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T6. Mr Humphrey asked the Minister for Employment and Learning, in light of conversations he has had with training providers and practitioners in north Belfast and greater Shankill, whether he will consider reviewing the policy on the current restriction on level 1 training funded by the European social fund. (AQT 3346/11-16)
First of all, that is not currently viable because we have an operational programme agreed by the European Commission, and we have programmes funded under that premise in the current phase of the European social fund (ESF). It is also worth stressing to the Member that there is a rationale for the decision that we have taken in the context of a squeeze on budgets. We are trying to ensure that we reduce duplication as much as possible. We recognise that the community and voluntary sector has a comparative advantage, in particular around level 1, and, in that regard, we are trying to focus their efforts when accessing the European social fund in that direction. They are part of a wider system, and it is important that they link with progression routes that are offered in further education, higher education and employment, so that we have the ability for people to move on from that crucial first rung on the ladder to ensure that they attain the skill requirements that the modern economy requires.
I thank the Minister for his answer, although I am disappointed by it. I have had conversations with those providers on the practicalities of delivering and positively changing lives, and I do not think that is being maximised. I urge the Minister to consider a review of it as we come up to April and the annual review, and I extend to the Minister a warm invitation to visit Impact Training, Shankill Job Assist and Shankill Women's Centre, where he can hear at first hand the concerns and views of people on the ground.
As the Member will be aware, I have visited in the past and had a very enjoyable engagement with a number of people in that regard. A review will not be within our discretion, considering where we are with the programme, but we seek to engage with all the providers. There is a forum through which my Department engages bimonthly with all the ESF providers. Indeed, the most recent meeting occurred, I think, on last Wednesday or Thursday. Those issues are being discussed on an ongoing basis and will continue to be.