Belfast Telegraph

Relief as Sure Start scheme is reprieved

High-level meeting agrees 96% funding and secures the jobs of staff who had been faced with redundancies

By David Young

The Sure Start programme in south Belfast has been saved - for the time being at least - it was learned yesterday.

Earlier this week all of its workers were issued with protective redundancy notices due to uncertainty around funding for the education sector in the absence of a functioning Executive.

But last night local Sure Start chair Eleanor Jordan said she was "absolutely delighted" with the decision of the Department for Education to guarantee 96% of the organisation's funding for the next 12 months.

"Imagine all those women and men going home today knowing that their job is secured," she said.

"The Department of Education can only guarantee the 96% because of politics, but if there is a cut we'll obviously fight that.

"What's happened is a perfect example of how - when it's needed - people can come together. It's really empowering, and shows people really can work together."

She added: "We would like to thank all the parents and friends of Sure Start who have shown their support over the last week and the staff team who have continued working and doing their jobs despite having this threat hanging over their heads."

The confirmation that funding will continue came following a high-level meeting between representatives of Sure Start and permanent secretary at the Department of Education, Derek Baker.

The crunch meeting was also attended by South Belfast MP Emma Little Pengelly and DUP colleague Christopher Stalford MLA.

Mr Stalford told the Belfast Telegraph: "When we heard the news that people had been put on protective notice, myself and my colleague Emma Pengelly MP decided that we needed to move quickly to try to deal with this situation, because there are 50 people in my constituency who are directly employed through Sure Start, but there are also thousands of people throughout South Belfast who have had a positive impact on their lives made by Sure Start."

The MLA said that Sure Start was still facing a funding cut of £1m from its £25m annual budget. He vowed to continue pushing for the funding gap to be bridged.

"A million pounds is obviously a significant sum of money," Mr Stalford said.

"We're going to do all we can to try and ensure that that planned cut does not go ahead, and that we can secure the resources needed to protect Sure Start's allocation.

"That would be made easier with a functioning Executive at Stormont.

"Following on from the announcement regarding school uniforms, this underscores the need to get an Executive up and running, because it's important that communities are protected at this time."

South Belfast MP Mrs Little Pengelly said that she would by speaking to the Secretary of State about the Sure Start funding issue, adding that monies which will be made available to Northern Ireland following the recent DUP/Conservtive pact could be used to plug the £1m funding shortfall.

Sure Start is a Government programme that provides a range of support services for parents and children under the age of four who live in disadvantaged areas across Northern Ireland.

There are 39 Sure Start programmes here, helping around 1,600 children.

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