Monday 11 December 2017 10:52:36 PM

Down District Home Start Meet Finance Minister For Solution To Funding Crisis
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STRANGFORD MP Jim Shannon has chaired a deputation with Down District Councillors Billy Walker, Gareth Craig and representatives from Home Start Ballynahinch, Newcastle, Newtownards, Comber and the Ards Peninsula to seek funding for the year 2014-2015.

Putting the case to the Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA, the three Home-Start representatives explained that they are the only schemes in Northern Ireland unsupported, and are within the South Eastern HSC Trust and there is no service level agreement in place.

Mr Shannon said: “This is an unacceptable situation and it cannot continue.  In the Newtownards, Comber and Peninsula areas,  demand has steadily increased with direct support for 125 families and 290 children across the district and Council areas. We therefore asked the Finance Minister to use his position to encourage and work along with Health Minister Edwin Poots to deliver a short-term solution of £150,000 that will enable all three schemes to continue.

From left, Joyce Ross, Ards Home-Start Organiser, Heather Knox, Home-Start Regional Director, Dorothy McMullan, Down District Co-ordinator, Imelda Hynds, Ballynahinch Co-ordinator, with Jim Shannon MP, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, And Down District Councillors Billy Walker and Garth Craig.

From left, Joyce Ross, Ards Home-Start Organiser, Heather Knox, Home-Start Regional Director, Dorothy McMullan, Down District Co-ordinator, Imelda Hynds, Ballynahinch Co-ordinator, with Jim Shannon MP, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, And Down District Councillors Billy Walker and Garth Craig.

“The Minister also outlined the long-term strategy that would enable OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel to ring fence central funding for  childcare.

“There could well be a new tender service that will be initiated in one to two years but it is vital now that Home-Start in the Ards Strangford area and across Down District can continue the good work that they do and continue to save the Health Department money. Home-Start is in fact saving government a considerable sum money in providing this service.

“This is a major saving that therefore cannot be ignored. Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has agreed to liaise with the Health Minister and OFMDFM to deliver both short-term and long-term assistance to Home-Start who are in dire need of financial support to ensure their valuable services contune.”

Downpatrick Home-Start Co-ordinator Dorothy McMullan. said: “We still do not have our 2011 funding in place that we expected following discussions. We have now had to go the the Finance Minister cap in hand and ask for help.

“Minister Simon Hamilton was very positive but said he would have to refer this matter to Health Minister  Edwin Poots who he will liaise with. It was a really valiable meeting and I think we got our case put across well with the great political support we had.

“Currently, if a child goes into residential care the cost is £2400 a week to the government pocket, but our proactive work it means that we can divert these problems from happening through appropriate interventions all at a cost of £9 a week. This is a massive saving for the public purse.”

Mrs McMullan explained the facts to the Minister in a detailed presentation. She said: “Our funding from the Children Forum dried up and we lost £8,925 a year in 2011 along with £39,000 for the Ards, Comber Pensinula area.

“There have been redundancies and staff working on reduced hours at a time when demand for the service may outstrip our ability to deliver due to financial uncertainty. In 2012/13, we created a total of 21600 voluntary hours representing £136,296 to the local economy.

“If we are forced to cut back our services it will have a hugely adverse effect on our communities. In Down District in 2012/13 we dealt with 286 families and 565 children, and in the Ards, Comber Peninsula areas we had 290 families and 290 children in the same period.”

Home-Start will have another anxious wait until Health Minister Poots examines the position and acts to find a permanent solution to the year on year problems facing this local charity which makes a huge contribution to families in need within the Down area.