Editorial: Cuts will do irreversible damage

It seems that barely a day now goes by without news of further devastating cuts to vital services in education or other areas of public life.

The latest scheme to suffer swingeing cutbacks is shared education, which faces losing half its budget from September.

Hundreds of schools currently take part in shared education projects, which bring pupils from different community and socio-economic backgrounds together on a regular basis for joint classes, trips and other activities.

The Education Authority has told principals there may only be half the money available in the next school year, with no funding confirmed beyond April 2024.

There is no doubt that shared education provides both educational and social benefits to young people. In some cases it will be the only opportunity to have contact with peers from a different school sector.

The Transferors' Representative Council, representing the three main Protestant Churches, said the cuts will be detrimental to good relations and expressed deep concern about the impact of wider underfunding on the most vulnerable in society.

The education sector is facing savage cutbacks under the recent budget announced by Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris.

Services affected include extended schools provision, a post-pandemic scheme helping children catch up on lost learning, and 'holiday hunger' payments for tens of thousands of families entitled to free school meals.

New building projects have also been put on hold and, shamefully, at a time of huge demand for mental health services, a counselling programme for primary schools pupils has been targeted.

Similar cuts are being imposed across other public services.

Nurses will hold a demonstration at Stormont today to highlight the "escalating crisis" in the health service, with student nursing places set to be slashed at a time when thousands more staff are needed.

Pressure to make significant savings at the Department for Economy could also affect efforts to attract inward investment and tourism and mean less money for universities and colleges.

It all makes for a depressing backdrop as voters go to the polls to cast their ballot for council candidates, and perhaps make a statement on the wider political situation.

When the dust settles on the election campaign the number one priority of all parties must be to agree a return to their own system of sharing at Stormont and reverse recent cuts before irreversible damage is done.