Due to the uncertain relationship the UK will have with Europe once Brexit takes hold, Northern Ireland council areas are set to lose valuable European funding by 2022.
Derry City Strabane District Council Area (DCSDC) runs one of the many European Socially funded (ESF) programmes across Northern Ireland, called ‘Kick Start to Work’. These programmes are aimed at combating poverty and enhancing social inclusion by reducing economic inactivity, and increasing the skills base of current or future participants of the workplace.
Currently, Derry City Strabane District Council Area has no provisions in place for when the funding ceases. This is a worrying factor for both council workers and members of the public who avail of their unemployment services.
Nicky Gilleece, Kickstart’s Mentoring Officer, said: ‘An incidental benefit of ESF funding is the support network it has created for its participants through the professional mentoring given. This personal service can never be duplicated by Government bodies and will be missed as much as the financial aspect of ESF.’
ESF is the most important factor, financially, for DCSDC Area’s ability to reach out and help the public move forward into the workplace. 40% of the funding comes from ESF which is the largest contributing factor, a further 25% of the funds are from government and council provides 35% match funding.
Derry City Council’s Skills Manager, Tina Gillespie, said ‘Financially over £5m per annum is brought in through ESF. It pays for training which an unemployed / economically inactive person could not pay for or avail of without ESF.’
Without this funding Council Areas would struggle to provide the top quality services currently offered.
In 2015 Derry and Strabane were top of the unemployment rates with 7.4%, followed by Belfast’s 5.2%. They have also consistently been above the NI average unemployment rates for over 10 years. With such frightening figures, it is vital that DCSDC continue working to improve their economic activity.
DCSDC Area’s ‘Kick Start to Work’ program offers free and confidential support with employment and training. They assist with job searching, writing CVs, completing job applications, preparing for interviews, and getting into the right training course.
Nicky works directly with the clients and notices the positive economic and emotional benefits the program has.
She said: ‘With a rate into employment of over 30%, Kickstart have assisted hundreds of people with accessing employment opportunities they would not have thought possible.‘
Prior to Kickstart there was no facility for local people to access free, vital and simple services that Kickstart provides and without the program DCSDC Area will have a large void for those in need of economic assistance.
Nicky said: ‘Kickstart’s assistance has been financial, emotional, practical and instrumental to the clients.’
While ESF has been a benefit to DCSDC Area, it is not without its issues. Unemployment rates are still dangerously high and they have scored consistently as one of the most economically deprived council areas across Northern Ireland.
Tina said: ‘Overall, elements of the programme have been very successful but, on the whole, when you look statistically at the targets groups above the percentages have not changed. This is an indictment of both the delivery partners in ESF and the economy itself.’
Regardless of statistics, European Socially Funded programmes provide beneficial work; both in helping those unemployed get into the work place and on a personal level.
The training sector will contract as removal of ESF funding and will significantly reduce the provision of training, mentoring and support in the DCSDC area. There will also be unemployment in this sector with regards to staff involved in programmes such as Kickstart.
Nicky said: ‘The bottom line is that opportunities for employment will be lost as these will be taken up by candidates who can afford to train themselves.’
Tina said: ‘The removal of ESF will remove the comfort blanket that participants have had which increased their independence. This is negative and detrimental. People do not want to avail of the statutory services and provision available as it is linked to government, they feel more at ease with provision from non-government groups.’
At present there is no foreseeable replacement for ESF, but Tina Gillespie ensures that each Council has a strategic plan in place for future growth. This will address the supply and demand elements of employment and will aim to bring supply and demand to an equilibrium, that is, train for sectors which are growing.
She concluded, saying: ‘These plans need to be pushed forward with a smarter use of what money is available and a tighter control and monitoring of this money. There needs to be a focus on pulling funding in from America and monopolising on social enterprises’
With just 5 years till European Social Funding ceases in 2022, it is imperative that Northern Ireland Council Areas accumulate their resources and establish a better, stronger scheme to ensure that employability and skills do not slip, but grow.