NEETs: Budget Impact

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 9th February 2015.

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Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP 3:15 pm, 9th February 2015

T2. Mr Hilditch asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to detail any effect that the budgetary settlement will have on those in the NEETs category. (AQT 2072/11-15)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

Very clearly, there are some major challenges in relation to NEETs. We were lucky to have a very generous settlement from the Executive for our Pathways to Success strategy for the 2012-15 period. That funding package expires on 31 March. To be fair, that was always the understanding. Had the situation been different, I would have hoped that that funding package would be renewed. That has not been the case, so we have lost that money, in the same way that we have lost some of our jobs and economy initiative money. It then falls to us to see how we can best address those shortfalls.

We are looking at how we can continue the community family support programme, and I am optimistic that that will be the case. We are also trying to see how some existing good practice can be replicated in the forthcoming European social fund (ESF) round. Applications have gone in on the basis of how they can engage with young people who are disengaged from the labour market. Indeed, that is one key feature of the current ESF round, which is a bigger round than in previous years. It is a very challenging situation, but, nonetheless, the strategy stays in place, and we will continue to see how we can find alternative means to deliver for that important group of young people.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer and acknowledge the challenges that he has ahead. There will be a knock-on effect from the loss of places at the higher education level, which will impact down through the colleges. Can we give any protection to the vulnerable in our communities, where the colleges do a lot of work and programmes?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

It is important that our colleges continue to outreach in the community. There are some good examples of students themselves, through community and voluntary work, working in disadvantaged communities on some of those issues. Indeed, students can get credit through the new higher education achievement report, which has been rolled out in our higher education sector for those non-curricular activities that are so important towards employability skills. It is a real benefit for students engaging in those types of activities. Without doubt, we are facing a potential loss of provision, and there is no plan B for how we can mop up. If we had additional resources, we would do what we would like to do in our existing plans.