. “There could be a danger that if some can’t keep up they’d have to close. The majority of these groups are run by volunters. Rural groups could be particularly badly hit.”