Delivery of youth services is the responsibility of the Education Authority, so the implementation of a new funding scheme is in line with my Department’s Priorities for Youth policy, which commits to replacing historic funding arrangements with a more consistent, fair, coherent and cost-effective scheme.
After engagement with the sector, key stakeholders and political representatives, including a full consultation on the principles of the scheme, the EA launched its new funding scheme for regional and local voluntary youth organisations on 3 March 2020. In response to the pandemic, I agreed that the implementation of the scheme be postponed until 1 April 2021. The EA Youth Service continues to work to implement the scheme for April 2021. It has reported that there has been consistent engagement with the online application process and that a significant number of applications have already been made across all funding streams.
I am sure that the Member will be aware that there is not always a consistent view within any sector, particularly the youth sector. There are a number of views on the new funding scheme, and a number of organisations have written to me directly. Some wish the scheme to move at pace — perhaps even a greater pace — and others are looking for a further postponement. After reflection, I wrote to the EA and asked for a short postponement to the application dates — that was raised by some of the uniformed organisations, in particular —but with a view to ensuring that the implementation of the new funding scheme remained at 1 April 2021.
The ongoing development and implementation of the scheme will be kept under review to ensure that it continues to support the services that assist in meeting the needs of our young people.
The Minister's answer will give some reassurance to the sectors on the timetables. We are all aware of the critical importance of funding. Will the Minister provide an update on an associated fund that is referred to as "the Minister's fund"? It was the Member for Upper Bann, I think, who introduced it a number of years ago. It was worth over £1 million and was to help tackle problems in disadvantaged areas and provide outreach support to groups of young people who would be on the streets. Has that fund ceased? Has the money been taken back to the Department? Is the money still with the EA and being used for other purposes?
I do not want one of the Members opposite to accuse me of besmirching his name, but I am tempted to ask if the Minister took it away with him when he left office, but, given the fact that he is still in the Building, I presume that he did not. Rather than give the Member a partial answer, I will write to him with the details.