Belfast Telegraph

Sure Start representatives set to meet with Dept of Education over redundancies

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Representatives from south Belfast Sure Start are set to meet with the Department of Education's top civil servant after issuing protective redundancy notices to its 50 employees. 

The notices were issued to staff on Monday, and funding for the organisation has not been guaranteed beyond 31 July.

The organisation provides support to the families of around 1,600 infants and young children up the the age of four, around half of which use the organisation every week.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the organisation's chair Eleanor Jordan said that they were set to meet with the Department's Permanent Secretary Derek Baker at 11.30am on July 7.

"We are hoping that he may have something to say tomorrow, but the feeling is that his hands may be tied. It may have to come from Westminster," she said.

Ms Jordan said that even if in a scenario where a guarantee of funding could be given for the year ahead, the organisation were still "deeply concerned about rumours of cuts".

The group took a 4% cut in funding last year, meaning that hours for its coordinator and senior staff were reduced.

Were further cuts to take place south Belfast Sure Start would have to look at redundancies, Ms Jordan said.

As it stands, the Sure Start chair said that her group were hoping for a 'roll over', where the same funding the group received in the previous year would be granted again.

While this would allow the organisation to continue with its work, Ms Jordan said, staff's wages would not rise in line with inflation - meaning they would take a pay cut in real terms.

This follows an earlier announcement from Sinn Fein MLA for the South Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir that he had spoken with the Department's Permanent Secretary Mr Baker to seek reassurances for the continued employment of Sure Start's employees.

"I am confident that monies will continue to flow after July to enable these protective notices to be lifted as soon as possible. Sure Start does magnificent work across our community and its viability and success is a priority for me," he said.

Speaking about Mr Ó Muilleoir's meeting at the Department, Ms Jordan said that she didn't know what the outcome of the meeting had been but that she would "love to hear from him".

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