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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today launched a final call for projects to apply for funding under the Northern Ireland European Social Fund (NI ESF) programme.

The ESF is designed to combat poverty and enhance social inclusion. It supports participants to progress into further education, training and ultimately employment through funding organisations to deliver programmes for the unemployed and the economically inactive as well as people with disabilities and young people not in education, employment or training.

It has helped over 76,000 people to date with over 11,000 participants moving into employment and another 11,000 into further education and training.

The Minister said: "I am delighted to announce that as a result of our success in obtaining additional domestic funding in the past financial year, we are in a position to provide a final extension to the current Northern Ireland European Social Fund programme. I am therefore launching a final call for projects that will commence on 1 April 2022, the point at which our ESF funding would have been otherwise exhausted. It is estimated that the total cost of the successful projects will be in the region of £46 million with 65% covered by the programme using remaining European Community and Departmental funds.”

These projects will build upon the success to date and continue to support people with particular barriers to progress towards the employment market. The competition for funding will open to applications on 14 June 2021 for a period of four weeks.

The Minister added: “This extension to the current provision comes at a time when organisations delivering these services are having to adjust to new challenges created by the pandemic and the change in approach to future funding created through introduction of UK-wide Funds. This extension will therefore provide some time to make the necessary changes and adapt to new ways of working and new funding routes. I know that huge strides have been made in developing a true delivery partnership and I am absolutely delighted that this will enable us to help to continue supporting these organisations through this period of transition.”

Information will be made available to prospective applicants through a public seminar that will be delivered by the Department on 8 June 2021. Guidance will also published on the Department’s website.