No decisions have yet been made on funding for St Mary’s Youth Club in Portadown - despite rumours circulating that the money has been lost - the Education Minister has said.
Youth workers at the club have been praised for their work with young people in and around the town centre - including the past number of Saturday nights when the problem of antisocial behaviour and underage drinking has flared in the Meadow Lane/Garvaghy Road area.
The funding has been received by St Mary’s for the past four years and youth worker in charge Nick McConvey said the money had allowed it to take on one extra full-time worker and three part-time staff.
But he said the ‘extended provision scheme’ was only ever for one year and had to be renewed each time.
He said, “We haven’t received anything formally to say the funding has ended. It is due to run out at the end of March, but we always knew that, as that is what has happened in previous years.
“The funding has allowed us to extend our provision, including youth workers out on the streets on a Saturday talking to and building up relationships with young people.
“If we were to lose the money it wouldn’t be as easy for us to do the Saturday work.”
Mr McConvey added, “We try to get young people to understand the effects of their behaviour on the community and on themselves. We feel if we build a relationship with them we can support them to move away from antisocial behaviour and encourage them to take part in youth groups and other activities.”
Education Authority (EA) Chief Executive, Gavin Boyd said, “As the youth budget for 2017/18 is not yet known, in line with statutory procedures, EA has written to the management committees of the relevant youth organisations to advise that the continuation of funding cannot yet be confirmed beyond March 2017.
“It has been standard practice to place staff employed as part of funded initiatives on ‘protective notice’ until detailed budgets are confirmed. We note that this issue has caused some concern and would like to emphasise that no decision has yet been made in relation to funding for these initiatives nor has any proposal been made to end the funding.”
Minister Weir said, “I am very concerned at the amount of speculation and misinformation on this issue, in particular, the suggestion that I or my Department has cut funding to these youth services. No funding has been withdrawn, no decision has been taken to remove funding and there are no proposals to remove the funding.
“I greatly value the work of the youth sector in supporting young people to improve their overall life chances, and I remain committed to ensuring that the needs of young people are prioritised in line with current policy objectives and within the resources available.
“The confusion that has arisen is as a result of a budget not yet having been agreed and obviously there is some uncertainty at the moment as to when and by whom final budget decisions will be made.”