Fresh Start money for shared and integrated schools can be carried over

Drumlins IPS was built with Fresh Start money
Drumlins IPS was built with Fresh Start money

MILLIONS of pounds promised in the Fresh Start agreement to promote integrated education can be carried over into future years, it has been confirmed.

The Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements included plans to invest up to £50 million a year, for 10 years, on unsegregated schooling.

The huge investment was welcomed by ministers at the time as "another step forward on the road to building a better Northern Ireland".

It was designed to unblock through investment "one of the most persistent obstacles towards a shared future for Northern Ireland's communities".

Just £3m was spent in 2016/17, however, and it appeared there was little possibility of the unspent cash rolling over to another year. In the financial year just passed - 2017/18 - just £5m of a new £50m pot was spent.

Fears had been expressed that any unspent money would be kept by the UK Treasury.

The schools' funding was initially announced in March 2016 by then secretary of state, Theresa Villiers.

A total of 23 projects were approved for funding. Ms Villiers revealed there would be construction of shared education campuses at Limavady, Moy and Ballycastle and integrated school projects at Braidside, Drumlins and Roe Valley.

Funding would also allow additional shared and integrated school proposals to advance to planning.

A new build at Drumlins IPS in Ballynahinch is complete, and it received £3.4m while a project at Braidside IPS in Ballymena is on-site and £1.4m has been spent to date.

All of the other projects are at earlier stages of planning or approval.

Completion of these projects will see an additional 3,000 pupils being educated together in shared campuses and enable increases in enrolment at integrated schools.

It has now been confirmed that money left unspent can carry over into future financial years.

A Department of Finance spokesperson said the `confidence and supply' agreement between the DUP and Conservative Party included a commitment that the UK government will permit any remaining funding from previous allocations for shared education and housing "to be dispersed flexibly" until 2021.

"HM Treasury has confirmed this," a finance spokeswoman said.

"This £91m from 2016/17 and 2017/18 can be used for proposals that meet the objectives of increasing the provision of shared education and housing, including schools or campuses where children from different communities are educated together."