From education to employment

Northern Ireland Minister of State Pledges £33 Million Funding Boost

Following the publication of a task force report on the fight against deprivation in Northern Ireland, the Minister of State David Hanson has called upon local communities to join the fight.

He was responding to the findings of the Task Force published yesterday, which was geared to establish the specific investment and development needs of the protestant communities. Launching a cross ““ departmental action plan as a response, he announced that “Renewing Communities” ““ as the plan is called ““ will be worth a total of £33 million and features strategies addressing derelict properties and areas, and redevelopment / social inclusion issues.

The Action Plan will also seek to meet the challenge of encouraging young people to remain within education and training for longer, and to access training resources for personal and professional development. The funding pot is complemented by the £100 million Children and Young Peoples Fund and £35 million Skills and Science Fund announced recently by the Secretary of State, which are to be targeted at the communities most in need of assistance.

Action Plan Offers Plan for Action

The plan for the future of the protestant communities will include an initiative to roll out an “Areas of Risk” programme worth £3 million in ten pilot areas. These ten areas are parts of Ligoniel and Sydenham (not previously covered by Neighbourhood Renewal) and Taughmonagh in Belfast, Ballynoshollag and Enogh in Limavady (Greystone Road, Enogh Park, Scraggy Close) Londonderry, Dunclug in Ballymena, West Portadown, Rathenraw Estate, Antrim, Dhu Varren/Glenmanus in Portrush and Seacourt in Larne.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy is being targeted at the 10% of communities rated at the top as suffering the highest levels of deprivation according to the Noble Index. Presently, 32 communities in Northern Ireland are being offered support through this arrangement. The newest additions are to be Suffolk, Andersonstown, Mount Vernon, Bawnmore, Coalisland and Enniskillen; which could see assistance on offer for some 44,000 more people.

The Action Plan is made up of five key features. These include improving the life prospects of the people within the communities; building communities and encouraging social cohesion; encouraging the growth of civic and community leadership and active citizenship; improving public service delivery and outcomes; and freeing communities from paramilitary and criminal influence.

Urban areas, especially in regions formerly reliant on a strong heavy industry presence for employment and prosperity, often require the most assistance in making the transition to a new economic format. As such, Mr. Hanson also announced that the Department of Employment and Learning are set to build a new £13.5 million Workforce and Economic Development Centre in the Springvale area of West Belfast, to make sure that training opportunities are both widely recognised and widely accessed.

Priority on Education

The Secretary of State, Mr Hanson, sees the Action Plan as placing the emphasis on education and training. He said: “I have agreed with Angela Smith that we establish targets to ensure that no child leaves school without basic literary and numeracy skills. The Government believes in a fair and inclusive society where people living in Northern Irelands most disadvantaged communities can access the right support, realise opportunities to achieve their best potential and make the best possible contribution to society.”

Mr. Hanson also fears for the future success and development of the communities if these difficult areas are not addressed. He is concerned that a spiral of increasing poverty and disadvantage could continue if not checked by positive initiatives such as this. The Minister said: “However it has become clear that many Government interventions to tackle disadvantage do not always have the same impact in many Protestant communities.

“Failure to tackle disadvantage is not simply a question of additional resources,” he continued. “It is clear that efforts to tackle disadvantage need to become more focused, developing strategies that are relevant to the particular needs of communities and considering carefully whether current spending is being used to maximum effect.” He reaffirmed the prime importance of education, saying: “¦a number of key areas that need to be addressed. Educational disadvantage is a priority area. A lack of social cohesion, active citizenship and civic leadership are also key factors as is the poor impact of public services.”

Jethro Marsh

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