Confusion continues to reign over the status of funding for youth worker posts — with budget deadlines looming and an Assembly election coming up.
In an article published on 24 January, the Irish News wrote: “Hundreds of youth work posts are under threat after funding cut.” It further stated that “the Education Authority has advised that money for ‘extended provision’ positions across the north will end in March.”
During an appearance on Nolan Live on 15 February (time marker 27:00), the minister was asked by Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit about the jobs, claiming they were at risk. The minister replied: “The budget will continue on for those posts, those people’s jobs are safe.”
However, because budgets across all departments are on hold until after the election, exact numbers are impossible to come by.
The same day as the article appeared in the Irish News, the Department of Education issued a press release with the headline: “Youth sector funding has not been removed”.
It added: “Education Minister Peter Weir has expressed his concern that the issue of funding for the youth sector is being used to cause unnecessary anxiety for those working in the area.”
At issue are so-called “protective notices” — letters that are sent out by the Education Authority (EA) to certain employees who are not on permanent contracts.
According to statutory procedures, all public employees whose wages are paid from outside the mainstream budget receive this notification when their funding stream is coming up for review. These are positions (including advisors, Early Stage workers and youth workers) that are funded as part of a specific project or “identified need” for a period of time — some as part of a multi-year cycle, some as part of a yearly cycle.
“It just so happens that the youth workers are on a yearly contract, so they get a letter every year,” said John Martin, communications officer for the Education Authority, the body that administers the youth workers’ budgets.
There is a wider climate of budget uncertainty, because of the timing of the March election to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the need for an approved operating budget for the next financial period
Yet there has been no statement or evidence demonstrating that funding provision for these posts has been removed. Thus the original headline by the Irish News — citing a funding cut — is false, or at least unproven.