Northern Ireland news

MP warns 'not all' ESF recipients will be covered in UK replacement funding for community groups and charities

Norman Sterritt, NIUSE; David Babington, Action Mental Health; and Conor McGinnity, Mencap service user, pictured at Stormont last year highlighting the risks posed by the withdrawal of the European Social Fund, which ends in the north this Friday.
Paul Ainsworth

AN announcement is expected this week on the British government's replacement for EU funding that helps community and voluntary groups in the north, but an MP has warned that "not all" those who benefited form the outgoing scheme will be covered.

The EU's European Social Fund (ESF) is due to be withdrawn on Friday as a result of Brexit, ending a £40 million pot that had previously been topped up by Stormont to assist groups and charities.

It is feared the move will prevent groups continuing their work in communities, while also placing jobs at risk.

London has said its replacement Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) will fill the gap left by the ESF, with the UK's Levelling Up, Housing and Communities secretary Michael Gove saying this week he recognises the "need to deliver quickly" for groups that relied on EU funding now facing uncertainty.

A UK government spokesperson also said this week the new fund would "at a minimum, match previous EU funding in Northern Ireland".

However Claire Hanna said she believes not all previously funded organisations would benefit from the new SPF, and called for further "meaningful engagements" over NI organisations who provided a "lifeline to marginalised groups" including people with learning difficulties.

Speaking after a meeting on Tuesday with levelling up minister Dehanna Davison, the South Belfast SDLP MP said: "Along with charities and groups who provide support and communities, I have been sounding the alarm for many months about the impact of the loss of European Social Funds and the broken promises of the UK government to ensure this region would not lose out as a result of Brexit."

She said it was clear the new SPF "was not going to be an adequate replacement and the absence of an Executive means that local departments also working on this issues have not stepped in".

"It’s not good enough for distant ministers in London to pick winners and losers with no real sense of strategy and purpose, and with recipients being kept dangling until the last minute. This is no way to provide services," she said.

Following Tuesday's meeting, Ms Hanna added that funding announcements were likely "later this week".

"But it is also clear that not all previous recipients will be covered," she said.

"I pressed the need for meaningful engagement with NI departments, which has been absent in the design of this scheme so far and which is made worse by the DUP’s dereliction of duty over Stormont."

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