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'Last minute' funding reprieve for youth workers

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said there needs to be more certainty in terms of funding for youth workers.

Hundreds of youth workers in the north have been given a "last-minute reprieve" until July after government funding was secured.

The Education Authority (EA) had previously advised that money for `extended provision' positions across the north would end on Friday due to the lack of an agreed budget, but a 'cash allocation' from the Department for Education has ensured operations will continue until July 31.

The development ensures the short-term future of youth workers and youth initiatives for which funding was due to end on March 31, 2017.

Projects under threat included outreach and street based work, weekend youth provision and work with young people in juvenile detention centres.

Although the Education Authority has been unable to estimate the total number of youth worker posts affected it is thought there are as many as 130 in west Belfast alone.

"The Department of Education (DE) has recently confirmed a cash allocation for EA up until July 31 2017. This is to ensure that in advance of an agreed budget allocation, business continuity can be maintained," an EA spokesperson said.

"In relation to youth initiatives for which funding was due to end on March 31 2017, we have made funding available until July 31 2017. Youth workers employed by EA have been informed that their contracts have been extended to July 31 2017. Subject to successful applications, funding has also been made available to voluntary youth organisations on the same basis."

"EA recognises the valuable contributions of youth workers and the importance of their work within local communities," they added.

The Department for Education has confirmed that while the 2017/18 budget was not agreed prior to the dissolution of the Assembly it has released money, which "should allow for continuity of services and protection of jobs (including youth workers) in the short term".

"The objective is to maintain existing levels of service provision," they said.

West Belfast SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said he was pleased with the "last-minute reprieve".

"It is very welcome, even at this stage that the Education Authority has confirmed that the funding for the youth outreach workers across Belfast has been secured for four months, but we should never have been in this situation in the first place. These youth workers play a vital role in working with young people, especially in areas of great disadvantage and need," he said.

"We need to ensure there is more certainty in terms of funding for vital services such as youth workers," Mr Attwood added.

The long-term future of youth services will be dependant on the decisions taken by an incoming administration the Department for Education has said

"The Department is not in a position to advise schools or its non-departmental public bodies of their 2017-18 budget allocation at this stage," they added.

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