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Do not worry: MP Little-Pengelly bids to reassure Sure Start staff threatened with job loss due to political deadlock

By Sue Doherty

Politicians have been quick to rally around the Sure Start child and family support programme after Tuesday's revelations government funding support for many of the groups is set to run out at the end of the month with one MP telling those affected "do not worry".

South Belfast Sure Start announced it had placed its 50 staff on protective notice on Monday meaning they may not have a job after the end of the month.

The organisation, which looks after 1,600 infants and young children and supports their families, said it had to issue the notices because of the uncertainty over funding.

Read more: 50 Sure Start staff put on notice, lack of government funding cited 

There are 39 Sure Start programmes across Northern Ireland, helping families in disadvantaged areas. All of the group's receive funding from the Department of Education.

Interim cash was allocated in April to take the programmes to July 31 but, with the Northern Ireland Assembly still suspended, no further budget allocations have yet been made.

Read more: Suzanne Breen: So Stormont could agree on one thing ... they should keep getting their wages

The Department of Education, in a statement, said: "As a consequence of the indicative budget for the Department of Education announced by the Secretary of State on April 24, the department faces major financial pressures in 2017-18 if it is to operate within its budget.

"Consequently options to reduce spending across all programme areas are being explored. 

"Final decisions on the scale of the budget reductions have not been taken on all areas and will depend on the department’s final budget allocation. Those decisions that have been made have been communicated to the relevant organisations.”

DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly said there had been "considerable concern" about the Sure Start announcement

In a move to reassure staff and parents, she added: "My understanding is that this is only because of the temporary budget situation but funding will continue once the existing (and if that doesn't happen, the new) budget procedure is passed. Do not worry!"

The MP from South Belfast added: "I will be speaking to the department first thing tomorrow to confirm."

DUP Christopher Stalford, MLA also took to social media to support the programme, tweeting: "Seeking urgent meeting with DE Perm Sec abt future of Sth Belfast SureStart. Failure to set budgets and restore devolution has consequences."

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir added: "Sure Start does tremendous life-changing work with children & parents. Staff salaries should immediately be guaranteed to end March 2018."

This prompted Christopher Stalford to comment: "Not for the first time protesting the direct consequence of the failure to set a budget. Who was responsible for drawing one up???"

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