Cuts like ‘bolt from the blue’

Cuts like ‘bolt from the blue’

10 April 2019

THE chairwoman of the Tiny Toons playgroup and local politicians have expressed concern at the loss of funding.

Mrs Patricia Curran has described the decision not to grant the Bishopscourt group money as a “bolt from the blue”, while South Down MLA Colin McGrath and Downpatrick councillor Dermot Curran plan to raise their concerns with Early Years and the Department of Education.

Mrs Curran suggested it is ironic that Tiny Toons secured money from The Pathway Fund last year but has now been refused support.

“Securing the funding we need has been a constant battle and once again it would appear that the rural areas have been hit. I am also aware that other playgroups continue to struggle financially,” she said.

“Tiny Toons had its Social Services inspection recently and no recommendations were made. That means we are doing everything right which is testament to the staff and the parents who continue to support us. What is happening is not fair. 

“We deliver the same curriculum as all other playgroups, including those which are funded. However, rural areas appear to suffer more than most when it comes to allocating much-needed funds.”

Mrs Curran admitted staff were asking if they will have jobs in September, explaining she is not in a position to give guarantees, suggesting those who work in Saul and Strangford are asking the same questions.

She added: “We continue to manage from year to year and don’t have surplus money, which makes things so difficult. We also rely on fundraising but uncertainty is always there. Why not ring fence funding to provide us all with certainty, allow us to plan for the future and, most importantly, reassure staff about their future?

“Rural areas are being victimised as early years is the most important time in a child’s educational   development. We have been here over 20 years and several hundred children have used the playgroup, yet funding can be cut at the stroke of a pen.”

Mr McGrath said Early Year provision was critical in the development of children.

“With the proper foundation, children can have a much more prosperous and successful academic outcomes,” he said. 

“Early Years funding is often like the cinderella service. I would like to see a proper and fully structured funding system established so that groups do not have to attempt, year on year, to access funding.”

Mr McGrath said he has been contacted by a number of groups locally and has asked the regional Early Years Organisation to make someone available to meet with them to ensure they are accessing all of the support that they can, adding: “We must do all we can to support our children and getting the correct start to their educational journey is essential.”

Cllr Curran said he too was keen for the local playgroups to secure the funding they require and planned to use his role as chairman of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association to raise the issue with the Early Years organisation “to find answers to questions the local groups require”.

He added: “These are three very successful local groups who do a tremendous job and not to secure the funding they require is a major blow.

“They each provide a vital service in rural areas and I am concerned that jobs and indeed the future of the playgroups is potentially at risk as a result of this funding decision.

“There is a clear need for these groups to be provided with ring-fenced funding for a set period to remove the cloud of uncertainty and allow them to plan for the future with confidence. They deserve nothing less.”