Naomi Long MLA said: “I welcomed the opportunity to discuss with the Minister efforts to tackle issues of social deprivation and exclusion in the areas which we represent. The Minister must take a needs-based approach to neighbourhood development. Any community funding must be used to benefit everyone in the areas involved. This is extremely important because the NIO had previously sectarianised social development funding.
“We had positive and constructive engagement with Margaret Ritchie on the issue during the meeting on Monday. We stressed the need for the use of community audits to find out what improvements would most enhance each area directly from the people who live and work in those communities and whose voices are often unheard. Such an audit would involve direct engagement with local people, to find out what they think would improve the area, and would avoid the creation of “gatekeepers” for the delivery of such programmes. The need for those with electoral mandates to be engaged in these discussions is crucial and we welcome the Minister making a start on this.
“Investment projects must also have clear and measurable targets and outcomes so that those involved in the delivery of schemes can be held accountable.
“It is vitally important that such project funding delivers community cohesion. There are a number of pockets of deprivation in largely affluent areas, which do not show up on the Noble indices. These areas must be given the assistance they deserve and must never be allowed to slip off radar.
“We intend to submit further information to the Minister on this issue to ensure that real benefits can be enjoyed across the community and were reassured by her initial response to the issues raised.”