Alex Easton MLA has told the DEL Minister Steven Farry to get his act together over his handling of funding though the European Social Fund (ESF), which if not sorted out could see the Kilcooley Women’s Centre close, or at the very least have its education services decimated.

Speaking today Alex Easton MLA said:

“It has been revealed through the DEL Committee how the European Social Fund has been poorly managed through the DEL Department which Stephen Farry leads, forcing the Minister to publically apologise. Even though the Kilcooley Womens Centre’s project was successful and met the criteria for funding it will not receive a penny. This is because DEL has moved previously centrally funded DEL Programmes into their European Stream, this is not what ESF funding is to be used for. Stephen Farry should remember that his Department is merely a letterbox for this additional European fund, and should not be raided to shore up deficits within his Department”.

“The stress on organisations such as KWC is further magnified by his Departmental financial handing of the outgoing ESF programme. In a startling admission on Wednesday 1st July at the Stormont DEL Committee, the Minister exonerated training organisations from any fault, and admitted the fault lay at the door of his own department DEL. This has resulted in his Department being ‘interrupted’ (suspended) by the EU for the THIRD time– meaning no payments can be reimbursed. In an attempt to clear the financial and administrative backlog and mess the DEL Minister has doubled his staff within the ESF unit, at huge expense. I will be submitting questions to his department to the cost of this exercise and who is picking up the tab. This at a time when there is public service cut backs and an attempt to reduce staffing within Departments. The Minister now has the audacity to send his Departmental staff into organisations such as Kilcooley to try and fix his departments mess. This will result in KWC having to make their own staff redundant, who the Minister himself admits are not at fault. Furthermore he has refused to cover the redundancy payments which arise, even though they form part of the European regulations. Has the Minister forgotten redundancy is a responsibility of DEL, and this decision could force organisations into receivership, where they are then in the ludicrous position of having to go to DEL who refused this payment in the first place. It is sheer madness. These actions are from the Department tasked with promotion of employment and learning! This is both unacceptable and morally wrong, and I now understand the unions have now been called in. The DEL committee have probed as to who within the Department is at fault, and I call for those behind this mess to be disciplined. I have been advised that DEL owes the Kilcooley Women’s Centre an eye watering £75,000 in back payments for salaries, HMRC, pensions, certificate and accreditations for students, and unless the DEL Minister pays this very soon the future of Women’s training within the PUL community in North Down will be destroyed. In total it is believed that DEL owes £20 million to organisations, over half of that to projects supporting the disabled. People cannot pay mortgages, have had to cancel family holidays and are facing financial misery. Small business cannot be paid, in a time money is tight and the economy faces great challenges. Astonishingly Stephen Farry admitted it will take well into the Autumn to sort the problem. I also understand Stephen Farry refused to meet an employee of the centre who appealed to him for a constituency meeting with him, and was referred back to the very departmental officials who had caused her such misery. I would remind Stephen Farry he carries a dual mandate, and whilst he currently holds the post of DEL Minister, he has still has a duty of care to his constituency. If Steven Farry can’t get his act together and the Kilcooely Women’s Centre has to close I will be holding the DEL Minister responsible for the closure and calling for his immediate resignation as Minister of DEL.” Kilcooley Women’s Centre provides much needed service in the area, and is the only women’s centre in the whole of County Down. I believe affected workers from all the organisations across the Province who are affected by this mess, as far afield of Lisburn, east/south/north/west Belfast are intending descend on his office in Bangor to picket, and I along with my party colleagues who are appalled at his behaviour, will be happy to support their call for help.