Derry charity says budget cuts will disenfranchise young people as it warns of redundancies

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A Derry-based charity that supports schools and employers preparing students for employment has said funding cuts will disenfranchise young people and have a ‘long term impact on the economy’.

School Employer Connections (SEC) – a work placement broker that has operated in the North West for twenty-four years – has been advised of a ‘significant cut’ in the amount and duration of its funding for 2023/24 by its principal funder, the Department of Education.

SEC has typically received 80 per cent of its annual operational funding requirement from the Department.

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Last year, 2022/23, the SEC engaged with 7,854 students, up from 6,516 students in the previous year. SEC has a team of six full-time and part-time staff as well as a small team of volunteers who assist in the delivery of its programmes.

In 2022/23, the SEC engaged with 7,854 students, up from 6,516 students in the previous year.In 2022/23, the SEC engaged with 7,854 students, up from 6,516 students in the previous year.
In 2022/23, the SEC engaged with 7,854 students, up from 6,516 students in the previous year.

The charity said the proposed cuts will significantly impact its work with young people.

It told the ‘Journal’ that the Department has offered SEC an allocation of two months’ budget cover (for April and May 2023) or £20,000.

This, a SEC spokesperson said, contrasted to the Department’s most recent funding provision to SEC of £110,000 for the 2022/23 year which ended on March 31, 2023.

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The charity said the Department had cautioned that once the final budget position for 2023/24 was confirmed it was ‘unlikely that any funding will be available to support existing programmes’, such as those currently provided by SEC.

SEC Chairman Roy Devine said: “The possible loss of service will have long term impact on the economy. These decisions negatively affect the preparation of students for employment in a climate where skills and qualifications are key. They will become disenfranchised. Employers will have less access to and influence on the talent pipeline.”

The Manager of SEC Owen Crozier said: “If this were to happen it would have a significant detrimental impact on the service we offer young people regarding career, employability and work-related learning opportunities and options that helps them make important career path decisions.”

The ‘Journal’ asked the DE for a statement on the funding position for SEC for the current financial year.

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A spokesperson said: “The Department has now received its budget allocation for 2023/24 from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and is working through the detail. The allocation is extremely challenging and may require significant reductions across a wide range of areas to remain within budget.

“Following consideration of the education budget, the Department will confirm the final funding position with SEC for 2023/24.”

Of the big Stormont Departments, DE suffered the largest decrease (-2.5 per cent) in funding in last week’s budget from £2,642,900,000 in 2022/23 to £2,576,500,000 in 2023/24. DE is the second biggest department after the Department of Health. The -2.5 per cent cut has seen £66,400,000 taken out of its budget.

SEC has said that in the absence of core funding from the Department, or a new funder, SEC will not be able to continue the delivery of any of its programmes beyond May of this year.

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Given the organisation’s uncertain funding position, the SEC board has advised staff at the charity that their jobs are at risk of redundancy.