Independent Coleraine MLA, Claire Sugden, has expressed deep concern about the recent cuts to the Department of Education Early Years Fund and the impact it will have for community and voluntary groups in East Londonderry and across Northern Ireland.
In a statement to the Times, Ms Sugden said: “Since the announcement by the Department to cut the fund, I have been working closely with all 16 groups who receive funding within the constituency.
“The impact of these cuts goes beyond pounds and pennies or even job losses; I am worried about the negative social effects within the community, particularly in a rural constituency like East Londonderry. I have spoken with playgroups and mothers who will be isolated if this decision is not reversed. Many tears have been shed since this decision.”
Ms Sugden said she had been been contacted by others across Northern Ireland about the issue. “They are understandably angry and frustrated, as I am,” she said.
“The Department of Education is currently paying pittance for the service and outcomes Early Years provides. To cut it by nearly two thirds is cutting off their nose to spite their face.
“I see this as another attempt by the government to pull the rug from beneath the community and voluntary sector and pawn it off to pay for their own mess. It’s simply not acceptable.
“This week I met with Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive of Early Years Organisation to consolidate the campaign moving forward.
“She is meeting with Minister O’Dowd on 8 June and is confident of a resolution to find money within his Department and through the June Monitoring Round.
“If a satisfactory outcome is not met, we have agreed to move with the growing petition of nearly 10,000 signatures and other actions before the Assembly breaks for summer.
“I would prefer that a solution is met as soon as possible and I will continue to appeal to the Minister to reverse this decision that will protect these groups and the vital services they provide for our community.”