'˜Sure Start scheme needs extended'

A meeting has been held with local representatives to discuss the extension of the boundaries of the Sure Start Scheme.

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart and local community representative Keith McCann from Re-generate have met with the Department of Education to discuss the need to see the boundaries extended.

Recently Ms Lockhart had been heavily lobbied by rural and urban dwellers across Lurgan, Banbridge and Portadown who would like the same opportunity as those who currently can avail of it.

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She said: “Our message was clear regarding the need for equality of provision across rural and urban areas. Under the current criteria of the top 25% deprived areas in Northern Ireland are entitled to it meaning that there are areas where one side of the street is eligible and the other side is not.

“This is just ludicrous with people who are experiencing the same difficulties not being able to access the service. We were pleased to learn that there are plans in place to change this model of access and to try to identify pockets of deprivation within areas which are deemed to be affluent.

“We put the case forward for Upper Bann however we were reminded that no decision can be taken on this without Ministerial approval. This is frustrating as it is our children who are missing out. Sure Start aims to give every child the best start in life and I believe we are failing those who cannot access the services. Our work will continue with Sure Start and the early years provision to try and further utilise the service that already exists and long term have it cover the areas that are every bit as needful of it as what currently has access.”

She added: “This highlights the need for a functioning executive and the need for Sinn Fein to drop their red lines and think of the children and families being affected by their approach to devolution.”