Northern Ireland

Education minister Paul Givan urges UK government to ‘recommit funding’ amid cuts to new school builds

Schools are struggling to provide first aid kits, stationery and hand soap
Paul Givan has urged the UK government to “recommit funding” (Getty Images)

Education minister Paul Givan has urged the UK government to “recommit funding” amid cuts that have led to new school building projects being halted.

In a letter sent to Northern Ireland secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris on Monday, Mr Givan said the decision to cut funding will “have a disproportionate impact on the future of children and young people in Northern Ireland and is a matter of the highest significance”.

Paul Givan said he has written to principals at the schools concerned following his decision
Paul Givan said he has written to Chris Heaton-Harris

Ten schools in Northern Ireland were told last week that they will no longer get new buildings following a funding cut.

While work will continue on projects that have already been started, money for potential new builds from the UK government “is no longer available”.

The money expected was part of a multi-million pound funding promise in the Fresh Start Agreement in 2015.

But the Department of Education has said that £150 million of that funding will not be available now as it had been placed in the UK government’s financial settlement for the Executive.

Funds will still allow for nine new build projects currently in construction contract to be completed and no building work will be stopped.

But a spokesperson said: “There are a further 10 potential new build projects in planning and design for which Fresh Start funding from the UK government is no longer available”.

The 10 projects will continue to progress through the planning process should future funding become available.

Among the schools to have their hopes of a new building dashed is Millennium Integrated Primary in Co Down.

Principal Barry Corrigan told the BBC that “the rug was taken out from under us last night but we will forge forward on a number of things, but there is no getting away that there is widespread disappointment”.

In his letter to the secretary of state, Mr Givan said “there will now be huge disappointment for the school communities previously within the Fresh Start Programme whose long-awaited construction projects have been left unfunded by recent decisions”.

“I am sure you will appreciate that this will undoubtedly result in significant reputational damage to the UK government and will lead to fundamental questions in regard to pledges made, expectations raised and the commitment of the UK government to the development of a shared society particularly through sustained investment in integrated education.”

The education minister asked for a meeting to “discuss the position of the legacy Fresh Start projects as a matter of urgency”.

“As an absolute minimum, it would provide reassurance and certainty for the UK government to recommit funding to the original levels envisaged for the Fresh Start Programme,” he said.

“This funding could be provided over an extended four or five year timeframe to ease financial pressures.

“The decision to remove Fresh Start funding, which is explicitly targeted at building a shared society, will have a disproportionate impact on the future of children and young people in Northern Ireland and is a matter of the highest significance.”