Officials criticise levelling up allocation to NI

time:2023-06-02 16:30:26source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center6

Two of Stormont's senior officials have criticised the way the UK government's levelling up funds are being allocated in Northern Ireland.

Levelling up is a regional development plan aimed at improving economic performance outside south-east England.

In a letter to parliament's Levelling Up committee, Neil Gibson and Mike Brennan said the way it is operating in NI is "highly sub-optimal".

The UK government has defended its performance.

Mr Gibson and Mr Brennan are the senior officials at the departments of finance and economy.

They wrote to the committee at the end of March after its chair asked for their input ahead of a report on the funding of the levelling up policy.

They were consulted in the absence of Stormont ministers.

Levelling Up funding is awarded on a competitive basis and in Northern Ireland bids can come from a wide variety of organisations including local councils, universities, businesses and community organisations.

"The provision of fragmented funding allocations that may not align with local priorities and a continued lack of clarity on how projects are selected remains, in our view, a highly sub-optimal way to serve the people of Northern Ireland," they said in their letter.

They also question why a competition was reopened for projects which had narrowly missed out on funding in Great Britain, while a similar competition for Northern Ireland bids had not been reopened.

Levelling Up is intended to replace, in large part, grants which previously came from the EU through a programme called the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

However, community organisations in NI have been highly critical of the fact funding from the European Social Fund has not been replaced in full.

"Eighteen projects across Northern Ireland will receive more than £57m through the UKSPF to help support people into work, compared to the £42m competition value announced in December," a government spokesperson has said.

"Delivered in partnership with approximately 80 joint bidders or community partners, this means around 100 organisations in total will receive support.

"This builds on the UKSPF Investment Plan published last year, which was developed in close collaboration with partners in Northern Ireland including representatives from the voluntary sector, local councils, businesses and higher education.

'The investment is designed to improve pride in place, increase life chances and support growth by investing in key priorities for Northern Ireland."

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