COMMITTEE FOR THE OFFICE OF THE FIRST MINISTER AND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER
The Executive’s Draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and Draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2008-2018
REPORT ON THE OUTCOME OF CONSIDERATION BY STATUTORY COMMITTEES TOGETHER WITH PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE RELATING TO THE REPORT
Ordered by The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and
Deputy First Minister to be printed 19 December 2007
Report: 9/07/08R (The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister)
PUBLISHED BY AUTHORITY OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
BELFAST: THE STATIONERY OFFICE
Membership and Powers
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power to:
- Consider and advise on Departmental Budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
- Call for persons and papers;
- Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
- Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
- Mr Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
- Mrs Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
- Ms Martina Anderson
- Mr Tom Elliott
- Mrs Dolores Kelly
- Mr Barry McElduff
- Mr Francie Molloy
- Mr Stephen Moutray
- Mr Jim Shannon
- Mr Jimmy Spratt
- Mr Jim Wells
Table of Contents
- Minutes of Proceedings
- Minutes of Evidence – Committee evidence session on 14 November 2007
- Statement to the Assembly by the First Minister and deputy First Minister
- Official Report – Debate on the Draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy on 26 November 2007
- Letter from the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the Chairpersons of Statutory Committees
- Responses from Statutory Committees
- Correspondence from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
1. The First Minister and deputy First Minister launched the consultation exercise on the Northern Ireland Executive’s draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland in the Assembly on Thursday 25 October 2007. A copy of this statement is attached at appendix 3. The Ministers asked that the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister undertake, “a co-ordinating role in liaising with the other [statutory] committees and gathering their views.”
2. At its meeting on 7 November 2007, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister agreed to undertake that role and to publish a report to the Assembly which would include the views of all the statutory committees on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the Committee agreed to table a take note motion to enable an Assembly debate on the proposals contained in these documents. That debate took place in the Assembly on Monday 26 November 2007.
3. This report collates the views of the Assembly’s statutory committees on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland. It also presents the views of the Assembly as expressed during the take note debate on Monday 26 November 2007.
Draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy
4. The draft Programme for Government and draft Budget are presented to the Assembly in accordance with Paragraph 20 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and Section 20 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
5. Presentation of these documents leads to Assembly scrutiny of the Executive’s proposals for its Programme for Government and Budget by committees and on the floor of the Assembly. Committees and individual Members can thereby provide their views on the proposals to the Executive.
6. The draft Programme for Government sets out the Executive’s vision for Northern Ireland, outlines the priorities for the Executive and details the programmes it will undertake to achieve the expected outcomes. It is the basis for the spending plans contained in the draft Budget. The draft Programme for Government also contains draft Public Service Agreements which set out the main outcomes and targets that the departments will achieve within the resources to be allocated from the draft Budget.
7. This process has been enhanced in recent years by the development of a draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland that sets out the strategic capital investment programmes which the Executive will undertake over the next ten years and which are underpinned, in the initial three years, by the resources allocated in the Budget for 2008-11.
The Consultation Process
8. The development of the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy was affected by the timing of devolution and the late announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The public consultation period on the draft Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy began on Thursday 25 October 2007 and ends on Friday 4 January 2008.
9. To enable the Committee to fulfil the role requested by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister wrote to the Chairpersons of the Assembly’s statutory committees on 9 November 2007 seeking their views on the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy. However, as the period of consultation includes the Christmas recess, it was necessary to ask statutory committees to make their responses by 28 November. This allowed only 3 weeks for Committees to take evidence and prepare a response on the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy.
10. The letter to chairpersons, a copy of which is attached at appendix 5, suggested a series of questions that committees might wish to address when seeking evidence and in developing their responses. Responses were sought on three key issues: the draft Programme for Government; the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland; the process to develop the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy.
11. In addition, the Committee led a take note debate on the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy on Monday 26 November 2007. The purpose of this debate was to allow all Assembly Members to put forward their views on the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy. A transcript of the debate is attached at appendix 4 to this report.
Role of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
12. At its meeting on 12 December 2007 the Committee considered responses from the Assembly’s statutory committees to the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland. These responses are produced in full at appendix 6 to this report.
13. It is not the role of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to comment on the views of other statutory committees or to seek to substitute its views for those legitimately held by other statutory committees on the draft Programme for Government or the draft Investment Strategy. However, as the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has lead responsibility for the process to develop the Programme for Government, the Committee agreed that it would wish to draw on the views expressed by other statutory committees to make recommendations to the Assembly, and to the First Minister and deputy First Minister, on how that process could be improved. These recommendations relate to the effective involvement and engagement of statutory committees and on the provision of timely, relevant information to enable committees to fulfil their scrutiny function.
14. In addition, because of OFMDFM’s responsibility for driving the delivery of cross-cutting strategies on tackling poverty, good relations and sustainable development, the Committee has made recommendations relating to the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainable development. These recommendations have also been informed by the responses from other statutory committees.
Process to Develop the Draft Programme for Government and Draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland
15. During the previous period of devolution there were two strands to the Executive’s public consultation exercise on the draft Programme for Government:
- Consultation with the Assembly
- Consultation with the public and stakeholder groups.
16. Under this process, committees had the opportunity to scrutinise the draft Programme for Government in advance of the public consultation exercise. This early opportunity for committee scrutiny was afforded through the consideration of Departmental Position Reports and the Executive’s Position Report.
17. This year, as a result of delays in devolution, many of the early opportunities for engagement and consultation that would normally have been available to committees were lost. In addition, the late announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review did not facilitate the early publication of the draft Programme for Government or draft Investment Strategy.
18. In their responses on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy and during the take note debate on these reports, some committees expressed dissatisfaction with the process for engaging statutory committees during the development of the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy. They also called for earlier involvement of committees by their departments and by the Executive.
19. The Committee for Finance and Personnel has a particular interest in this matter as it has lead responsibility for co-ordinating the responses of statutory committees to the draft Budget. The process to develop the Budget is, of course, inextricably linked to the process for developing the Programme for Government and the Investment Strategy. The Committee for Finance and Personnel has called for the Department of Finance and Personnel to publish, as soon as possible, an annual timetable for budget setting and review, which builds in sufficient time for the effective involvement of the Assembly’s statutory committees.
20. The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister agrees with the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the need for such a timetable and recommends that OFMDFM should consult with the Department of Finance and Personnel to establish a timetable for developing the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy. This timetable should require departments to engage at an early stage with their statutory committees on proposed priorities and key financial considerations. It should also include sufficient time to allow committees to undertake full and proper scrutiny of the Executive’s priorities and plans as set out in the draft Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy. The timetable should also recognise the need for committees to undertake detailed scrutiny of investment and delivery plans.
21. The Committee considers that there is the need for early action to improve the process for developing the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy and has, therefore, written to the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel to seek an early meeting to discuss how both Committees can work together to move forward the development of a timetable for the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy, in consultation with the Executive.
Information Provided to Statutory Committees on the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy
22. If statutory committees are to effectively scrutinise the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy they must be provided with accessible, accurate, robust and timely information from their departments and from the Executive.
23. In the responses from statutory committees on the draft Programme for Government, the main issue raised in relation to the accessibility of the information provided, was the difficulty in tracking priorities from the draft Programme for Government through to the draft Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and then to the draft Budget and Investment Strategy. It was suggested that, at least in part, this was due to the number of aims, objectives, priorities, themes, goals and milestones included within the above-mentioned documents.
24. The Committee recommends that action should be taken by OFMDFM and the Executive to simplify and harmonise the terminology used within the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy and to make it clearer how changes in resources relate to changes in priorities.
25. A few committees also expressed concern that the information they received did not provide enough detail to enable the committee to properly scrutinise the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy and to be satisfied about the delivery of targets. The Committee for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister had similar concerns and in its responses of 22 & 27 November 2007 to the Committee, which are attached at appendix 7, OFMDFM advised that additional information on how the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy are to be delivered will be published early in the new-year. It is understood that this will take the form of investment and delivery plans.
26. The Committee considers that the early publication of such information alongside the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy is crucial if committees, and indeed the wider public, are to be satisfied that the goals and targets contained within the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy are deliverable.
27. A number of committees expressed concern about the lack of clarity within the draft Investment Strategy and the PSAs on responsibilities for delivery. It is recommended that OFMDFM should ensure, that within the final Programme for Government and Investment Strategy and in the supporting delivery plans, it is made clear which department has lead responsibility for delivering on each goal or target. Where appropriate, departments with a supporting role in the delivery of a goal or target should also be identified as such.
28. A major concern for the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is that the Committee will have concluded its scrutiny of the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy before high level findings on equality impacts are available to members of the Committee. The Committee recommends that the Executive should publish the draft Strategic Equality Impact Assessment of the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy as a matter of urgency. The Committee does not accept that the Programme for Government process can be concluded until the appropriate stages of the assessment process have been completed.
29. In addition, the Committee would wish to seek a commitment from OFMDFM that, in future years, the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy will not issue for public consultation until the findings of the Equality Impact Assessment have been made available.
30. The Committee recognises the importance of infrastructure investment in tackling social need and recommends that, in future years, details are provided on the geographic distribution of infrastructure investment when the draft Investment Strategy is published.
31. In asking for responses on the draft Programme for Government, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister specifically sought the views of other committees on whether the proposals set out in the draft Programme for Government will ensure the delivery of the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability.
32. Based on its consideration of responses from other statutory committees and its own deliberations, the Committee is concerned as to the status of the cross-cutting themes. The Committee considers that clarification is needed within the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy on how departments are required to take account of the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability.
33. In addition, the Committee recommends that, within the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy and in forthcoming delivery and investment plans, OFMDFM should provide further information on:
how the contribution being made by individual departments towards a better future and sustainability is to be assessed;
who will be monitoring the action being taken by departments to achieve a better future and sustainability;
when will progress against key milestones be reported.
34. The Committee also recommends that the forthcoming delivery and investment plans include a shortlist of the principal/high impact changes that each department plans to make over the next three years to contribute to the achievement of targets established by the Executive on a better future and sustainability.
35. The Committee considers that OFMDFM should have a role in assessing and challenging delivery plans to ensure the robustness of departmental targets and actions designed to contribute to the achievement of the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainable development.
36. As indicated earlier in this report, although members of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister recognise the constraints on the Executive, the Committee is nonetheless concerned about the limited time that was available to Assembly committees to scrutinise the draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2008-2018. In this context, it is particularly important that the Executive takes note of the views expressed by Assembly Members during the take note debate on 26 November 2007 and the recommendations of statutory committees as appended to this report.
37. The Committee therefore calls upon all members of the Executive Committee to deliver on the commitment made by the First Minister, during the debate on 26 November 2007, when he assured the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister that the Executive is “determined that this is proper and genuine consultation.”
38. The Committee is of the view that improvements need to be made to the process for the development of the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy and will be engaging with the Committee for Finance and Personnel to ensure that a timetable for the process to develop the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy is brought forward by the Executive. In addition, the Committee considers that the Executive should seek, as a matter of urgency, to simplify and streamline the terminology in the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy and make it easier for the public to be able to track how priorities are to be resourced and delivered.
39. In the absence of detailed information in the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy on how cross-cutting themes are to be delivered, it is crucial that robust investment and delivery plans are published alongside the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy.
40. The Committee recommends that all statutory committees scrutinise the investment and delivery plans published alongside the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy to satisfy themselves that concerns about roles and responsibilities and resourcing and delivery, including in relation to cross-cutting themes, have been addressed.
Wednesday 24 October 2007
University Of Ulster, Magee Campus.
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Joe Sloan (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Officer)
The meeting opened at 2.00 pm in public session.
Naomi Long, Francie Molloy, Stephen Moutray, Jimmy Spratt.
2. Chairperson’s business
Draft Programme for Government and ISNI’08 briefing by Junior Ministers
The Chairperson advised Members that a closed briefing session with Junior Ministers on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy would be held in room 144, Parliament Buildings at 9.00 am on 25 October 2007, before the statement in the Assembly at 10.30 a.m. The Committee noted the information provided by OFMDFM on the proposed consultation on these issues.
Mr McElduff left the meeting at 2.50 pm
7. Advisory Council on Investment and Infrastructure (ACII)
The Chairman of the ACII joined the meeting at 3.21 pm
The Independent Chair of the Advisory Council on Investment and Infrastructure, John Keanie, briefed the Committee on the role and work of the Council and highlighted issues it had raised regarding the development and procurement of public service infrastructure. Mr Keanie agreed to provide the Committee with the Council’s views on the draft Investment Strategy in due course.
The Committee agreed to write to OFMDFM requesting a copy of a report on the capacity of the public sector and the private sector to deliver the planned infrastructure programme.
The Chairman of the ACII left the meeting at 3.53 pm
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting 3.55 pm
Wednesday 7 November 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Joe Sloan (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Officer)
The meeting opened at 2.03 pm in public session.
2. Chairperson’s business
Consultation on Draft Budget 2008-11
The Chairperson advised that the Committee for Finance and Personnel intended to co-ordinate the responses of the Assembly Statutory Committees in relation to the draft Budget 2007 and had proposed a number of themes and key issues that the Committee may wish to consider. The Committee noted the attendance of departmental officials at the meeting scheduled for 14 November 2007 to discuss the draft Budget and also agreed to address equality and section 75 as additional themes. The Committee agreed that the session should be recorded by Hansard
Mr McElduff joined the meeting at 2.13 pm
Mrs Long joined the meeting at 2.18 pm
5. Draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy consultation
The Committee considered proposals to enable it to liaise with and co-ordinate the responses from the other Statutory Committees on the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy. Following a discussion the Committee agreed to undertake the co-ordination role and publish a report. The Committee agreed to write to the other Statutory Committees inviting responses and suggesting a number of broad themes and issues they may wish to consider when taking evidence from their respective departments and in formulating responses. The Committee also agreed to table a motion for a Take Note debate on the draft Programme for Government and Investment Strategy with a preferred date of Monday 26 November 2007 for the debate.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.27 pm
Wednesday 14 November 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Damien Martin (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Joe Sloan (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Officer)
The meeting opened at 2.03 pm in public session.
Martina Anderson, Tom Elliott, Naomi Long, Barry McIlduff, Jimmy Spratt.
4. Matters arising
Take note debate on Programme for Government and Investment Strategy
The Committee noted that the “Take Note” debate has been scheduled for Monday 26 November 2007.
7. Draft Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy consultation
Mr Wells joined the meeting at 2.23 pm
OFMDFM officials Paul Priestly, Jackie Kerr and Cynthia Smith joined the meeting at 2.29 pm
The officials briefed the Committee on how OFMDFM priorities, key goals and Public Service Agreement targets agreed by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister interact with the Executive’s Programme for Government (PfG), Budget and Investment Strategy (ISNI) documents.
The officials answered questions from Members relating to OFMDFM’s priorities, Public Service Agreement targets, budget and proposed efficiencies and agreed to provide additional information on a number of issues.
Mrs Kelly left the meeting at 3.03 pm
The officials gave an undertaking that the Committee would be consulted on OFMDFM’s revised efficiency proposals and on the proposed performance management framework under development by OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel.
The officials left the meeting at 3.48 pm
The Committee agreed to forward to OFMDFM a number of additional questions in writing and to give further consideration to PfG and ISNI and consider its draft response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the Draft Budget at its next meeting.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.07 pm
Wednesday 21 November 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Damien Martin (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Joe Sloan (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
The meeting opened at 2.06 pm in public session.
Francie Molloy, Stephen Moutray.
5. Draft Programme for Government / Budget / Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland
The Committee considered and discussed the key points that Members would wish to see raised during the “Take note” debate on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy on Monday 26 November 2007 and the approach by Members to the debate.
Mrs Kelly requested information on how the Welsh Assembly prioritised Children and Young People in their programme for government and also requested further information on the accountability for Integrated Development Fund initially allocated to OFMDFM but subsequently reallocated to another Department.
The Committee agreed to make the Chairperson’s speech available to Committee Members in advance of the planned debate on 26 November 2007.
Mr Elliott joined the meeting at 2.16 pm
During discussion by the Committee, on its response on the Executive’s draft Budget; Members put forward a number of views.
Mrs Long proposed that:-
“The Committee is not content with the funding and prioritisation of Good Relations, Community Relations and Shared Future within the Budget and spending priorities.”
Mrs Kelly seconded the proposal.
The Committee divided: Ayes 4; Noes 5
The proposal was accordingly negatived.
Mrs Long proposed that:-
“The Committee would make in its draft Budget response, specific reference to the Cost of Division Report and its importance to the spending priorities and to executive, strategic and cross-cutting priorities.”
Mrs Kelly seconded the proposal.
The Committee divided: Ayes 4; Noes 2
The proposal was agreed.
The Clerk undertook to revise the draft response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the draft Budget; for discussion at next week’s meeting.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.59 pm
Wednesday 28 November 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Damien Martin (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Joe Sloan (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
The meeting opened at 2.05 pm in public session.
Mr McElduff left the meeting at 2.40 pm
7. Draft Programme for Government / ISNI / Budget
OFMDFM officials joined the meeting at 3.05 pm
The Committee considered responses from OFMDFM in relation to queries on PfG, Investment Strategy and Budget issues relating to projects, programmes and efficiency plans in the department.
In response to Committee concerns in relation to budget allocations for tackling child poverty, Departmental officials provided additional clarification on budget bids and allocations and agreed to provide further information in response to a number of questions posed by Members.
The departmental officials left the meeting at 3.50 pm
The Committee considered and agreed its response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s consultation on draft Budget 2008-11.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 4.17 pm
Wednesday 05 December 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Keith McBride (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Assistant)
The meeting opened at 2.05 pm in public session.
Tom Elliott, Danny Kennedy, Jimmy Spratt, Jim Wells.
5. Draft Programme for Government / Investment Strategy
The Committee considered further information from OFMDFM in relation the draft Programme for Government / draft Investment Strategy and Budget and agreed to seek clarification on a number of issues.
The Committee considered its draft response on the draft Programme for Government/draft Investment Strategy and agreed a number of additions and amendments. The Committee agreed to give further consideration to the response at the next meeting.
The Committee noted the report of the capability of the private sectors to deliver the Infrastructure Investment Strategy and the summary of the report of the capability of the public sector and agreed to again request a copy of the full Public Sector report.
The Deputy Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.50 pm
Wednesday 12 December 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Damien Martin (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Keith McBride (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Assistant)
The meeting opened at 2.03 pm in public session.
Jimmy Spratt, Jim Wells.
7. Draft Programme for Government / Investment Strategy
The Committee agreed that the meeting would go into closed session to discuss the draft report.
The meeting moved into closed session at 2.50 p.m.
Following discussion, the Committee considered and agreed its response on the draft Programme for Government/draft Investment Strategy.
Members agreed to request a briefing on Delivery Plans before publication of the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy.
The Committee also considered the responses from statutory committees on the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy and commented on the draft report to be completed by the Committee.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.58 pm
Wednesday 19 December 2007
Room 144, Parliament Buildings
Unapproved Minutes of Proceedings
Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Damien Martin (Assembly Clerk)
Antonia Hoskins (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Lynda Mulholland (Clerical Supervisor)
Marion Johnson (Clerical Assistant)
The meeting opened at 2.04 pm in closed session.
Naomi Long, Barry McElduff, Francie Molloy, Jimmy Spratt.
2. Draft Programme for Government / Investment Strategy
The Committee considered the draft report which had been amended to take account of the discussion at the meeting of 12 December 2007. The Committee considered the main report:
Paragraphs 1-11, read and agreed
Paragraphs 12-35, read and agreed
Paragraphs 36-40, read and agreed
The Committee agreed that the following papers should be appended to the Committee’s report:
Minutes of Proceedings
Minutes of Evidence for the Committee evidence session on 14 November 2007 Statement to the Assembly by the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Official Report of the debate of 26 November 2007
Letter to the Chairpersons of Statutory Committees
Responses from Statutory Committees
Correspondence from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
The Committee ordered the report to be printed.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 3.42 pm
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Mrs Dolores Kelly
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Jim Shannon
Mr Jim Wells
Mrs Jackie Kerr
Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
1. The Chairperson (Mr Kennedy): Good afternoon and thank you for attending. The Committee is here to consider its view of the Budget, the draft Programme for Government and the investment strategy. We warmly welcome Paul Priestly, Jackie Kerr and Cynthia Smith.
2. We propose to deal constructively with strategic issues; PFGs and PSAs; Budget and efficiencies; and the investment strategy. I hope that you are content with that. Perhaps you will say something by way of a general introduction or overview on strategic issues, and then I will invite questions from the Committee members. The entire session is being recorded by Hansard to assist the Committee in taking their views to the Department.
3. Mrs Jackie Kerr (Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): The Programme for Government is an Executive document.
4. We have provided the Committee with information and evidence on how that impacts on OFMDFM and how OFMDFM’s business plan, investment and allocation of resources align with the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget, as published by the Executive.
5. It is a hierarchical process: the Programme for Government sets the Executive’s priorities, actions and targets over the three-year period. Ministers have identified their own departmental strategic objectives, the public service agreements (PSAs) are aligned with that, and those correspond directly with the draft Programme for Government.
6. The selection of targets and actions in the Programme for Government is the responsibility of OFMDFM. It is worth making the general point that the nature of OFMDFM’s role means that a large proportion of the activities for which the Department is responsible relate to setting strategic direction, driving forward strategic issues and monitoring progress against those. In many areas, the delivery of the actions and outcomes will be done either with, or through, other Departments. That is reflected in the draft Programme for Government, which identified areas of collaboration between various Departments.
7. OFMDFM is tasked with delivering outcomes in five of the PSAs set out in the Programme for Government: PSA 1: Productivity growth; PSA 6: Children and family; PSA 7: Making people’s lives better; PSA 11: Driving investment and sustainable development; and PSA 21: Enabling efficient Government.
8. In order to link the two major strategic exercises together, I will move on to the draft Budget. For the three-year period, the draft Budget allocates to OFMDFM £6·8 million, £13·5 million and £18·4 million respectively in additional resources. The allocation of those resources is aligned with the priorities, actions and targets set out in the draft Programme for Government.
9. The availability of resources in the first year of the draft Budget is significantly constrained across the Northern Ireland departmental expenditure limit (DEL). That is reflected in the outcome, as £6·8 million is roughly equivalent to 33% of the bids that the Department submitted. As officials, we submitted bids in June, and the outcome was that 33% of bids for the first year roughly two-thirds for the second year and about 84% for the third year were met. It is worth highlighting that, from the outset, we worked with advisers and Ministers on formulating the proposals. The Committee will remember that in earlier Committee meetings our advice to members was based on proposals put forward by officials at the time.
10. The Department has been allocated a capital spend over the three years of £12·4 million, £23·1 million and £20·1 million respectively. In year three, £20·1 million is gross; the net figure is £17·1 million, as we anticipate receipts of £3 million in the final year of the Budget period. Ministers agreed the distribution of those resources to main priorities, as reflected in the detailed paper on the breakdown of spend by key programme area, which we provided to the Committee.
11. The paper sets out the starting point for the Budget period — allocations for 2007-08 — and any additional resources allocated in the draft Budget. Bids for sustainable development, international relations, restoration, the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission were, to a large extent, met. The most significant shortfall was in spending on victims and survivors. However, that reflects the current state of policy development in that area and the slow progress in appointing a Commissioner for Victims.
12. The main points to note from the detailed breakdown are that the 2007-08 opening baseline position did not include any provision for the structures that were set up to support Minsters and the Executive following the restoration of devolution. At this stage, the efficiency measures, about which I will talk more in a few minutes, are proposals that have not been ratified by Ministers. They will be further reviewed and are, therefore, subject to change.
13. Members will see from the paper that some adjustments were made to the 2007-08 figures to reflect transfers of functions that happened prior to the draft Budget. However, baselines were not reduced at the time of the transfer, but were adjusted during preparation of the draft Budget.
14. OFMDFM’s strategic aims are set out in the draft Budget document. These are consistent with the draft Programme for Government: driving investment and sustainable development; making people’s lives better; and the effective operation of the institutions of Government in the delivery of an agreed Programme for Government.
15. The Department is tasked to deliver efficiencies of £11·1 million over the Budget period. Of that total, £9·1 million is allocated to resources and £2 million to administration. There has been a minor change in the breakdown between resources and administration over recent months, as some of the Department’s spending has been reclassified from administration to resource to reflect the nature of its activities — front-line-delivery activities such as regeneration, and some of the work of the equality directorate.
16. The current package of efficiency measures was agreed by the direct rule Ministers, and has not yet been ratified by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. A major review exercise is under way, however, that will take the outcome of the Budget and the priorities identified with Ministers into account. In the past, the Committee has expressed the view that there is an inherent tension in the efficiency measures identified as a priority by Ministers. All of that has been examined as part of the review, and it is hoped that the proposals that emerge from the review will be brought to the Committee for discussion towards the end of November 2007, so that the views of the Committee can be fed back to Ministers before they arrive at their final decisions. Our aim is to complete the process in the time frame for the consultation on the draft Budget, so that the Department can finalise its efficiency measures by the end of this calendar year.
17. The measures that are currently in place will have to be addressed in the review. There is an administrative shortfall of £19,000, £83,000 and £190,000 over three years, which will be addressed in revised proposals.
18. Those are the key points. Mr Priestly may want to say something about the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI).
19. The Chairperson: Thank you very much; that is very helpful. Are the details of the efficiencies available yet?
20. Mrs Kerr: A package of proposals was provided to the Committee for this meeting and for previous meetings. However, those proposals are under review in light of ministerial priorities, the outcome of the Budget process, and the shortfall in administration efficiencies against target. One example of inconsistency in relation to the Budget outcome and the proposed efficiency measures is the issue of the Planning and Water Appeals Commissions. The Committee may remember from previous discussions that the proposal that had originally been put forward as an efficiency measure in 2006 concerned a reduction in the number of panel commissioners. That is obviously at odds with the priority that had been given to that matter by Ministers and the need to increase the number of commissioners to address the backlog. That specific issue must be examined closely. There are a range of matters, however, that we must reconsider and on which alternative proposals must be made.
21. The Chairperson: The details indicate that an increased allocation had to be made to cover the cost of restoration of the institutions. Are you able to go into more detail on those costs, and establish what they were in practical terms? I believe that it led to an increase of £2·6 million.
22. Mrs Kerr: There was an increase of £2·5 million across the three years, but that included an increased allocation for the North/South Ministerial Council secretariat. After suspension of devolution, in the 2003-04 financial years, the allocation for restoration was taken away from the various cost centres concerned. Over time, that available resource was consumed as the Department took on new priorities and responsibilities, with the outcome that, when devolution was restored this year, there was insufficient baseline provision in the Department to meet the costs of the structures that were established to support restoration.
23. Those structures include staffing the private offices for the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and the junior Ministers, the cost of advisers, the cost of our structures that support the Executive processes, and other costs, such as salaries, office costs, travel expenses, and so on. It was therefore a matter of re-establishing the structures to support the Ministers at a departmental level, and in the support that we, as a Department, provide to the Executive. Included in that is the allocation for the North/South Ministerial Council secretariat, which is approximately £300,000 in each of the three years to cover staffing costs, accommodation, travel, etc. That figure allows for the increased level of activity, post devolution.
24. The Chairperson: Given that one third of Budget bids were met in year one, does that mean that most of the work to deliver the actions and targets cannot really take place until years two and three?
25. Mrs Kerr: It is difficult to focus only on the allocations themselves, because they are additional spend. In delivering our priorities and targets in the Programme for Government we need to look at the total provision of the Department. That may mean that, in some areas, existing provision may need to be re-prioritised or reallocated, based on the key outcomes of the Department. It would be incorrect to say that, based on the Budget allocation, we cannot meet our Programme for Government commitments.
26. Mr Paul Priestly (Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): I will put that a different way. The Minister of Finance and Personnel was clear that Budget allocations would be based on Departments’ PSAs. Our Budget allocation was increased on the basis of setting stretching PSAs. The PSAs have had to be adjusted, naturally, to fall in line with the Budget we have. We are confident we can achieve the targets set in the PSAs with the Budget that we have been given.
27. The Chairperson: I will now open up for questions on strategic issues.
28. Mr Shannon: Thank you for your presentation. Is it in order for me to ask a couple of questions on the measures? Perhaps I am too far ahead. I can hold off.
29. Mr Molloy: How will the equality impact assessment affect the provisions that have been made in the Budget? In the past, assessments seem to have been along the lines of high-level impact, and that seems to be where the Department is coming from. What is your opinion on how that impacts on the Budget?
30. Mr Priestly: Work is under way to prepare a high-level strategic impact assessment that will cover the Budget, the Programme for Government and the investment strategy for Northern Ireland. Each of the three documents will be examined individually, but there will be one integrated impact assessment. It would not be possible to do a detailed impact assessment on every policy and programme in either the Budget or the Programme for Government. Individual Departments that are responsible for those programmes and policies should undertake a screening exercise to see whether they merit a full impact assessment. We will do a high-level impact assessment, based on the high-level priorities that the Executive have set.
31. Mr Molloy: When will that be available?
32. Mr Priestly: It is currently in preparation, and I hope that we will be able to publish it in a week or so.
33. Mr Molloy: There is no legal requirement for the high-level impact assessment, but there is for an equality impact assessment. Will the Department meet that requirement?
34. Mr Priestly: There is a requirement to do an impact assessment on the Budget, the Programme for Government and the investment strategy for Northern Ireland. We are confident — and the Equality Commission has told us — that the work that we are doing will meet that requirement. It will be for individual Departments, as they take forward the programmes and the policies set out in the Programme for Government and the PSAs, to screen them to see whether a full impact assessment is required and to undertake that work. The fact that we have done a high-level assessment of the Programme for Government, the Budget and the investment strategy for Northern Ireland does not remove the need for Departments to carry out the screening exercise and an impact assessment, where necessary.
35. Mr Molloy: Neither does it remove your legal obligation to perform an equality impact assessment in relation to the overall Budget.
36. Mr Priestly: As I have said, we are doing what satisfies legal requirements.
37. Mr Molloy: Opinion differs on that. Are you saying that you cannot do an equality impact assessment on the Budget?
38. Mr Priestly: We can do a high-level impact assessment. We cannot do an impact assessment of every policy and programme that is in the Programme for Government, Budget and the investment strategy. That is work for the Departments responsible for those policies and programmes as they take them forward.
39. Mrs Kerr: This could perhaps be a question of terminology. A process is followed and a template, called a “high-level impact assessment”, is used at Departmental level in considering financial proposals. It is part of the Budget process and of the monitoring rounds. When proposals are considered by the finance teams, they are accompanied by a high-level impact assessment, which does an initial assessment and states whether the outcome of this proposal will be negative, positive or neutral. The outcome of the assessment is taken into account in making proposals to Ministers. For the Budget, the Programme for Government and the investment strategy for Northern Ireland, an equality impact assessment is carried out. That is not a high-level impact assessment, but it is taken forward at a strategic level because of the breadth of the documents.
40. However, in advancing the proposals and working them into policies, Departments will carry out full equality impact assessments as the individual policies progress. There are several stages in the process, and equality is taken into account throughout and in giving advice to Ministers and reaching decisions.
41. Mr Molloy: Are you telling me that it cannot be done, or that it will not be done?
42. Mr Priestly: I do not think it can be done.
43. Mrs Cynthia Smith (Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister): May I try to clarify the issue? The difficulties in conducting equality impact assessments on high-level policies are recognised. In the equality directorate, we work closely with the Equality Commission and the Department of Finance and Personnel in the Budget process to work out how exactly high-level impact assessments may be carried out.
44. In its review of the effectiveness of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Equality Commission has recognised the difficulties of carrying out those assessments. However, it provided guidance to the effect that it expects public authorities to carry those out as far as possible. Departments must still go through the seven-stage process, for example: identifying the policies; collecting data; assessing the impact; determining any adverse impact; identifying any mitigating factors; and consulting fully on those.
45. The Chairperson: Has the Equality Commission confirmed that the approach proposed meets statutory requirement?
46. Mr Priestly: Yes.
47. The Chairperson: Are you happy enough with that, Mr Molloy?
48. Mr Molloy: No, I am not happy.
49. The Chairperson: The witnesses have answered your question. Are there any other questions?
50. Mrs D Kelly: Jim Shannon is not entirely wrong to ask about the outcomes and measures of the strategic issues. The assessment of targets or goals is a strategic issue. Are the specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) criteria used? How will success be measured? What processes are in place with respect to monitoring the outcomes? What are the timelines for meeting those goals and when will the process be evaluated? None of that is clear from the documents.
51. Mr Priestly: Those aspects have not been covered in the documents. They will be covered in the final documents — the final Programme for Government and the final investment strategy.
52. I can talk the Committee through the work that we are doing to develop what we call a “performance management framework”. The Member is quite right. There must be arrangements to ensure that these high-level targets and key goals are delivered. The starting point will be that individual Departments will be expected to prepare delivery plans for those PSA targets and key goals for which they are responsible. Some of those are cross-cutting and will involve more than one Department.
53. Secondly, they will be expected to provide delivery plans for the issues for which they are responsible in the investment strategy. Therefore, that is the ground work. The expectation is that they would publish those plans as departmental plans; therefore, they will be available.
54. These are the Executive’s plans, and the Executive will want to monitor progress. Therefore, we expect that those delivery plans will include trajectories, and milestones outlining progress right through to delivery by the target date.
55. The expectation is that our Ministers — probably the Minister of Finance and Personnel and OFMDFM Ministers — will meet every six months to have a bilateral with individual departmental Ministers in order to monitor and chart progress, to find out whether things are on or off target, and to ascertain what remedial action is required.
56. Moreover, the Minister of Finance and Personnel has said that Departments that have set themselves particularly ambitious, stretching goals and targets on behalf of the Executive should be given priority regarding resources to enable them to meet those targets in in-year monitoring exercises. We expect progress then to be reported to the Executive every six months. [Inaudible] That is an outline of our current work. I hope that a full regime can be included in the final versions of the documents that the Committee has been given.
57. Mrs D Kelly: I assume that this is not new, that it is not something that is made in Northern Ireland, and that it is a process that is regularly and routinely gone through. Therefore, I am seriously concerned that no projects were bid for from the integrated development fund, which received a substantial portion of what was reallocated during the October monitoring rounds. My constituency is one of the areas that was supposed to benefit from that, and it is appalling that there were no bids. At what stage is that initiative reviewed to determine whether it is the best way in which to deliver?
58. Another example is the New Deal initiative, which has failed many people who are long-term unemployed. At what point do you say enough is enough?
59. Mr Priestly: My directorate and DFP are jointly responsible for administering the integrated development fund, and there are plans to conduct a review of that. That is normal practice. It may not be done as quickly as you would like, but there are plans to do it.
60. Mrs D Kelly: I would like to have a definite timeline regarding that issue.
61. The Chairperson: I understand that you are leaving shortly. Do you want to pursue any other issues before you go?
62. Mrs D Kelly: There are plenty of other issues that I want to pursue, regarding the child poverty strategy and how that will be delivered. How are 67,000 children going to be taken out of poverty by 2010?
63. Mrs Smith: These are stretching targets that tie in with broader anti-poverty targets. As the Committee is aware, there is a commitment from the Assembly to adopt an anti-poverty strategy that is based on objective need. That was included in the St Andrews Agreement. The Assembly debated that and resolved that that would be implemented. We are doing that. All Departments will be required to sign up to that strategy, which will be supported by action plans, and must ensure that all play their part in delivering it.
64. One single Department will not be able to unlock its delivery. It is an extremely stretching target, and it will require a wide range of actions across all sectors. There are some issues that the devolved Administration can tackle. However, others relate to benefit policies and so on, which are part of the Whitehall targets with regard to tackling poverty.
65. The Chairperson: It is a good idea to spread the blame before —
66. Mrs D Kelly: Oh yes, before I come back. [Laughter.]
67. I am sure that all members are aware that the target to reduce child poverty is not new; it was a British Labour Government policy, and there is an existing strategy document. Regarding the mid-term evaluation, are you on track to reach those targets by 2010, which is just over two years away? How have you performed thus far? What measures and what remedial action have been taken?
68. That is not a new target by any stretch of the imagination, despite the requirement for integration and the necessity for cohesive government. How many children have been taken out of poverty in the last three years?
69. Mrs Smith: The lifetime opportunities strategy and proposals were developed under direct rule, and the Assembly has indicated its wish to see an anti-poverty strategy adopted. We are putting an anti-poverty strategy through to the Executive, and we will consult the Committee as part of that process.
70. Mrs D Kelly: That does not answer my question.
71. Chairperson: Would it be possible to find out how many children have been taken out of poverty in the last three years?
72. Mrs Smith: Yes, several months ago a response given to a recent Assembly question addressed that issue. That specific question was addressed in terms of the original baseline and the proportion that had been removed from poverty.
73. Mrs D Kelly: Ideally it will also address how on target you are.
74. The Chairperson: Over the next three years, we intend to remove a further 67,000 children from poverty, which is an impressive target. Therefore, it would be interesting to measure the last three years.
75. Mr Priestly: It might be helpful for the Committee to know that, when deciding on the key goals set in the Programme for Government, the Executive took a conscious decision to stretch themselves by setting operational goals. The great ship of government will need to be re-orientated in order to achieve certain of these goals. This will not be simple and straightforward.
76. Mrs D Kelly: I hope that ship is not named the Titanic.
77. Mr Priestly: It will be a challenge, but I feel that Executive Ministers are to be commended for having this level of ambition. There is a risk that they will not achieve everything that they want to, but they took a conscious decision to stretch themselves.
78. Mr Shannon: The Ministers are to be commended for their vision, which is to eradicate child poverty. Primarily, the Committee wants to know how that will be achieved, and whether the scheme is too ambitious. I hope that is not the case, and I believe that it is achievable.
79. At what stage will you evaluate how far you have progressed towards the goal? For instance, in a year’s time will this Committee be able to measure how far you have gone? It will probably be marked by how many children have been taken out of poverty. Will we be able to measure that you have reached stage one, and that you have delivered on stages two, three and four over the next few year? It is important that we have a timescale and targets to reach, because that makes the challenge achievable. You must aim to have that goal.
80. Cynthia Smith said that all the Departments must come together to deliver; therefore, they must be part of the process and we must know what they are doing and that they all fit in with one another. I would like to build a process that we may try to achieve, for example, by the year 2009, and use that plan to measure our achievements, and whether we have surpassed them.
81. Mr Priestly: Logically, a delivery plan should set out the starting point, trajectory and milestones, so that progress can be tracked. In cases where progress is not made, this tracking process should indicate that action is necessary to get it back on track.
82. Mr Shannon: Exactly; that is what I would like to see.
83. Mr Priestly: I hope that you will see that when delivery plans are produced with goals and targets.
84. Mr Wells: Rule me out of order if necessary. May I ask a question about PAC, or would that go into too much detail?
85. The Chairperson: We will move on to the subject of the draft Programme for Government, and I will take your question at that point. You have prepared the witnesses for it.
86. What new measures or approaches are you planning to ensure that the cross-cutting themes of creating a better future and sustainability are taken into account by Departments? How will you manage your targets and proposals?
87. Mr Priestly: Work is continuing on the strategy for taking forward sustainable development across Government. Key environmental goals have been set for reducing our carbon footprint and for using electricity generated from renewable sources. There will have to be —
88. The Chairperson: Yes; those are key goals, and the Committee accepts them. However, how will OFMDFM manage the oversight of progress towards those goals?
89. Mr Priestly: That process is still to be designed. There are various proposals for the creation of governance machinery that will allow us to drive, track and give leadership. However, that is still work in progress.
90. The Chairperson: What is a better future? You must have a vision of a better future, do you not? I do.
91. Mrs Smith: Are you referring to the vision of ‘A Shared Future’?
92. The Chairperson: Yes.
93. Mrs Smith: That ties in with the vision of a fair and inclusive society.
94. The Chairperson: How do you promote that across all the Departments?
95. Mrs Smith: The Committee will be aware that a baseline-indicators report was prepared in respect of the ‘A Shared Future’ policy document. That published report sets out a number of indicators — or milestones — for how we would measure the impact of the policy. Much work went into that report. I can share that with the Committee.
96. The Chairperson: That might be helpful. There is concern that, because OFMDFM operates strategically — in other words, it must adopt an overview of all of the Departments — it is still working out how management can best be achieved. When will we see progress on that matter?
97. Mr Priestly: Perhaps I did not give a satisfactory reply to the question on sustainability. Let me have another try. The Executive have been in office for six months. The First Minister and deputy First Minister are beginning to examine the sustainable development strategy that was put in place during direct rule. They are asking whether that is fit for purpose for the devolved Administration. They want to think through the governance arrangements and consider how to make the policy work in the interests of the Department and of Northern Ireland. It will take them time to do that. However, they are engaged in that work.
98. Mrs Kerr: I understand that that work will be taken forward through an implementation plan, which will place responsibilities, objectives, targets and deadlines on Departments, to ensure that OFMDFM delivers on its role of driving forward the strategy and ensuring that the desired outcomes are achieved.
99. Mr Priestly: There are two pieces of work: the review of the sustainable development strategy, and the development of a new implementation plan. The ambition is to have the new plan in place by April 2008; then we can begin to review progress against the previous implementation plan.
100. Mr Molloy: To date, the Committee has observed a very haphazard way of dealing with sustainability. Sustainability was thrown into PPS 14 and into agriculture policy, but no Department has adopted a co-ordinated approach. In fact, some might suggest that the word “sustainability” is used without any real meaning. If there is to be further consultation and delivery on a new sustainability plan, will the Committee be consulted? OFMDFM has the opportunity to develop a strategy to ensure sustainability across all Departments. Will there be an opportunity for such consultation?
101. Mr Priestly: Yes.
102. Mrs Kerr: You mentioned a haphazard approach. OFMDFM assumed responsibility for sustainable development last year, staffed up, and received funding, but members will see in the Budget proposals that an additional £200,000 to £300,000 has been allocated for sustainability for each year of the Budget period. That is a reflection of the priority that has been given to the issue by Ministers, and that is very much aimed at enabling OFMDFM to give that leadership and to facilitate a more coherent approach to sustainable development in Government.
103. Mr Wells: I am glad that this issue has been raised, because I also sit on the DRD Committee, and I addressed this issue when we were examining the Budget.
104. You have set very admirable targets for the reduction of carbon emissions in Northern Ireland, but if one examines the budgets of each Department, which will have to deliver that cut in carbon emissions, there is absolutely no indication of any great change in the direction of the metaphorical tanker.
105. For instance, the DRD budget allows for very little in the way of movement from private to public transport. There is a bit of tinkering, but there is absolutely nothing that would indicate that the carbon footprint can be cut by much. There is nothing in the DETI budget that indicates a massive move from fossil fuels to renewables, apart from the very gradual process that has already been instigated.
106. If you have already set the budgets for the Departments that are meant to deliver, I wonder where are you actually going to identify and achieve those reductions in carbon emissions? I cannot see where that is going to happen, given that there is no sea change in any of the budgets.
107. Mr Priestly: The tanker metaphor is a good one. The target date for a reduction of at least 25% in our carbon footprint is 2025, and you are right: it is going to require a concerted effort right across Government to get the tanker moving in the right direction.
108. Mr Wells: When does that tanker start to change direction?
109. Mr Priestly: The Chairperson is laughing, so perhaps we should move away from that metaphor.
110. The Chairperson: I am just remembering the Torrey Canyon, which, as far as I know, was a tanker, and we know what happened to it. [Laughter.]
111. Mr Priestly: The change in direction comes when the Executive begin the process by working on what the strategy and implementation plan should be. That work is under way.
112. Mr Wells: None of that is built into the budget for the next three years?
113. Mr Priestly: I do not know the detail.
114. Mrs Kerr: OFMDFM is not responsible for the budget-setting process for other Departments. That is done by DFP, so we are not in a position to comment on how other Departments have set their budgets.
115. Mr Wells: That is crucial, because you are telling me you have responsibility, and you are saying that we must achieve x amount of reduction in carbon footprint, but you cannot dictate to the Departments how they deliver that through their budgets.
116. Mrs Kerr: Departments sign up to the cross-cutting measures within the Programme for Government, which they are required to deliver. It is OFMDFM’s responsibility to drive the strategy, but it is for the Departments to determine how they need to realign their budgets to achieve the outcome.
117. Mr Priestly: That is a key point. The target for reducing our carbon footprint was set by the Executive collectively. Ultimately, it is for Ministers to determine how they going to achieve the target, and to re-orient their budgets accordingly.
118. Mr Wells: If there is not a ha’p’orth of a hint that that work is being taken forward in the departmental budgets, who intervenes and says: “Hold on here, boys. We are never going to achieve our target.”?
119. Mr Priestly: There must be central co-ordination that asks Ministers how they are going to achieve the target. Ultimately, they must reorient the departmental budgets, if necessary, to do that.
120. The Chairperson: We appear to have commitments, but we do not yet know how they will be delivered. The example that Mr Wells has provided is quite a good one: there seems to be the potential for overarching commitments, but the details have not been worked through. Who is going to manage that, and, if necessary, take action to ensure that the strategic direction is maintained?
121. Mr Priestly: We have talked about the performance-management framework, which is the work of drawing up delivery plans that set out how the reduction will be achieved, monitored, driven, and how any remedial action necessary will be taken if we go off target. You are right — that work has not been completed.
122. Mr Molloy: During the period of the previous devolved Administration, we had Executive programme funds, which encouraged various Departments to come together and co-ordinate on projects.
123. I am particularly interested in the issue of waste and how it is dealt with, from both an agricultural point of view and an economic point of view. However, at the moment, there does not seem to be any facility to deal with waste. As Mr Wells said, OFMDFM has no authority to deal with that matter or to encourage the Departments to try to do so. Perhaps that will form part of the forthcoming strategy, but there must be some clear indication that that matter will be dealt with.
124. Mr Wells: We need a sustainability tsar to deal with all those issues, similar to the drugs tsar.
125. The Committee Clerk: I have heard that the prognosis for tsars is not that great.
126. The Chairperson: There was an equally bad finish for the Torrey Canyon.
127. Let us move on to the Programme for Government and the public service agreements that are of interest to the Department. Mrs Kerr, do you wish to comment on that?
128. Mrs Kerr: I have nothing further to add to my opening comments, but I am happy to take questions.
129. Mr Wells: It is time for my weekly plea about the Planning Appeals Commission. I am getting conflicting messages on this subject. We are very exercised when we discovered that the bid for extra resources to employ additional commissioners for the Planning Appeals Commission had apparently been turned down. It would now appear that the commission is not going to be subject to efficiency measures. That is where matters stand at the moment.
130. Mrs Kerr: I will start with the additional moneys, which were bid for during the October monitoring round. The Department had bid for an additional £33,000 to enable the appointment of commissioners in January. That bid was unsuccessful. We will provide a formal response on that matter, but, from speaking to the policy lead in that area, I gather that it would have been difficult to make in-year appointments because of successful candidates having taken up employment elsewhere.
131. However, the Committee will see from the Budget outcomes that an additional amount of almost £600,000, rising to nearly £700,000 in the third year, has been allocated to the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission through the Budget process. Those figures are considerably in excess of the initial bid that was made earlier in the year. When we provided evidence to the Committee at earlier stages in the process, we had talked about enabling the commissions to appoint two additional commissioners. Obviously, the commissions will be able to appoint significantly more commissioners on the basis of that allocation. Of course, any proposals would have to be discussed with the chief commissioner. However, up to eight to 10 commissioners could potentially be appointed, depending on what the chief commissioner considers appropriate.
132. Mr Wells also asked about efficiency measures. The proposal that was made under direct rule and signed off by David Hanson in 2006 was for a reduction in the number of commissioners. That is obviously totally at odds with the priority given to that matter by current Ministers and the decisions on the allocation of additional resources, through the Budget process. We shall not pursue that specific measure, because it is totally contradictory to the Budget proposals in general. Whether or not there is the potential to deliver other efficiencies remains an issue. That must be considered, but no measures should be introduced that would be detrimental to the commission’s work on reducing its backlog.
133. At this stage, we do not know whether there will be an efficiency proposal for the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission. That matter will come to the fore as we bring further advice and proposals to the Committee — hopefully towards the end of the month.
134. Mr Wells: When do you think any extra commissioners will be in post?
135. Mrs Kerr: That will have to be discussed with the chief commissioner. She will have to decide on the appropriate actions to take, how to use the additional resources that are allocated, and how to phase in that spend over the three years. The allocation that has been given to the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission in the draft Budget is considerably more than the initial bid, and that increase was allocated as a direct result of Ministers’ views on the matter. In their consideration of the Budget proposals, Ministers have increased significantly the proposals put forward by officials.
136. Mr Priestly: A different answer to that question is that the budget will be available from 1 April so there will be nothing to stop the chief commissioner from beginning the process of recruiting additional commissioners in the spring.
137. Mr Wells: Planning appeals are a minor territory in the overall empire of OFMDFM, but it is an important one for development in the Province. Are you fully aware of the crisis that is going on at Park House? Do you realise that the commission is processing 1,000 appeals a year and that there are 3,000 in the system?
138. Mrs Kerr: Yes.
139. Mr Wells: That is what annoyed me about the refusal of the bid. The problem was not so much the logistics of getting the people in post; it was that OFMDFM seemed to be unaware of the crisis that development in Northern Ireland is facing because there is such a backlog of appeals.
140. Mrs Kerr: OFMDFM submitted the bid to the Department of Finance and Personnel. In the context of Finance Minister’s decisions on the proposals, and the Executive’s consideration of those proposals, the bid was not met. OFMDFM submitted a bid for £33,000 as part of October monitoring. That was not successful when it was judged in the context of the competing priorities at Executive level, and the available resources. However, if the commission had been in a position to appoint panel commissioners from January, the money would have been found from within OFMDFM to facilitate that. If that were to mean reprioritising something else, so be it. We gave the commitment to find the resources.
141. I will give a definite response after further discussions in response to a note that we have received from the Committee Clerk. As I understand it, it is not feasible to appoint commissioners now because the list from which someone could have been appointed is now exhausted because people have taken jobs elsewhere. However, the chief commissioner can now start to take action with certainty because she now has an assurance about funding for the next three years.
142. Mr Wells: I would love it if someone were to carry out an exercise to find out what the huge logjam that has been created in the planning system is costing Northern Ireland plc. Some of the planning offices, such as my local office, are efficient, and the applications are going through quickly. However, appeals then go up to Park House and disappear into a black hole.
143. The Chairperson: The Committee, particularly Mr Wells, can rightly claim some credit for banging on about that issue. We appear to have got results in the form of the extra allocation of funding that has been made. That is good news.
144. Mrs Kerr: It is worth adding that the provision of the additional resources is only one aspect of addressing the problem. The problem is fully recognised, and its impact on the economy and the construction industry is recognised. However, we must also consider the overall planning processes and work with the Minister of the Environment to consider how the Department of the Environment can help in resolving the issue. Although additional funding is one part of the solution, a wider review is under way.
145. Mr Shannon: Measure 18 of the Budget efficiencies refers to planned vacancy management and more planned staff reductions in years 2 and 3 from the office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People. I am aware of the additional cost savings. The Assembly has indicated that it regards poverty as a priority and a big issue. How can the Children’s Commissioner deliver her programme, which is tied in with child poverty, with the planned reductions and cutbacks that are mentioned in measure 18? I have a point to make on another measure, which I will come back to.
146. Mrs Kerr: I will make a general point before handing over to Cynthia Smith for more detail. All of the measures will be subject to review. One of the most important factors for OFMDFM to consider in reviewing the measures is their alignment with the commitments and priorities that are stated in the draft Programme for Government, those that have been stated by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, and the targets and plans of the Department.
147. Mrs Smith: It is an important rider to state that all of those measures are subject to review, and to realignment with the Budget priorities. As can be seen from a number of the measures, some of the proposals that were made earlier this year envisaged that, for example, there might be efficiency savings in the administration of some of the sponsored bodies. There might be scope for efficiency savings as a result of sharing services. For example, some of the commissions share IT services, which can lead to significant savings. Such measures have the potential to encourage the more efficient and effective running of offices, as opposed to taking money from mainline programmes. The administration of the relevant bodies would be carried out more efficiently and effectively.
148. Mr Shannon: I am worried that proposed efficiency savings often become a reality, so when Departments say that efficiency savings are subject to review, with the exception of those in the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission, that does not happen. Therefore, the proposed efficiency savings before the Committee are written in tablets of stone, and will become a reality. That worries me, but I accept the points that have been made.
149. Mrs Smith: Given the scale of the efficiency savings that are required of the Department, difficult decisions must be made.
150. Mr Shannon: I accept that. I am a wee bit concerned that the priority of tackling child poverty cannot be delivered if the Children’s Commissioner’s office does not receive the necessary funding. I will leave my comments at that because, as Jackie said, the issue can be revisited.
151. The Chairperson: Is there any reason why the Ministers have not yet ratified the proposed efficiency measures?
152. Mrs Kerr: The process has involved identifying priorities and translating them into the need for additional resources, bearing in mind our existing baseline provision. Ministers will now examine the efficiencies and how they align with the priorities. Since the appointment of the Ministers in May, getting to this stage has been an iterative process. There is no other reason than that — it is just part of the process.
153. Mr Shannon: With a forked tongue, the impact statement on measure 4 says one thing, and then something else. Jackie Kerr will probably tell me that it is subject to review, but nonetheless the statement that Northern Ireland will withdraw its membership of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) is in front of us. The point that we made the last time that issue was discussed was it is premature to withdraw from the CPMR when the Assembly has been restored and — for the first time — has a long-term partnership Government, which all the parties have committed to. That Government has moved with clarity and confidence, which is what people want to see. It is unfair to withdraw our membership of the CPMR when most European regions continue to be members.
154. It is important for the Assembly, with control and power for the first time, to be a member of the CPMR for at least the first year of the mandate so that the benefits can be reviewed in the second year.
155. There has been no indication of what CPMR membership can potentially give Northern Ireland. To use Dr Paisley’s terminology — whether it is correct or not — we want to milk the European cow to make sure that all the potential funding is realised. It is important that Northern Ireland is a member of the CPMR for one year. I will not harp on about that, but I want to ensure that Northern Ireland takes advantage of any potential opportunities.
156. Mrs Kerr: I can incorporate those views as part of the review, which we will bring back to the Committee. One of the points that is made in the impact statement is that the views of key sectors that have an interest in membership will be taken into account in the final decision.
157. Mr Shannon: The issue of fisheries is a big one for Jim Wells and me. If it were not for migrant workers, the industry would be severely depleted. Fishing is very important and we want to use membership of the CPMR to deliver for the industry.
158. The Chairperson: When will you come back to the Committee on the efficiency proposals?
159. Mrs Kerr: The Department will discuss that with the Committee. We plan to return to the Committee towards the end of the month because final proposals must be signed off by our Ministers by the end of the calendar year to align with the Budget processes. Consultation with the Committees is a key part of that.
160. The Chairperson: That is important. The Committee’s key role is to scrutinise that, and we will seek an opportunity to do so before the draft Budget becomes the actual Budget.
161. Mr Molloy: At a time when we seem to be moving towards a strategy on delivery — on the ground — for victims and survivors, it appears that the Budgets will not be increased accordingly. A number of groups are concerned that funding packages will be ended and that funding, which would allow them to continue from one project to another, will not be mainstreamed. Can you update me on that matter?
162. Mrs Smith: As well as the bids that have been made, perhaps we should consider the total baseline provision. Existing resources that are allocated to victims and survivors, plus the additional funding allocation, represent a significant total budget.
163. Members will note from the original bids that were made earlier this year that additional resources have now been phased in over the budget period. Taking account of the progress that has been made, that is probably more realistic — both as regards progress in the appointment of the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, and in the development of a more comprehensive strategy. That should allow a more gradual build-up in funding. Those are additional allocations, added to the existing baselines, which together represent quite significant funding for victims and survivors.
164. Mr Molloy: Do you envisage a shortfall in funding for groups that you would want to develop?
165. Mrs Smith: Not on the basis of our current understanding of funding needs. As you know, we are working on proposals to develop a comprehensive approach to, and strategy for, victims and survivors. Moreover, the new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, when appointed, will have an important role in that process. One of the statutory functions of a new commissioner is to produce a business plan, to be agreed by Ministers. That will be an important element in informing the discussions on allocations.
166. The Chairperson: Many of the victims’ groups have experienced a somewhat stop-start approach. That has caused problems on the ground. What measures do you intend to put in place to address that?
167. Mrs Smith: Again, that is part of looking at the matter in a more comprehensive way. That is subject to the Ministers’ agreement, and to bringing it forward to the Committee. We are conscious that we want to put in place a comprehensive strategy for funding mechanisms to support that work. We recognise that we need to provide support, assistance and advice to groups and individuals, and to agree the arrangements with the new office of the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors. That will form part of that strategy.
168. The Chairperson: Is it a prerequisite to achieving the target of producing a new strategy for victims that the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors should be in post and should have the opportunity to contribute to the development of that strategy?
169. Mrs Smith: We can do much of the work on developing the strategy because many of the foundations have been laid by previous examinations of the sector, over a number of years. Obviously, the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors will have an important role in respect of his or her statutory function. We are in the process of developing that strategy and that does not need to await the appointment of a Commissioner. We can move ahead and continue that process, in consultation with the Committee. Obviously, we want the new Commissioner to play an important role, particularly in developing the plans and rolling them forward.
170. The Chairperson: Have you reviewed the work that was done by the interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in respect of that work? Was that factored into the review process?
171. Mrs Smith: We have received a detailed report from Bertha McDougal. We used some of the material from that report as, for example, a means of gauging, at an early stage in the process, the level of resources that might be required. In her report, Bertha McDougal indicated the type of funding levels that might be required. We have drawn on some of that information when making our bids for resources. Obviously, that will need to be refined as time goes on and there are further developments. Therefore the answer is: yes, it has. That is one of the areas of work that has been taken into account.
172. The Chairperson: A concern had been expressed in previous meetings of this Committee about the status of the report of the Interim Commissioner for Victims, given that it was presented in an individual capacity. Are you confirming that, as a piece of work, it is being carefully examined, measured and implemented where possible?
173. Mrs Smith: Yes. A range of material is being drawn upon, and information and data sources are being used to develop a strategy. We will provide the draft strategy to the Committee, and the Committee can have an important input into that process.
174. The Chairperson: Is there a target date for the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site?
175. Mr Priestly: There is a target date, but I think it is something like 2025.
176. The Chairperson: That will be in time for the Olympics.
177. Mr Shannon: It is a moving target.
178. Mr Priestly: The target date of 2025 is for the regeneration of the entire 360-acre site.
179. The Chairperson: Do members want to make any further comments?
180. We move to the draft investment strategy. Why does the investment strategy include cross-cutting objectives that are additional to the cross-cutting priorities set out in the draft Programme for Government?
181. The Committee Clerk: There are three objectives in the investment strategy; social, economic and environmental.
182. Mr Priestly: They are not different. The priorities in the Programme for Government are social, economic and environmental.
183. The Chairperson: If they are not different, why are they not the same?
184. Mr Priestly: As far as I can see, they are the same.
185. The Committee Clerk: There are three cross-cutting objectives in the investment strategy. The first is economic — investment in infrastructure to accelerate economic growth; the second is societal — investment in infrastructure to promote equality of opportunity; and the third is environmental — investment in infrastructure to protect and enhance our environment.
186. There are five cross-cutting priorities in the draft Programme for Government: growing a dynamic, innovative economy; invest to build a better infrastructure; promote tolerance; deliver modern, high quality and efficient public services; and protect and enhance the environment.
187. Mr Priestly: Those two documents were designed to be consistent, and, in my view, they are consistent. One of the priorities in the draft Programme for Government is to invest to build our infrastructure. That is what is the investment strategy itself is about. However, it still pursues the same three priorities in the draft Programme for Government — economic growth and competitiveness; a society based on partnership, equality, inclusion, regional balance and mutual respect; and a high-quality built environment. They are the same thing.
188. The Chairperson: Have all the assets that must be realised between 2008 and 2011 been identified?
189. Mr Priestly: There are two aspects to that. As part of the work on preparing the draft Budget, Departments were set efficiency targets, including the realisation of capital assets. I can get the figure for the Committee if it would be helpful. There is a target — I think it is £1 billion over the three years — which has already been built into Departmental budgets.
190. Over and above that, the Executive’s ambition is to invest even more in infrastructure than is currently available under the capital envelope in the public-expenditure finances. Therefore, under Ed Vernon’s chairmanship, a capital-realisation task force has been established — its members will include officials from OFMDFM, the Strategic Investment Board and DFP — in order to identify further capital realisations that might expand the available capital envelope for the first three years of the investment strategy. Currently, that work is in train.
191. Therefore, there are two, separate aspects to this. First, Budget-round capital-realisation requirements are built into Department’s budgets and the money has already been taken away, therefore they must be achieved. Secondly, the Executive’s ambition is to realise even more capital assets to invest further in infrastructure.
192. The Chairperson: Are there any examples of capital assets that might be realised?
193. Mr Priestly: A lot of work is being done with Departments to identify opportunities. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember any — even though I am a member of that task force.
194. The Chairperson: Do members have any further questions or points?
195. Mr Shannon: Returning to the Chairperson’s point, I understand that a report on surplus assets, the proceeds of which might be used to the advantage of investment programmes, is imminent. Is that right?
196. Mr Priestly: The task force’s terms of reference suggest that, in order to revise the investment strategy, an interim report should be presented to the Ministers before the Christmas break. If potential capital realisations can be identified and incorporated in the investment strategy, more money could be invested in priority areas. The Minister of Finance and Personnel has already identified social housing and education as priority areas. Therefore, we hope that that report will be with Ministers before Christmas.
197. The interim report should identify a matrix of potential capital realisations, ranging from asset disposals that would be of no great loss to the re-evaluation of sites that might be better used or which could house additional functions that could be relocated from other high-value sites. Delivering these realisations would require planning, and could not happen immediately. Hopefully, the report will be a pretty sophisticated piece of work.
198. Mr Shannon: Will some of those projects in that matrix form part of next year’s Budget programme? In other words, if there is to be a report this side of Christmas, will it identify budgetary advantages for the financial year commencing 1 April 2008? Am I correct in that?
199. Mr Priestly: I encourage the Committee to take the view that such work is about demonstrating that a capital envelope is available in the Budget and, given that the Executive’s ambition is to do more, that under-used or poorly-used assets must be examined with the intention of realising them. Such asset realisations will expand the capital envelope for the next three years and beyond. That brings us back to the need for a capital-realisations delivery plan, which might take a long time, but the hope is that the amount of capital that we will be able to invest in the next three years will be increased.
200. Mr Shannon: I know that it is a three-year programme, but is there any reason that we cannot realise some of the money in the first year?
201. Mr Priestly: I hope so, but these things take time.
202. Mr Shannon: My understanding is that we will realise the money quickly, which is good news.
203. The Chairperson: I assume that all Departments are being asked to do that, including the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
204. Mr Priestly: That is correct.
205. The Chairperson: Can we expect Stormont Castle to be put up for sale?
206. Mr Shannon: It belongs to the people, so it will not be put for sale.
207. Mr Priestly: I invite the Chairman to put forward that proposal. [Laughter.]
208. Mr Molloy: What measure would be used to assess the regional balance in delivery of the investment strategy? There is a big wide world beyond the city of Belfast. How do we get that balance for future developments?
209. Mr Priestly: It would be useful for the Strategic Investment Board to address the Committee on those sorts of issues. Work is planned to examine the investment strategy spatially, in other words, to actually map where the investment is going and use that to consider the extent to which a regional balance is being achieved. I hope that the investment strategy contains much detail about achieving a regional balance, as that was one of the sub-objectives used in its development. I hope that our equality impact assessment will also address such issues.
210. The Chairperson: Has an upper limit been established for the level of investment to be delivered by private finance?
211. Mr Priestly: No upper or lower limit has been established. In recent years, about 25% of capital investment has been achieved through private finance. We do not set targets one way or the other on the issue. Decisions are made on the basis of what procurement option will deliver the best value for money.
212. Mr Molloy: How does the major procurement exercise, in which the Strategic Investment Board and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister are involved, contribute to the wider economic strategy and its delivery? The waste strategy and its delivery springs to mind. It is a major investment, but how do you link Departments roles in that exercise?
213. Mr Priestly: I would hate you to be under any misunderstanding that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is responsible for major procurements: Those are taken forward by individual Departments. There are proper procurement standards and guidelines that set out the criteria to be fulfilled. In the investment strategy, under “delivering our infrastructure investment plans”, there is mention of using public procurement for social purposes, to try to get people from disadvantaged communities back into employment, among other things. The Executive are keen on that.
214. The Chairperson: Surely the strategic overview will be carried out by OFMDFM? Are you satisfied that the necessary procedures and measures are in place to fulfil that role?
215. Mr Priestly: Yes.
216. Mr Molloy: I apologise for returning to the issue, Chairman. However, although the Department says that there are procedures in place, it is difficult to identify any. The Committee has not been given any great examples that those are in place. Perhaps, they will be in the future. The Department needs to put firm proposals and controls in place. At present, they do not appear to exist.
217. Mr Priestly: Perhaps I misunderstood the question. We were talking about procurement a moment ago. Has discussion moved on to the overall management and delivery of the investment strategy?
218. Mr Molloy: We are dealing with both procurement and the investment strategy. OFMDFM needs to take a comprehensive approach towards those issues in order to ensure that the Executive can measure how well they are delivered. At present, I do not believe that that is clear enough.
219. Mr Priestly: When the final version of the investment strategy is published, the management framework — how the Department will plan and monitor progress on the delivery of the investment strategy — will be set out. Again, that goes back to individual Departments having to prepare investment delivery plans that state how they will achieve their objectives, with progress being monitored and reports being provided to the Executive.
220. The Chairperson: The Committee’s concern is that it must be in a position where it is satisfied and content with the arrangements for its scrutiny purposes.
221. Mr Priestly: All that I can say, Chairman, is that when those procedures are designed, they will be brought to the Committee for consultation.
222. The Chairperson: Will there be sufficient time?
223. Mr Priestly: Yes. The investment strategy goes live in April. The Department will probably not conduct a first review of progress until, say, six months later. Capital investments are long-term projects. My guess is that after just six months, there may not be much to report.
224. Mr Chairperson: That completes the questions. It may well be that the Committee will have additional questions that it will communicate to the Department. It would be useful if the Department could respond to those at the earliest opportunity. Thank you very much for your attendance this afternoon.
First Minister (Rev Dr Ian Paisley):
This is another momentous day for the Executive. The deputy First Minister and I are today announcing the Executive’s first draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. Immediately after this statement, the Minister of Finance and Personnel will announce the Executive’s draft Budget to the Assembly.
It is worth pausing for a moment to remind ourselves of the sea change that has taken place since 8 May 2007.
The Government of Northern Ireland are now in the hands of local politicians. Those politicians were elected by the people here to be their representatives; they were born and bred here, and they know and understand the concerns of our people. They have a long-term interest in the Province and its people — our constituents. Our destiny is now in our own hands. We have a tremendous opportunity to shape our future, and we are determined to seize that chance with both hands.
However, we cannot fulfil our potential without engaging with all the people of Northern Ireland. We want to work with the business people who generate wealth and who want to provide more highly skilled and better-paid jobs. We must engage with the young people who are looking for jobs and homes and a stake in a better future. We must consider the young parents hoping for a better future for their children, just as they should. What parent does not have high hopes for his or her children? We must engage with older people, to whom we owe so much and who often suffer in their retirement as a result of ill health and poverty. We want to bring comfort and security to them — that is the only decent way for people who are in their twilight years to live. Farming families are important: they struggle with falling incomes and rising costs. We are all conscious of the difficulties that the farming community faces. We must also acknowledge the newcomers to our Province and the growing ethnic minority communities who are already making a positive contribution to our economy and who are full of hope for the future. However, let us not forget the victims in our community who have suffered — and who are still suffering — as a result of the legacy of the past. They, too, need to be engaged with and cared for.
As an Executive, we are determined to make a difference by building a better future for all, and we will focus our energies on achieving that. We shall not be satisfied unless we produce results that far supersede all that has happened over recent decades in Northern Ireland. We want to deliver those results through our Programme for Government and our investment strategy.
The Executive agreed a draft Programme for Government and a draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland on 23 October. Later this morning, the Minister of Finance and Personnel will reveal the draft Budget, which was agreed at the same Executive meeting. This process marks a significant milestone for the Government of Northern Ireland. We are now laying the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy before the Assembly for scrutiny and future approval once the Assembly Committees have examined them.
Through the launch of those documents, we are announcing the start of a consultation process that will last until 4 January 2008. It is fewer than six months since 8 May 2007, when devolution was restored. On that day I said:
“Today, at long last, we are starting upon the road — I emphasise starting — which I believe will take us to lasting peace in our Province.”
At the time, we recognised that it would be a long and sometimes difficult journey, and one on which we must not falter if we are to build a Northern Ireland in which everyone can live in the sort of peaceful society that we all desire.
In May, many doubted the Executive’s ability to work together and to reach agreement on our priorities, key targets and spending plans for the next three years.
The achievement of the early publication of these three draft documents — just over two weeks after the Chancellor announced the outcome of the comprehensive spending review and the precise spending allocations for Northern Ireland — is no mean achievement. That has required considerable effort on our part, and today’s publication of this suite of documents is clear evidence that this Executive can and will work together in the interests of all our people.
I turn to our approach to the Programme for Government. The publication of these documents together will no doubt emphasise the close linkages among them. Taken together, they set out the Executive’s long-term vision and direction; they also explain how our priorities and goals will be resourced and delivered.
The draft Programme for Government represents a very different approach to that which was adopted by the last Executive. We have facilitated the creation of a more focused set of priorities and a smaller number of key goals. The Executive feel that it is important to be clear about our priorities and what we are trying to achieve.
I commend all Executive Ministers for the committed and co-operative approach that they have adopted in agreeing our priorities and key goals. I believe that we have produced a draft Programme for Government that addresses the real challenges that face Northern Ireland today. We believe that the Programme for Government offers a clear framework at a strategic level for us to develop our policies and programmes over the next three years.
Although the Programme for Government offers a clear steer, it is, of course, not set in stone. We will have the opportunity each year to review the Programme for Government and to make any changes that we may consider necessary. We hope that any such changes will be marginal, but that flexibility exists, should we need to deploy it.
The Programme for Government also indicates our longer-term aspirations and intentions in some areas. However, the immediate focus relates to 2008-11, which are the years that are covered by the comprehensive spending review. In simple terms, we know how much we will have to spend over those years, and we can, therefore, set detailed goals, targets and outcomes for what we intend to achieve over that period.
As Members will hear later from the Minister of Finance and Personnel, this has been a difficult budgetary settlement, and hard decisions have been made. We simply do not have the funding to do all that we would wish to do.
In developing our draft Programme for Government, we have also been conscious of the need for the Executive to look outward and to seek the help of our friends in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. We cannot prosper without constructive links outside Northern Ireland. We will be working to foster and promote our North/South and east-west linkages to take forward mutually beneficial and practical co-operation with the British and Irish Governments.
We will continue to work with the European Commission Task Force that was created by the European President to consider how our region can participate more effectively in any new initiatives. We are also planning an investment conference for spring 2008, which will provide an opportunity for us to position ourselves as a competitive business location for US companies in information and communication technology, and in the financial and business services sector. On the wider world stage, we are also looking forward to the World Expo 2010 — we will make the most of that opportunity and participate fully in it.
The document that we are publishing today is strategic and high level. We are also publishing a series of public service agreements as an annex to the draft Programme for Government, and the deputy First Minister will say more about that shortly.
The overarching aim of the Programme for Government is to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law, and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come. The Executive face many challenges in achieving this overarching aim. Therefore, we have decided to focus on five key priorities, which are interconnected and cannot be pursued in isolation.
Our approach to delivering our priorities will be underpinned by two cross-cutting key themes. First, all our policies and programmes must work towards building a better future; they must demonstrate fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity. Secondly, the need to build a sustainable future will also be a key requirement for our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.
Growing a dynamic economy will be our top priority during the lifetime of this Programme for Government. Sustainable economic growth and increased prosperity will provide the opportunities and the means through which we can enhance quality of life, reduce poverty and disadvantage, increase health and well-being, and build stronger and more sustainable and empowered communities.
To underpin our commitment to developing the economy, we have set ourselves a goal of halving the private-sector productivity gap with the UK average — excluding the greater south-east — by 2015. It is an ambitious target. However, we believe that we must have high aspirations if we are to make the kind of progress that we desire to.
As an Executive, we recognise the characteristics of a successful economy: a highly skilled and flexible workforce; and employment growth. To that end, we will work to increase the employment rate from 70% to 75% by 2020. We will introduce measures that are designed to address the structural weakness in our economy, and that will help to develop a dynamic business culture in Northern Ireland. We will create an environment that will support 45 new businesses and 600 existing companies to become exporters for the first time by 2011.
We will seek to secure inward investment commitments, promising more than 6,500 new jobs by 2011 and ensuring that at least 75% of those jobs will provide salaries above the local private-sector average.
We aim to increase the number of tourists visiting Northern Ireland and by 2011 to increase tourism revenue from £370 million to £520 million each year.
We want to support business and create a culture in which enterprise can flourish. We will work with the business sector to deliver widespread access for businesses to the next-generation broadband network by 2011.
I have mentioned the importance of a well-skilled workforce. We aim to ensure that by 2011, some 70% of school leavers will achieve five or more GCSE passes at grade A* to C. By 2015, we aim to ensure that 80% of the working-age population is qualified to at least GCSE level or equivalent. We will increase the number of adult learners achieving a qualification in literacy, numeracy, and information and communication technology by 2015. In particular, we will seek to develop the science base that is vital to the economy. By 2015, we will increase by 25% the numbers of students, especially from disadvantaged communities, at graduate and postgraduate level, studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. By 2010, we will increase the number of PhD research students at local universities by 300, and we will introduce a new programme to increase the commercialisation of university and college research by the same date.
We will take steps to address problems of economic inactivity and to promote greater employment opportunities in rural areas and in disadvantaged communities. We will invest £45 million by 2013 to improve the competitiveness of the rural sector.
If we are to create the conditions for economic growth and deliver real improvements in health and well-being, we must continue to advance social transformation and the inclusion of all. We want everyone in Northern Ireland to be given the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from, a better future. Promoting tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being is, therefore, our next priority. Too many people, particularly the most vulnerable, live in communities that continue to experience high levels of poverty, disadvantage and exclusion. Those communities face higher levels of poor health and low educational achievement and, as a result, they fail to enjoy the benefits of progress. Therefore, a key goal for the Executive will be to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010, and to eradicate it by 2020.
By 2011, some 30% of school leavers who are entitled to free school meals will obtain five or more GCSE passes at grade A* to C. By 2011, we will increase to 125,000 the number of children and young people who participate in sport and physical recreation. By 2012, we will reduce by 50% the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads.
At the other end of the age spectrum, I am delighted to announce, as part of the draft Programme for Government, the extension of free public transport during 2008 for everyone aged 60 and over.
I must say that I have an interest in that.
We aim to support the most vulnerable, to create strong, vibrant, sustainable communities and to build community capacity and leadership. We will continue our efforts to address divisions in our society and to eradicate sectarianism, racism and intolerance. We will regenerate our urban and rural areas and will invest over £500 million in regenerating disadvantaged communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities by 2012.
We are also announcing a £10 million package to combat rural social exclusion and poverty. We will seek to remove the barriers to employment and independent living for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. In 2008, we will introduce a new employment and support allowance to enable those unemployed due to ill-health or disability to return to work. By 2010, we will also put in place a careers advice service to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
We will seek to address the health of the population by reducing treatment times and improving treatment outcomes, as well as taking steps to improve physical and mental health. We will work towards reducing mortality from strokes and bowel cancer by 15% by 2013, and by 2009, we will introduce a screening programme to improve survival rates from bowel cancer. We will help people with chronic illnesses to live more active lives and will reduce unplanned hospital admissions for such patients by 50% by 2013.
Our rich and varied natural heritage is a key asset for the people of Northern Ireland, and, as our next priority, we will seek to protect and enhance our environmental and natural resources for future generations. We recognise the links between a healthy environment, a thriving economy and high quality of life. Therefore, we are determined to take action to protect our natural and built heritage.
I am sure that many Members will be delighted to learn that we are now committed to delivering a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011 to ensure that it supports economic and social development and environmental sustainability.
The Executive recognise clearly the potential impact of climate change. We will deliver a new sewer project for central Belfast by 2010. We are also determined to play our part in protecting the environment by reducing our carbon footprint by 25% by 2025. We will seek to promote greater use of renewables by ensuring that 12% of Northern Ireland’s electricity is generated from indigenous renewable sources by 2012. Finally, we will enable up to 4,700 farmers to comply with the nitrates directive of 2009.
We must also invest to build our infrastructure. Through making this a priority, we will invest to build a modern, efficient, twenty-first century infrastructure, which will help to deliver economic and social development. This priority will ensure that businesses can compete more effectively and will help to attract investment and skilled workers. It promotes inclusion and access to services, and raises the quality of life for everyone. The deputy First Minister will say more about this priority in detail when he presents the investment strategy to the House.
Our final priority is to deliver modern, high-quality and efficient public services, demonstrating our commitment to world-class public services that meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. We will take forward key reform programmes in areas such as water, planning, health and education, and establish a library authority and an education and skills authority by 2009.
To ensure that we have the most appropriate structures in place, we will review the overall number of Departments by 2011. We will also modernise the structure and powers of local government by 2011 and seek to modernise the infrastructure and processes of the Civil Service. I am pleased to be able to tell the farming community that we will reduce by 25% the administrative burden on farmers and agrifood businesses by 2013. Our aim in doing that will be to bring the Government closer to the people, revitalise public services and achieve greater efficiencies. We will introduce a single telephone contact point for public services by 2009 and streamline 70% of Departments and agency websites by the same date.
The draft Programme for Government represents a blueprint for Ulster’s future. We are building the foundation for a vibrant and successful future for the people of Northern Ireland. The deputy First Minister will continue by outlining the fifth priority and presenting the draft investment strategy. I strongly commend the draft Programme for Government to everyone in the House, and I intend to live to see it through.
Deputy First Minister (Mr M McGuinness):
A Cheann Comhairle, with your permission, I welcome the presence of a sizeable delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians and politicians to Parliament Buildings. Some of them are in the Gallery listening to Members’ deliberations, and I am sure that I speak for all Members when I say that we wish them well during their stay.
The First Minister has highlighted the progress that the Executive have made in agreeing their first draft Programme for Government and given Members an indication of what we plan to achieve under four of the five priorities. I want to echo the First Minister’s comments about the seismic shift that we have seen since 8 May. This place is truly under new management. Who would have believed how far we have come in so short a time? The draft Programme for Government marks a real difference from what has gone before. Its presentation and content are different from that published by the previous Executive. We have tried to clearly set out the Executive’s key priorities along with the high-level goals that the Executive are working to achieve.
The First Minister referred to his speech of 8 May. Similarly, I commented on that day that we would:
“strive towards a society moving from division and disharmony to one which celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all our people.”
Those sentiments are captured and expressed in the draft Programme for Government. There is much hard work to be done if the Programme for Government is to be delivered, but its publication after less than six months in Government shows that we are determined and able to apply ourselves to that task.
The First Minister mentioned that we are today publishing for consultation the draft Programme for Government, the draft Budget and the draft investment strategy. Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a 10-week period of consultation that will conclude on 4 January 2008. I know that many Members would like a longer time for consultation, but it is important that the Budget in particular be agreed in sufficient time to enable detailed spending plans to be drawn up and put in place by 1 April. There is, therefore, an imperative to finalise and agree the documents as early as possible in January so that the Executive’s plans can be put in place and we can ensure that the business of Government runs smoothly into the next financial year.
As the First Minister has already explained, the documents will be subject to revision as necessary as our policies develop and as we respond to changing needs. However, we must be clear about the goals that we are working to deliver, agree them and move forward collectively towards their achievement. The close linkages between the three documents mean that we have decided to undertake the consultation process in a co-ordinated fashion.
The consultation will be led by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, but will also involve the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Strategic Investment Board (SIB), which will be responsible for the Budget and the investment strategy respectively.
The documents will need to be agreed by the Assembly in due course. The Assembly Committees will have an important role to play in putting forward their views for consideration, and will form an integral part of the consultation process. We will be asking the OFMDFM Committee to play a co-ordinating role in liaising with the other Committees and gathering their views. We will also be seeking a take-note debate in the Assembly at an appropriate point in the consultation.
Separately, we will consult key stakeholders and social partners, as well as members of the public. We look forward to active engagement with key interest groups throughout the consultation period. Once the consultation process has concluded and we have had an opportunity to consider the comments received, we will present a final Programme for Government, Budget and investment strategy to the Assembly — we hope to do that before the end of January.
The First Minister has provided the Assembly with an indication of some of the contents of the draft Programme for Government, and I do not intend to repeat what he has said. However, I want to emphasis that these are the Executive’s agreed priorities, and they provide the basis on which we plan to move forward in the future.
The First Minister has also referred briefly to the draft public service agreements that we are publishing today as a separate annex. Those 23 public service agreements, or PSAs, confirm the key actions that the Executive plan to take in support of our priorities alongside the outcomes and targets that we are seeking to achieve. Again, they seek only to capture the high-level targets and key cross-cutting issues and challenges. They will provide the framework through which the Executive as a whole will monitor progress, delivery of priorities and key objectives.
I will now provide some detail on the infrastructure priority, which the First Minister referred to earlier. Investing to build our infrastructure will be an important priority through which we will invest to build a modern, twenty-first-century infrastructure. All Members of the Assembly will know of the significant challenges we face in this area: schools that have gone on beyond their useful life; children who are still being taught in temporary classrooms or schools in dire need of refurbishment and modernisation; communities in need of new healthcare facilities; young families looking for social and affordable housing; a business community that needs better roads and modern information and communication links; and the legacy of a long history of neglect and underinvestment in our basic water and sewerage infrastructure, which we are all living with. All of those issues are fundamental for the health and well-being of everyone.
Members will know that we have inherited those huge challenges from direct rule. However, an as Executive, we are rising to meet those challenges. We are grappling with all of those issues and are determined to address them and to give our people the modern services and facilities that they need.
We will support infrastructure development, which will, over time, address the major deficiencies in key areas such as roads, public transport, water and sewerage infrastructure, and social and affordable housing. We will prioritise more balanced regional development, ensure compliance with EU directives, and address the backlog of maintenance in the health and education estates.
This will be delivered through the draft investment strategy that we are announcing today. The investment strategy will put in place a modern infrastructure that will provide a platform for us to achieve our key economic, social and environmental priorities, which will enable businesses to grow, tackle social and economic inequalities, and improve the quality of life for everyone.
Recognising that Government procurement can play an active and effective role in tackling socio-economic disadvantage, we have ensured that we will seek opportunities to promote social inclusion and equality of opportunity in the procurement of infrastructure programmes. That will impact through employment plans, by building opportunities for apprenticeships into major delivery contracts, and through a tendering process that prioritises the most economically advantageous option in this context.
Similarly, the quality of our environment is important, and our investment strategy will ensure that we protect and enhance it.
Those will be important considerations as we invest £5·6 billion into infrastructure over the next three years and at least £18 billion over the next 10 years. In those first three years, 25% more will be invested than in the preceding three years, which represents a further step change that the Executive is leading.
Strategic Investment Board Ltd — a wholly-owned company of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister — has taken the lead in working with Departments to prepare the draft investment strategy for the Executive’s consideration. That document was agreed by the Executive at its meeting on 23 October.
The first three years’ figures in the strategy are consistent with those in the Budget, which the Minister of Finance and Personnel will announce shortly. The figures for later years fall outside the current Budget period but have been formulated within a financial framework that has been agreed with the Department of Finance and Personnel.
However, in order to provide a comprehensive picture of anticipated future investment, the investment strategy reflects the impact of additional sources of funding that lie outside of what is, by convention, included in the Executive’s normal public-expenditure Budget. That is clear in the published document, and all sources of funding are included in the figures that I am announcing today.
The draft investment strategy demonstrates our approach to infrastructure investment and clearly links the major £18 billion programme of investment to the key priorities that are set out in the draft Programme for Government. That is a significant funding envelope, which will enable us to embark on what is, by any standards, an ambitious programme of infrastructure development.
Although £18 billion is a considerable sum of money, it is not enough to fully meet the needs that we wish to address. The Executive, with the crucial advice of the Assembly, must come to a view on the optimum investment package that can be achieved using the available resources. However, it is also essential for the Executive to explore additional funding sources that would enable us to deliver a more ambitious programme of capital investment.
I cannot do justice to the full scope of what the Executive are setting out to accomplish for all of our communities through these investment programmes. Members will carefully study the draft investment strategy and, through the Committees, will formulate the Assembly’s views.
I will mention several areas in more detail to illustrate how we aim to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society, beginning with an overview of how funding will be allocated up to 2018.
We intend to invest £3·8 billion in the strategic road network and in public transport. Key transport corridors will be upgraded to connect towns and cities to regional getaways, the Belfast metropolitan area and the Southern road network. The development of a modern rapid-transport system for greater Belfast will begin, and rail services will be improved by the introduction of new services and rolling stock.
We will invest £3 billion in the water, waste water and waste management infrastructures, which will produce high quality water and waste water systems that will be capable of meeting EU requirements. We will work in partnership with district councils so that by 2011 we will deliver a new waste management infrastructure that will recognise our EU regulatory obligations and make use of more sustainable technologies.
There will be £3·5 billion invested in schools and youth services and a further £632 million in further education and libraries. Schools are at the heart of communities, and our aim is to substantially modernise the schools’ estate, enable schools to link better with the further education sector and allow them to become better aligned with the needs of the population and the skills that will be required in the future. Between 2008 and 2011, we will progress major works in more than 100 schools.
The universities will be supported in order to help them increase their research and teaching capabilities.
Further education colleges will be modernised, with a new campus for Belfast Metropolitan College and new accommodation at the North West Regional College to open by 2010.
There will be investment of £3·5 billion in health and social care. The Executive recognise the increase and changes in the need and demand for health and social services that we can expect over the next 20 years. Therefore, we will make substantial investments across the key sectors of primary and community care and acute and local hospitals.
We will develop a regional network of primary- and community-care facilities to bring services to the heart of the community; an acute hospital network that can deliver the best health outcomes; local hospitals that will form a crucial bridge between acute hospitals and primary and community care.
We plan to designate £1·4 billion for social and affordable housing, together with more than £600 million for regeneration and £500 million for culture, arts and sport. High quality and well managed housing is a cornerstone of sustainable communities. Throughout the lifetime of the investment strategy, we will invest in socially rented and affordable housing to address the needs of communities across the region. Our programme of investment in social housing will enable us to work towards our ambitious target of completing up to 10,000 new social housing units over the next five years.
We will continue with major public-sector-led regeneration initiatives that will have a positive impact on social and economic issues. We will also invest in the Ilex regeneration plan for Ebrington and Fort George and in the Crumlin Road jail and Girdwood sites.
Investment in arts and culture infrastructure will enable us to keep pace with the artistic and cultural expectations of a modern society. We will have invested £100 million in our sports facilities by 2011, thereby ensuring a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We are also supporting the potential of our inland waterways, where development is an area of practical North/South co-operation.
Although that represents a significant and ambitious programme of investment by any standards, it still does not represent adequate resources to meet all needs. Therefore, we have decided to create a capital realisation task force. The first stage of the task force’s work will be complete in December 2007, when it will report on immediate additional disposals that could impact on the capital affordability envelope for the CSR years by increasing the available resources.
We hope that the task force’s recommendations can be taken into account when finalising the investment strategy in January 2008. The Executive have agreed that social housing and schools will be priority areas for consideration, if additional funds are identified as part of that work.
As I explained, the documents published today will be subject to consultation before being finalised in the new year. I ask all those who read the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy to look for the positives in them; to set aside narrow sectional interests and naysaying; to pursue the general good, to understand the difficult choices that we have had to make about priorities; to be optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, and to join us in this great enterprise of shaping our future. In short, I ask everyone to bend their energies to helping us to build the better future that we all want.
The Executive consider that our approach and plans mark a radical change from direct rule and from the previous Executive. The style of our plans is very different; we have adopted a more strategic and outcome-focused approach. We have also adopted a more integrated and complementary approach with the Programme for Government at its centre.
In the documents, readers will find more details of our goals, targets and spending plans than we have been able to cover today, and which will demonstrate the course that we are on. The plans provide a framework within which we will work. The Executive must lead the development of our policies and the delivery of our plans, so that we can demonstrate in practice the difference that we can make.
A Cheann Comhairle, the First Minister acknowledged that we cannot fulfil our potential without engaging all of the people.
I wish to reinforce that point.
We must strive to connect with all people, particularly those members of society who are marginalised and disadvantaged and those who are new members of society. It is absolutely right that Government should be close to the people and should operate in their interests.
We want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and we want to make a difference for everyone. As an Executive, we are committed to the promotion of inclusion and a shared future built on equality and respect for diversity, in which sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance are a thing of the past. We want people to feel confident and secure in their identity and in their place in society. We must build a future in which people are cherished for their rich diversity and many talents, and in which we all share in economic growth and prosperity. We want a future that is fit for our children and our children’s children. We believe that, by working together, and harnessing the talents of all sectors — public, private, voluntary and community — we can build a better future for all.
Those are the challenges that we have set ourselves, and those are our commitments to those who elected us to represent them. We are determined to fulfil those commitments. We owe nothing less to the people who elected us to this House.
Statement by the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Debate on the Draft Programme for Government and Draft Investment Strategy on 26 November 2007 – [Official Report, Vol 25, No 7, p293, Col 1]
Draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to six hours for this debate. The proposer of the motion will have 15 minutes to propose and 20 minutes to make a winding-up speech. The Minister will have 45 minutes to respond, and all other Members will have 10 minutes.
One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech.
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister (Mr Kennedy): I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and the draft Investment Strategy 2008-2018.
As we embark on this potential marathon, I anticipate Members’ co-operation.
I am pleased that the Assembly has been provided with an opportunity to debate the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI).
At the outset, I wish to make it clear that I am speaking as Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and that my comments are based on the Committee’s discussions on the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. While I hold personal views on many issues that will be debated today, there will be other opportunities for me to make those views known to the House.
I trust that all Members recognise the significance of this debate, because we have an opportunity to influence the priorities that will direct the £25 billion that will be spent by the Executive over the next three years. In addition, the priorities and programmes under discussion today will direct approximately £18 billion of capital investment over the next 10 years. Therefore, it is incumbent on all Members, irrespective of party differences, to ensure that the Programme for Government and investment strategy are fit for purpose and will deliver tangible improvements to the quality of life of the people whom we represent.
At the request of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, my Committee is liaising with the other Statutory Committees to produce a co-ordinated response to the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. We will take our new role very seriously — it will involve publishing the views and recommendations of all the Statutory Committees in a single report.
The report will identify the main strategic themes that emerge from the Committees’ responses, and, in that context, members will listen carefully to the views expressed by MLAs today on the strengths and weaknesses of the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy.
Before commenting on the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy in greater detail, I will mention the process of their development. My comments are not intended as excessive criticism of the Executive — I recognise that many opportunities for engagement in consultation, which would normally be available to Committees, were lost as a result of the early delays in devolution. In addition, the late announcement of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review did not facilitate the early publication of the draft Programme for Government or draft investment strategy.
However, it is important that Members recognise the limitations of the process to date and the impact of the delayed publication of the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. There have been reduced opportunities for Committees to scrutinise departmental proposals and for Members to scrutinise the overall plans of the Executive. Therefore, it is more important than ever that the Executive should pay careful attention to the views expressed during today’s debate and to the conclusions and recommendations of Statutory Committees that will be detailed in my Committee’s forthcoming report. It is also crucial that the Executive take proper account of the comments that will be made during the public consultation process, and I am sure that all Committees will be seeking evidence to prove that that has been the case.
The Assembly should make certain that the final Programme for Government and investment strategy are as robust as possible. However, no plan is perfect, and we must be mindful of the need for early action to ensure that new processes for engagement in consultation are put in place for next year, so that any limitations in the Programme for Government that might emerge will be addressed quickly and effectively.
For that reason, my Committee has specifically asked for views from other Statutory Committees on how to improve the accessibility, quality and relevance of the information provided in relation to the Programme for Government and the investment strategy.
My Committee has identified some areas of potential concern and has recommended remedial action. For example, my Committee will have concluded its scrutiny of the draft Programme for Government before high-level findings on equality impacts will be available to its members.
Again, more detailed information regarding the geographical spread of new capital investments will not be available until the final version of the investment strategy is produced.
My Committee is also establishing the views of other Committees regarding how the overall process to develop the Programme for Government and the investment strategy can be improved in future years. It is imperative to ensure that any new process takes careful account of the need for the systems that are used to develop priorities and to allocate resources to be closely connected. Therefore, I will be writing to the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel to seek an early meeting at which we can discuss how we, in consultation with the Executive, can take forward proposals on a timetable for the Programme for Government, the Budget and ISNI.
As I said earlier, I hope that this debate will be constructive. It offers an opportunity to highlight to the Executive the aspects of the draft Programme for Government that Members commend — and which should therefore be retained in the final strategy — and to identify areas for improvement that need to be addressed before the Programme for Government is finalised.
I am aware that the views of Members vary about the extent to which the actual strategic priorities identified in the draft Programme for Government are the most appropriate priorities. However, in general, my Committee welcomes the Executive’s effort to develop a Programme for Government that focuses on delivering cross-cutting priorities and endeavours to avoid the traditional silo mentality of many Departments.
Efforts to ensure that public service agreement (PSA) targets are aligned with the strategic priorities set out in the draft Programme for Government are also to be welcomed. My Committee has sought and received assurances from the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister that its Budget allocations were determined based on an assessment of the resources required to deliver its public service agreements. That, of course, is as it should be.
Over the next few weeks, my Committee will be carefully scrutinising the extent to which the Programme for Government commitments made by OFMDFM are matched by the resources that the Department is receiving. As a prudent Committee, we will also be checking that large amounts of resources are not used to support low-priority programmes.
A specific concern that has come to the attention of my Committee is the relationship between the goals and commitments in the draft Programme for Government and the targets and actions in the public service agreements and the investment strategy. Not all of the goals and commitments for the next three years that are mentioned in the draft Programme for Government seem to have found their way into the public service agreements or the investment strategy. We have asked OFMDFM for an explanation of the status of such goals and commitments, and we encourage other Committees to explore that issue with their Departments.
Another area of interest for my Committee — as I mentioned earlier, we have had a relatively limited time to hold a discussion on the Programme for Government and ISNI — relates to the delivery of the Programme for Government. To be fair, it is unreasonable to expect the draft Programme for Government to include all the details of how the Executive intend to meet their priorities. Were that to be the case, I suspect that this debate would need to be extended even beyond its allocated time. I am not sure that my fellow MLAs would welcome that.
The public service agreements do include some of the detail that the Assembly requires in order to satisfy itself that the priorities in the draft Programme for Government are deliverable and will be delivered. However, my Committee is of the view that we need to hear more about the arrangements for monitoring and reporting progress against PSA objectives and targets. That is particularly the case regarding the cross-cutting objectives of a better future and sustainable development. Therefore, my Committee will be taking an interest in the early development of a robust performance management framework for the Programme for Government and ISNI, and we have already asked OFMDFM to explain its proposals to us in more detail at the earliest opportunity.
My Committee will also consider the action that needs to be taken in advance of the draft Programme for Government being finalised in order to ensure that the targets in that document and in the PSAs are sufficiently specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bounded (SMART). We have sought the opinions of other Committees on the robustness of those targets and we expect to include specific recommendations about that in our report.
I welcome the inclusion of longer-term goals in the draft Programme for Government. However, if we are to ensure that those are more than aspirations, it will be important to ensure that all long-term targets in the Programme for Government are supported by SMART targets that can be delivered within the three years covered by the programme.
All parties represented in the Assembly were critical of many of the policies developed under direct rule. We now have the opportunity to change those policies. I recognise that we cannot change everything overnight, and I am sure that I speak for all the members of my Committee when I say that we will be supportive of the Executive in establishing a clear set of priorities on which all Departments and agencies may be expected to focus. As an Assembly, we must ensure that, when the overall objectives and targets are changed, existing policies are also changed and improved. A quotation attributed to Albert Einstein defines as insanity:
“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
We must also ensure when setting new objectives and targets that we carefully consider the actions and resources that will be required to have them delivered. In that regard, I encourage the Executive to be clear with the public about the timescales required to deliver some of the most challenging problems that we face.
My Committee has a particular interest in the targets in the Programme for Government and the related PSA targets relating to child poverty. Members will know that my Committee has commenced its first inquiry into that subject. We, therefore, wholeheartedly support the Executive’s commitment to work towards eliminating child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010.
However, we wish to see more evidence of how that challenging target is to be delivered. The Committee on the Programme for Government assessed the existing anti-poverty strategy earlier this year; and, while welcoming its overall direction, the Committee was far from convinced that the associated actions were capable of delivering the objectives. My Committee will also be seeking evidence from OFMDFM that specific outputs and outcomes will be delivered as a result of the higher priority afforded to those issues. In tomorrow’s debate on the draft Budget, we will be highlighting concerns about the impact of the time lag before resources become available for some specific priorities.
I am conscious that my time is running out, but I must say that the main interest of my Committee is to ensure that the strategies developed will help to produce an improved environment; more and better-paid jobs; affordable housing; high-quality health and education facilities; reliable and sustainable transport infrastructure; and more efficient government. I therefore look forward to hearing today from Members and the First Minister about proposals for ensuring the timely and cost-effective delivery of key infrastructure projects, on time and within budget.
One specific step that could be taken is inclusion in the investment strategy of a timetable for Departments to complete production of their investment delivery plans. My Committee will take an interest in the extent to which investment delivery plans make clear how investment will contribute to tackling poverty and social exclusion.
I encourage Members to contribute to what should be a strategic and robust debate on the contribution that the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy can make towards delivering a better Northern Ireland.
Mrs Long: I beg to move the following amendment: At end insert
‘; but expresses its concern at the limited vision, scope and proposals contained in the documents.’
I am aware that this debate is on a take-note motion, and I thank the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, of which I am a member, for proposing it. Owing to his Committee role, Mr Kennedy’s comments are necessarily more fettered than mine may be. I realise that he may have searched for the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon in order to pull together a speech that fully represented the Committee’s views.
Today’s debate comes during the consultation period on the Programme for Government, so Members have an opportunity to give initial feedback. The draft Programme for Government was announced in this Chamber with much fanfare and trumpet blowing. In fact, that speech was longer by about eight pages than the document that it was announcing. The Executive told Members that it was no mean achievement to produce such a programme, and agree on its contents, five months into the new Administration. Although we recognise that devolution happened on 8 May, only five months before the publication of the Programme for Government, the current Executive parties were funded by the NIO, at taxpayers’ expense, immediately following the St Andrews Agreement last November; special advisors were presented to them, and full details of the direct rule Ministers’ plans were available so that the development of a Programme for Government could proceed.
That is the context in which we should regard this document, not simply as a short-term, cobbled-together piece of work, but rather as the product of a year’s work, which should see us through the next three years, with only a light-touch return to it over the next two years.
As the Chairperson of the OFMDFM Committee has already said, the opportunities for scrutiny and input were extensively foreshortened. We understand the reasons for that, given the timelines that were available, but some of that discussion could have been held in Committees, had we received a draft at an earlier stage to allow us to have some input.
I shall focus my comments specifically on the Programme for Government for the next three years. Other Alliance Members will examine issues connected with the ISNI.
On the day of the publication of the Programme for Government, I half-jokingly asked whether some of the document had been left at the printers. My primary concern is not about quantity, but quality. The document sets out general policy areas, but there is no serious attempt to prioritise them in the accompanying public service agreements. Concrete actions are few and far between; for example, the Executive will implement measures, conduct reviews and take steps, but those measures, reviews and steps are not detailed.
The targets that should tell us in three years whether the measures have been implemented, reviews conducted and steps taken, and whether the desired outcomes have already been achieved, appear to be much the same as those that were being developed under direct rule. There are only a few areas in the PSA framework, notably health and education, where there is a read-across between what the Executive want to achieve, what they want to do, and the outcomes that the Executive are going to measure.
Last week, David Ford and others highlighted the lack of imagination and direction on legislation, and a number of areas on which action was needed. Private Members’ Bills have secured significant and, in some cases, unanimous support, such as the creation of an independent environmental protection agency for Northern Ireland, and the introduction of free personal care for the elderly.
The same commentary could be applied to the Programme for Government. As David correctly highlighted, the little legislation that has been generated or is anticipated in the forthcoming year is mainly parity legislation, tidying-up exercises, or legislation that was already substantially progressed under direct rule — rather than new, home-grown solutions to local problems. That could also be applied to the Programme for Government, the most apparent failures of which are in connection with one of our most pressing, most pervasive local problems — that of sectarianism. Others from the Alliance Party will focus on other areas during the course of the debate, but I will concentrate my attention on that specific area.
Let me be clear: my primary concern is not about the endorsement of a certain policy, with a certain name or actions; my concern is about the lack of any policy under any name, or any attached action, to address the fault line that runs through the heart of our community and, indeed, through this Chamber. The Alliance Party recognises that the Executive’s seal of approval on any such document was important when the issue of a shared future was debated in the House on 4 June 2007. However, since then, precious little effort or progress appears to have been made in developing an alternative and equally comprehensive strategy.
A written reply that I received from the First Minister and deputy First Minister, specifically on that matter, suggests that there may be something “early in the new year”. I can already feel another question coming on — asking them to specify which new year. The level of priority and urgency that is attached to the shared future agenda does not fill me with hope for January 2008.
If people cannot live with the language of ‘A Shared Future’ — owing to its having the seal of approval of a direct rule Administration — by all means, change the name. It would be a huge mistake to simply throw the baby out with the bathwater. That document was developed, with extensive consultation, to address issues that are specific to the needs of a society that is moving out of conflict and towards a more prosperous future. That policy is built on international experience, as well as local expertise.
Only this morning, the One Small Step campaign launched a new drive to produce 100 small steps that individuals can take, or have taken, to create a shared future and advance that aim in our society. The campaign’s focus is on individual actions that can be taken in our community. However, if the work that is being done by those individuals and groups in the community is to be effective, it must be acknowledged, underpinned, supported and promoted by an overall framework that secures the progress that has been made and clears the way for further progress.
The impact of division in our society is wide-ranging; there is hardly an aspect of governance that is unaffected by it. This is not the fluffy stuff that was previously dismissed, with some disdain, by John O’Dowd in earlier debates — rather, it is a realisation that the tough problems cannot be resolved in the absence of some sense of shared purpose, and some overarching framework for enhancing sharing, rather than shoring up segregation.
Does anyone truly believe that we will solve the housing crisis without strategic tools in place for tackling division and the restrictions that that places on people’s mobility? Can we tackle economic inactivity without also tackling the physical and psychological barriers that prevent people from moving freely from where they live to where employment exists?
Can we resolve the issue of declining school rolls without considering increasing the number of shared facilities? Can we deal with issues of culture and language if we fail to address the reality of a cultural and language war that is being waged? Is the basis for progress on that not the delivery of a shared future, which embraces diversity?
The cost of not tackling this issue was highlighted, quite rightly, by the Minister of Finance and Personnel in his speech on the draft Budget. Although that reference was welcome, it was disappointing that it was not followed through by the Executive in the draft Programme for Government.
The Finance Minister claimed that there were limited opportunities for major savings during the three-year financial cycle. However, in the absence of any strategy to tackle division over the next three years, it is hard to see how we will be closer to unlocking that money for better use in the future. There is not a single reference to a shared future, or good relations, in the Programme for Government or in a single public service agreement, out of the 23 that are designed to promote them.
I wrote to OFMDFM, asking that those references be highlighted for me, in case I had missed something. In the letter that I received in reply, that had not been done. In line with the Executive’s stated aims of building a stronger economy and a fairer, more just and equal society, those objectives will be best followed if we can also tackle the issues of a shared future. Stability aids inward investment, supports tourism, creates a more mobile and flexible workforce, tackles social exclusion, and helps to underpin the political structures, which is to everyone’s benefit. Instead, mention is made only of the rights and equality agenda, in the complete absence of any strategy for improving community relations.
It goes without saying that equality and human rights must underpin the building of a shared future. The Alliance Party has championed both of those critical tools and it will continue to do so. However, they cannot alone heal the divisions in the areas that have most readily spilled over into communal tension and violence, or where competing rights have failed to be resolved in the context of any wider sense of shared community.
Even before we had spoken, those of us who are critical were told that we were naysayers. However, the First Minister, in his speech last week, welcomed the fact that the Programme for Government would be examined and said that proposals could be improved, and that we could add new proposals. I simply ask that, following my party leader’s written request, we embark on that engagement. We want this to work, and we are happy to help.
Mrs I Robinson: The Member for East Belfast made some derogatory comments on the work of the Programme for Government, describing it as being “cobbled together”. Do voters not choose those whom they wish to speak on their behalf in this devolved Administration? As I look around the Chamber, I note that the electorate has spoken. The Member’s party also proposes social engineering and the creation of a third-level tier of education that discriminates against the controlled sector by taking moneys that could be used to improve the lot of the children who are in that sector.
Mrs Long: It is called parental choice.
Mrs I Robinson: No; it is called force. I shall ignore those remarks that have been made from a sedentary position. [Interruption.]
I shall make my remarks today in my capacity as the DUP’s health spokesperson, but I shall also touch on a few issues that affect the Strangford constituency. A draft Programme for Government that has been produced by locally elected politicians represents a significant step forward for Northern Ireland. It is also encouraging that this blueprint was unanimously endorsed by every Minister around the Executive table.
Members of the Alliance Party have argued that the conciseness of the document is worthy of criticism. I take the opposite view; it is a clear and concise document that is intentionally written in more accessible language.
The document is political rather than technical; it sets out the Executive’s strategic plan rather than, as previously, simply throwing together everything that each Minister wanted to include. The draft Programme for Government is tightly focused, with clear objectives and targets. All goals have specific measurable targets.
Unfortunately, some of the content of our predecessors’ Programme for Government was woolly and unfocused, with few action points. Previously, commitments were broad in nature and frequently offered only to review or develop strategies, policies or recommendations. There are now radical new proposals, and all Ministers must prove that they are up to the challenges in their Departments.
I welcome the fact that there is a strong focus on the economy. The previous Executive’s Programme for Government had no hierarchy of priorities. Although my overriding concern will still be health issues, it is through building and sustaining an improved economy that health and all other sectors can best be served in the longer term.
I welcome the stronger emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention, but I believe that much more can be done in this area. I support increased screening programmes, including, in particular, the introduction of a bowel-screening programme and follow-up treatments; it is intended that those measures should reduce death from bowel cancer by 10%. Similarly, an immunisation programme for the human papilloma virus should see cervical cancer decrease by 70%.
The Appleby Report found that our public-health behaviour in Northern Ireland is much worse than in GB. To that end, I welcome the intention to see, by 2010, binge drinking reduced by at least 5%, drunkenness fall by 10%, 5% fewer young adults taking illegal drugs, and a 30% reduction in the number of young girls under 17 years of age who give birth.
Efforts to reduce obesity, and the number of adults who smoke, are also sensible. I support enhanced co-ordination across different Departments to improve well-being. The public health of the people of Northern Ireland is not a matter only for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Therefore, I welcome additional funding to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to encourage leisure and exercise. That is an example of the Executive’s providing better joined-up government. I shall illustrate that point further: the draft Programme for Government has 23 public service agreements that cut across Departments; the previous Executive’s document had only 11 — one for each Department.
Everyone will welcome efforts to reduce healthcare-acquired infections. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety has been conducting some work on that issue.
The Committee has also been taking evidence on the issues of mental health and suicide. It is important to slash the waiting times for access to talking therapies, although that will require sustained effort and investment over a prolonged period. It is also a positive step that more people with mental-health problems can be treated in their own homes and in the community.
There is a determination to continue the good work achieved under direct rule in reducing waiting times for assessment, investigations and treatment. In particular, I applaud the proposed reduction in waits for cancer treatment.
There are commitments to improve productivity, through indicators such as bed throughput, staff absenteeism, and the ration of day cases to inpatient admissions. A strong, local, commissioning role will, however, be required in order to see improvement.
It is difficult to see how these measures can be sufficiently improved without introducing some degree of contestability into the process. Where are the real incentives and actions to sharpen performance? If a service provider is guaranteed the delivery of services to a given population, what encouragement is there to optimise performance? Similarly, for example, if a builder is guaranteed a number of houses to build — regardless of how quickly that is completed or what problems subsequently emerge — his maximum output is unlikely.
Some of the current output comparisons with other parts of the United Kingdom are poor. However, our front-line health-care staff, generally, work flat out. Clearly, the problem is in how the system operates, and that must be fixed. Efficiency savings are one thing, on a par with all other Departments, but the real challenge is in refocusing the entire Health Service to ensure much greater productivity. In that regard, the loss of David Sissling, Chief Executive Designate of the new, strategic Health and Social Services Authority, is a real hammer-blow to the province’s urgent requirement for Health Service modernisation and innovation.
Disturbingly, now, clicking on the icon for modernisation of the health and social services in Northern Ireland on the DHSSPS website leads only to a single, temporary, holding page with no information. That is not an encouraging sign, particularly given the wealth of progressive proposals that were previously accessed there.
Those fighting for funds for education, transport, and so many other worthy causes, question — quite rightly — whether huge proportions of funding for health, in the region of half of the block grant, will keep on rising at such a fast rate. Will 48% become 58%, then 68%? Where does it all end?
That is why significant reform, placing the emphasis on quality outcomes and cost-effectiveness, is so important. In an environment where there are so many worthy, competing, needs, those of us tasked with improving future health provision for Northern Ireland must prove that we are determined to squeeze every last penny’s worth from the sizeable sums invested in health.
If I may, for a few minutes, I shall flag up some issues in my own constituency, which has a historic association with Northern Ireland’s traditional industries of agriculture, fishing, textiles and shipbuilding, as well as with the aerospace industry. Over the years, the people of my constituency have suffered as a result of the demise of Harland & Wolff, the downturn in fortunes at Bombardier Shorts, and the closure of TKECC, the constituency’s largest private employer. That has had a deeply negative effect on the wider community. There is equal concern about the provision of industrial land throughout the area.
I could speak on many other issues; unfortunately, my time is running out. However, I thank the Minister for Social Development for coming to Ballybeen last week and for looking at the Renewing Communities action plan, which was completed last year. It was based on the report of a task force, which examined claims in the Protestant unionist community that, since 1998, they had lost out to nationalists in improvement programmes. Studies show that, of the 15 Northern Ireland electoral wards with the worst educational attainment, 13 are predominantly Protestant. In Strangford, areas such as Ballybeen, West Winds and Bowtown are often overlooked, because they are surrounded by areas that are perceived to be affluent. I welcome the Minister’s commitment in visiting Ballybeen last week, to see for herself the difficulties faced by local communities. She is examining strategies to help with funding.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I welcomed the opportunity to speak.
Ms Anderson: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom labhairt le tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún. I support the motion.
I note the Programme for Government and am pleased with its contents. I congratulate the First Minister and the deputy First Minister on their commitment, taking as their priority the use of prosperity to tackle disadvantage so as to build an inclusive and stable society based on equality. The challenge for all of us today is to develop new and innovative measures to address existing patterns of socio-economic disadvantage and to target resources and efforts towards those in greatest objective need.
The old days have long gone, thanks to, among others, Nobel Prize winner and former vice president and chief economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz, who has dispelled — once and for all, we hope — the nonsense that a rising tide lifts all boats. In fact, it only lifts the boats of those who have boats. As he says, it is “a riptide” that destroys the smallest boats.
What is extraordinary and far-sighted about the Executive’s Programme for Government is that it more than acknowledges in its priority objectives, alongside economic growth and competitiveness, the building of a society based on partnership, equality, inclusion, regional balance and mutual respect, and the urgent need to address environmental sustainability in the world of global warming and man-made climate change that is encroaching on us. We are facing a world that is going to undergo huge changes. This Programme for Government, along with ISNI 2 and future investment strategies, must be able to cope with these changes, which threaten economic life as we know it.
If we are serious about the pillars of economic growth in ISNI 2, we must treat each in a holistic way. The essence of our investment strategy is that the pillars are interdependent and inextricably linked. Building skills, a good quality Health Service, meeting our social and environmental objectives, and striving towards regional balance and equality — they cannot be severed from each other, nor must they be in practice. That means that we should see a strong ISNI 2 after consultation.
For instance, the people of Derry want to be assured, following the consultation, that the commitment made in ISNI 1 that future investment strategies would tackle regional imbalance is addressed the next time that we in this Chamber discuss the outworkings of the consultation. Let us all be clear: striving towards regional balance is not tackling regional imbalance.
In addition, Derry people are appalled at performance reports from Invest NI, which show that assistance for investment has mainly been skewed to where investment is already located. In fact, Invest NI appears to have an active policy of disinvestment west of the Bann. I am sure that all Members from that region will support the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee’s investigation of the activities of Invest NI and its continued failure to deliver on its statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity. Thankfully, the First Minister is aware of the need for ISNI 2 to tackle regional disparities. We hope that his political commitment, given in this Chamber, is heard by those carrying out the consultation on ISNI 2.
If we are to lift all boats, we must also lift the boats of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable in society, the marginalised and the excluded, whatever community people may come from. That is the prosperity that the Programme for Government commits us to building. ISNI 2 must not dilute that. The First Minister came to Derry a few weeks ago. He said that he was struck by the wonderful potential there, but that potential has been wasted through dark days of impoverishment and neglect. That is what regional imbalance is all about.
Last Friday, some gathered around the Christmas tree at the Guildhall with their Christmas boxes to represent the presents that they want for Christmas. The boxes reflected the litany of neglect that Derry has suffered in the absence of strategic investment. Stand Up For Derry is looking for investment strategies to address the holistic neglect of our city and, indeed, the entire north-west region, which has been denied the opportunity to use the wonderful potential that the First Minister talked about.
Tá mé ag iarraidh níos mó jabanna agus tuilleadh infheistíochta i nDoire. I call for more jobs and investment in Derry. I acknowledge the political will and skill that Minister Conor Murphy has shown in pursuing the railway development for Derry and the rest of the north-west.
Infrastructural development will enable us to redress neglect. We can then begin to achieve economic growth and development, which, in the end, is all about developing the potential of the people of Derry and the entire north-west. In that sense, a present to one is a present to all. Investment for Derry and the rest of the north-west means investment for all the people who reside across the North and further afield. It would be economically incompetent not to assess that outcome when deciding where investment should go.
The boats will rise because we plan strategically to raise them. A priority is to address disadvantage. We must ensure that the opportunities that the new political dispensation affords us do not leave behind those who suffered the most. Moreover, we must ensure that the investment conference in May 2008, which OFMDFM is to lead, builds prosperity and tackles disadvantage. The Programme for Government’s aims must find expression in that conference’s aims. Without housing, good healthcare, jobs and transport, the rip tide will continue to deny that potential in Derry and in the rest of the north-west, and the boats, as before, will remain holed, sinking.
Through targeted investment to address those disadvantaged areas, we will begin to enable people in all our communities and to tackle seriously child poverty, fuel poverty and much more. Those who argued that a rising tide lifts all boats forced, at a terrible human cost, people’s resourcefulness, innovation and human potential to be wasted. It is the declared intent of the Programme for Government to free that potential by promoting tolerance and inclusion of all, and by building on, as Jim Shannon correctly stated a few weeks ago, “equality for all”.
ISNI 2 acknowledges that we need to assess and monitor continuously everyone in order to ensure that we are implementing a strategy that tackles regional disparities. We must apply clear criteria on which our success can be judged. Practical, measurable outcomes are necessary. We must carry out a root-and-branch review of the Shaping our Future strategy, in order to ascertain whether it is enhancing our future. The strategy must create a better future, not merely a shared one. Statistics can appear that show an increase in economic growth, yet those same statistics can be entirely consistent with an increase in inequality and a further waste of people’s lives.
We must judge this Executive’s success, and our people will judge it too, on the extent to which we succeed in addressing inequality and tackling regional imbalance.
Thinking must change. Human rights and — to quote Jim Shannon again — “equality for all” must be embraced so that the Executive’s Programme for Government’s values are recognised and acclaimed as being at the forefront of economic practice for development in what is an unjust and unequal world. I support the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in what they are trying to achieve through this Programme for Government and future Programmes for Government, and so does my party. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Members will be aware that questions to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister will begin at 2.30 pm. Members are being allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes in the debate on the draft Programme for Government, so I suggest that they take their ease until the beginning of Question Time. This debate will recommence at 4.00 pm.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair)
Draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy
Debate resumed on amendment to motion:
That this Assembly notes the draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and the draft Investment Strategy 2008-2018. — [Chairperson, Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.]
Which amendment was:
At end insert:
“; but expresses its concern at the limited vision, scope and proposals contained in the documents.” — [Mr D Ford, Mrs N Long, Dr S Farry, Mr T Lunn.]
Mr Burnside: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It was obvious to certain Members during the first session of Question Time that there was only a few seconds remaining, and I understand that you were looking at the clock. Would it not be better procedure to follow the House of Commons and allow a Minister to answer a question that has been started? As Magnus Magnusson used to say: “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”
Mr Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the honourable Member’s good suggestion has been listened to and will emerge at the appropriate Committee.
Mrs D Kelly: I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate that sets out the Executive’s future work plan and how we will make a difference to the lives of everyone in the North of Ireland —
Mr B McCrea: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify the procedure for Question Time? Will I receive an answer to the supplementary question that I asked the Minster of Finance and Personnel?
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Minister is not required to reply in writing, but I am sure that your question has been heard.
Mrs D Kelly: Often, it has been said that organisations and individuals are inextricably linked in Northern Ireland, and it is unfortunate that that is not clear when one looks at the connections among the Programme for Government, the public service agreements, the Budget and ISNI. The theory is that the Programme for Government, supported by the Budget and ISNI collectively set out the Executive’s strategic vision for Northern Ireland, and how that vision is to be resourced and delivered.
I admire Mrs Robinson’s optimism in respect of the Health Service but, bearing in mind that there is not enough money for the Health Service to stand still, never mind to implement the Bamford Review, I am somewhat bewildered by how she came to her conclusion.
I share the concerns of the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Danny Kennedy, about the lack of linkage between goals and commitments in the Programme for Government, and the targets and actions included in the public service agreements. I hope that, when the documents have been finalised, the comments will have been heard, and that it will be easy to see clear targets, measurements and outcomes.
However, the Programme for Government has to rely heavily on efficiency savings and, under the CSR, the belt around the public purse is set to tighten further, which does not bode well for the successful delivery of the Executive’s priorities. Although I welcome the Executive’s support for investment in social and affordable housing, and I congratulate the Minister for Social Development on securing additional investment, I am concerned that that commitment is over-dependent on the selling off of publicly owned land, and the largesse of other Departments.
Therefore, will the First Minister and deputy First Minister, on behalf of the Executive, inform the House of the timescales for the evaluation of progress towards targets that have been set? What remedial actions do they intend to take if targets are not met, and what is plan B?
As a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, I am also concerned to note that, while respect for the rule of law is one of the Executive’s aspirations, neither the draft Programme for Government nor ISNI make mention of the tripartite agreement that was established to plan for the new police college, which will also include training facilities for the Fire and Rescue Service. At a recent meeting with the Security Minister, Paul Goggins, he made it clear that £90 million remains the Treasury’s sole contribution, and that the additional £30 million will have to be found in the devolved Administration’s existing Budget.
The SDLP wishes to be reassured that the investment strategy has undergone a full equality impact assessment and that the historic underinvestment, west of the Bann, will be robustly addressed. We also note the Executive’s intention, in the draft Programme for Government, to drive improvements in public services. Therefore, the successful delivery of the investment strategy is dependent on whether the public and the private sectors are fit for purpose. Deloitte and Touche’s commissioned report assures us that the private sector is fit for purpose. However, we remain to be convinced that the public sector also is, especially when we see that all organs of Government are unable to work — as yet — as one.
With regard to international relations, we would like to see greater evidence of new areas for North/South implementation bodies and cross-border co-operation — that is, if one accepts that North/South is international. The draft Programme for Government states clearly that the eradication of child poverty is a key target — yet, there is no discrete budget set aside to do so. Therefore, will the First Minister and deputy First Minister tell the House how that will be achieved and what processes will be used to ensure joined-up government? The SDLP wants to see greater target setting, action plans and evidence of monitoring of systems.
Mr Durkan: The Member has posed several questions to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. No Ministers from that Department are present for the current debate. Will the Deputy Speaker find out when a Minister from that Department will be present in the Chamber to listen to the debate?
Mr Deputy Speaker: That information will be passed back.
Mrs D Kelly: I thank the Member for that intervention. I would like someone from that office to be present in the Chamber.
The draft Programme for Government states clearly that equality is an important issue for the Executive and for society. Inequality exists, and we must try to eliminate it in all of its forms. Why, then, is there a cut in funding for the Equality Commission? Why are there delays in the implementation of the EU’s gender directive and the single equality Bill? As Mrs Naomi Long said, why has no specific priority been given to tackling sectarianism? I hate to burst the First Minister’s and deputy First Minister’s bubble by telling them that the imagery of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness will not, of itself, see us through the next few years to a future of inclusivity, or a fairer society.
A clear statement is needed, from the Executive, on how they are going to tackle sectarianism and build good community relations. Ignoring the issues and relying solely on photocalls of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister will not improve the situation one iota. In fact, many of their previous followers are asking themselves what the past 30 years was all about. While the IRA has decommissioned its weapons, it is the only paramilitary organisation yet to do so. Sadly, the decommissioning of bigotry will take much longer and, some will say, has yet to be commenced.
The draft Programme for Government lacks clear accountability for Government Departments to deliver on some of the key areas in creating a fairer society, improving equality, improving community relations, and in the eradication of child poverty.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (Dr W McCrea): The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development has had many discussions about the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, and the positioning of the agriculture sector in the Northern Ireland economy. It is obvious to all Members that agriculture faces a number of severe difficulties: the catastrophic deterioration of the red meat sector, heralded by the report by the Red Meat Industry Task Force; the continued decline of the pig sector; and the reduction of our white-fish fleet from 40 boats to two boats.
Regrettably, agriculture does not appear to have been afforded appropriate consideration in the draft Programme for Government, being limited to a couple of mentions of investing £45 million on improving competitiveness and £10 million on a renewable energy programme. The Committee is well aware that that is not the extent of the investment in agriculture, and it is genuine in its welcome for all moneys. However, there is a feeling that the Department has gone for “headlines” rather than the required long-term strategic approach.
The draft Programme for Government outlines strategic priorities and themes, and the Committee does not disagree that the Executive should attempt to raise standards or that it should seek to:
“protect and enhance the physical and natural environment”.
Farming, and farming communities, remain the backbone of the rural economy and are the true guardians of the rural environment. The Committee believes, therefore, that agriculture should have a significantly greater profile and that it should be supported and enhanced to ensure the survival of the industry and the natural environment.
The Committee also wishes that the strategic priorities took cognisance of the issues that face the industry, and it is not content that the draft Programme for Government achieves that. The Committee would prefer, therefore, that a re-prioritisation exercise be undertaken to ensure: the countering of the findings of the Red Meat Industry Task Force and the protection, support and enhancement of the red meat, pig and fishing sectors; the eradication, rather than the reduction, of tuberculosis and brucellosis from Northern Ireland, in line with the vast majority of the rest of Europe; and, finally, the promotion of produce that has its origins in Northern Ireland.
I now turn to the key goals and priorities that are identified in the draft Programme for Government, and I would again assert that a re-prioritisation of objectives associated with agriculture is required. The Committee welcomes the investment of £55 million in competitiveness and renewable energy, and it looks forward to seeing the details associated with those programmes. However, in the past, the Committee has heard arguments that striving to increase the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland that is covered by environmental enhancement agreements could spell the end of intensive farming in the countryside; the Committee believes that, in the long term, that would be detrimental to the environment. The environment, and the economy, need agriculture.
The Committee cannot accept the targets that seek to reduce incidence levels of tuberculosis and brucellosis, which are public-health issues. The Committee believes that the Department has remained in a comfort zone about those diseases for too long, which has often resulted in complacency and an increase in incidence levels. The Committee calls on the Executive and the Department to seek the eradication of those diseases, in line with the vast majority of EU countries.
The Committee is concerned that Northern Ireland’s agricultural competitiveness is being further diminished by allowing imports of meat from South America, with proven inferior welfare and animal-health standards. The Northern Ireland farmer is only asking for a level playing field; I can assure Members that, if that is provided, farmers will be more than capable of meeting the challenges.
The Committee welcomes the investment of £100 million towards diversification under the Northern Ireland rural development programme. The Committee has provided its views on the issue of voluntary modulation on a number of occasions in the past, and it will not revisit the topic at this stage. However, the Committee is concerned at the EU plans to increase the rate of compulsory modulation, which will further reduce the ability of the Northern Ireland industry to compete with its counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, in Europe, and globally.
Finally, in looking at the key goals and strategic priorities, the Committee welcomes all attempts to reduce the bureaucratic burden on farm businesses. There is, however, concern in the Committee that the Department is not doing enough in that regard. On the one hand, it says that reducing bureaucracy is a priority; on the other, it refuses to listen to the voice of this House when it passes a motion to remove the bureaucratic burden known as the Agricultural Wages Board. Even in the PSA framework there is an apparent contradiction: a 25% reduction in the administrative burden by 2013 is one target; another is 90% compliance with one of the most bureaucratic matters facing a farmer, namely that of cross-compliance inspections.
The Committee has several queries regarding targets defined in the draft Programme for Government and the PSA framework; however, I shall only mention them and not go into them in detail. First is the investment of £45 million to improve competitiveness of the agricultural sector, including £10 million to support the modernisation of farms. That investment is welcome; however, there is no indication of the competitiveness baseline, the level of increase to be sought, and how that investment will increase competitiveness.
Secondly, with regard to the reduction of bureaucracy by 15% by 2011 and by 25% by 2013, from what level does the reduction start, and how is it to be achieved? We still do not know the answers.
Thirdly, concerning the reduction of the incidence of TB and brucellosis, the Committee strongly advocates that that should be rewritten to read “the eradication of TB and brucellosis by 2013.” That would bring Northern Ireland into line with most of Europe. The Committee is concerned that the Department of Agriculture has established a comfort zone with regard to those diseases, and that is not acceptable.
Fourthly, there is the targeted reduction in the number of properties at significant risk of flooding from 28,000 to 27,300 by 2011. What a historic reduction by that time. The Committee queries whether that target is challenging. I certainly do not believe that it is, particularly in light of the experiences earlier this year in Cushendall and Cushendun.
The Committee wishes to see targets relevant to the issues that face the industry, particularly to the support and protection of the red meat, pig and fishing industries.
Mr Ford: Will the Member give way?
Dr W McCrea: I am sorry; I would gladly give way, but time is running out.
The Committee remains to be convinced that the objectives and the targets in the PSAs are measurable and deliverable. The Department needs to re-prioritise in light of the severe difficulties facing the red meat, pig and fishing sectors. The Committee’s opinion is that the Department needs to establish long-term, strategic goals to retrieve the industry from those long-term difficulties, rather than from short-term hits.
I turn now to the investment strategy, and the Committee notes — and fully supports — the inclusion of compliance with the nitrates directive. I have no doubt that farmers will do all that is necessary to meet those targets; however, I and the Committee are not as confident with regard to a positive response from the Planning Service, and I call on my good ministerial colleague to ensure that farmers are not penalised through no fault of their own.
The Committee, undoubtedly, would have preferred an agricultural pillar to reflect the position of that great industry in the economy of Northern Ireland, and in light of the well-publicised decline of the red meat and pig sectors. The Committee is concerned that, even under the environmental pillar, agriculture — arguably, the backbone of the environment — is reduced to a mere mention under “Water and Waste Water, Waste Management, Flood Risk Management, Environment”.
My Committee has expressed its opinion on many issues, and I trust that the Minister, rather than going for specialised hits and photographs, will take them forward in the Executive.
The Chairperson of the Employment and Learning Committee (Ms S Ramsey): Go raibh maith agat. The role of the Department of Employment and Learning is central to the delivery of two of the key priorities in the Programme for Government: “Grow a dynamic, innovative Economy”, and “Promote tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being”. The role of the Department, both in delivering an innovative approach to economic development and working towards reducing social disadvantage, is critical.
In briefings that the Committee has received to date, the importance of developing the economy has been stressed as the key priority. It is this economic development that will be the main instrument to lift people out of poverty and social disadvantage. The delivery of a challenging skills agenda is clearly central to that.
Similarly, we are being told that we are moving to a highly technical knowledge-based economy and that, in addition to increasing the skills base, innovation and research and development capacity are central to remaining ahead of the game.
The Committee is now well into the process of responding on the draft Programme for Government. However, that will not be complete until this Wednesday, when we have an opportunity to discuss final matters with the Minister. It is in that context that I wish to make the following points on behalf of the Committee. I am going to start with a number of positives before addressing a number of concerns.
The Committee welcomes the focus on small and medium-sized businesses. A number of members of my Committee bring significant private-sector experience to the Committee setting and continually stress the need for support — for example, R&D and skills support — to be geared towards the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector. The Committee considers that the demand-led approach being pursued by the Department, if appropriately resourced, should allow this to happen.
The Committee will be taking a very keen interest in the welfare reform agenda and the Executive’s focus on reducing economic inactivity. The Committee is keen to see that achieved, but within a robust and highly professional environment. The Pathways to Work initiative offers the vehicle for that to happen. As with the Committee’s scrutiny of the rollout of Training for Success, however, we will wish to be satisfied that Pathways to Work delivers the employment opportunities required while protecting the most vulnerable in society.
I will now move to the areas of concern. Some of these overlap with the discussion of the Budget tomorrow.
The Programme for Government states that there will be an increase of 300 PhDs by 2010. The Committee strongly supports that, within the context of economic development. However, the Committee has concluded that there currently do not appear to be the resources to fulfil this commitment. We hear continually about the negative impact of the so-called brain drain; here is an opportunity for the brightest to remain and conduct technological research in our two excellent universities. If the Executive are stressing the need for high-value jobs, then leading-edge research has a key role to play. The Committee wishes to see this commitment delivered in full.
The Programme for Government also makes a bold statement relating to the university sector and the commercialisation of college research, with a target for this to be complete by 2010. The Committee is unclear as to what this actually involves and is not convinced that there is anything new in this commitment. The Committee asks for clarity on what precisely this involves and what differentiates it from other statements related to increased commercial focus.
Closely linked to that is the goal of securing £120 million in private-sector investment and encouraging 300 companies to engage in R&D activity for the first time. Again, the Committee is very of this goal. However, the Committee has found it difficult to get clarity on how much money will be available for levering and supporting innovation moneys. In support of this goal, the Committee asks for an urgent, clear statement of intent from the Executive with regard to innovation funding in order that the private sector and the universities can plan to allow for the achievement of this goal.
A key goal in the Programme for Government that the Committee fully supports is the proposal to increase the number of adult learners who achieves a qualification in literacy, numeracy and ICT (information and communication technology) skills by 90,000 by 2015. However, the Committee has serious reservations about the Executive’s ability to deliver that goal. The subject has been on the Committee’s agenda every week since devolution was restored and has also been debated extensively in many plenary sittings.
The Committee acknowledges that the Department is working extremely hard to achieve that aim. However, we were somewhat shocked to see its poor CSR outcome. We have received assurances from the Department that it considers the resources available to address the number of adult learners achieving those qualifications to be a good start and something on which to build. The Committee will keep a close eye on developments, and it urges that resources for adult learning be kept continually under review.
The Committee also supports the key goal to increase the number of students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathemetics) subjects — science, technology, engineering and maths — and the parallel goal of increasing numbers of higher-education students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am not entirely sure, however, that those two goals should be linked. The Committee has expressed a strong desire to see the outcome of the research done on the profile of students who take up all courses at our universities for the forthcoming review of variable tuition fees. We will return to the issue of general student finance in the new year.
On behalf of the Committee, I want to make some points on priorities and goals that are linked to social inclusion in the Programme for Government. I have already mentioned that the Committee will scrutinise the implementation of the Pathways to Work initiative, on which it is too early to make any judgements. The introduction of the employment and support allowance in April 2008 is a major policy change that obviously overlaps with DSD’s work. We recently received welcome and encouraging correspondence from the Minister on the front-line services that jobs and benefits offices are delivering. The Minister was greatly enthused and impressed by the new, personalised service-delivery model that is in place. The Committee will follow up on that assessment in the new year.
The Programme for Government mentions the new careers service that is to be put in place. My Committee and the Committee for Education recently held a joint presentation on that service, and we will fully engage on the consultation after Christmas. From the Committee for Employment and Learning’s perspective, the provision of quality and comprehensive careers-advisory services for adults is a priority. We have been told that, as the economy’s structure changes, training and careers needs for those who are currently in work will be extensive.
In addition to the broader economic-development agenda, those adults who are currently excluded from mainstream careers and education advice have specific needs that require specialist services. The Committee has expressed some concern that those who are currently involved in the delivery of both guidance and courses face an uncertain funding future, which makes it difficult for community-sector providers to plan in the medium and longer term. The Committee asks that that delivery continue to be a priority for the Department and that it be reinforced, at the earliest possible opportunity, through the development of the long-promised learner access and support strategy. Go raibh maith agat.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development (Mr Campbell): I welcome the strategic and cross-cutting nature of the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy.
We must abolish silo thinking. It is time for Departments to choreograph their activities in order to achieve the best outcomes and to avoid duplication of effort. Furthermore, resources must be used most effectively.
The Committee is content with the priorities that are set out in the draft Programme for Government, because they embody the Department for Social Development’s role in tackling disadvantage and building communities.
I welcome the five key strategic priorities, even if I do express some surprise at comments that were made just last week on private-sector investment and job creation in the wake of job losses across Northern Ireland. The top priority focuses on growing a dynamic and innovative economy, and economic growth is the driving force behind the creation of wealth and the regeneration of our communities.
Working to reduce poverty and disadvantage among individuals, families and communities is at the heart of DSD’s policies and programmes, alongside building sustainability and self-sufficiency.
I welcome the commitment in the draft Programme for Government that increased prosperity will be used to tackle ongoing poverty and disadvantage across our communities.
I want to emphasise the role that other Departments have to play in tackling disadvantage and poverty and in protecting the most vulnerable in our society. The Department for Social Development may have the lead role in a number of strategies and policies to address those issues but in the majority of cases, other Departments will also be involved. Joined-up Government and working strategically and effectively with other Departments will be critical if the targets and desired outcomes set out in the draft Programme for Government are to be achieved.
I welcome the priority that is being given to tackling the housing crisis and the planned investment in social and affordable housing. If the ambitious target of up to 10,000 new social housing completions over the next five years is to be achieved, all relevant Departments must play their part; the housing crisis is not just an issue for the Department for Social Development.
On the regeneration of disadvantaged communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, I welcome the priority that is being given to urban regeneration and the planned investment. However, I stress the need for strategic and cross-departmental working to address the issues. For example, while the Department for Social Development has the lead in this issue, PSA 12, objective 1 lists six Departments that also have responsibilities in the area.
I welcome the commitment in the draft Programme for Government to work towards the elimination of poverty, in particular child poverty. Too many people, particularly the most vulnerable, continue live in communities that experience high levels of poverty, disadvantage and exclusion. Many vulnerable households face fuel poverty. Therefore, the commitment to eradicate fuel poverty is welcome — indeed the excellent work being carried out under the warm homes scheme is an indicator of that commitment.
However, the Committee has serious concerns about the targets that have been set in relation to the eradication of fuel poverty. It was reported in the media just last week that Northern Ireland households are paying three times more for home heating oil than they were five years ago. There has been a 40% hike in prices since August 2007 and, unfortunately, that does not bode well for the fuel poverty target, especially when the level of the winter fuel payment has stayed the same in spite of that increase.
In closing, I welcome the expressed desire to work in partnership, as an Executive, across the public, private and voluntary sectors, to harness the ideas, energy and commitment of all the sectors. By joining up the plans of Government Departments and other stakeholders, we will maximise outcomes.
By working together in this way, I believe that we can build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in which everyone can enjoy a better quality of life, now and in the years to come.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McNarry): Speaking personally, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the achievement in producing this document, and foolish for others not to recognise some of the emerging gaps putting distance between the Executive and the scrutiny functions of the House.
We are where are because we could not stay where we were. The next steps involve agreeing where we want to be. Do we have an Executive coalition of parity between equal partners or a dominant coalition within a coalition? We, in these seats, are committed to ensuring that violence does not return and that the Union is not threatened ever. Liking what we see, supporting it, defying it, or denying it, are no longer choices for this House. However, totally buying into a finalised Programme for Government and accompanying Budget remain, for us, matters to be resolved.
Speaking for the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure; the Committee has noted the overall aim of the draft Programme for Government. In relation to the top priority of growing a dynamic and innovative economy, the Committee has noted that there is a huge potential for cultural tourism to contribute to the economy and believes that a more joined-up approach between the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment could maximise the potential that cultural tourism can bring to the economy.
One of the key goals in relation to growing the economy is to grow the creative industries sector by up to 15% by 2011. What is meant by “creative industries”, and will that include cultural tourism? Although growing the creative industries is an admirable objective, the Committee notes that the Department is still exploring opportunities to secure additional funds to increase activity in this area from the innovation fund.
That suggests to the Committee that adequate funding is not contained solely in the draft Budget. We are informed that the Department does not have a dedicated creative industries branch. Therefore, how does the Minister expect to be able to deliver that ambitious target?
The Committee believes that the DCAL target in relation to the priority of promoting tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being —for Northern Ireland to host at least 10 countries at training camps for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games — is a soft and easy target, whereas DCAL could have a real impact on the promotion of tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being through arts and sports, which can deliver community integration. Those are issues that, along with addressing sectarianism in sport, the Committee feels should be included in the target.
One of the targets is to invest £110 million in sports facilities by 2011, thereby ensuring a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, there is no detail available about how that money will be allocated, or which sports will benefit and what the geographical spread of the funding will be. The Committee believes that the target of getting 125,000 young people participating in sport by 2011 is weak. There should be staging posts along the way. How many young people will be participating by 2009 or by 2010? How will the Department measure that target? What is the Department of Education’s role? Surely all young people should be participating in sport while at school.
There is also the issue of funding. Where is the money to pay for the coaches and facilities to allow young people and those with disabilities to participate in sport at a community level? There is no funding allocation for capital projects at that level.
In relation to the priority of protecting and enhancing our environment and natural resources, the Committee is very concerned that there is no reference to inland fishing. DCAL has a role in the protection and conservation of salmon in inland fisheries. Our rivers need to be protected, and the case for an independent environmental protection agency should be looked at again.
I turn now to the public service agreements. In PSA 4, all of the targets appear to relate to DARD. Why is no target required of DCAL in relation to inland fisheries?
DCAL’s role in PSA 5 is pouring capital into buildings. The Committee believes that DCAL must be more innovative in the way that it contributes to tourism — particularly, cultural tourism — and in how it works with local councils and the Tourist Board to achieve its tourist potential.
PSA 6 makes reference to re-establishing a ministerial subcommittee on children. When will that be done, and when and to whom will the subcommittee report?
PSA 8 gives DCAL a target in halting the decline in adult participation in sport. How will that be done? Is there money in the health budget to deliver that, and are there plans for a dual approach between DCAL and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to get it organised?
The proposed Northern Ireland library authority is referred to in PSA 9. The Committee believes that the new library authority should be accountable at a local level. Further detail is required on how that accountability will be achieved.
PSA 10 gives DCAL a responsibility in relation to a literacy and numeracy strategy for young people. However, the Department has informed the Committee that it does not have a responsibility in that area. Why then is DCAL listed under that PSA?
With regard to PSA 12, we know that the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure appointed a new ministerial advisory group in September 2007 to advise him of the implementation of the architecture and built environment policy. Why is there no corresponding target for the advisory group? How will its success or otherwise be measured?
The Committee also examined the investment strategy. It noted the three cross-cutting themes — economic, societal and environmental.
Bearing in mind the importance of culture and the wider benefits that it offers to society, the Committee proposes that a further cross-cutting theme be included, under the heading: “cultural”.
In respect of the investment pillar termed “skills”, DCAL has been allocated £31 million. The Committee cannot say whether that amount will be adequate for the modernisation of the Library Service because it has not, at this stage, been provided with details of how that £31 million is to be spent.
Turning to the investment pillar termed “social”, DCAL has been allocated a whopping £210 million for culture, arts and leisure. Again, the Committee cannot say whether that amount will be adequate because we do not know, at this stage, how that amount will be broken down.
Overall, insufficient information has been provided to allow for a proper assessment by the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. The Committee asks that the Executive work to ensure that a much more comprehensive document is produced between now and when we have the final papers before us. The case for the DCAL Committee rests.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Mr Durkan): I can report that the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has been carefully considering the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, and will continue to do so. We have benefited from the views of a number of stakeholders, including the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, NICVA (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action), and the Carbon Trust.
I believe that the Committee is generally content with the overarching aims, strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes of the Programme for Government. Obviously, we particularly welcome the emphasis on growing the economy as a significant priority over the lifetime of the Programme for Government. I recognise that, of course, that goal is not new — it was included in previous Programmes for Government, and was also agreed as part of the work of the Committee on the Preparation for Government. However, to see that priority repeated and restated, accompanied by cross-cutting PSAs, in a Programme for Government is a very welcome and positive development.
We welcome the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy on a number of levels, as they relate to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. However, we recognise that balancing policy ambitions with resource constraints is going to provide a challenge for Ministers, the Executive — and this Assembly, which holds authority for the Budget. Therefore, the choices do not rest only with Ministers and the Executive, and we as Members, must recognise that.
With a real-terms increase in public expenditure of just 1·2%, we must recognise that things are tight. My Committee is particularly concerned about the degree to which the overall Budget, which supports the Programme for Government, relies on the achievement of very significant efficiency savings, which are already factored into the allocations. If Ministers run into difficulties in delivering those efficiency savings, resulting in a hole in the Budget, we would not wish to see the DETI budget used as the first port of call when it comes to remedial action, because that has certainly happened in the past.
We welcome the fact that the Programme for Government cites a growing, dynamic, innovative economy as the top priority. Obviously, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will have an important role to play in the delivery of that goal, working with other Departments, as well as with its own agencies.
Halving the private-sector productivity gap with other parts of the UK, excluding the greater south east, is an ambitious goal that presents a challenge, particularly when — as now — the private-sector productivity gap is, in fact, widening. That represents a failure of wider UK Government regional policy, but it presents a challenge to us too. It is not clear that sufficient resources will be committed to deliver that target, or what means are planned to deliver it, beyond wishing it. We wish to see exactly what the Executive have in mind in respect of developing actions. We also recognise, of course, that the Assembly and the Executive do not have the fiscal discretion that would help us to deliver that target. We await the results of the Varney Review, but hardly with bated breath.
Furthermore, the Committee has some questions on whether sufficient resources have been made available to improve the skills supply as it is emphasised in key high-value added sectors in the economy. The Committee would like milestones to be set to monitor progress in that regard.
The Committee welcomes some of the targets for productivity growth in the region, such as support for new businesses and the commitment, by way of inward investment, to secure 6,500 jobs by 2011. In its reporting on the draft Programme for Government, the BBC constantly repeats that target for job creation as a global target, despite the fact that it is specifically related to jobs created as a result of inward investment. That target must be questioned, and constantly tracked and monitored, not least given the recent experiences of the bad news from Limavady and elsewhere.
In responding to the type of situation that arose in Limavady, the Committee has noted that the draft Programme for Government and draft Budget anticipate the demise of the integrated development fund, which was the final remainder of the Executive programme funds that we had during the previous period of devolution. For circumstances requiring a coherent, strategic response to a crisis, as is the case in Limavady, the integrated development fund would be a useful tool, and the Committee asks the Executive to further consider that option.
The Committee welcomes the target of securing £120 million of private-sector investment commitments in innovation and for 300 companies to engage in research and development and innovation for the first time by 2010-11. That will be necessary if we are to develop an innovative economy. However, the Committee is concerned that there is a lack of visibility in and around the innovation funding that was announced by the then Chancellor when he met all the parties last year and earlier this year, and a lack of visibility in the additional innovation funding that has been made available by the Irish Government. There is concern that that money is disappearing into the woodwork of existing innovation measures. The Committee wishes to see that money creating additional measures with additional outcomes. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Executive have more work to do in that regard.
The draft investment strategy contains key issues in relation to network development. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment will have an important role to play in improvements in telecommunications and broadband availability, and the Committee wants to see that role developed positively. However, we also want to ensure that there is comprehensive coverage across the region as we take up the next generation of broadband provision. The Committee also recognises that wider measures in the draft investment strategy around networks and infrastructure development, although not directly under the delivery arm of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, will be central to ensuring competitive economic performance.
We welcome the broader investment in infrastructure that has been committed to in the draft investment strategy, and the 10-year investment plan that arose from decisions that were taken during the previous period of devolution, when we saw the need to frame a much longer-term capital investment strategy to take the region forward.
Although the Committee welcomes the overall commitments to enterprise support, we want to see more detail on the instruments and actions that will provide that support. The Committee noted that no particular measures have been adopted in relation to the social economy; nor has any target been associated with the action to consider projects that will bring specific benefits to areas of economic disadvantage. That is an important commitment, but so far no targets have been associated with it. The Committee recommends that an action be included that addresses that issue.
The Committee wishes to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises are actively supported and promoted.
We welcome the fact that the Minister has emphasised that alongside the importance of continuing to pursue foreign direct investment. However, the Committee is concerned that the positive statements from the Minister do not seem to be matched by an active commitment on the part of INI to work with the local enterprise agencies as they support small and medium-sized enterprises.
There is a sense of psychological withdrawal from that area, as there is on the issue of the social economy, where DETI should take an active working policy lead. It could borrow from some of the work of the Office of the Third Sector across the water and take a more proactive approach to developing the social economy. Some of the Committee’s other concerns touch more on Budget issues, and we may address some of those in tomorrow’s debate.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr McLaughlin): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy. The Committee for Finance and Personnel recognises the importance of both documents, and, especially, their relationship with the Executive’s draft Budget.
The Committee has taken evidence from DFP on the Department’s contribution to the draft Programme for Government and investment strategy. Although the Committee has not yet agreed its final response, I wish to highlight its thinking on the areas of the Programme for Government and investment strategy to which DFP will contribute directly. DFP has now provided detailed follow-up information on issues requiring clarification, and the Committee will consider those matters when it meets on Wednesday to finalise its position.
In relation to the strategic priorities contained in the draft Programme for Government, DFP’s main contribution relates to the delivery of modern, high-quality and efficient public services. Reference is made under that priority to the Civil Service reform programme, which is being co-ordinated by DFP, realising significant savings that will be redirected to delivering key services.
The Committee requested quantification of the savings to be generated by the reform programme over the three-year budgetary period. These savings are vital to the Executive’s draft Budget and will play a key role in the delivery of the Programme for Government. Given that the savings are specifically mentioned in the draft Programme for Government under that priority, the revised Programme would be enhanced by their being quantified.
The key goals and priorities for DFP relate to the delivery of modern, high-quality and efficient public services and the delivery of efficiency savings, the generation of additional capital by the disposal of surplus assets and the consolidation of public-sector websites.
The Committee had initial concerns about the objectives and targets contained in the public service agreements that are relevant to the Department of Finance and Personnel. PSA 11, objective 4 is to:
“Support the wider Public Sector in taking account of sustainable development principles when procuring works, supplies and services.”
The Committee is concerned that the target for embedding sustainable development principles in capital investment decisions will take three years to achieve. It wishes to see implementation being brought forward in the revised Programme for Government.
Also under that objective, small and medium-sized enterprises are to be given opportunities to do business with public-sector organisations by September 2008. The Committee has queried what that process involves and why such opportunities have not been maximised already. The Committee will consider whether suitable measurement arrangements need to be put in place to determine the success of the policy and to enable progress to be reported to the Assembly.
In relation to sustainable development, DFP has a central role in promoting sustainability in the procurement, operation and maintenance of buildings and the procurement of sustainable supplies and services. It is also responsible for regulating building standards and promoting energy efficiency across the public sector.
The Department has informed the Committee that it is soon to finalise its own action plan on sustainable development, and the Committee has already requested quarterly updates. DFP has the main responsibility for objective 1, the delivery of a programme of Civil Service reform under PSA 20, “Improving Public Services”. Target dates for the various Civil Service reform programmes are included under that objective. The Committee sought clarification from DFP that those targets are for the full implementation of the various programmes as opposed to the piloting of the programmes, and it also requested a comparison of those targets with the original implementation plans.
Objective 4 of the PSA aims to promote and improve access to public services and information. Under that objective, a single telephone number point of contact for selected public services is to be in place by December 2008. The Committee has learned that four Civil Service organisations have been selected for this first phase: DARD; DFP’s Land and Property Services; the General Register Office; and the Planning Service. It is planned that it will include the majority of citizen-facing services, and, although a time frame has yet to be agreed for the inclusion of those services, roll-out is expected to start in 2009-10. The Committee has queried whether there is any study of the benefits of including key stakeholder organisations in the community and voluntary sector as part of that ongoing study. The Committee believes that, because of the potentially high-profile nature of the project, it must work effectively from the outset.
The Committee considers that the target for this NI Direct project should be strengthened in the revised Programme for Government to include: the proportion of public services to be covered when the first phase is introduced in December 2008; further detail on subsequent roll-out within the 2008-11 time frame; and a specific target to deal effectively with a given percentage of calls at the first point of contact.
DFP also has a major role in PSA 21, “Enabling Efficient Government”. Under objective 1, which aims to support the First Minister and deputy First Minister in leading the Executive, the Committee notes that the target for the first review of the Budget for 2008-11 is to be completed by January 2009. The Committee has already raised with DFP the issue of an annual timetable for Budget setting and review, which would build in sufficient time for the effective involvement of the Assembly’s Statutory Committees, and it will work with the Department to achieve that as soon as possible.
Objective 2 of PSA 21 aims to build the capacity of the Civil Service to deliver the Government’s priorities by improving leadership, skills, professionalism, diversity and equality. The Committee has been briefed on the actions to be taken by DFP to encourage applications to the Civil Service from under-represented groups and on new research to be undertaken into perceived barriers to employment in the Civil Service. The Committee looks forward to the outcome of that research, but it is concerned about the absence of a timescale for the Civil Service to be reflective of the diversity of our society.
The Committee has also highlighted to DFP the absence of timescales for the delivery of the target to ensure that the Civil Service has the right skills and expertise to deliver effective public services. More specific and measurable targets may need to be included in the revised Programme for Government in both those areas.
Under objective 3 of PSA 21, a target has been included to ensure that public spending delivers value for money. The Committee wishes to see more detail included as to how the delivery of value for money in public spending is to be measured objectively. The Committee understands that departmental efficiency delivery plans will be published alongside the final Budget and will, therefore, be available to Statutory Committees for scrutiny. The proposed performance efficiency delivery unit is expected to play a key role in that matter. The Committee will be briefed on the role of that unit this week, and it has yet to respond formally to the proposal. In any event, there will be a need to monitor the outputs from the unit in its drive to achieve higher levels of savings.
Under objective 5 of PSA 21, which aims to deliver value-for-money gains in Government procurement, the Committee requested further detail on the structure of the centres of procurement expertise, which are to deliver those gains. The Committee wishes to see the revised Programme for Government include dates for delivery against some of the targets under this objective, including the 3% value-for-money gains on procurement spend.
I now turn to the draft investment strategy. DFP bid for approximately £94·2 million over the three financial years from 2008 to 2011, and it was allocated £68·7 million. The Committee will continue to monitor the potential impact that the allocations proposed for DFP in the draft strategy may have on its ability to deliver and how DFP plans to manage with an allocation that is significantly below the amount sought.
The Committee has concerns as to whether the capital allocations for Land and Property Services were sufficient to allow the organisation to alleviate the difficulties associated with its IT systems, which were discussed during Question Time, especially with regard to rates relief. The Committee will keep a watching brief on that matter, particularly in the light of the outcome of the current review of domestic rating, the first stage of which will be announced by the Minister of Finance and Personnel on 27 November. Land and Property Services will have a key role in the implementation of the rating reforms to be introduced in April 2008 and beyond. The Department of Finance and Personnel must consider how any further funding requirements that arise from rating reform can be met in any revised allocations.
The Department has also bid for £15 million over the three-year period for the central energy efficiency fund, which is used to support measures to improve the energy performance of, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from, Government buildings. The Committee believes that the £6 million that was allocated to the fund in the draft investment strategy runs contrary to the prominence that was given to sustainability by the Executive in the draft Programme for Government.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
Mr S Wilson: Although many Members will find pieces in the draft Programme for Government that they are not happy with or have concerns about, it probably deserves better than the comments that have been made by certain parties during the debate. As usual, the Alliance Party has taken its lofty, patronising, talk-down approach, which came from the apprentice from East Belfast, Mrs Long: wait until the House hears the speech from the leader of the party, Mr Ford, who has perfected the ability to talk down to people without even trying.
Members have listened to all the self-seeking stuff that comes from the Alliance Party about there being more means to delivering a shared future. The party wants more money to be spent on integrated education in order, the House is told, to save resources, even though it is known that in areas where Alliance Party supporters have promoted integrated schools, it has often been to duplicate or triplicate the provision that already exists.
The theme has also been taken up by the SDLP, which seems to have latched on to quangos. Mrs Kelly lamented that less money is being given to the Equality Commission, as if relations in Northern Ireland could simply be improved by spending more money on quangos. I understand why the Alliance Party wants there to be more commissions for this and more commissions for that — the Fair Employment Commission, the Equality Commission, the Community Relations Council, and so on — because, of course, those bodies are job-creation projects for the Alliance Party’s failed politicians. Given the number of them, more of those quangos must be created.
I cannot, however, understand the SDLP’s attitude when it produced that argument. I listened to Mrs Kelly’s speech, which was more like the 11-plus paper that youngsters had to do last week than a speech. There were more questions in it than in the 11-plus. I believe that I counted 18 questions. Mercifully, the First Minister was not present to hear it. What amazes me is that if the SDLP have all those questions about the draft Programme for Government, what on earth was its Minister doing when the document was being drawn up? I assume that —
Mr Ford: Will the Member give way?
Mr S Wilson: I will give way in a moment, although I am not sure to which Member.
What on earth was the Minister for Social Development doing? It certainly seems as though she has not been able to answer the questions that Mrs Kelly has raised in the Assembly.
Mr Ford: I appreciate that the Member was not present to hear the contribution by his colleague the Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee who asked as many questions and made as many complaints about the programme as Mrs Kelly did.
Mr S Wilson: I was not present for Dr McCrea’s speech. However, I assume that, as Chairperson of the Committee, he was asking questions on its behalf. There is a difference.
Mrs Kelly was asking questions on behalf of her party — a party that has a Minister in the Executive and who sat down with the other Ministers to agree the draft Programme for Government. Other Members attempted to do the same. Mr McNarry also tried to wash the fingerprints of the Ulster Unionist Party from the document. He joined in the cynical approach taken by other Members who want to distance themselves from a document in which their party colleagues played a part. He said that the Ulster Unionist Party had not made up its mind as to whether to sign up to the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy. The Ulster Unionists are either in the Executive or they are not; they either sign up to the documents, or they do not.
Mr Cobain: Oh.
Mr S Wilson: I hear the Member for North Belfast saying “Oh”, but at least he is honest. He wants the Ulster Unionist Party to come out of the Executive and not be part of it. However, considering the party’s manoeuvring — it was even prepared to do a deal with the PUP to gain an extra Minister in the Executive — I assume that there is not any great desire among his colleagues who are Ministers to leave the Executive. Some Members are attempting to wash their hands of any responsibility for the draft Programme for Government.
The draft Programme for Government is a joint document from all the parties in the Executive, and, as with any document, it will generate concerns. Members of the Committee for Education — of which I am Chairperson — have expressed concerns about, for instance, the targets that have been set. Members may get an opportunity to discuss those today or, if not, they can talk about them tomorrow during the debate on the draft Budget. Committee members are concerned about how the targets have been linked to the draft Budget and whether they were linked to the budgets that were given to the Departments. If they were, there is no reason why Departments should not deliver them, because the Ministers — presumably — agreed the targets on the basis of the resources allocated to them.
I have another concern about education, and I am reflecting the views of all the parties represented in the Committee for Education when I highlight my concern about the commitment to having — [Interruption.]
Mr D Bradley: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will the Member clarify whether he is speaking in his capacity as Chairperson of the Committee for Education?
Mr Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order.
Mr S Wilson: Had the Member been listening he would know in what capacity I am speaking. Maybe that is one of the SDLP’s problems: it does not listen to its Minister, so it has to ask questions here. The Member cannot even listen to the introduction that was given to me when I got up to speak. I was introduced as a Member — not as Chairman of the Committee for Education. That is the answer, but, perhaps, if the Member paid more attention, he would not have such problems in the future.
Although I am not speaking as Chairman of the Committee, may I say that all parties expressed concerns about the education and skills authority, which is part of the draft Programme for Government. They are concerned about that piece of legislation, its terms and whether the efficiencies that the Department hopes to achieve through it — which seem to be the main efficiencies — can be achieved, because it seems that the costings were based on unrealistic figures from the education and library boards. We do not know what the structure will be in the future, so we do not know how much the new education and skills authority will cost. However, it is included in the draft Programme for Government as one of the Education Department’s main sources of efficiencies.
There are other questions about the education and skills authority and whether it is the right way to proceed with the administration of education. We do not know what input there will be at a local level in respect of monitoring and delivery of the services provided.
The one thing that I must say, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that I do not believe that the date that has been set for the delivery of the education and skills authority, given the amount of discussion that still appears necessary, is deliverable. If that is not the case, efficiencies may not be delivered.
One of my other concerns, which is shared by a number of Members, is the fact that the Youth Service will continue to be delivered by the Department of Education. I am fairly sure that many Members believe that the Youth Service ties far more closely to community services and leisure services in local councils and ought to be devolved to local councils under the review of public administration. As it stands, the Programme for Government places the Youth Service in the education framework. A concern shared by many is that that is, perhaps, not the best way to deliver that programme.
The other area that there is grave concern about is the investment strategy. One hundred new schools or major investment projects in schools have been planned over the next three years. The Department of Education has not been good at delivering on major educational projects and, indeed, has handed back money — in fact, it has handed back the largest amount of money almost every year. There are good reasons for that and good reasons why there have been delays. The Committee is concerned that the investment projects will depend upon area-based planning, which will be part of the second education Bill, probably will not come to the House for another two years. If the investment programme in education is dependant upon proper planning at a local area level, it could well be that the programme will come unstuck because we do not even have in place the infrastructure in which to deliver that investment programme.
Reaching agreement will be even more difficult given the fact that in the discussions that we have had so far on the review of public administration, the Minister and the Department have made it clear that they intend to maintain the sectoral interests in education. In Northern Ireland, those same interests have delivered a surplus of school places and those sectors have fought over whether schools should be closed or amalgamated or whether a certain sector should be protected as opposed to another sector. That situation will make it difficult to decide on the spending of the money.
Those are legitimate concerns for the Executive to consider. They do not in any way destroy the Programme for Government as it is drawn up but they do raise questions that must be considered more closely before the final Programme for Government is presented, meaning that when we do get the final Programme for Government, we have document that is resourced, deliverable and allows the Executive to say that they have delivered on their promises.
Ms J McCann: Go raibh maith agat. My points are similar to those from many of the other Members who have spoken. I welcome the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, particularly their overarching aims and strategic objectives and the promotion of a more equal society. However, like some other Members, I have some concerns that should be considered before the final documents are issued.
First, I welcome the priority given to the growing of a dynamic, innovative economy, because there is no question that that is needed, if we are to create the conditions to deliver the equal, fair and tolerant society to which we are all aspiring. The economy needs to change to deliver a Programme for Government that ensures that people have equal access to an enhanced quality of life and increased prosperity, resulting in the reduction of poverty and disadvantage.
Two main cross-cutting themes in the draft Programme for Government are “sustainability” and “a better future”. Although there is a strong focus on building the private sector by attracting foreign direct investment and by supporting smaller local businesses, that is not matched by a similarly strong focus on building the social economy. This is in spite of an acceptance that social enterprise can be very proactive in delivering economic and social change, particularly in areas of need and disadvantage. The realisation that social economy projects provide much needed services in the community and employ local people must be written into the draft Programme for Government, and appropriate targets and outcomes must be set.
The delivery of modern, high-quality and efficient public services is given high priority in the draft Programme for Government. Although any reduction to bureaucracy and red tape must be welcomed, I hope that it will not result in any cuts to front-line services. My experience, which is like that of many in the community of West Belfast that I represent, is that public-sector cuts usually result in public-sector projects that the community and voluntary sector deliver losing out.
To attract high-quality jobs, investment in skills and lifelong learning projects is essential, as has been outlined in the draft Programme for Government and in the draft investment strategy. A recent report illustrated the educational attainment gap that still exists, even at primary school age, between children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do not.
There must be investment in a high-quality education system that will enable everyone, regardless of social background, to access the high-quality jobs that are mentioned throughout both documents. Every child has the right to realise his or her potential, and that applies in further education too. I want to see first-rate apprenticeships being made available to people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enable them to develop the skills base necessary to ensure equality of opportunity when they access employment.
I welcome the draft investment strategy’s reference to:
“including consideration of social outcomes in procurement issues, will be issued to public bodies in the near future.”
I particularly welcome the fact that that will apply to the delivery of all plans for infrastructure investment. That will create an opportunity to ensure that local people, particularly the most disadvantaged in society, and local companies will benefit from any new employment opportunities that will arise.
However, I am concerned that capital investment over the next three years will be dependent on current, or proposed, PFI projects. The difficulties and delays, to which some previous PFI projects have been subject, and taking into account the Finance Minister’s earlier comments about Workplace 2010, illustrate the weakness of any capital investment being dependent on PFI.
I broadly welcome the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy. I hope that they will deliver a better future for everyone and that they will tackle the social and economic inequalities that create and perpetuate poverty and disadvantage in our society. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Shannon: As a member of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, I have been able to listen to the proposals that are before the House at first hand. I am among many Members who have asked for additional issues to be included. I compared the priorities that were agreed in OFMDFM with the proposals of the draft Programme for Government and found that they will deliver and address the issues.
Do not mistake what I am saying: the document by no means addresses all the issues on the wish list. However, it addresses the issues that were identified as priorities. Unlike some Members, I do not believe that there is an inexhaustible fund from which money can be drawn to achieve all that we would love to achieve in the Province. For that reason, the Committee made issues that are imperative to the future of the Province the top priorities in the draft Programme for Government.
For a while, it would be nice to live in the dreamland that some inhabit, and I suggest that the Alliance Party is among them. That party chases the shiny pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The next time Members see a rainbow in the sky, they will see David Ford in his green wellies, followed by Naomi Long in her pink wellies, digging with a spade as they try to find that pot of gold.
The Budget is limited. Consequently we must make the most of what we have to produce more and better for the next generation who can in turn make more provision for the next generation, and so on. I agree, to some extent, with the statement that the proposals are somewhat limited in scope. They are there to provide the essentials for giving Northern Ireland a secure future and do not take into account the far regions of the imagination of some of the Members here who called for abstracts at the expense of fundamentals.
The aims of the investment strategy and the Programme for Government are not a wish list. They are methods of achieving a credible goal: a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with a respect for the rule of law.
As much as I would love to be able to go through the investment strategy and the Programme for Government, I will leave that to others. I will, however, highlight a few issues that are of particular importance to me, and which have been addressed in the investment strategy. Three objectives are clear — to accelerate economic growth in business; to ensure equality of opportunity; and to promote the care of the environment, with a view to implementing EU Directives on the matter.
The desire is to achieve a balance of investment to ensure the long-term sustainability of public service infrastructure. That has been addressed by some £5.6 billion spending for the next three years for the new infrastructure, which will measure out in the next ten years to some £18 billion. This has been specifically addressed in this manner to rectify the legacy of underinvestment during the Troubles and direct rule. The fact of the matter is that there is no point in the wide-scale promotion of tourism, investment and business opportunity when our infrastructure is substandard.
I have put the marker forward for Strangford. Quite clearly, it has the potential to be developed. Jobs and opportunities can come from tourism. There is more pressure than ever on regional infrastructure. For the first time ever, there has been a shift from net emigration to immigration, with statistics showing that by the end of 2006, there were 19,000 immigrants from Europe and further afield living and working in the Province.
Therefore, instead of people leaving and the subsequent lessening of strain, there are more people arriving, with a consequent build-up of pressure. It is for this reason that the placement of funding is essential and timely. The basics must be addressed first, and the investment of £5.6 billion is the first step in that direction.
Six pillars have been identified for the investment strategy. These are further made up of 23 sub-pillars. Time does not permit me to go into all of those. The pillars are made up of network, skills, health, social care, environment, and production, on which the £18 billion will be spent over the next ten years. Rural and primary industries are addressed, which, in practical terms, means a boost to tourism and the modernisation and diversification of agriculture by the year 2013. We all know — those of us who represent rural areas — that diversification in agriculture is the key to the future of farming.
Some £25 million of public and private investment has been focused on the fishing industry through the European fisheries fund programme. Again, a cause that is very close to my heart, as I represent Portavogie. Between 2008 and 2011, £410 million will be spent on rural development. The Strangford constituency comprises urban and rural districts. Therefore, I am aware of the need for investment. Also, through the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to facilitate the reduction of the administration burden on farms by 25%. That addresses the red tape plea brought forward by farmers, not just in my constituency, but from across the Province.
There is also the commitment made to invest £45 million by 2013 to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, and to improve local development in the rural community with an investment of some £100 million, with a view to improve the quality of life of rural residents and address poverty in the rural area.
I will mention child poverty and the priority that OFMDFM has set — 30% of children in the Strangford constituency are subject to child poverty. Child poverty is a big issue.
For housing, £1,388 million has been proposed over the next ten years. The commitment is to build over 10,000 new homes in the next five years. In Strangford, 2,500 people are on the waiting list, and that number is rising. Social housing is a tremendously big issue. It is an issue that is plaguing most of our young people and young couples today. It is, therefore, a timely commitment to ensure that there is affordable housing for the Province, as well as £50million for neighbourhood regeneration.
Within DCAL, there is a commitment to invest £504 million over the next ten years, including a desire to promote Northern Ireland as a training ground for 12 countries for the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics. That is why a 50 m swimming pool will be built, and why I will continue to push for some local shooting sports clubs to be granted funding to facilitate Olympic teams. There is provision for up to £110 million to go towards sports facilities, which can — and should — be used to raise the profile of the Province for the Olympics and leave a lasting legacy for our people.
The investment will include £5·6 billion for infrastructure; £3·1 billion for roads over 11 years; £1·4 billion for water and waste; £3·5 billion for education; £3·5 billion for health; and £1·4 billion for housing. All the essentials are accounted for, as well as propositions for businesses, on which other Members will expand. In citing the aims and goals of the Programme for Government and the investment strategy, and the ways in which funds are allocated, it must be stressed that it is still up to the Departments to administer funds in the right way — OFMDFM can do only so much. The responsibility of Ministers cannot be overlooked or sidelined.
The Programme for Government is wide ranging and covers the essentials for the rebuilding of the Province in a global context. Although all Members will have pet peeves and issues that have not been directly addressed, the needs of the Province have, on the whole, been measured and a recipe has been created that uses the ingredients in the right way. It is now the job of the individual chefs to ensure that the outcome is palatable.
Mr Speaker: I remind the Chairpersons of Committees — and there are a number who wish to speak in the debate — that when they speak as Chairpersons, they speak on behalf of the Committee. Should they wish to make a personal or political contribution, it is vital that they alert the House of that.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development (Mr Cobain): The Committee for Regional Development, in common with other Committees, has scrutinised the draft Programme for Government over the past number of weeks. It will finalise its views on the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy at its meeting this week. It is in that context that I make this contribution.
Over the past number of weeks, the Committee has heard from a variety of stakeholders, including the Quarry Products Association, the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Advisory Group, Help the Aged, Age Concern, NICVA, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Confederation of British Industry. On behalf of the Committee, I thank all those individuals and organisations who generously placed their time and expertise at our disposal.
I do not propose to deal with all the aspects of the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy, but I wish to make some points about the Executive’s cross-cutting themes, the priorities and goals that are relevant to regional development, and the investment strategy. The Committees notes that, of the five strategic and interrelated priority areas identified by the Executive, growing a dynamic, innovative economy is identified as a top priority. That is followed by a discussion of the cross-cutting themes termed “a better future” and “sustainability”, which the Executive state will underpin the delivery of their priorities.
In its evidence to the Committee, NICVA noted that a shared future had become “a better future”, with no definition of the watchwords of fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity. NICVA was also critical of what it saw as the trickle-down assumption inherent in the approach of the Programme for Government.
The Committee believes that a radically different approach to sustainability is required if Northern Ireland is to play its part in achieving the 60% to 80% reduction in carbon emissions that the Prime Minister outlined in his speech on the environment on 19 November 2007. In its evidence to the Committee, NICVA also highlighted the imbalance between spending on roads, and planned spending on public transport, and what it saw as the scant consideration of carbon emissions from transport in the draft Programme for Government.
However, the Committee’s view is that the issue is not simply one of bus and rail versus roads. A more useful discussion — one that is yet to be held — would focus on carbon emissions from different modes of transport, with consideration being given to green energy and the use of hybrid-based modes of public transport. As a cross-cutting theme, it is not clear to the Committee what force, if any, sustainability has in implementation. Although public service agreement 22 refers to the reduction of our carbon footprint, it does not contain an explicit carbon-emissions reductions action or target, nor does DRD have a target for that.
There are several priorities and goals in the draft Programme for Government that are relevant to the Department for Regional Development. The Department has responsibility for delivering PSAs that contribute to each of the five priority areas that the Executive have identified in the draft Programme for Government. I will consider those in turn.
Priority 1 is entitled “Growing a dynamic, innovative economy”. Infrastructure has been identified as a key driver of economic growth and productivity, a crucial factor in competitiveness and in the decisions of foreign direct investment in choosing host locations. DRD contributes to the achievement of that priority through its investment in roads and public transport, and through its management of policies that concern water and sewerage services, ports and airports.
Priority 2 is to promote tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being. Key goal 10 of that priority is:
“Reducing by 33% the overall number of people, and by 50% the number of children, killed or seriously injured on our roads by 2012.”
The Committee notes with some concern that the road-safety targets for percentage reductions in those killed and seriously injured are broadly similar to those in previous years. Although road conditions are responsible for a small proportion of such incidents, the Committee is firmly of the view that reductions will not be achieved without adequate funding for structural road maintenance and local traffic measures. The Committee calls for adequate funding for structural maintenance programmes.
Priority 3 is to protect and enhance our environment and natural resources. Key goal 5 of priority 3 is:
“Delivering a new sewer project for central Belfast by 2010.”
Priority 4 is to invest to build our infrastructure. Its key goal 2 is:
“Investing £3.1bn in our road network by 2018.”
Its key goal 3 is:
“Investing £1.4bn in our water and waste water infrastructure by 2018.”
The achievability of the key goals in priority 4 is dependent on the availability of funding outside the current Budget programme and period and on decisions that a future Executive will make.
Priority 5 is to deliver modern, high-quality and efficient public services. Its keys goals 1, 2, 3 and 5 are as follows: to achieve 5% efficiency savings on administration costs for the next 3 years; to deliver 3% per annum on resource budgets; to contribute to the generation of an extra £1 billion of capital realisation; and to streamline Department and agency websites by 2009. The Committee’s view is that achieving those efficiencies must not come at the expense of service levels or of road and public safety.
As the draft Programme for Government sets 38 key goals, it may not be helpful to add to the list at this time. However, it might be useful if, in future revisions of the draft Programme for Government, the centrality of environmentally sustainable infrastructure and connectivity were made more explicit and given a higher priority.
Greater clarity is needed in the draft investment strategy. It is not clear that its six pillars and 23 sub-pillars are sufficiently aligned to the five priorities and two cross-cutting themes that the Executive identified in the draft Programme for Government. In the case of the Department for Regional Development, the 23 sub-pillars appear to align closely with the draft Budget objectives. That is not surprising, because years 1 to 3 of the ISNI map to the Budget period. However, it is not sufficiently clear how the sub-pillars relate to the 23 public service agreements.
Perhaps understandably, given the indicative nature of funding for the ISNI beyond year 3, the draft ISNI’s key goals are aspirational. Although that is at odds with the role of the ISNI as a strategic forward consideration of infrastructure needs, it may be inevitable, because the ISNI is tied to the Budget. That is problematic, because the infrastructure industries and others will be seeking clarity and certainty in order to prepare to compete for forthcoming Government business. The nature of infrastructure projects is that there is a long lead and development time, which often falls outside the three-year planning period. That contributes to the aspirational nature of the key goals and means that most of the milestones of relevance to the Committee for Regional Development that are contained in the draft ISNI refer to projects that are already well advanced.
In some cases that means that commitments are being made on those projects, which are on the way to being delivered, and the observer might be tempted to ask where the challenge for the Department lies.
The Committee again highlights the lack of discussion of carbon emissions in the final ISNI’s networks pillar, although the measure for investment proposals submitted as part of the ISNI bidding process devoted considerable attention to that topic.
On the environment pillar, the discussion is limited to consideration of water and waste compliance with EU directives, rather than a fuller consideration of the carbon footprint in all of our investment activities. Reference is made to investment in the water and waste infrastructure, but the Committee is of the view that until the Executive have made decisions on the outstanding strand-one and strand-two issues of the independent water review, which is to be published in December, it is not in a position to make further comment on the proposals in this pillar.
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment (Mr McGlone): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Thank you for inviting me to address the issues on the response to the draft Programme for Government 2008-11 and the investment strategy NI 2008-18 on behalf of the Committee.
The Committee welcomes the overarching aim to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland that has respect for the rule of law, and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come. The Committee believes that that should be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment, using sustainable resources as effectively as possible, as stated in the draft Programme for Government. The Committee also welcomes the cross-cutting themes set out in the investment strategy NI and, in particular, the theme that building a sustainable future will be a key requirement for our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.
The Committee particularly welcomes the priority given to protecting and enhancing the environment and natural resources. We also welcome, subject to proper resources being made available, the priorities in the Programme for Government that relate to delivering a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011; strengthening the protection of key habitats and species by declaring 200 new ASSIs by 2016; reducing landfill significantly; and increasing the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental-enhancement agreements to 50% by 2011.
We also welcome the key goals of reducing Northern Ireland’s carbon footprint by at least 25% by 2025; enabling 4,700 farmers to comply with the nitrates directive by 2009; increasing the area of forest and woodland by 1,650 hectares by 2011; and halting the loss of indigenous species and habitats by 2015.
However, the Committee would prefer to see a higher profile for climate change included as a key goal in the Programme for Government, including an explicit commitment to tackle climate change and highlight its implications for society. The Committee is aware that the Department sought the inclusion of a specific goal relating to raising awareness of the impact of climate change on Northern Ireland.
The Committee supports a further crackdown on illegal waste disposal through the pursuit of prosecution for offenders. It also endorses the key goals, as set out by the Department, of strengthening a partnership approach to cutting the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by at least a third by 2012; halting the biodiversity loss, as far as possible, by taking into account the effects of climate change in Northern Ireland by 2015; and compliance with the water framework directive to achieve good water quality by 2015.
The Committee also notes that there is no reference to the establishment of an environmental protection agency. The Committee recognises the cross-cutting nature of sustainable development and the role of all Departments in its implementation, believes that there is a specific role for the Department of the Environment in sustainable development and recommends that adequate and sufficient funds be provided to ensure the delivery of the key goals. The Committee acknowledges that the PSA annex to the Programme for Government addresses the cross-cutting issues and challenges across departmental boundaries, and that many of the outcomes are interdependent.
The Committee commented on some of the PSAs. On PSA 4, “Supporting Rural Businesses”, we welcome the aim to increase the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental-enhancement agreements to 50% by 2011.
In respect of PSA 14, on the promotion of safer roads, the Committee acknowledges that the statistics on the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on our roads are currently under review by the Department, and believes that more ambitious targets should be agreed. We took into account the recommendations of the report on Northern Ireland’s road safety strategy, published on 9 November 2007.
In respect of PSA 17, which refers to rural infrastructure, the Committee noted and welcomed the target to ensure that rural issues are mainstreamed into all relevant Government policies and programmes, and would welcome sight of the proposed rural White Paper, when published.
In relation to PSA 20, which refers to improving public services, the Committee notes the objective to modernise and reform the local government sector. The Committee has already engaged with the Department and looks forward to further engagement on those matters. The Committee was briefed recently by the Department on the emerging-findings paper.
In respect of PSA 22, on the protection of our environment and reducing our carbon footprint, Committee members agreed — in response to questions from Arlene Foster, the Minister of the Environment — to sign up to the draft UK Climate Change Bill as presented, but with a commitment to provide for Northern Ireland targets at a future point. The Committee also supported UK carbon-reduction targets as set out in the draft UK Bill, including an overall UK target of a 60% reduction by 2050, with a 26% to 32% reduction by 2020. The Committee welcomes the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2025 and to improve energy efficiency in homes, which is consistent with targets in the draft UK Climate Change Bill.
Committee members are content with the objectives to improve the quality and ecological status of the water environment and to take forward action to improve air quality and improve the condition of our monuments and listed buildings, including structures currently on the Northern Ireland buildings-at-risk register.
In relation to objective 5, the Committee has already stated that the issue of illegal dumping should be given a higher priority, and would support the inclusion of waste management as a key goal in the Programme for Government.
In relation to objective 8, the Committee notes the aim of delivering a modern, effective planning system, and the priority commitment to a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011. However, Committee members are concerned that the proposed efficiency reductions set out in the draft Budget will impact on the delivery of a modern, effective planning system to meet the needs of the whole community and the economy, while protecting the environment. Committee members are also concerned that there may not be sufficient resources for the Planning Appeals Commission to deal with its backlogs. Concern was also expressed at how proposed efficiencies will be achieved, considering possible staffing cutbacks in the Department.
Furthermore, the Committee notes the target of ensuring that a fit-for-purpose suite of draft adopted development plans is in place by 2011, and is concerned that, in reality, that target may not be achievable. The Committee noted that judicial reviews have stalled that process in three major area plans. Nevertheless, the key concerns that have been expressed need to be taken into consideration.
In relation to PSA 23, which examines the management of the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, although the Committee feels that there is a need to consider future planning in order to deliver sustainable flood-risk management policies, it recognises that there is a role for planning in the delivery of sustainable flood-risk management.
The Committee noted that the draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland sets out a framework for the creation of a sustainable twenty-first-century infrastructure, and welcomed the cross-cutting objectives in the strategy, particularly the environmental objective relating to investment in infrastructure to enhance and protect the environment, addressing key areas such as EU directives.
The Committee notes that £18 billion will be invested in the next 10 years to deliver essential infrastructure, with £5·5 billion invested in the next three years. It notes the framework for infrastructure investment in six pillars, and welcomes the environment pillar.
The Committee notes and welcomes the key goal of a new approach to waste management that is compliant with EU regulations and uses more sustainable technologies. It welcomes the inclusion of the need to invest in waste-management infrastructure to ensure compliance with EU regulations, both as a key goal and as a milestone in the draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland.
With regard to local authorities’ delivery of the waste management infrastructure, the Committee notes and welcomes the key milestone of supporting local authorities to deliver the waste management infrastructure by 2011.
The Committee noted and welcomed references to investment in our environment, such as nature reserves, monuments, archaeological sites, etc, to promote the enjoyment of our heritage, and acknowledges the goal of sustainable flood-risk management to meet the social, environmental and economic needs of the region. However, the Committee recognises that there is a role for planning in sustainable flood-risk management.
For each issue, we recommend that there should be a clear indication of which Department will have the lead responsibility for the goals and milestones listed in the environment investment pillar. The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment should take the lead on the waste management agenda.
On behalf of the Committee, I thank the Speaker and Members for their time and for listening.
Mr Spratt: I welcome the opportunity to debate the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy, and I congratulate those Members who have driven them forward.
The draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy signify a positive agenda for Northern Ireland. They contain ambitious targets, and such ambitions should be encouraged and aided by those in the House. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the Alliance Party has again exuded negativity in the Chamber. We have seen few meaty proposals from the members of that party — only the tired old rhetoric that we have been listening to for many years.
The first line of the draft Programme for Government states:
“We are entering a more optimistic and promising era.”
Perhaps, the Alliance Party might care to participate constructively in this new era.
Northern Ireland faces many challenges and, in order to make it the country that we all know it could be, placing economic growth at the core of the Programme for Government is a sensible approach. By aiding the Northern Ireland economy, we will reap the benefits for years to come. It will be the foundation stone on which many other building blocks will be placed.
The draft Programme for Government recognises the need to bolster economic innovation. To achieve that, the skills shortage in the Northern Ireland workforce must be addressed. As the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning, I welcome that commitment. On a personal level, I welcome key goals such as 70% of school-leavers achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C, and steps to encourage and promote adult literacy by 2015, which are moves in the right direction that will help to produce a highly-skilled workforce in Northern Ireland, ensure that indigenous companies meet their recruitment needs and attract overseas investment.
The draft investment strategy attempts to tackle the skills issue by committing substantial levels of funding. That demonstrates that the Executive mean business and are not just indulging in rhetoric. The draft investment strategy states that:
“Over the next 10 years, we will deliver a modern and sustainable schools estate with links to the further education estate across the region, better aligned to the needs of the population and the skills required by tomorrow’s economy.”
The crux of the matter is that we must be responsive to the needs of employers by creating a workforce in Northern Ireland that has the skills to meet their demands. Those are ambitious goals; however, with the right attitude, determination and will, they are within the grasp of the Assembly and within the capabilities of the Northern Ireland population.
The draft investment strategy recognises the brain drain. Given that almost 30% of students in Northern Ireland leave to continue their education elsewhere, we must be proactive to ensure that the conditions are right to entice people to stay in order to further their education. We cannot continue to lose so many of our young people — many of whom never return.
The further commitment to our universities as demonstrated by complementing investment to support teaching and research infrastructure is positive. The Executive has also stated that a key goal is to increase the number of graduate and post-graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects by 25% by 2015.
The special emphasis on bringing those from disadvantaged communities into further and higher education is particularly encouraging.
Those examples of good practice are espoused by the Programme for Government. Let us work to ensure that we reach those goals, rather than engaging in negativity and defeatism from day one. I hope that the Alliance Party and some members of the UUP and SDLP will take that challenge to heart.
By investing more than £500 million in the regeneration of disadvantaged communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities by 2012, the Executive have committed to an initiative that I hope will greatly benefit my constituency of South Belfast. Devolution must deliver in communities such as the Village, Sandy Row and Taughmonagh to improve people’s standard of living. That can be aided by the commitment to neighbourhood renewal, but hand in hand with that must come the investment in social housing that is required to meet the needs of our constituents. That problem must be addressed in my constituency of South Belfast.
The draft Programme for Government and investment strategy are good news for Northern Ireland plc and for the people of Northern Ireland. Unlike the previous Programme for Government, which was championed by the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, this programme will bring about real change to the lives of the people, who have put us in a position of great responsibility. Unlike the previous Programme for Government, this one will benefit from real leadership at the top and will build a better future. If we fail, we can be judged on that failure; however, I am confident that this is a positive first step on a long road. The House should unite behind the Programme for Government and investment strategy and commit its energy to their delivery.
Mr A Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the draft Programme for Government, which is out for consultation. Like other Members, I see issues that I wish to tease out and commitments that I would like to be added, but those are issues for the Assembly to consider in the weeks and months ahead.
I will mention some matters that are specific to my constituency of South Belfast. Mr Spratt mentioned his representation of that constituency. I accept that, although I will talk about my constituency, some of the issues affect all constituencies and cause concern to all Members.
In the coming consultation period, I wish to tease out the issues of diversity; regeneration of housing; planning and traffic management; education; and youth provision. Some of the issues will be dealt with under the changes to local government, and the Programme for Government has already made commitments to them, such as an overhaul of planning and investment in regenerating disadvantaged communities, as has already been mentioned. I look forward to seeing progress on those matters.
I have heard much criticism of good relations or what has been called the shared future. I am satisfied that the need to build an inclusive and fair society is encompassed by the Programme for Government.
Much criticism has been levelled against the Alliance Party, but its members have argued that there are no commitments on the need to promote good relations or to build a shared future in the Programme for Government. One paragraph of the document states:
“We must also continue our efforts to address divisions within our society. Progress has been made, but sectarianism, racism and intolerance are still too evident.”
It goes on to say that:
“it is imperative that we all embrace the opportunity to create a better future, based on tolerance and respect for cultural diversity.”
The core difficulty for the Alliance Party is that it finds it easier to deal with the old, direct rule style of shared future, rather than with the need for equality for all citizens.
Mr Ford: Will the Member give way?
Mr A Maskey: Mr Ford can speak after me.
I will be involved in more discussions, and I want some of those matters to be teased out further.
I look forward to hearing the views in the next number of weeks of people from the ethnic minority communities to find out how they believe the matter of building a tolerant, fair and all-inclusive society can best be taken forward.
Dr Farry: The title of the document refers to “a better future”. I thank the Executive for clearing that up, because we were in some doubt for a moment. Has there ever been a woollier phrase than “a better future”? It stands in stark contrast to the phrase “a shared future” and all that that entails in bringing the people of Northern Ireland together and trying to overcome divisions.
It is difficult to come to the conclusion that the document will create a better future for Northern Ireland. The defensiveness of both the DUP and Sinn Féin Members who have spoken has been striking so far this afternoon. I was under the impression that both parties believed in democracy. Part of democracy is being able to criticise what the Government are proposing. Both parties seem to have difficulty accepting that what they are producing may be flawed.
The DUP and Sinn Féin need to be conscious that they cannot continue to dine out on what happened on 8 May 2007. As time passes, the people of Northern Ireland are moving from merely being satisfied with a semblance of political stability to demanding real delivery from the devolved institutions.
Looking past all of the pats on the back, I have to say that there are grounds for real disappointment with both the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget. The Executive need to face up to that reality. Rather than simply laughing off criticism, or failing to engage and address the very real criticisms that not just the Alliance Party, but large chunks of civil society are raising, they need to face up to what is being said. Denials will not wash with the people of Northern Ireland.
The most rational approach for preparing the draft Programme for Government would have been to analyse the main challenges facing Northern Ireland, the main opportunities to be exploited, and to work out the appropriate policies. Instead, we have a mere 17 pages. Either that reflects a total lack of ambition on the part of the Executive, or an inability to agree much beyond the lowest common denominator.
The First Minister and the deputy First Minister would have us believe that, six months on from devolution, the draft Programme for Government should be treated as a good effort. However, there is no good reason why the wheels of Government should work any slower in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the world. The Government at Westminster and the new Administration in Scotland, for example, produce much more detailed programmes in a shorter time. Frankly, what we have before us could have been produced in a week, or even a day. Let us not forget that the Executive parties have had special advisers — funded by the taxpayer — for the best part of a year for the explicit purpose of devising a Programme for Government.
The draft Programme for Government is heavy on platitudes, but there is little detail regarding how the Executive intend to deliver Northern Ireland to the promised land. I make no apologies for the Alliance Party being ambitious for Northern Ireland. We are optimistic, and we believe that the people of Northern Ireland have great potential. However, the policies need to be in place to exploit that potential to the full.
The real story of the draft Programme for Government lies in what is missing. My comments will give the DUP and Sinn Féin Members some flavour of what the Alliance Party would do if we had the opportunity to be in Government. The critical strategy for creating a shared future has been binned. There is an absence of any commitment in key areas such as development of integrated education and the promotion of mixed housing. For most people, the human, social, economic and financial costs of the divisions in Northern Ireland are unsustainable.
The direct rule Administration, for all their faults, belatedly woke up to the fundamental challenges when they produced their shared future strategy. However, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister argue that their friendship is all the shared future that Northern Ireland requires. The failure to engage with the shared future agenda ranges from ignoring it in the draft Programme for Government — there are no commitments, just flowery language — to failing to embed it in the public service agreements.
Among 31 cross-cutting themes, “good relations” is nowhere to be found; therefore, it will remain in the silo of OFMDFM and no pressure or challenge will be levied against any Department or agency about their responsibility to promote sharing over separation. The Deloitte Touche report ‘The Cost of Division: A Shared Future Strategy’, which was commissioned by OFMDFM, has been put on the shelf and will not be looked at.
The draft Programme for Government is being sold as a recipe for economic development. However, it is clear that the deep divisions in Northern Ireland have a major impact on our economy and we cannot have economic change without addressing those divisions. It is time that we woke up to that fundamental reality.
The creation of a single equality act seems to have disappeared. I understood that that was a major aim of Sinn Féin, but clearly that party has given up and bowed the knee to the DUP.
Before the Assembly election, all parties made commitments in their manifestos to deliver free personal care for the elderly. I understand that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety made a bid for it, which was tenth on his list of bids, but it is nowhere to be found in the draft Programme for Government. Similarly, all parties promised to make dealing with mental health a much greater priority. Again, the draft Programme for Government says little on that subject.
Nothing is being said about the huge challenges, that the public is aware of, relating to sustainable schools and an agreed alternative to the 11-plus. Are those simply to be washed away and forgotten about?
Protecting the environment is the greatest political challenge on the planet; yet the document is almost silent on environmental issues. Where are the commitments to marine conservation and to an environmental protection agency? Critically, an indication must be given on how Northern Ireland will play its part in combating climate change — the major challenge facing us all. Members have referred to the target of a 60% reduction in carbon emissions: they should note that some of our devolved partners in the UK are talking of an 80% reduction. Let us get serious about the issue.
The multi-sports stadium has been reduced to a mere mention in the small print of the PSAs. That, again, is something that is very much in the public eye: yet there is no reference to such a high-profile project in either the draft Programme for Government or the draft investment strategy. I wonder what conclusions we are to draw from that.
It is worth noting that the vast majority of projects in the draft investment strategy are being re-announced by the Administration. Some originate as far back as 2001. There is little that is new in the draft investment strategy: all we are doing is announcing the same stuff, over and over again — another trick the Executive seems to have learnt from Gordon Brown.
Let us look at transport funding. In the rest of the UK, well over 60% of investment goes into public transport. Here, it is the opposite: in the short term — the first three years — 60% of the money will be spent on roads, while over the 10-year lifespan of the investment strategy, 80% of investment will be in roads with a mere 20% for public transport. How Belfast is to become a modern, twenty-first century city on that type of investment, I am not entirely sure. What about the implications for the planet of such a heavy investment in roads? Where is the vision in that respect?
The major plank of this draft Programme for Government is the economy, but I do not think that the figures add up. There is much flowery, aspirational language about how many jobs will be created and how a step-change in the Northern Ireland economy will be made. However, when you look at the fine print, all you will see is aspiration. There is no joined-up thinking: the dots cannot be joined up in order to get from A to B, or to show how policies will change. The Executive seem quite satisfied to accept the situation in which Northern Ireland remains a dependent part of the UK. We are not prepared to challenge the orthodoxy that the UK economy is based around London and the south-east of England. Northern Ireland needs to become a lot more sustainable: financially, environmentally, economically and socially. I see no effective challenge to the status quo coming from the Executive.
In the absence of the Varney report, Northern Ireland is dependent upon the same four economic drivers that were identified in the failed draft regional economic strategy in January 2007. All we are doing is more of the same. There is an absence of creative thinking on how we will change Northern Ireland society.
There are major flaws in the Programme for Government. The Alliance Party does not oppose merely for the sake of opposing, but when there are documents that are genuinely flawed, we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to point out the criticisms that we have identified, and that a vast range of organisations have also identified.
The document needs serious reform, and to be beefed up significantly. The last devolved Executive, for all its faults, produced a Programme for Government of 144 pages.
Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up.
Mr Storey: The last contribution is all the more reason why we are glad that the Alliance Party is not on the Executive, and does not have the electoral mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.
I welcome the strategic direction of the Programme for Government. It is vital for the future of Northern Ireland that we concentrate on developing our economy. A strong economy will help all aspects of our society, including our Health Service and our education system, by creating and generating greater wealth. Although I recognise that the current political arrangements are not perfect, and would not be my first choice for delivering such a Programme for Government, surely it is better for those who once encouraged and engaged in the destruction of Northern Ireland’s economy to be forced and harnessed into developing and delivering an economy for which they are accountable, and which is vibrant and for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom.
I listened to a contribution earlier from Mrs Kelly, who said that the process was not accountable. The reason that the DUP negotiated for the last number of years was to make this House and the institutions accountable. The problem that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists have is that they are outside the tent and cannot grasp the fact that there is accountability. The previous arrangements failed, and were incapable of delivery. Is it not strange that we now hear a chorus from the Ulster Unionist Party urging a move away from a mandatory coalition, when it was they who failed to deliver on such arrangements? The DUP is picking up the pieces of their failures. Of course, that is nothing new in the politics of Northern Ireland.
As well as aiming to halve the private-sector productivity gap with the UK average, excluding the greater south east, by 2015, the draft Programme for Government has 10 other key goals that are aimed at developing our local economy, which include, among others: increasing the employment rate; supporting exporters; securing inward investment; and improving people skills. Surely the recent events in my constituency of North Antrim, with the devastating news about Reid Transport and the confirmation at the weekend of the closure of Tyco Healthcare Manufacturing in Ballymoney, underline the gravity of the task that faces us.
In respect of economic development, the key goal is to halve the private-sector productivity gap with the UK average, excluding the greater south east, by 2015. Currently, excluding the greater south east area, Northern Ireland is ranked last of the nine remaining UK regions. Private-sector productivity in Northern Ireland is 94% of the UK average. Without reaching the goal of halving the private-sector productivity gap, Northern Ireland will continue to have the lowest private-sector productivity of the nine regions, with private sector productivity decreasing to only 92·5% of the UK average.
However, by achieving that goal by 2015, productivity in the private sector will increase to 97% of the UK average, excluding the greater south east, and Northern Ireland will no longer be ranked last of the remaining nine regions. That is an ambitious goal, but one that reflects a realistic position, which also gives due regard to the limited policy levers available to the Northern Ireland Executive. The Northern Ireland economy is measured relative to the UK, excluding the greater south east of England, encompassing London and the surrounding regions, which is responsible for over 40% of the total UK output, from regional comparisons.
Inclusion of those regions would skew the relative data. DETI, DEL, the Department of Education and DARD are the key Departments with a strategic role to play in promoting economic growth in Northern Ireland. Those Departments have all been allocated increases in the recurrent expenditure budget that is in excess of the average increase of 3·6% in total planned spend over the period. Those are facts and not some woolly aspirational writing on a piece of paper. I am surprised that the Alliance Party is worried that we are now not producing more paper. I thought that that party was environmentally friendly.
Here are the facts. The average increases over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11 are: 4·8% for DETI; 3·9% for DEL; 4·3% for the Department of Education; and 6·5% for DARD. I have grave concerns about the way in which the education budget will be handled during the current Assembly’s mandate, despite its 4·3% increase in funding. The recent announcement by the Minister of Education about the amalgamation of two schools in Ahoghill, in my constituency, demonstrates her inability to be trusted with making the right decisions for our children. She is to be trusted as much as ‘Blue Peter’ is when naming a cat.
That decision — and it is a serious point that we make — will cost the North Eastern Education and Library Board, not the Department of Education, £500,000. We now understand that that decision is under review. Why did the Minister make that decision in the first place? Clearly, it was made on the basis of political expediency, without any recourse to the financial advice that she had been given by the North Eastern Education and Library Board. There is now a situation in which six children in one school — which we were told was going to be amalgamated with another school — are being taught by two teachers. That is a deplorable situation, which the Minister of Education must address urgently. However, if it is addressed as urgently as the classroom assistants’ dispute and the introduction of proposals for academic selection, we will have to wait for more and more time to be given.
The Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionist Party have a problem in that, when one brings the facts and criticises, they are our partners and are in Government. The Ulster Unionist Party is in Government and so would the Alliance Party be if enough people had voted for it. The Ulster Unionist Party likes to play Pontius Pilate politics, washing its hands of responsibility and claiming that it is always someone else’s fault. We will not allow that party to delude itself.
Despite those genuine concerns about specific issues on the way in which we are governed, Northern Ireland has benefited. When the situation is compared with direct rule, there is benefit to be derived from the devolved arrangements. For instance, there was the additional money for the victims of flooding and the settlement of the nurses’ pay award — a decision that the Minister was able to take. There is the decision over an Irish language Act — which we are glad not to have — which was made by an Executive Minister. Of course, the Ulster Unionist Party remains silent on that issue. Those have all been positive results of devolution.
There are also several outstanding important matters, but I do not have the time to mention all of them. We must have a settlement on the issue of parading; it must be resolved. The so-called army council must disappear. We must bring the RPA to a conclusion in which the unionists who live west of the Bann do not feel utterly deserted. Victims and survivors of the Troubles must be kept to the fore, and republicans must show wholehearted commitment to the issue of policing, over a period of time, and not make the partial excuses that were witnessed in places such as the Markets area of Belfast, where a Member of the House made disgraceful comments about a DPP (District Policing Partnership) meeting that did not take place. We must reconfigure the entire equality agenda. One outstanding issue, which for many years was seriously addressed only by my party, is the inherent weakness of the form of Government that is currently in place in the Assembly.
Remember, it was the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP who harnessed us to d’Hondt and the current mandatory coalition arrangements. Now they want to move out of a mandatory coalition —
Mr B McCrea: Will the Member give way?
Mr Storey: No. Now they do not want d’Hondt, for the simple reason that they cannot stick the heat that they are under, and they cannot deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP will deliver, and will do so for the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Boylan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá. I have had the opportunity to address many important issues as a member of the Committee for the Environment, but I speak today as an MLA for Newry and Armagh.
The fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011 should be implemented sooner rather than later in order to alleviate the concerns of rural communities. I want to address the issues raised by draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 14, and I know that the Minister of the Environment has agreed to produce a new draft PPS 14 within six months. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to that new draft policy, and Members will make their contribution. The draft area plans are also due a serious review, but I welcome the proposed overhaul of the planning system.
The Committee has agreed to sign up to the UK carbon footprint-reduction target of 60%, but even Gordon Brown said recently that that is not enough, and that the target could be increased to 80%. I welcome that, but the problem must be tackled on an all-Ireland basis. Those of us who live in rural border areas are faced with the serious issue of illegal waste dumping. That situation must be addressed, because people in rural areas are paying the price of that illegal dumping.
Mr Storey: Close the border.
Mr Boylan: The Member got to write his book earlier. Give me the opportunity to speak — good man yourself.
The target to reduce landfills by 2011 is welcome, but we must get it right. The proper treatment of waste, both mechanical and biological, in a way that benefits the environment and inhibits climate change, must be a priority for all.
I welcome the Minister’s ongoing commitment to a review of the Department’s road safety strategy, but continued education is required to ensure that targets for reducing road fatalities are met, particularly at school level, and in the 17- to 24- year-old age bracket, which, sadly, seems to claim the most victims. We must take the opportunity to look at this problem on an all-island basis, given the number of road deaths in the border areas.
Unfortunately, there is no mention of an independent environmental protection agency in the draft Programme for Government. That should be a fundamental priority in any future plans to protect and enhance the environment.
I welcome the key goals that have been stated in relation to tourism, and on a purely parochial note, I wish to note that the Armagh area has a lot of potential. However, something must be done about the roads infrastructure in the area, particularly the Armagh link road and I will speak to the Minister about that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and welcome the opportunity to address these issues in more detail in the coming months. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Ms Purvis: The theme of my contribution to the debate on the draft Programme for Government is economic justice. The reasons for that are simple. First, Bill Clinton was right to remind everyone that the answer to every question, according to the famous 1992 campaign poster on his war room wall was “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Secondly, a strong economy creates wealth not only for entrepreneurs and business owners, but for also workers. Through taxation, the state can distribute resources to those who would not otherwise benefit.
Thirdly, the Progressive Unionist Party supports the role of the state. We recognise that the market can help the state in a creative, three-legged stool, with the state, the market and the community working in partnership for mutual benefit.
My party supports the principle of a strong economy; let no one suggest that we are soft on the economy or soft on the causes of the economy. We believe in progressive economic development for the many, not the few, in the interests of those whose labour has been sold, who work for a living and who deserve better from the state and from the Executive, in particular.
Economic justice is my theme today, but the Programme for Government is neither truly economic, nor is it just. It is unfair, unprincipled and will prove wholly ineffective. The programme is not truly economic, because the Administration has not negotiated the real levers of power to allow it to claim to run an economy. It is pretending. Emperor Paisley has no clothes and Chancellor Robinson enjoys no taxation powers, no fiscal powers, no real economic powers to lead and direct the economy. There is a need for those powers, for real devolution, for real control, but the negotiation skills of the DUP and Sinn Féin were found wanting.
There has been plenty of hot air about a huge peace dividend and much bluster about the size of Gordon Brown’s cheque. However, as I predicted a long time ago, nothing was delivered; however, we will not cry over spilt milk.
Is the Programme for Government just? I fear not. It is little wonder that businesses are queuing up to commend the DUP for swallowing their agenda hook, line and sinker. The shallow shift for the economy in this programme is headline-grabbing but completely unjust. Where is the vision to which economic growth will be directed? I will tell you: it will go to that great cash machine for businesses and bosses in Bedford Street — Invest NI. Nowhere in the Programme for Government can I see a vision that mentions how we share Northern Ireland, how we tackle division and neglect, how we unite our communities and how we build a new society together. Mr Storey mentioned many of the outstanding issues. However, all I see is subsidy to businesses and snubs to those who work for a living in our forgotten communities.
Is the Programme for Government unfair? Yes, it certainly is. I will give the House some examples of that unfairness. Chancellor Robinson has made the ludicrous decision to maintain the blanket subsidy to manufacturing companies by continuing rates relief. How will that be targeted and means-tested? There seems to be an insistence on means-testing people for welfare benefits, but not when fat cats get benefits. Corporate welfare seems to be alive and well in “Robinsonland”.
Is the Programme for Government unprincipled? Yes, the Progressive Unionist Party believes so. Does it come from collective Cabinet discussion and agreement? Clearly, it does not. Does it come from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister as joint heads of our Administration? Again, clearly it does not. Martin McGuinness must have been taking an afternoon nap when the draft Programme for Government was being agreed. There is not an ounce of Sinn Féin policy in it — not a bullet point. Where is the vaunted equality agenda? It is not mentioned. The redistribution of wealth has been reversed. Where is targeting social need? It is absent without leave. Five Ministers missing in action — what a let-down.
Will this Programme for Government turn out to be ineffective? Undoubtedly. The appallingly weak understanding of how the economy works runs through this programme like a virus.
First, if the housing budget is slashed, more people will be in housing need. More people will join the waiting lists, more will remain in the extortionate rented sector, and more will be homeless. All those moral and political priorities have been shirked. Even more amazingly, they do not seem to get it; if the Minister for Social Development is forced to slash the housing budget, the backbone of the economy — the small business sector — is immediately condemned to join the dole queues. If there is no capital spending, no builders will be needed. If there is no housing refurbishment programme, no plumbers will be needed. If there is no heating replacement programme, there will be no central-heating engineers, fewer gas connections, and so on down the food chain. [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Members, please take your ease for a few seconds. [Interruption.]
Ms Purvis, please continue.
Some Members: Time.
Ms Purvis: I was just thinking that some Members will go to any lengths to get me off my feet.
This is not a wealthy food chain. It comprises people who are hungry for every job, the lean and efficient small businesses of my constituency — and Minister Robinson’s. Let me remind him of those 800 people on the waiting list for the warm homes scheme in East Belfast; the pensioners and single parents, the people with disabilities and the low-paid — my voters and Mr Robinson’s. Are they consigned to wait forever while big business gets cash withdrawals from Mr Robinson’s party colleague, Minister Dodds from “DETI-land”? Or should that be Disneyland, with unreal claims, cartoon characters, lots of bright orange colours, but little substance, no delivery and no answers to hard questions. So much for tackling fuel poverty.
Who will benefit from this Programme for Government? It will not be the voters, the hard-working or immigrants, who do so many important jobs and bring so much to our developing new society. It will not even be the DUP and Sinn Féin. The voters are too clever to be taken in by this delusion. I wish that I could be a fly on the wall at the next Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis, as party members ask how Sinn Féin can have repeated the colossal error that it committed in the Southern elections earlier in the year. They will take the party apart for letting the DUP walk all over it on public-private partnerships, less Government and equality issues.
As for the SDLP, its members may regret going into Government. [Interruption.]
What have they achieved in Government? Please tell us. They have been rolled over. I am sure that I will welcome them to these Opposition Benches soon enough, just like Reg and Michael.
I will tell Members who will benefit from this Programme for Government — big business. The already rich, those who have yachts — rather than the have-nots — those who build roads, pollute the environment, drive big cars and farm big fields. There is precious little economic justice in this draft Programme for Government, and I shall be opposing it.
Mr Moutray: Since devolution, we have reached many milestones in this Assembly. Without doubt, the two documents under debate today are momentous documents of which the Executive and the House can be proud.
The Assembly can bask in a sense of satisfaction at the benefits and prosperity that the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy can bring to the Province. Those documents will undoubtedly instil in locally elected representatives a duty to carry out their mandate to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society. The contents of both documents will enable the Government of Northern Ireland to be placed in the hands of local politicians who are undoubtedly more aware of local needs. I want to place on record my party’s support for those complex but practical and well-balanced documents. They secure Northern Ireland’s economic and social future. I commend the Executive for delivering those documents within a limited time frame, and particularly their inclusion of a wide range of local issues. That demonstrates the Executive’s long-term interest in the Province and, indeed, in our constituents.
Unlike that of the previous Administration, ‘Building a Better Future — Draft Programme for Government 2008-2011’ includes clear and measurable targets. In their consideration of the programme, Members will note that the recurrent theme is sustainable business and economic growth, which will provide opportunities and the means to reduce poverty, increase wealth, health, well-being and will enhance the overall quality of life in the Province.
The clear economic focus of the draft Programme for Government is welcome. The previous Administration were hallmarked by an almost total absence of focus toward building a strong and prosperous economy. As I will make clear in my speech, I do not suggest that social issues should be sidelined; however, if the Assembly wants to build a more peaceful society, economic prosperity is an important factor in the achievement of that aim. Sadly, for the people of Northern Ireland, the previous Programme for Government overlooked the economy. Due to the absence of such economic focus, the challenges that the Assembly faces have been multiplied. In the previous Administration, the Ulster Unionist Party allowed the SDLP to push its socialist agenda at the expense of the economy. Now, the Assembly must deal with the consequences.
The draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy also demonstrate the sea change that has taken place in Northern Ireland. Once, republicans were committed to bombing businesses and stopping economic growth in the Province; now, it is hoped that they are committed to building economic growth. Only the fullness of time will tell if that is the case.
The emphasis on growing the private sector is a welcome plan that will increase employment and financial well-being in society. The Executive’s commitment to create the conditions in which enterprise can flourish will create an innovative and vibrant Province. Everyone in Northern Ireland will benefit from such investments. For example, the Executive’s intention is to deliver more than 6,500 new jobs by 2011 and to ensure that at least 75% of those jobs will provide salaries that are above the local private-sector average. The repercussions of that will be investment in infrastructure that will drive forward economic enhancement, social transformation and environmental improvement, which will create a high quality of life.
The focus on social inclusion will ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected and cared for. That should be the fundamental aim of any Government. In addition, there is a focus on various groups in society; for example, children. Often, we wonder what children stand to gain. The programme will support young people to reach their full potential and to become more independent, which will result in their becoming well-adjusted adults. The draft Programme for Government rightly aims to eradicate child poverty; improve educational outcomes; ensure that children are cared for, that they can live safely and be protected from abuse. Does society not need all of that to happen? The elderly are also provided for in the programme, which ensures that they are not isolated. Can the Assembly not endorse those plans and ensure that it is united to provide a better future for all constituents?
When Members scrutinise the draft Programme for Government, they can see that its entire content is underpinned by equality and good relations. That is reflected in its priority to promote tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being. In line with that, Members must be committed to take action in order to deal with key differentials that exist in society and ensure that everyone receives the opportunity to contribute and benefit from a better future.
The draft investment strategy must be noted for its contents and ability to underpin one of the main priorities in the draft Programme for Government. The priority to invest to build our infrastructure is extremely important. For instance, the improvement of social and affordable housing, health and care facilities, and the need for better roads, modern information, communication links and educational facilities are essential for the health and well-being of our constituents. The House must address those issues and many others that have been brought about by many years of the Troubles and direct rule. Members will see upon scrutiny that the draft investment strategy will enable such tasks to be tackled and allow the establishment of a modern infrastructure. Such improvements will assist business growth, tackle social and economic inequalities and improve the quality of life for everyone.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?
Mr Moutray: No, I will not. I hear enough of the Member in another place; I will certainly not give way tonight.
The investment of £5·6 billion in new infrastructure over the next three years offers an unprecedented opportunity. No investment of that scale has ever taken place in Northern Ireland. The draft investment strategy also offers the potential to invest more than £18 billion in the next ten years. That will benefit everyone in Northern Ireland, and it will be particularly focused on such areas as roads, public transport, schools, youth services, regeneration, housing, water and sewerage reforms and enterprise and innovation.
Such draft programmes are a far cry from what was delivered by direct rule. I am sure that I do not need to remind Members of the repercussions of direct rule. The draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy have been appropriately named by the Executive — ‘Building a Better Future’. Upon analysis of them, we can say without doubt that they do exactly what it says on the tin. This is our chance to govern on local issues and to bring about more beneficial and positive changes and to rubberstamp them with the stamp of approval — “Made in Northern Ireland”.
Mr B McCrea: At this time of the evening, it is sometimes hard to speak without covering ground that has been covered by others. For that reason, I commend Dawn Purvis for her thoughtful speech, which was no less powerful for having been delivered with soft words. I share her concern about the lack of focus on those in society who need it most. There is a clear lack of resources, and there was a failure to get the financial package that we were promised. Some Members present repeatedly said that there was no point in having an Executive unless we had the financial package to do it justice. We now reap the rewards of that failure.
Some Members on the opposite Benches talked about equality. However, I am not persuaded by equality as a strategy, because it seems to be a dumbing-down measure. The crucial word for the Assembly should be “empowerment”. We should empower our people to do better. I am surprised when Members talk about equality — and I do not want to go on about it too much — but an opportunity has been missed. Members talk here about wasted lives and wasted talents, but we have come a long way from those days, and we do not want to go back. It is hypocritical of some Members to lead with those examples.
The main challenge facing our Administration relates to social mobility. I am sure that Members present have read the recent report by the Department for Work and Pensions in another place. On reading that, they will have concluded that, following years of investment in social programmes and comprehensive education, among other things, social mobility has ground to a halt in Great Britain. One might ask why that has happened, but it is linked into such things as the problems with housing, lack of attainment in skills, lack of confidence and lack of opportunity. Those are the issues that we must tackle, and they should be on the top of the Assembly’s priority list.
One of the main ways to tackle such issues is through education.
Literacy and numeracy are major education issues — and I must commend many of the Members who are here today on the immeasurable improvement in their reading skills since I first heard them speak. They are all doing well, but resources should be going to the 25% of the population who are unable to attain even basic levels of reading, writing and numeracy.
Where in the draft Programme for Government is there a proposal to tackle problems in early-years education or the failure of parenting? It is difficult for children to go through school without support from home, and a way must be found to invest in that area. Has any attempt been made to tackle the pupil/teacher ratio, which is fundamental to raising educational standards and central to allowing people to escape from poverty?
Members have talked about academic selection. If there is to be a greater focus on those in most need, how can that be achieved without some form of selection, and how can resources be delivered to them? One size does not fit all: there must be some form of selection, and there must be some form of targeting those most in need.
It was strange to hear Members argue that it was a terrible shame that there would not be a single all-embodying health authority. Other Members, who are not here at the moment, said that they were unsure about the establishment of an education and skills authority, because it would be the largest educational establishment in Western Europe. Where are the economies of scale that can make a real impact? Why do some Members pursue such a contradictory argument?
Without an economy that enables people to use their skills, education is simply a recipe for migration: it is a conveyor belt carrying people out of Northern Ireland, and we cannot afford to lose those people. Wages here are only 80% of those in the rest of the UK, because the majority of women take low-paid part-time work in environments that allow no prospect of advancement. People talk about level-one and level-two jobs, but how can people move into level-two cleaning or level-two shelf-stacking?
There is a target to increase the number of economically active people in Northern Ireland from 70% to 75%, but other parts of the UK are aiming for 80%. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report states that 120,000 new jobs are required for the yearly cohort and to increase the number of economically active people. If the creation of 6,500 jobs is considered in that context, is the issue really being tackled?
People talk to me about productivity, and Mervyn Storey gave me a good lecture on the subject. Let him explain to me how to increase productivity when Northern Ireland is losing well-paid manufacturing jobs, with a GVA of £49,000, and is replacing them with part-time jobs in tourism and retail, with a GVA of £12,000. Productivity has been going in the wrong direction for years, and I see nothing in the draft Programme for Government to tackle that.
People have not got their heads around the fact that Northern Ireland’s one competitive advantage is its educational attainment, for which it is famous throughout the world. Why are we not investing more in higher education? Why do we not capitalise on Queen’s University or the University of Ulster by increasing the number of students who achieve PhDs?
Some 40% of those who are employed in the manufacturing sector are guest workers, and they may not be here for much longer.
Mr P Robinson: The Member started off by lauding the Member for East Belfast Dawn Purvis, who argued that there should not have been a freeze on industrial rating at 30%. Given that Mr McCrea is an Ulster Unionist, it is interesting that he felt it worth applauding her remarks. I wonder whether he is in denial and does not recognise that his party is in a four-party coalition. Despite all the points that he raised during the debate, his party did not suggest an amendment to a single issue.
Mr B McCrea: I did the Member the courtesy of taking his intervention, which is a courtesy that is not often given to me. I will deal with those issues. I said that Dawn Purvis raised some important questions — I did not agree with everything that she said. The Minister of Finance and Personnel will recognise that I commended his attitude to, and decision on, industrial derating.
The Programme for Government lacks ambition and resources — there are not sufficient resources to do what is required. The Minister of Finance and Personnel promised that there would be £1 billion, and that it would not be worth going into an Executive without it. We did not get that £1 billion, which means that older people will now have difficulty getting respite as they will not get into nursing homes. We will have difficulty providing for children and mothers: there will be no budget for the early years; no budget for parenting; no budget for reducing the pupil-teacher ratio; and no budget for dealing with the oversupply of teachers. The list goes on.
If we are going to genuinely advance a Government in Northern Ireland, Members must get serious and start listening to people. Government is not about telling people what to do when they are needed, and when they are not, forget it. Members must find a way of prioritising the issues that we have to deal with — if we do that, we will be successful.
I will deal with the Barnett formula tomorrow, because it is fundamental to the inequities in health.
Mr O’Loan: Earlier in the debate, Mr Sammy Wilson questioned the right of any Member from a party with a Minister in the Executive to speak in this debate at all, or to seek any change in the Programme for Government and its Budget. That was strange. I wondered why he took the trouble of coming to the Chamber to listen to himself speak. However, he did not stay long, so maybe he was wise enough.
There is considerable substance in the Programme for Government; whether it can all be realised remains to be seen. Together, the draft Programme for Government, the draft investment strategy and the public service agreement framework present a substantial programme. I will confine my comments to the content of the programme, as there will be a further opportunity to discuss budgetary elements. However, the two are intimately linked. In particular, concerns about the deliverability of elements of the programme relate to the availability of the necessary budget.
Like any reasonable person, I endorse the principles and key priorities of the Programme for Government, with one important proviso. Reading the documents, one would hardly know that this society is emerging from nearly 40 years of intense conflict. Many died or are seriously scarred by that bitter period. The activities of some of those centrally involved in the events of those years have built up deep wells of resentment. The forces that gave rise to that period of violence are still present in our society, although there is no doubt that political agreement — which appears to have been achieved at last — has made a huge difference to public perceptions across the board.
It is that change in the public view that has mandated political leaders to make decisive changes. Thus, with only a few exceptions, unionists have accepted that they must treat their nationalist neighbours as equals and that — in their own interests as much as anything else — they must engage with the whole island in a way that they had previously rejected. Similarly, republicanism has had to recognise the futility of physical force. What a pity that such harm was done before those two major, and inevitable, shifts took place. They have now happened, but Members should not forget that we still have a fragile society in which to develop broad social and economic progress. That requires a particular response in the Programme for Government, but it is not adequately expressed there.
Yes, the SLDP believes — as John Hume called on all to do — that by working the common ground of responding to economic and social needs we can come together. However, I have no doubt that we must do specific work to bind together a fractured society. I find that context and response largely missing from the programme. I wonder whether that obvious omission is a reflection of the fundamentally different stance of the two parties in OFMDFM regarding the history of the last 40 years. It may suit those parties not to confront those realities, but it is not good enough for the rest of us.
I return to some positive aspects of the programme. We all want, as is stated:
“a prosperous, fair and inclusive society, supported by a vibrant and dynamic economy and a rich and sustainable environmental heritage.”
I support putting the growth of the economy at the heart of Executive activity. It is not that our public sector is fundamentally too big, but it is quite clear that our private sector is too small and too weak. We have far too many economically inactive people. There are serious gaps in the provision of the four economic drivers — skills, innovation, entrepreneurship and infrastructure. All of those demand to be tackled in a concerted way, and there are themes in the draft Programme for Government which do that.
Building the economy cannot and must not happen in isolation from wider social development. I referred earlier to the legacy of the Troubles. Part of that legacy is a weak economy, and part is a society where division is still a key attribute. For our economy to take off, we must pull together, and those historic divisions must be broken down.
There are other divisions too. Our society is far from equal in its distribution of wealth and the capacity to earn wealth. Too many children are born, not with a silver spoon in the mouth, but with a list of disadvantages caused by poverty, and a lack of family and community support that dog them from the outset and, in many cases, predetermine their personal educational and economic future. For those reasons, the test of a Programme for Government, here and now, is whether it has a coherent plan to reconstruct our economy while healing our society and tackling disadvantage. Those three requirements are inextricably linked. Failure to achieve any one of them will severely damage the others.
The five priority areas in the draft Programme for Government, subject to the comments that have already been made, are well defined and have many valid key goals attached to them. Priority 1, the economy, has key goals which, if achieved, will radically improve the situation. Those include targets on productivity; employment rates; new businesses, including foreign direct investment; tourism; and qualifications, including STEM subjects. However, there is not much visible indication of how those will be achieved. The PSAs provide some detail, but without clear action points it is hard to assess them. Nobody needs a wish list; the responsibility is on OFMDFM and the Executive to deliver.
Priority 2 of the draft Programme for Government deals with tolerance, inclusion and health. It is striking that the short paragraph on addressing divisions is high on rhetoric but low on specifics, with no key goals at all for that area. That must be changed, and we must hear from OFMDFM that it can be explicit and concerted in its vision of a shared future.
There is good and challenging content on reducing disadvantage, particularly on child poverty. There are valuable promises on health, although more can be said on that during the Budget debate. At last, progress is being made on road deaths. This year is two thirds through and deaths are running at three quarters of the figure for the two previous years. The target that is set out in the draft Programme for Government should be reduced further if that is sustained.
There are some serious environmental targets in priority 3, but there would be more credibility in those if an independent environmental protection agency were to be announced. Effective strategic management of waste by DOE is long overdue, as is substantial reduction of carbon emissions. We must see substance behind the phrase “improve energy efficiency” with regard to homes, including much higher building standards and full support for the warm homes scheme. That will also be the subject of critical debate when the draft Budget is considered.
At long last, we seem to be getting to grips with our appalling infrastructure deficit, which is dealt with by priority 4. A sum of £5·6 billion over the next three years, and a total of £18 billion by 2018, will make a tangible difference. I welcome the £572 million that is to be spent on our roads over the Budget period as part of £3 billion on roads by 2018. Of course, I also welcome the promised investment of £1·4 billion by 2018 in social and affordable housing. However, even if all of that were spent on social housing, I could not square that figure, either in money or timing, with the need to build 10,000 social homes within five years.
The budget for housing is just not adequate, and I will say more about that in the debate on the draft Budget.
The theme of enhancing equality and efficiency throughout the public service, as expressed in priority 5, is vital and will provide a hard task for all Ministers. The 3% and 5% targets for efficiency savings, and the development of that issue more generally, is crucial.
The PFG refers to North/South and east-west linkages. I call on the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to upgrade its treatment of North/South development. That is about more than co-operation, as it is termed in the document. We are one corner of an island, and the rest of the island has outstripped us in economic terms. Its rate of growth and increase in public spending are forecast to be still well ahead of ours for years to come.
I welcome the practical work on North/South matters from unionist parties now, but for the real progress that we vitally require, it needs to rise to a new level. We cannot afford not to plan so many matters on an all-island basis. Energy is an area that exemplifies that point. Let us apply that to planning for the island as a whole, including all infrastructure, as well as health provision, research, agriculture, inward investment and public transport. No one loses in that, and it is no obstacle to using east-west links, including those with Scotland, to our maximum advantage.
Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Éirím le fáilte a chur roimh an Chlár Rialtais agus ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoi. I wish to make a number of observations about the Programme for Government and, in turn, the draft investment strategy, both of which I broadly welcome. I shall concentrate on two areas: the impact that the Programme for Government must make on balanced regional development and on the north west; and in particular, on the constituency of Foyle. The points I shall make about Foyle could no doubt be made for any other constituency.
I am very conscious that the Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee has spoken and has brought the Committee’s view on those documents to the debate, and there is no need to do a rerun of that, because he covered the broad points well.
The core of the Programme for Government is that all parts of the region must share in sustainable and economic growth, and we must strive to eliminate all forms of inequality. If that happens, we will build a better future based on fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity. All of that is very welcome, but that must now translate into action and deliver for those who, in the past, have been at the wrong end of a system that did not have fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity at the core of its policy programmes. As we move forward to ensure regional balance, there must be an acceptance that regional disparity did not take place in a vacuum, but was a direct result and consequence of deliberate policy.
I welcome the commitment in the Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy to invest in, and build on, our infrastructure, and the recognition that there is a need to effectively tackle the major deficiencies in areas such as roads, public transport, water and sewerage infrastructure. Many of those deficiencies are to be found west of the River Bann.
The infrastructural needs of the north west are well known, and they are vital to the necessary growth for job creation, investment and expansion of the education sector. I stress that the Executive should distil their targets down to the expected impact on the constituencies. For example, the target of 6,500 new jobs should have an appropriate target for each constituency. Derry, Strabane, Enniskillen and Larne all need jobs and are all of one mind: how does the Programme for Government and ISNI specifically intend to deliver?
The same can be said for transport, and the road and rail networks — jobs cannot go to Derry, or elsewhere, if the roads and rail networks remain as they are. Social exclusion and lack of mobility will remain a problem unless proper resources are allocated to rural transport, which is another objective of the Programme for Government.
The Minister for Regional Development has outlined his desire to tackle regional disparity, and the Budget should be resourced to make that possible. The Programme for Government and ISNI are the first positive steps in the process of a future built upon the principles of fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity. That is not flowery language, as it was described by Stephen Farry, nor is it something that we will have to explain to our next Ard-Fheis.
Dawn Purvis said that she wanted to be a fly on the wall at our next Ard-Fheis. She is welcome to come. Basil McCrea, who seems to have a habit of attending those things, can also come. I would also welcome the SDLP, but it will be having Ard-Fheiseanna of its own in the future, perhaps with Bertie Ahern as its new party leader.
I will refrain from inviting anyone on the opposite Benches to our next Ard-Fheis, lest they do not get invited to their own party conference. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Simpson: I listened with interest to the comments of several Members. I heard much negativity from the Benches opposite and from those on my right-hand side. Where is their vision for the future of Northern Ireland?
Mr Storey: Where are their Members? Where is their party?
Mr Simpson: To be honest, I predicted that at about 7 pm they would all go like snow off a ditch.
Mr Storey: ‘Emmerdale’. [Laugher.]
Mr Simpson: Yes, ‘Emmerdale’ is about to start; I forgot about that. At 7.30 pm it will be ‘Coronation Street’.
Basil McCrea has returned to the Chamber.
There is great negativity, but, as my colleague Mr Storey pointed out, there have been increases across the Departments. The draft Programme for Government has a positive outlook.
The DUP was the first political party — and for several years the only political party — in Northern Ireland to identify key changes that were needed to our economy, and hence, by definition, to the political strategy that the Province needs to follow if we are to shape a prosperous future.
I am glad that where once there was opposition to the DUP’s arguments, there is now general acceptance of what were so long uniquely DUP principles. I am glad that when we engaged with representatives of the business community — the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry, the Chamber of Commerce, and right across the spectrum —they all broadly welcomed this initiative.
Dawn Purvis referred to the jobs of ordinary working-class people. Many of the so-called working-class people that I have spoken to welcome the draft Programme for Government; they see prospects for the creation of new jobs in all sectors in the Province.
The draft Programme for Government states that:
“Our over-arching aim is to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in the years to come.”
“To achieve this we need to pursue an innovative and productive economy and a fair society that promotes social inclusion, sustainable communities and personal health and well-being.”
I wholeheartedly support those ideals.
However, where this draft Programme for Government departs from previous visions for Northern Ireland is that the economy is now the top priority, but in a manner that is not undisciplined or unconnected with the other needs of society. That is a DUP position. Looking at the Assemblies of the Trimble-Mallon and the Trimble-Durkan years, this is not only the DUP’s position; it is territory marked out by the DUP long ago. I am pleased that others have begun to catch up.
My party’s efforts have forced that shift in attitude and direction.
Mr B McCrea: Will the Member give way?
Mr Simpson: No, I will not. You have talked enough. [Laughter.] With the greatest of respect, Mr Speaker, I do not think we could handle much more. The Members should save it for his Committees.
Mr Storey: Save it for the Sinn Féin conference.
Mr Simpson: That is right. The draft Programme for Government represents a huge success for those people who want Northern Ireland to prosper and nurture a strong economy. The liberal agenda has been cast aside, and that is to be welcomed. The fact that Sinn Féin has signed up to the draft Programme for Government may cause some eyebrows to be raised. However, that is a matter for Sinn Féin.
I welcome the plans to grow the private sector in order to foster a SME-friendly environment. As the draft Programme for Government states:
“A successful economy is characterised by high productivity, a highly skilled and flexible workforce and employment growth.”
As well as increasing productivity and encouraging growth, we must have well-paid, high-skill jobs. In the light of recent job loses at places such as Seagate Technology, Tyco Healthcare and Reid Transport, that is all the more urgent.
The wealth and revenue that the Programme for Government creates will drive society forward and finance the rest of the Executive’s and the Assembly’s priorities. Alternatively, the failure to create that additional wealth and revenue will hold back those priorities and wound our people. I care about that. From recent comments, I wonder whether others in the House care as much as they say they do — or as much as they should.
The aim is to increase the employment rate from 70% to 75% by 2020. We look forward to securing inward-investment commitments that will create more than 6,500 new jobs, and to ensuring that at least three quarters of those jobs will come with salaries that are above the private-sector average. [Interruption.]
Mr McCrea cannot help himself from chirping in from the background, but we have listened to —
Mr Storey: His party signed up to it.
Mr Simpson: That is 100% right. Despite what his colleague behind him said a few moments ago, his party signed up to the draft Programme for Government. All of a sudden, the Member has gone quiet. That can only be good.
Further prosperity will depend on the ability to respond quickly to business prospects. There is now a challenge for businesses and entrepreneurs. The Assembly must promote a pro-business environment that supports entrepreneurs — people who are not afraid to take risks in order to succeed. That is what I did in my business life — I had to. I know the pressures and stresses of trying to grow a business from scratch. However, I also know the rewards that can be gained from taking such an approach.
Northern Ireland must have, and be known to have, a knowledge-based economy with a highly-skilled workforce. There must be investment in research and development, coupled with deliverable innovation.
The welcome that business leaders have given to the draft Programme for Government is encouraging. However, that welcome highlights the failures of others who appear to have put their fortunes above the future of the Province. In calling for the shift in approach that the draft Programme for Government signals, the DUP stood almost alone among other political voices. We are keen to get on with the job of making Northern Ireland a business, investment and tourism success story, and the draft Programme for Government will allow us to proceed along that road. I welcome it.
Mr F McCann: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy.
However, I want to deal with the issue of housing — or perhaps I should say the lack of housing — which has been debated many times in the House and has received the support of all Members. I will try to be as brief as possible. The housing issue has brought statements of condemnation from all parties, and, if it is not tackled, will condemn people to spending years on waiting lists while they lie in hostels or, in many cases, on the streets.
The Housing Executive estimates that we need to build at least 2,000 houses a year. That is an underestimation, especially if one considers that there are 36,000 people on the housing waiting list. In the first two quarters of this year alone, 10,000 people have declared themselves homeless. However, according to the draft Programme for Government, only £1·4 billion will be made available for housing between 2008 and 2018, and only 10,000 houses will be built in the next five years. If my calculations are correct, the budget works out at about £127 million a year over that period. That amount will build fewer than 800 houses a year, which will not allow us even to keep pace with the number of people who declare themselves homeless let alone deal with the housing crisis.
Will the First Minister tell the House whether the £1·4 billion outlined in the draft Programme for Government will definitely be committed to a newbuild programme, or is the document simply a wish list of things to do if the money is available? Will the First Minister take on board the serious underfunding of the sector? Does he agree that much more must be done?
The housing issue requires a programme that is properly costed and resourced. In Dublin, billions of euro have been made available to deal with housing, and, in England, billions of pounds have been made available to deal with the serious problems of social housing supply and affordability. We must follow those examples.
Housing is a cross-cutting issue; it impacts on health, education and employment. I ask the First Minister to re-examine that section of the draft Programme for Government and deal realistically with the allocation of resources for housing. The sector needs at least £400 million for newbuild in the coming year and annual increases thereafter to keep pace with rising costs. Anything less will condemn those who are most in need to years of no prospect of owning their own home or being allocated social housing. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Weir: It is a delight to be involved in the debate, and it is always good to listen and learn at the feet of the master, Mr McCrea. Lest I offend my colleagues from Mid Ulster or South Antrim, I should point out that I mean Basil McCrea. We have heard the usual exposition from the unofficial leader of the Opposition, which will set us on the right road.
We have this opportunity to debate the draft Programme for Government. Unfortunately, we have heard the usual negative remarks from Alliance Party Members, who seem able only to carp from the sidelines. Their solution is a magical figure that they conjure up by calculating the cost of division. They seem to be able to use that as a bottomless pit of funding to cure all the ills in society, financial or otherwise.
I am reminded of its sister party, the Liberal Democrats, which, in the 1990s, consistently promised to put 1p on income tax. It was keen to spend that amount over and over again on every conceivable matter. Again, we have heard about the magic-bullet solution for Northern Ireland, and we have heard that, if only those changes could be made overnight, everything in our economy would be right.
To be fair to the Alliance Party, at least its position is consistent — it is consistently wrong. However, its position is slightly more coherent than that of the Ulster Unionist Party. It seems to be engaged in some type of hokey-cokey politics. Members from that party seem to think that they can close their eyes and let the world drift away, and they will no longer be part of the Executive.
Indeed, the Member for North Belfast Mr Cobain vehemently rejected the suggestion of them being involved in any way, shape or form, and seemed to be apoplectic at the suggestion that they were part of the coalition.
Mr Basil McCrea, Mr Cobain and others may not want it this way, but, when the UUP opens its eyes it will find; that it is part of the Government; that it has agreed to the draft Programme for Government; and, indeed, that it cannot simply denounce parts of the programme while being part of the Government. UUP Members cannot have their cake and eat it. Unfortunately, that lesson seems to have been lost on them.
Mr B McCrea: I could be wrong, but was there not a previous Administration in which DUP Ministers were half in and half out? Was that not a case of them having their cake and eating it?
Mr Weir: We were against the system at that stage, and we indicated that. [Interruption.]
The UUP went into the election on the basis that it would be in Government from day one, no matter what happened. However, its members now want to be in Government and in opposition; they do not know what they are involved in.
As regards inconsistency, Basil McCrea seems to be facing in two directions. He castigated the draft Programme for Government for not being business-friendly enough and for not creating enough jobs. However, on the other hand he seemed to say that he could support a lot of what the Member for East Belfast Dawn Purvis said, and, indeed, the far left agenda of the PUP, a party that still has as part of its constitution the old Labour constitution containing clause 4, and which would nationalise just about everything. I appreciate that the PUP, at least, has some intellectual and honest consistency.
However, I cannot work out whether Basil McCrea wants a more business-friendly Programme for Government, or whether he wants to hoist the red flag — as he does the red tie that he consistently wears — overthrow the Government and the middle classes and implement the kulak system that that entails.
We have a draft Programme for Government that is based on support for business and puts at its heart the growth of “a dynamic, innovative economy”. It was the failure by successive predecessors of the current Administration to grasp that nettle that is fundamentally at the heart of current economic problems.
The draft Programme for Government is clearly focused. There are some who criticised it when it was published for not being some sort of version of ‘War and Peace’ that goes on for thousands of pages. We have a document that is clearly focused and can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
I serve on the Committee for the Environment, and I want to touch on a number of the issues that relate to that area. As was mentioned by one of the Members opposite, all Members should welcome the commitment that has been made to reduce road deaths. Many issues discussed in the Assembly are regarded as matters of life and death. However, few are so directly and literally matters of life and death as road deaths. I welcome the commitment to reduce overall road deaths, and, in particular, the commitment to try and reduce child deaths on the roads.
I also welcome the commitment to proceed with the reform of local government in Northern Ireland. The review of public administration is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many Members feel that there is still work to be done. Indeed, it has been acknowledged by the Minister of the Environment that the emerging findings are simply the initial stage in that regard. It is a challenge to Ministers across the board to ensure that there is proper delivery for local government. A system that can better deliver to the people at local level is vital.
As someone who has been involved in local government, I also strongly welcome the pledge to fundamentally overhaul the planning system by 2011. All Members, whether they represent an urban constituency, a rural constituency or somewhere that is a mixture between the two, will be aware of the fundamental problems that exist with the Planning Service. The review that will clearly lead to changes to PPS 14 is to be welcomed. Fundamentally, the Planning Service is in massive need of overhaul and reform.
In particular, there is a very strong economic dimension: one of the major barriers and disincentives to bringing new business into Northern Ireland is the creaking planning system. Businesses see the speed with which they can locate in other parts of the world and compare it to the long, drawn-out process here. That is something that we must tackle with alacrity.
A range of other matters connected with the Department of the Environment are worthy of note. The commitment to reduce landfill significantly, by creating a network of new waste treatment facilities at council level, will be of practical benefit to the environment and will have financial implications. That issue was heavily neglected under direct rule. If Northern Ireland does not tackle it, we will run into difficulties with the European Union, and the taxpayers of Northern Ireland will pick up the tab for that. Waste management was neglected time after time by previous Administrations, particularly under direct rule. I welcome the commitment to that.
I also welcome other commitments, such as the reduction of carbon emissions and the strengthening of key habitats and species by the declaration of 200 new ASSIs by 2016.
We have a coherent, environmentally friendly Programme for Government that looks after all our citizens and puts the economy first. It will be seen in years to come as a key turning point for Northern Ireland. It protects the interests of our citizens and faces up to challenges which, for too long, were ducked by direct rule Ministers.
Mr Elliott: I welcome the fact that a draft Programme for Government and a draft investment strategy have been laid before the House. It has been a long wait — almost six months — for Executive action. I suspect that we might have had to wait longer had it not been for the Ulster Unionist Party, which brought forward a successful motion demanding that a legislative programme be laid before the House.
I have heard much criticism today. Members of the DUP, too numerous to mention, have criticised the Alliance Party, the SDLP and my party. It is good to see, however, that they have some friends in the House, just across the Floor from them — their partners, Sinn Féin.
Mrs D Kelly: Is it not somewhat ironic that we must listen to lectures on negativity from the party of which Seamus Mallon once said that, if the word “No” were taken out of its vocabulary, it would have nothing to say?
Mr Elliott: If that is the Member’s thought, I have no comment.
I was pleased to hear Members such as Alex Maskey talk about good relations. However, I wonder how far that stretched last week, when a local district policing partnership meeting in his constituency had to be abandoned because of republican protests. I should like to hear Mr Maskey, when he returns to the Chamber, speak on that: perhaps he will condemn that action.
I also welcome the consultation period for the document, which lasts until 4 January 2008. Normally, I would question the brevity of that period, but, because we have waited so long for the programme, I am content not to make too much of that.
It is important to observe that the Programme for Government and the investment strategy are at a consultative stage. That is something that the Health and Social Development Ministers seem to appreciate, but which other Ministers seem not to understand; it appears to have eluded them.
In broad terms, no one can argue with the principles outlined in the Programme for Government: providing good leadership; working energetically in the interests of everyone; working in partnership across public, private and voluntary sectors; raising standards across Government; and delivering fair outcomes and social improvements. All are laudable in themselves.
We are told that the Executive will grow a dynamic, innovative economy; promote tolerance —perhaps not excluding South Belfast and the district policing partnerships; promote health and well-being; protect and enhance our environment and natural resources; invest to build our infrastructure; and deliver modern, high-quality and efficient public services. They would say that, would they not? We should be no more surprised at that exposition of worthy aims than we are when we hear a Miss World contestant say that she wants world peace.
As legislators, we must ask the hard question. What precisely does the Programme for Government explicitly promise that will provide a qualitative improvement in Government and administration in Northern Ireland, and which will realise the lofty aspirations to which the Executive has signed up?
The 23 public service agreements that aim to deliver that strategy appear sound enough in their own way. The correlation of objectives, actions and targets on a matrix framework that cuts across all Departments is a clear and measurable way to proceed. The inclusion of specific targets sets ambitions and, in some cases, difficult tasks for the Government to achieve. We have been seeking that level of detail, and it will provide a real task for the Committees of the House in assessing the performance of the Executive and the individual Minister. I applaud and support the thoroughness of that approach.
I will deal with two issues, the first of which is child poverty. In the Committee for the Office of the First and deputy First Minister that is part of an ongoing investigation. It is close to my heart, as in my constituency the Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council area has the highest child poverty percentages in the province.
A recent Government report found that in Northern Ireland up to 120,000 children live in varying degrees of poverty. If we add to that the number of children who are deemed to live in deprivation the figure increases to 160,000. Those figures are highly disturbing, given that in 1999 the Prime Minister pledged to end child poverty in a generation.
It is important for us as a regional Government to choose a focal point from which to tackle child poverty. 120,000 children live in poverty, that figure might drop by more than 50% if the target groups were to include only those children who live in severe poverty, and not those who live in general poverty. When the focus is shifted, the number of children in Northern Ireland whose situations require what we would call immediate action decreases to 44,000.
Furthermore, we must ask what the difference is between immediate and long-term action in child poverty. Differentiating between levels of poverty does not take away from the overall problem. Nevertheless, were we to make such a differentiation, the Assembly and the Executive could execute a more strategic plan to help those who are in most immediate distress. To attempt to tackle an issue of that scale in a single move could lead to miscalculations of judgement, and could prove erroneous in the long run.
The second issue is agriculture and rural development. I listened to the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr William McCrea, and I agree with much of what he said. It is difficult for me to comprehend a situation in which many who are directly involved in agriculture and farming through the rural development programme should be almost encouraged to cease farming activities in favour of diversification. I have no difficulty with diversification; it does have a specific remit. However, it is not the answer to all problems. I am concerned that many in the agriculture industry are encouraged to leave it in favour of diversification, and that alone will not solve the problem. I am sure that many of those people would not welcome such a move, particularly those who have started their own beef-import businesses, importing large amounts of beef from South America.
Where will all the money come from? I assume that that will be the first major problem the Executive, and the Programme for Government, will come up against. For that reason, it is impossible to separate meaningfully the Programme for Government from the Budget, which realises it.
I suppose that one difficulty has been the failure to get the expected money and secure the financial deal that was supposed to come from the then Chancellor, and now Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. That is something that, I assume, we will live to regret.
It is easy to talk in vague generalities, or even in specifics, about principles. Discipline comes when one has to explain, convincingly, how one is going to pay. I am concerned that some of the financial assumptions in the draft Programme for Government may be unsound. Much depends on the sell-off prices of assets and on the as yet unspecified additional income from as yet unspecified sources. However, that is a debate for another day.
Mr D Bradley: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Through its role in providing opportunity for all children and young people, and in preparing them for life and work — and in reforming its administration — education is meant to contribute to the Programme for Government priorities of growing a dynamic and innovative economy; promoting tolerance and inclusion; health and well-being; and delivering modern, high quality and efficient public services. Those priorities and goals are underpinned by a range of education-related public service agreements — in particular PSA 2, which deals with skills for prosperity; PSA 10, which deals with helping our children and young people to achieve through education; PSA 16, which deals with investing in the education estate; PSA 19, which deals with raising standards of schools; and PSA 20, which deals with improving public services. The key education goals for the first two priorities are ensuring that 70% of school-leavers achieve five or more GCSEs by 2011, and achieving a position by 2011 whereby 30% of school-leavers who are entitled to free school meals obtain GCSE passes A* to C in English and Mathematics.
The use of the GCSE qualification as an indicator for the future is questionable, given that a revised curriculum is being introduced. Even assuming that CCEA will adapt its syllabuses to suit the revised curriculum, many schools in Northern Ireland enter pupils for GCSE examinations with other examination boards whose syllabuses will not be linked to the curricular changes that are taking place in Northern Ireland. If that is the case, we must ask how accurate an indicator GCSE will be in the future and consider what other relevant indicators can, and should, be used.
Although the key goal under priority 3 is that of establishing an education and skills authority by 2009, there is still quite an amount of work to be done on fashioning the shape of that authority. One of the main concerns that has been expressed about the new authority is its size. The ESA will be the biggest authority of its type in Western Europe. It remains to be seen how it will deliver its services on a subregional basis, and how accountable it will be at local level and at board level. Since ESA is seen as the main means of improving schools in the future, it is essential that there is satisfaction with the accountability and delivery mechanisms at all levels.
The teaching profession, of which I am a member, is the most valuable resource that education has in Northern Ireland. Over the past number of years, teachers have lost parity with their counterparts in England and Wales. This is particularly true in relation to the 10% planning, preparation and assessment time that has not yet been implemented in Northern Ireland. Likewise, teaching principals in small primary schools need two days administration time to ensure that their workload is manageable. The Department of Education will claim that one day is already factored in — under the common funding formula — but since that resource is not ring-fenced, it is more often than not subsumed in the attempts to balance the school’s books.
Public service agreements 10 and 19 would benefit from proper investment in the teaching workforce. There is concern that available resources from the draft Budget will not enable many of the public service agreement actions and targets for education to be realised.
Objective 1 of public service agreements 6 and 10, which relate to the early-years strategy, is very much in doubt due to reduced resources. Given the savings that investment in early-years education can bring — a point underlined strongly by Nobel laureate Professor James Heckman in his recent Belfast lecture — a future reduction in spending in that area of education could prove costly not only in financial terms, but in human terms, in the social, emotional, physical and intellectual development of children.
Professor Heckman pointed out that investments in social policies that intervene in the early years have very high later rates of return, while social policies that intervene later in the life cycle have low economic returns. A large body of scientific evidence shows a persistent pattern of strong effects derived from early interventions. Significantly, those substantial long-term benefits are not necessarily limited to intellectual gains, but are most clearly seen in measures of social performance and lifetime achievement. In other words, people who participate in enriched early-childhood programmes are more likely to complete school and much less likely to require welfare benefits, become teen parents or participate in criminal activities. Rather, they become productive adults.
The quality of pre-school provision appears to be a crucial determinant of educational attainment. High-quality provision involves small group size, high adult-child ratios, a balanced curriculum and trained staff. The House has previously debated how the benefits of enhancing the skills of the early-years workforce through a transformation fund would greatly enhance that effect.
A reduction in resources would also cast doubt on objective 2 of public service agreement 10 regarding the implementation of the literacy and numeracy strategy and the school improvement scheme. Each child has a basic right to leave primary school competent in literacy and numeracy. The Public Accounts Committee report of December 2006 underlined the need for a revised literacy and numeracy strategy. Twenty-six million pounds was spent on the previous strategy and we have 660 co-ordinators in reading recovery in our schools, yet only 160 of those co-ordinators are active, because schools do not have the resources to release teachers from the classroom.
Any literacy and numeracy strategy must be strong on practice as well as policy. The three-wave approach at each of the key stages 1, 2 and 3 should be implemented: wave 1, quality first teaching; wave 2, group withdrawal of underachieving pupils; and wave 3, one-to-one teaching. A framework for language should be developed to guide teachers as to the language competencies that children should have in relation to their development. As is good practice in other areas of education, early identification of difficulties and appropriate early interventions are required that will lead to savings in future both in human and financial terms.
Initial teacher training must to be reviewed in order to ensure that newly qualified teachers are aware of the literacy and numeracy strategy and have the most effective methodologies for teaching literacy and numeracy as part of their professional skills. As with the recently established inclusion and diversity service, a regional approach should be taken to implementing the literacy and numeracy strategy under a regional organiser, with local delivery teams supported by trained learning support assistants.
Although time prevents me from going into detail, I believe that the available resources from the draft Budget may not allow other specific education-related public service agreement actions and targets to be met.
Depending on the final Budget allocations and the use made of resources available for education, the following PSA actions and targets may have to be revised or scaled back: PSA 2, objective 4, regarding the increase in skills and career choices in science, technology, engineering and maths; PSA 2, objective 3, regarding the Department of Education’s contribution to the implementation of the strategy and framework for careers education, information, advice and guidance; and PSA 10, objective 2, regarding improved access to the Youth Service for young people most at risk of exclusion, and its associated targets.
Programme for Government priorities and their underpinning PSAs, objectives, actions and targets should be more than mere aspirations. They should be achievable goals, backed by the necessary resources to realise them, for the benefit of our citizens in Northern Ireland.
Mr McCausland: I broadly welcome the strategic direction of the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy. Before turning to culture, arts and leisure, I want to pick up on some issues that have been raised by previous Members.
Dr Stephen Farry spoke at length about the size of the documents. He expressed the concern that they were comparatively brief. I reflected on that and thought that the moral law of God is expressed in 10 short commandments, which possibly suggests that it is the quality of a document, rather than the quantity, that matters. Basil McCrea should take that point on board and apply it to his speeches.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)
Basil McCrea surpassed the Alliance Party in negativity. His whingeing and gurning knew no end. He must have been attempting to bolster his bid for the leadership of his party. A common theme ran through the Ulster Unionist Party speeches: it was a theme of denial and the delusion that it is not part of a four-party coalition Executive. This is the draft programme of a Government in which the Ulster Unionist Party has two Ministers and of which it is a part. Fred Cobain nearly had apoplexy when that was said, and he had to leave. I am glad that he recovered and has returned. However, that is the situation.
Declan O’Loan spoke in very measured tones, but he seemed to have a great desire to speak at length and repetitively about “the island”. He continually referred to “the island”. He should be less insular and more inclusive in his thinking. I hope that, in due course, he will become more expansive and inclusive and realise that we are part of the British Isles and that there are two islands that are very close together.
I am delighted that the draft Programme for Government contains a commitment to promoting access to culture, arts and leisure. The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, David McNarry, referred to funding. He spoke at length about the need for more funding. I would like to see more investment in that area, but we are starting from a lower base than most other Departments. Why are we starting from such a low base? Who was responsible for that? Under the previous devolved Government, the Ulster Unionist Minister Michael McGimpsey was responsible for ensuring that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure had such a low budget. His failure — in fact, the Ulster Unionist Party’s failure — was carried on by direct rule Ministers who operated a care and maintenance model.
For the sake of our society, I hope that Mr McGimpsey makes a better job of health than he did of culture.
I now turn to the priorities identified in annex 1 of the draft Programme for Government. I want to highlight the fact that culture, arts and leisure are not only seen as important in their own right; they are also important because they impact on tourism, health and education.
In particular, the tourism sector in Northern Ireland must be developed. There is a commitment to manage and develop the Northern Ireland cultural infrastructure — £229 million of capital investment by 2011 in arts, sports, museums, libraries and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. That shows the scale of the need, and re-emphasises the scale of past failure. It is good to see that resources have been allocated for the provision of a number of major arts, cultural and sporting centres; to renovate the Ulster Museum and for other developments in the museums; to restructure our libraries so that there is a better library infrastructure right across Northern Ireland; and to ensure that we have a properly resourced Public Record Office that is suitable and appropriate for a place such as Northern Ireland.
PSA 6, on children and families, also relates to sport. It is important to address the issue of childhood obesity, and an increase in sporting provision will provide young people with greater access to sport and thus will undoubtedly help to tackle that issue.
Sport also has a key role to play in PSA 8, on promoting health and addressing health inequalities. As time and effort are invested in promoting sport, good health will, at the same time, be encouraged. Thus, the provision of better cultural, artistic and leisure facilities in Northern Ireland will help to address a number of the Government’s key priorities.
One area in which greater commitment is needed is education. There has been a failure to address the cultural rights of children in education, particularly those in the controlled sector. There has been a tremendous amount of investment in the Irish-medium sector, which provides an Irish cultural tradition for children from that background. Likewise, there has been a great deal of investment in the Catholic-maintained sector. I hope that we will see more commitment to recognising the cultural rights of children who are educated in the controlled sector, and to meeting the requirements at an international level in respect of those rights.
Both the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy refer to the creative industries. We must realise that many of the heavy industries that were so important in the past are now no longer here, and that the areas of potential growth — and very substantial growth — are tourism and the creative industries. It is clear from the number of hotels that are being built in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, and from the number of international cruise ships that are bringing tourists from around the world into our ports, that there is a tremendous potential and opportunity to develop our tourism industry, which can create many new jobs for the people of Northern Ireland.
I shall pick up on a couple of points in the draft investment strategy. I hope that, in carrying forward the commitment to the modernisation of our libraries, reference will be made to the good model that already exists in north Belfast — the Grove Well-being Centre, which not only offers library provision, but a major leisure centre and recreational and health provision. Therefore, libraries, leisure and health are all tied in; the three services are brought together in one context. I hope that that integrated approach to the provision of library services will be at the heart of future provision.
I am glad to see a commitment to creating a new Belfast central library by 2015. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a national library, and therefore it is important that a significant regional library is provided, and that it is suitable and adequate for maintaining the cultural wealth that is part of our heritage in Northern Ireland. The provision of a new Belfast central library will contribute to that.
Finally, under the investment pillar termed “social” in the draft investment strategy, it is stated:
“Crumlin Road Gaol and Girdwood…offer the potential for a transformational development…that will provide social and economic regeneration within North Belfast.”
That is the type of major opportunity that lies before us. I hope that instead of the negativity that we have heard from certain Members, there will be a change of heart — perhaps something of a political conversion from a few of them — a commitment to being positive towards such initiatives that will, in the future, bring many new jobs not only to north Belfast through that particular project but to the entire Province through the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy.
Mrs O’Neill: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the take-note motion. Since the publication of the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, Members have debated the strengths and weaknesses in their respective Committees and parties. That process is ongoing. Therefore, anything that I say in the debate is not definitive: I fully reserve the right to scrutinise, and comment on, the documents further.
What initially struck me as positive in the draft investment strategy is the departure from a silo mentality in Government. It has long been the case that, in Government, one hand did not know what the other hand was doing. However, the positive thinking behind the draft investment’s strategy’s six pillars will help to join up departmental plans and other stakeholders, avoid any duplication and allow them to recognise opportunities to maximise outcomes by working together. The Assembly must ensure that that filters down to all levels, especially to local development level.
With regard to building a sustainable future through social, economic and environmental policies and programmes, the draft Programme for Government refers to the need to:
“ensure that the principles of sustainability — development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs — underpin our approach to all our activities.”
I welcome that commitment from the Executive. However, as the Assembly is forced to move further down the line of Departments’ use of private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships for procurement rather than conventional methods, it may leave a legacy for future generations that is steeped in Government debt.
I welcome the commitment to modernise the mental-health service’s estate and support for a move away from long-stay settings to care in the community. That must be welcomed, particularly after a year in which instances have been highlighted of children and older people with learning difficulties being held in long-term settings when a sufficient care package would enable them to be at home. I am concerned that there is no commitment from the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to deal with the lack of respite provision and that neither document refers to that issue. It should be a priority for the Executive, because it affects the most vulnerable people and their carers.
My constituency of Mid Ulster is a rural area that is situated west of the Bann. I am glad that the draft Programme for Government includes a commitment to deal with regional imbalance. However, it is not strong enough. I want a commitment in black and white from the Executive that they will deal with years of underinvestment in that area by successive British Governments.
I am concerned about the draft Programme for Government’s claims that widespread broadband access will be delivered. People who live in rural areas do not have full access to broadband, and those who do pay over the odds for the privilege. The Assembly must not allow such claims to be made by companies such as BT, because, by doing so, it ignores the situation that many people face in rural areas of the North.
In order to deal fully with the effects of underinvestment west of the Bann and to make progress, there must be a clear Executive-led strategy to tackle the problems in that area with a view to establishing more favourable outcomes for all people and to eradicate inequalities. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Lunn: My party colleagues have already outlined the reasons for my party’s critical amendment, as, indeed, has Basil McCrea. I will try not to repeat their arguments. However, I wish to highlight further what my party considers to be the draft Programme for Government’s deficiencies: its lack of vision, detail and firm commitment. My party considers that there is virtually nothing in the draft Programme for Government that would not have been included in a direct rule document. It is hard to see the effect of local input after long months of deliberation by local Ministers. Instead, the flimsy document indicates the difficulties of reaching agreement among the four Executive parties and the resultant acceptance of a lowest-common-denominator approach.
Much of the draft Programme for Government is a continuation of work in progress. Where are the new initiatives — the release of new thinking that is based on the particular needs of the Northern Ireland public? Neither the draft Programme for Government nor the public service agreements contain any significant details of policy proposals or of priorities to be given to policy areas, particularly to changes of policy direction after devolution.
This is not a momentous achievement, as claimed by the First Minister, or in any way strategic as claimed by the deputy First Minister. It is, unfortunately, a bland, disappointing effort that has been constrained by the lack of agreement in the Executive. The draft Programme for Government argues that the framework of PSA’s confirm the key actions to be taken in support of the five key priorities, but an absence of detail runs through both documents.
PSA 1, which covers productivity growth, aims to allow Invest NI to continue what it is doing — unsuccessfully, some might say — and for the energy market to be opened up for competition, as has been planned already.
PSA 2, which covers skills for prosperity, promises a series of reviews and as yet unwritten action plans, and PSA 4, which covers supporting rural businesses, contains vague measures. PSA 5, which covers tourism, states that we will have to manage and develop our inland navigations and cultural infrastructure. Are they not being managed already?
The draft Programme for Government does not contain any promise of action on the shared future agenda or good relations, unless one counts societal relationships. There is no promise or commitment on integrated education, unlike the Irish-medium sector, which is to be maximised under the terms of the agreement: nor is there any promise of action in the arts, except that the ‘Arts Council for Northern Ireland Corporate Plan 2007-10’ is to be promoted — not implemented or funded, but promoted.
I could go into detail on education because I am a member of that Committee for Education, but I do not need to, because Dominic Bradley has done so, rather eloquently, a few moments ago. It does not sound as though education is to be prioritised? How is vocational education to be promoted? How is entrepreneurship to make its way into schools? What industries are to be targeted so that careers services deliver appropriate advice?
The inadequacy of the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy are plain to see, and, in summary, their aims are not prioritised; the actions are not detailed, and existing targets are not changed. Education has been left out of the priorities; tackling sectarianism is not referred to, and the arts are all but ignored.
The Alliance Party has been accused of negativity — I have never heard that word used so many times in one day — and mention has been made of our churlish attitude to what is being portrayed as some sort of visionary document, which, in its present draft form, it patently is not. I hope that the Executive will seriously consider the draft Programme for Government’s deficiencies and look positively at the suggestions that have been made and which will be put forward during the consultation period.
All of the suggestions have not come from the “negative” Alliance Party; they have come from all parties in the House. I have listened with interest today. I heard Alex Maskey refer to matters that he would like to be teased out, which is a diplomatic way of saying that there are matters about which he has major concerns. He mentioned the shared future and the draft Programme for Government’s lack of commitment to it. Mervyn Storey expressed grave concerns about education, and he had genuine concerns on other matters. I cannot help but think that his concerns about education are not so much to do with the education programme as the potential antics of the Minister of Education.
Mr Boylan expressed concern about planning regulations, global warming, the need for an all-Ireland approach on road safety, and the lack of an environmental protection agency. Those concerns have come from Members of parties in the Executive. Basil McCrea also contributed to the debate: what can I say to my Lagan Valley colleague? I agree with some of his comments about early years, pupil/teacher ratios, selection, and the education and skills authority — and he was not the only Member to mention that.
Fra McCann, a Member who is also from a party in the Executive — the coalition — talked about housing, and he was quite right.
Mr F McCann: Members are putting their points across today in order to try to influence the Minister to change aspects of the draft documents. That is why one of the documents is called a draft Budget. Members may not have much impact when the draft Budget becomes the Budget.
Mr Lunn: I could not agree more. It is supposed to be a discussion about draft documents.
However, there is a perception that all the comments from this end of the House have been negative and those from everywhere else have been cosy and friendly. I was encouraged to hear people from the far reaches of the Chamber being critical. Some people might see that as constructive comment, but I call it criticism of the draft Programme for Government.
I commend the Alliance Party’s amendment to the House. We have not been quite as negative as has been suggested, but when it is four parties against one, we are an easy target.
Mr Hamilton: Even at this late hour, I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate. I know that some Members are tempted to nod off when they have to work at such an hour. I will give it 10 minutes, but it seems that some Members have fallen asleep already — Fred Cobain must be dreaming if he believes that his party is not in Government.
I am increasingly surprised and shocked at the Alliance Party’s attitude in the House. After years of demanding that all the parties get together and work for the betterment of Northern Ireland, I suppose that I should not be surprised that the party now opposes what it wanted for so long. The only conclusion to be drawn from such extreme hypocrisy is that the Alliance Party opposes the draft Programme for Government simply because the electorate did not give it the mandate to be in Government, and that is churlish.
I am not surprised by the attitude displayed again today by the Ulster Unionist Party. Members of that party want to be in Government and enjoy the fruits of being in office. However, at the same time, they want to appear to the outside world as some type of Opposition. It depends on who is being spoken to, or who speaks to the Government, whether the Ulster Unionist Party wants to be in or out of Government.
With the majority of people in Northern Ireland, I am positive about the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. I could talk at some considerable length this evening about the specific benefits that those policies will bring to my Strangford constituency, such as the new rapid transit system that will start in Dundonald and go throughout Belfast, or the new accommodation for the South Eastern Regional College, including investment —
Mr McNarry: Where is the money for that coming from?
Mr Hamilton: As David McNarry knows, all that information is contained in the draft Budget, should he wish to read it. I am surprised that he has not read it, and I hope that he does so in time for tomorrow’s debate so that he can make a knowledgeable contribution — but perhaps that is too unrealistic a dream.
Despite what the Health Minister may have suggested, there are also new hospital facilities for Downpatrick that will serve my constituents. The programme also includes the completion of the first phase of redevelopment at the Ulster Hospital, not to mention more general issues, such as free public transport for everyone over the age of 60.
I am sure that Members all around the Chamber could talk about how the draft Programme for Government specifically benefits their own constituencies — [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The Member has the Floor.
Mr P J Pradley: Mr Hamilton referred to reading the draft Programme for Government and to the various other publications. As a representative of a rural area, is he surprised that there is no reference to agriculture in this booklet? The word does not even appear.
Mr Hamilton: The word “farming” appears in the document, but perhaps the Member does not like that choice of word and prefers “agriculture”.
Mr Paisley Jnr: Perhaps it would be helpful if the Member for South Down were to read about the intended £45 million investment in the draft Programme for Government:
“to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector.”
Mr Ross: That is agricultural, as opposed to agriculture; it is a question of grammar —
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Allow the Member to continue.
Mr Hamilton: I thank the junior Minister for his contribution. It is unfortunate that P J Bradley is contributing to the awful literacy figures in Northern Ireland. I suggest that he sits down and does not embarrass himself further. It is in his interest to do so. [Interruption.]
The Deputy Speaker: Mr Hamilton does not wish to give way.
Mr P J Bradley: I was referring to a particular version of the document. As Naomi Long mentioned earlier, there are several publications and a number of printed versions —
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member must resume his seat.
Mr Hamilton: I hope that I will be allowed a wee bit more time after that crude intervention.
I am pleased with the centrality given to the economy in the draft Programme for Government. Economic growth is not included as an afterthought; it is the Executive’s priority, front and centre. There are many targets and proposed outcomes, such as inward investment and the creation of 6,500 high-quality and better-paid jobs and increasing the employment rate to 75%. [Interruption.]I hear murmurings from sedentary positions and can only assume that those Members are unhappy about 6,500 new high-quality jobs, and do not want them in Northern Ireland. The programme plans new exporting companies, £120 million private-sector investment in innovation and growing creative industries.
Coming from Strangford, I am pleased to see the huge commitment to tourism. I praise the Executive’s concentration on the economy and their decision to make economic expansion their priority, which has met — and will meet — with criticism. However, those dogma-driven dinosaurs from a different age must be challenged.
The many structural weaknesses of Northern Ireland’s economy have been well noted — in the Assembly and elsewhere — and need no re-rehearsal. Failing to focus on the economy first and foremost and make it our priority in the Programme for Government and draft investment strategy will, at best, perpetuate the problems and, at worse, see them deteriorate. A Programme for Government and an investment strategy that continue with the same direct rule mindset will do nothing to achieve the step change required in our economy.
I praise the Executive for their prioritisation of economic expansion and encourage them to resist any temptation to change focus. Continuing with the old formula of prioritising public services would produce the same results. Although previous programmes could not be blamed for the historically poor performance of our economy, they did little or nothing to address it. The absence of focus in the economy today has made the Executive’s task much harder.
It is muddle-headed to think that continuing to expand the size of, and spending on, the public sector at the same rate as recent years — which would exacerbate the prime problem of over-reliance on the public sector for growth and employment — will correct our economy. That is not to say that the aims of economic growth and more efficient and effective public services are mutually exclusive. In fact, a transformed economy, through substantial wealth creation, can be the key to unlocking better public services.
I encourage the Executive to keep the economy as their primary priority and to resist the easy option of reverting to type. The hundreds upon hundreds of people who have lost their jobs in recent days in Limavady, Cloughmills and Newtownards — which is in my constituency — would not thank us for letting the economy and the creation of new jobs slip down the agenda. In concentrating on the economy, it is essential that the right infrastructure — both physical infrastructure and people — be in place. That is why I welcome the inclusion —
Mr McLaughlin: Simon is right-wing now. [Laughter.]
Mr Hamilton: The Member will accuse me of being a Thatcherite next, which is not a label that I am prepared to wear.
That is why I welcome the inclusion of networks and of productive and skills pillars in the draft investment strategy. When we compare our physical infrastructure to that of our competitors in the rest of the United Kingdom — and in the Republic of Ireland — it is easy to see how substandard roads, energy and telecommunications can be a distinct disadvantage in Northern Ireland’s competitiveness. A common complaint about our economy is the lack of certain key skills; there is little point in attempting to attract new investment if there are not the right people with the right skills to take up the jobs that will be generated.
I welcome the commitment to tackle bureaucracy and to produce additional efficiencies. That includes a review of the number of Departments to tackle the bloated political bureaucracy created by the Belfast Agreement; a 25% reduction in the administration faced by farmers, which I am sure that Mr P J Bradley will be pleased to hear; a single telephone number as a point of reference for public services; and a capital-realisation programme, which will obtain an extra £1 billion for infrastructure.
Strangely, the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy have been criticised in some quarters for being aspirational— as if aspiring to something was wrong. I welcome the aspiration and ambition in the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. If Northern Ireland is to be economically vibrant and have world-class public services, some aspiration is essential. To expect the multi-faceted problems of Northern Ireland to be overcome immediately is to aspire a little too much. It took more than three decades to create Northern Ireland’s problems through a combination of terrorism and the ineptitude of direct rule, and it will take longer than the three years of the Programme for Government to undo them.
However, the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland offer a vision of a better and brighter future for Northern Ireland. We must start somewhere, so let us begin.
Mrs M Bradley: As far back as 19 December 2006, Ian Paisley Jnr, now a junior Minister, told the House how vital it was for effective campaigning for older people to be put in place and:
“We must ensure that we have delivery and not more process.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p184, col 2].
That is all well and good, but now that we know that Deloitte and Touche has been appointed to carry out a review, is that not merely more process? One of the targets of PSA 7, objective 2, is that the Programme for Government will:
“Deliver a strong independent voice for older people”.
Another target is to:
“Ensure more effective statutory protection for older people as an identifiable group”,
What exactly does that mean for older people? We want to see real action and delivery of the goods, not report after report, more deliberation, and so on. Is the Budget to be spent on consultations and reports rather than on delivery?
Our older people and young people alike are abused, victimised and made to feel worthless daily. Both those sections of our society are considered to be the most vulnerable. Children deserved to get their commissioner, and so do our older people. Although there are PSAs that will assist children in the long term, there is little in the draft Programme for Government for older people, apart from the fact that the minimum age for the free-travel scheme has been reduced to include anyone aged 60 or over. Let us remember, however, that people in rural areas cannot avail themselves of that scheme, because there is no bus travel there.
The free-travel scheme, which is to be introduced in 2008, is to be welcomed, but I hope that it is not the only party favour on offer for older members of our society. If so, what kind of message would that send out to the section of the electorate who are in their later years? Is it that they are not valuable enough to merit the appointment of a commissioner, who could, on their behalf, fight for policies that would have a huge impact on their current state of health and wealth? It worked for the children when their commissioner was appointed, so why is it different for people who are in their older years?
It is certain that we will all age — some of us more and quicker than others — but we all want to have a dignified life and death. That is not too much to ask for, now that we are in a new political era, with a Budget that can be applied by local Ministers, who should be — if they are not already — au fait with the needs of the people. If old age means going to the back of the queue in hospital because one is too old, if it means that a procedure is seen as simply a postponement of the inevitable, if it means that one can be abused by intruders, carers or even by family members, or if it means that one can be excluded from travelling because the cost of insurance is four times the price of that for anyone else, it is merely an existence and is not worth having. An older life is just as valuable as a youthful one.
Where is free personal care for the elderly? Where is the blueprint for getting to that stage? I acknowledge that it will be expensive, but it is something that our electorate is crying out for, yet they are getting nowhere.
Mr McCarthy: Does the Member agree that, on more than one occasion, the House voted to introduce free personal care for the elderly, and that, in every recent election, all the parties in the Assembly have promised to deliver free personal care?
Mrs M Bradley: I agree with the Member, but we need to hear that from the Minister who is responsible for delivering free personal care.
Winter fuel payments must be sorted out urgently, due to the massive hike in fuel costs, electricity and gas. The prediction of a much colder winter than last year, and the proposed cuts in home-fuel-saving schemes, mean that a cold, miserable and dangerous winter is on the agenda for the most vulnerable members of our communities. We must produce a consistent and unified call for winter fuel payments to be increased.
I am pleased to see that the Executive acknowledge children and the need to protect them. However, more stringent legislation must be a main player in that objective. Child protection and the tightening of the legislation that surrounds it must be a priority for the Government. The recent media reports and debates in the Chamber should stand as testament to that.
The issue of cross-border co-operation and the establishment of an all-Ireland sex offenders register must be agreed, supported and acted on if we are to protect our children and all victims, whether past, current or potential. Children’s rights and how they are delivered must be a priority for the Assembly, just as it has been in Wales.
They have got it right. They have agreed and established the Children and Young People Committee so that the Welsh Assembly speaks with a unified voice and deals with any decision-making pertaining to children’s issues from one Department. That single-strand approach is working towards the appropriate delivery of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its successful implementation is a priority for the Welsh Assembly.
Our children have great potential, and how the Government provide a just and equal society will determine how well, or how badly, children will develop into well-balanced human beings with a sense of respect and decency for themselves and others.
Parents, too, must play a pivotal role in achieving that, and the parental role should not be minimised, because it will have more bearing than anything else when it comes to creating and maintaining a lawful and just society. Therefore, the PSAs that refer to children and family must be applied diligently, and the budgetary requirements need to be in place and increased yearly. There are concerns as to whether there is an adequate budget in place for the implementation of the 10-year strategy for children and young people.
Homelessness is also a well-known ailment in my constituency of Foyle; it is at a shocking level. There is quite simply nowhere to build social housing because house prices keep rising, and landowners are attaining previously undocumented sums for their land from developers waiting to cash in on the house-price boom. In historic style, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Ten thousand social-build homes across Northern Ireland are only a drop in the ocean, but it is a start in staving off a long-term problem that is worsening by the day.
We also have to consider the families who own their own homes and live in, what are described as, affluent areas, but who cannot afford to heat their homes properly, nor pay the ever-increasing gas and electricity bills, and who, because both partners work, may be just over the benefit threshold and no more. They have nowhere to go for help. Tax credits, increasingly, cause hardship when huge overpayments are clawed back in ridiculous sums, even when it is proven that the overpayment is the fault of the Department. Increasing debt and household expenses are an all too common complaint, and we are depending on the decisions that this Executive make and sign off on to improve the lives of people.
I sincerely hope that poverty, and fuel poverty, strategies are capable of delivering what it is claimed that they can and that we will have the budgetary requirements to implement them properly. The effects of fuel poverty are well documented, and given that, I am sceptical of the target of 2016 for total eradication. I am even more sceptical of eradication in vulnerable homes by 2010.
Winter deaths among vulnerable people are a constant worry year upon year. In September of this year, the House was informed that the Social Development Minister’s request for an increase in winter fuel payments was denied by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The Minister has assured the House that fuel poverty and its eradication will remain at the heart of her Department’s aims. I have every confidence in her determination, because, as she has shown in recent months, she can be a formidable force. I hope that the Executive will ensure that the financial means will be in place behind her determination.
People and their environment are, however, at the heart of more than half of the PSAs, so I can only hope that an early-intervention approach, and a mindful conscience, will be the basis that underpins the decision-making strategy in the life of this Assembly. Ultimately, that will determine the future for all our communities.
The First Minister (Rev Dr Ian Paisley): My young friend Simon Hamilton was worried about the late hour to which we have been sitting; however, I remember when some of us had to be ejected from this House during the days of the old Stormont Commons. My colleague, friend and deputy spoke for eight hours, and that was only the icing on the cake, because all the others had spoken for hours before that. Eventually, we were hauled out and thrown down the steps, but, behold, we have come back again to haunt this particular Chamber.
I have served in the House of Commons, where there used to be very late sittings. I was able to go to the Tube station at 5.00 am after the House rose, catch a train to Heathrow and return to Northern Ireland. I suggest that my young friend should try that. It is good for one’s health. He, too, could live until he is over 80 years of age.
Members will recall that when I launched the draft Programme for Government in the House on 25 October, I said that the Executive were determined to seize the opportunity to make a real difference and to build a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland. I also said that we were determined, through the Programme for Government and investment strategy for Northern Ireland, to produce results that far supersede all that has happened in recent years in Northern Ireland.
Let me nail one issue from the outset. Our vision is not limited, our proposals are not limited and our ambition is not limited. I hope that we will show by our actions in the House not only that we are leading the people of Northern Ireland, but that the people of Northern Ireland are leading us in the right way.
The Executive have taken a new approach to the Programme for Government and the investment strategy. We want the plans to be understood by those outside the House — the people whom we are here to serve. We should all care about the people of Northern Ireland. We want our plans to set out clear goals and commitments, and to set out the issues that we, as an Executive, are committed to delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland. We want them to be ambitious and stretching, and to mark a clear difference from what has gone before. I can do no better than commend the comments of my party colleague Mr Spratt in that respect. I believe that we have noble objectives, and I believe that we will achieve them.
I am delighted to be able to tell the House that our approach has been widely, if not universally, welcomed. I have more to say on that — but I will keep Members in suspense just a little longer.
I am confident that the draft Programme for Government offers a clear framework, at a strategic level, for the Executive to develop their policies and programmes, and make a real difference for all the people of the Province. Our overarching aim in the draft Programme for Government is:
“to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in the years to come.”
The main issue that is sealed in the document has been derided in the House today. Everyone should be obliged to join with us in the “peaceful, fair and prosperous society” that Northern Ireland deserves, and that our families’ families deserve:
“with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in the years to come.”
That is a laudable aim for us to set for our Executive, Assembly, Government and people. I am glad that the whole Executive have been able to reach agreement on a shared, safe aim. I trust that we will have many conversions along the way, and that we will be able to say “unity at last”. That appeals to me as a unionist.
Everything that I have heard in this debate and elsewhere suggests that that aim commands widespread support across the whole community. That is as it should be.
Devolution has presented the Executive with a unique opportunity, but, in the coming days, if we are to deliver that overarching aim, we must face many challenges with all the strength and wisdom that the good Lord can give us. The way will not be easy. The hills are not small hills but great mountains, and there will be much rough riding for us all. However, if we are determined to leave for those that come after us the foundation stones for an Ulster, such as I mentioned, that will be work well done.
Five strategic priorities are set out in the draft Programme for Government. They are not about narrow party politics or sectional interests. Contrary to what some Members said, the Executive thought long and hard before deciding on those priorities. We considered a wide range of evidence, and the views of many stakeholders and interests, before deciding on them. They are the Executive’s agreed priorities, and we believe that we have got them right. They are about tackling our challenges head on and grasping the opportunity to build a better future for all our people.
Among the people in Northern Ireland, especially those on either side of the great divide between unionists and republicans or nationalists, no one can doubt that there has been a change in thinking. Even people who would not listen to me in the past are now prepared to shake hands with me. The other night, as I was getting off a plane, a lady at the end of the runway asked to shake my hand. I told her that she certainly could, and she told me that, 11 months ago, she would have slapped me in the face. I asked her not to do that, and she said that I would be surprised to know who she was — she was the Mother Superior of a local convent. I said, “Thank you, Madam.” We left, and I did not get a slap in the face.
There have been changes; changes are coming, and we should encourage people to go in the direction that we have debated about together. We have put forward our points of view; we have sought what is right, and we will win through in the end. I certainly hope that I will live to see that victory in this country and Province that I love.
Our plans are good news for everyone in Northern Ireland, and we urge all Members of the Assembly to join us on the journey ahead. Even Alliance Party members are welcome, although that party’s leader does not ring me or send me a letter; rather, he uses the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ to communicate with me. Nevertheless, for the good of my country, I am prepared to wear even that.
Mr Ford: Does the First Minister accept that before releasing information to the media, I wrote to him about consultation on the legislative programme, and that that letter was delivered to his office in this Building?
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: I am afraid that that letter never came to my hand.
Mr Ford: There is clearly a difference between the First Minister and me about the operation of the internal mail system. The First Minister should report that to the Speaker and to the Commission.
The First Minister: The honourable Member has communicated with me before; he knows my phone number at Parliament Buildings, and he can reach me when he wants to. However, I shall not answer letters that are sent to me publicly through any newspaper. I should not be expected to do that, despite all my gentleness and goodness of heart.
Our priorities for investment in infrastructure reflect our intention to put the economy first. Accelerating economic growth and improving the competitiveness of business are clear objectives of our investment strategy, which is designed to tackle years of underinvestment in our transport networks, water and waste infrastructure, schools, health and a range of other pressing concerns.
We are going to invest £5·6 billion over the next three years and at least £18 billion over the next 10 years. Those are record levels of investment, which will help to set the right conditions for economic growth and the creation of jobs. That investment will boost our construction industry, presenting it with an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen its capabilities.
I hope to go to the United States of America next week with colleagues from the House. We will try as best we can to persuade people to come and invest in Northern Ireland. The more investors create quality, well-paid jobs, the more our aims will be strengthened.
The investment strategy will create high-quality infrastructure to be enjoyed by all our people and will leave a positive legacy for generations to come. The Programme for Government will drive forward economic growth and sustainability. It will build a fairer society, in which everyone is valued and has the opportunity to realise their potential. I hope that all Members agree that those are worthwhile objectives for any Government.
The Executive welcome the very positive response that they have received on their choice of priorities and especially on making the economy their top priority. Many Members have supported those priorities during the debate, and I welcome that.
Once again, I am convinced that we have got the priorities right. My conviction about that has been reinforced by the positive response that we have received. For example, on behalf of the business community, the CBI has warmly welcomed the Programme for Government. The Institute of Directors and the North West Chamber of Commerce have also welcomed the fact that we have placed economic growth at the heart of the Programme for Government.
The National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland have welcomed our renewed commitment to increasing the number of adult learners and the strong focus on school- and university-leavers with regard to future economic growth and stability. The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, which represents the voluntary sector, has also recognised that a thriving economy should benefit everyone.
However, the economy is not the whole story. As I said, the Executive recognise that economic growth, social progress and environmental protection must go hand in hand. In delivering our priorities, a key objective will be to ensure that all our people contribute to, and benefit from, increased prosperity. We must use economic growth to tackle disadvantage and poverty.
I agree with other Members who said that we must ensure that there is balanced economic development across Northern Ireland and in every part of the Province. The Programme for Government and the investment strategy create the conditions for that.
This debate has played an important part in the consultation process on the Programme for Government and the investment strategy. I welcome the contributions that have been made. I wish the Committees well as they do their business and put forward their individual views. I trust that we will have help from all those who want to build this Province into a place that will be well worth living in.
A number of Members have commented on the need for clear baselines and milestones for the delivery of the commitments. The key goals and targets of our Programme for Government must be attained, and we must deliver our best for the people of the Province.
A number of Members expressed concern about the absence of information regarding how the Executive’s performance in delivering the Programme for Government and the investment strategy will be monitored and reported. Work is being taken forward to develop a clear performance management and delivery framework for agreement by the Executive. Details of those arrangements will be included in the final published versions of the documents.
With regard to public consultation, I can assure the House — and in particular Mr Kennedy, who is the Chairman of the Committee that looks after me and my colleagues — that we are determined that this will be a proper and genuine consultation process, in which everyone can get their oar in, and I trust that they will then pull for the shore as real good sailors on the ship.
The Executive must see to it that many people, particularly the most vulnerable in our community, get their rights and the sort of care that they need.
Mr McCarthy: Will the Minister give way?
The First Minister: Excuse me, I must finish.
I am glad that emphasis has been put on those who are old. I am getting old, and I am looking forward to a day when I can sit up in the Gallery and laugh down and say that I am glad that I have become old. However, no one should think that I am old at the moment; both my feet are working and ready for the task.
I also am glad of the emphasis placed on children. The children of Northern Ireland deserve our dedication, and I trust that we will live to see the day when they will be saved from poverty and have all the things that they have been deprived of in the past. The best thing that the children of this Province could have is a Province at peace with itself.
Mr Ford: In the course of his summary, the First Minister said that the Executive wanted to “make a real difference” to what has gone before. The tragedy of the situation that we are in has been highlighted by this debate today — the paucity of proposals in the Programme for Government, the lack of smartness in the public service agreements, and the vagueness of the investment strategy.
It is noteworthy that the comments that I have highlighted have not just come from these Benches — although the process was started by my pink-wellied colleague, the deputy leader of the Opposition. Even more surprisingly, those comments did not just come from our part-time allies on the Ulster Unionist and SDLP Benches. As my colleague Trevor Lunn pointed out, the great majority of contributions from the DUP and Sinn Féin Benches also highlighted the problems in the draft Programme for Government.
I welcome the fact that Members, in recognising what is wrong with the Programme for Government, are being somewhat more open than the First Minister alleged.
Why is it that, after a year of preparation, so much still needs to be done?
The principal theme of most of the DUP Back-Bench speeches was nothing to do with the Programme for Government, but took the opportunity to attack the Alliance Party — [Interruption.]
Sometimes the Members managed to weigh into the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, but they seemed to be unsure as to whether they were trying to woo them to support the programme, or attack them.
The programme is full of aspiration; and that may be desirable, but it is no substitute for action.
I thank Danny Kennedy for the way that he outlined, in a useful summary, the contents of the programme. His was almost the only contribution that dealt with simple facts. Naomi Long highlighted that the real issue was not the lack of quantity in the Programme for Government, but the poor quality of it, including in particular its total failure to tackle sectarianism.
It is impossible to address the serious issues of housing, jobs or education if we do not address the need to build a shared future. That is part of what we need to deal with those issues.
The next contribution came from Mrs Robinson, who started in the usual way by criticising the Alliance Party. She claimed that the programme was tightly focused. I must say, however, when I read the PSA framework, I see no tight focus there. Ms Anderson treated us to a discourse on equality and human rights. She mentioned the process of boats coming in, so much that I believe Naomi Long is hopeful of re-opening the shipyard.
I am not sure whether the sight of two equal MLAs sparring and spitting hatred across the Chamber is doing anything to build the society that we want. The issue is not about equality: it is about a shared future alongside equality and human rights.
In her positive contribution, Dolores Kelly stressed that sectarianism must be dealt with alongside equality.
The next two contributions were particularly interesting. For some reason, Dr McCrea forgot to attack the Alliance Party, and I thought that that was obligatory this afternoon. However, he went over the reservations of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee about all the failures of the Programme for Government. It was one of the best, and most constructive, speeches, and it pointed out everything that was not in the programme. Dr McCrea is no Back-Bencher: he is a fairly senior member of the DUP, and yet he highlighted the concerns of the Agriculture Committee, which represents the four parties of the Executive, about the programme. That was backed up by Tom Elliott in his contribution.
Immediately afterwards, Ms Ramsey made similar contributions in her capacity as Chairperson of the Employment and Learning Committee. She highlighted concerns ranging from PhDs to adult literacy and the issue of student finance — I was going to declare an interest in that, but it will take them so long to do anything that my youngest will be long past being a student. Those are the issues we face.
Gregory Campbell then spoke as Chairperson of the Social Development Committee. He emphasised the need for cross-departmental working, but I was unclear whether that was an aspiration or something that he felt needed to happen.
Mr McNarry made no such mistake. He pointed out that if there is no branch dealing with creative industries, it is difficult to ensure 15% growth in that area of the economy. He pointed out, as many others did in other respects, the need for intermediate targets across different areas. Dominic Bradley did so particularly strongly in relation to educational targets.
Mark Durkan, as Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, referred to his Committee’s concerns as to whether efficiency savings can be met, and to the need to identify milestones on the way to meeting the targets. He referred to the fact that there are no measures for the social economy and in that he was backed up by Ms Jennifer McCann. Mr McLaughlin similarly talked about the failure to detail the savings from efficiency. Speaking as Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee, Fred Cobain referred to the fact that sustainable development implementation is far too slow, and to the lack of targets in that area.
Sammy Wilson then got into the mood again with the usual barnstorming bluster to replace any argument. At least, unlike Mr McGuinness earlier today, he did not completely lose the run of himself. When he eventually got down to the business, he stressed the concerns of the Education Committee about the problems in the programme for the education sector. He highlighted problems in areas such as the Youth Service and in structural reforms. He is, therefore, yet another loyal member of one of the two parties of Government — there are definitely two parties in Government: I am not sure about the other two — who highlighted major concerns about what needs to be addressed.
Mr Shannon is clearly well in line for the most loyal Back-Bencher award. He made a good, strong attack on the Alliance Party to keep people happy. However, he nearly spoiled it by expressing his support for what is being done by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development despite the fact that Dr McCrea had criticised it. The DUP Whips should sort out the party line on agriculture.
Fred Cobain, during his contribution on regional development, talked about the lack of clarity and linkages between the PSAs and the draft investment strategy, and the aspirational nature of much of the strategy. Patsy McGlone, speaking as Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment, gave the full Committee view on the lack of consideration of matters such as climate change and the fact that departmental priorities have been excluded from the draft Programme for Government. In other words, the DUP Minister took proposals to the Executive table that have been rejected.
Mr Spratt made another quite good attack on the Alliance Party, and is doing well for a Back-Bencher, although he did not seem to have discussed some issues with his Committee Chairperson, Ms Ramsey, about which she seems less happy than he, and I am not sure how we deal with that.
Mr Alex Maskey criticised the prospect of a shared future, and quoted the waffle section of the draft Programme for Government, yet he did not acknowledge the fact that there are no goals, no targets, and no PSAs. Similarly, the point was made even more eloquently by my colleague Stephen Farry, when he pointed out that there can be no better future unless there is a shared future, and the use of the title ‘A Better Future’ if we are talking about a divided future, is not better for the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Storey made a particularly good attack. He attacked the Alliance Party, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, and even Sinn Féin, which was a bonus and was really inclusive. One does not have to agree with Ms Purvis’ economic analysis to say that her question “Where is the vision?” is a reasonable one, because there is no vision.
Mr Moutray forgot to attack to the Alliance Party, though he managed to attack the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP. Indeed, Basil McCrea made some interesting comments about the lack of concern for those who are less well-off. Declan O’Loan is suffering from the fact that he is being damned with faint praise by the DUP, but he made the point that the real fundamentals are not agreed between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Mr Simpson also sadly forgot to mention the Alliance Party, though he may learn in time for the next debate. Mr McCann made another useful contribution, as highlighted by Trevor Lunn, with his genuine concerns about the failure to deal with the housing budget, and yet so much more needs to be done.
I apologise that I cannot adequately deal with a five-hour debate in ten minutes, but I will jump forward to some points that were made by Dr Paisley. He said that devolution has provided a real opportunity; the fact is that the Executive have not grasped the opportunity with which they were provided. They produced waffle about talk of tolerance — what a weak phrase. The Alliance Party Members are the people on the Benches who are positive; we are the people who have a vision and who want to see a Government that consist of more than the “Chuckle Brothers” chuckling. We want to see a Government that actually deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the cynics on the DUP benches, who believe that that vision only means that the “Chuckle Brothers” chuckle, would like to tell the children in an integrated school watching a peace wall being built through their school grounds whether they will be able to live in a shared future, because those Members seem to think that chuckling is all that matters. I want to see real delivery for all the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Kennedy: May I restore calm to the House, in my usual measured way? I thank all the contributors to today’s debate and pay particular tribute to those Members who have stayed the course. I single out the First Minister, Dr Paisley, who has been present for most, if not all of the debate, and I compliment the leader of the Alliance Party, Mr Ford, who was present throughout — but, I suppose, the poor are with us always.
The debate has been wide-ranging of necessity, and therefore, I do not expect to be able to comment on all the issues.
Mr Ford took the opportunity, somewhat unusually, in his winding-up speech to refer to other Members’ statements. I will attempt to apprise the Assembly as to what took place earlier in the debate. Obviously, it was a long debate, but it has been worthwhile. The Speaker and the two Deputy Speakers have been used to good effect. Most of the big beasts of the political jungle have taken part. There is some kind of TV programme that is set in the jungle. In it, contestants who do not perform to reasonable expectations are evicted. I am not sure who will be evicted after the debate. Perhaps we will leave that for others to judge.
Some Members raised valid criticisms and suggestions, while others made stinging criticisms. Nevertheless, I hope that all the contributions will be taken seriously. Today, a message has been sent to the Executive, the Assembly and the wider public that everyone should take heed of the debate. The full range of Chairpersons or Deputy Chairpersons of each of the Statutory Committees all strutted their stuff, which reminded me slightly of ‘The X Factor’. However, I do not feel qualified to act like Simon Cowell.
I acknowledge the considerable assistance provided to all Members of the House —particularly those Members who spoke on behalf of Committees — by Committee officials and staff, in preparation for the debate. At times, I was tempted to get involved in some of the argy-bargy but, given my role today, that would have been unwise.
There was a general welcome for the priorities set out in the draft Programme for Government, as outlined by a significant number of Members. Jim Shannon invoked the image of the Wizard of Oz , although it is very apparent that he is not a friend of Dorothy. [Laughter.] He said that we need to recognise that there must be a shortlist of priorities, as set out in the draft Programme for Government, as resources are not unlimited.
Patsy McGlone, the Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment, welcomed the cross-cutting commitment to building a sustainable future. He emphasised the need for resources to deliver that objective. However, Dolores Kelly highlighted the lack of connection between the draft Programme for Government, the draft Budget and ISNI.
Questions continued to emerge throughout the debate, even from Members whose parties clearly support the draft Programme for Government, ISNI and the draft Budget. How will this be done? What do individual targets mean, on various issues? How will those targets be properly delivered, and who will retain responsibility for delivering particular targets? Specific comments were made about the proposed targets. Iris Robinson and Stephen Moutray welcomed the new, innovative and ambitious targets. Mark Durkan welcomed the proposals on investment and jobs, but underscored his comment by requesting careful monitoring.
Gregory Campbell expressed concerns about fuel poverty. Sue Ramsey expressed concerns about issues concerning literacy, numeracy and IT. Fred Cobain expressed concern about the need to achieve sustainable development.
Sue Ramsey spoke about the commercialisation of research. David McNarry felt that many of the targets set out in the Programme for Government were weak, and that the involvement of young people in sport could have been given greater priority. He felt that targets were missing from the Programme for Government, particularly in relation to the role of sport in tackling sectarianism.
Mitchel McLaughlin contended that some targets in relation to sustainable development had been changed, and that three-year targets should be moved forward and achieved earlier. Mark Durkan made the point that efficiencies would have to be made in the context of the Programme for Government and public expenditure, and reminded the House that the Executive do not have the ability or the overall financial clout to do anything about that.
The theme of the economy surfaced throughout the debate. Mark Durkan, Jimmy Spratt and Mervyn Storey mentioned the strong focus of the Programme for Government on the economy, and Mervyn Storey welcomed the draft Budget increases in areas that would be critical to the delivery of an improved economy. David Simpson was pleased that the economy was the top priority. Dr McCrea highlighted the need to reduce bureaucracy if agriculture was to contribute effectively to the economy. Mark Durkan sought clarity on the innovation funds and what they would deliver, and insisted that those funds should be supplementary and provide additional outcomes.
Dawn Purvis — almost a siren voice — said that the Programme for Government was neither truly economic nor just. She was concerned that no peace dividend was forthcoming, that no tax-raising powers were available, and that it was unfair that large companies would be subsidised.
In reference to the shared future strategy, Naomi Long and Declan O’Loan made stinging criticisms of the lack of objectives and actions to address divisions in the community and to bind our divided society together. Fred Cobain noted the change in emphasis from a shared future to “a better future”. Stephen Farry was unclear as to the meaning of “a better future”; he said that the concept of good relations was nowhere to be found in the Programme for Government.
Addressing inequality, Martina Anderson said that it was crucial that those who were most in need should not be left behind, and that a rising tide did not necessarily lift all boats. Dolores Kelly urged the Executive to tackle child poverty, as did Gregory Campbell and Jim Shannon. Basil McCrea expressed a general concern about a lack of focus on those who need support, and asked for answers on improving social mobility and education. Tom Elliott reminded the House of the need for a strategic plan to help those children who are most in need. [Interruption.]
I realise that Members have heard their colleagues’ contributions; it may be unhelpful to restate that I expected a little better attention from the House.
As Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Iris Robinson welcomed the Programme for Government’s focus on health promotion and screening targets.
Stephen Farry was concerned about the lack of focus on mental-health issues. Dr McCrea felt that greater priority should be given to agriculture and recognised the decline in the red meat and fish industries and the need to help them to increase competitiveness by reducing bureaucracy. He felt that targets were not challenging enough in some areas. However, Jim Shannon welcomed the investment in agriculture and rural development.
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment, Patsy McGlone, said that climate change should be given a higher profile in the draft Programme for Government. He was concerned about the impact of efficiencies on planning and the need for the Planning Appeals Commission and the Water Appeals Commission to be well resourced. Cathal Boylan said that there should be a commitment to the establishment of an independent environmental protection agency.
Peter Weir welcomed the commitment to reduce the number of road deaths. Many Members welcomed the priority given to tackling the housing crisis and to increasing social housing, but emphasised the need for action across Government to provide that. Others were more critical and said that there was a need for additional resources for social housing and for the draft Programme for Government to be strengthened in that area.
Concerns were expressed about the legislation relating to the education and skills authority and the likelihood that efficiency savings will be delivered. Jennifer McCann felt that investing in skills was essential and that there was a need to address the attainment gap. Jimmy Spratt welcomed the targets to improve skill levels, but Basil McCrea questioned why we are not investing more in that area. Stephen Moutray welcomed the range of actions and targets to improve the lives of children and young people. [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr Kennedy: The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel, Mitchel McLaughlin, gave a commitment to ensure efficient and effective public services.
On the investment strategy, Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney said that there was a need to tackle regional disparities and investment, and not simply to promote regional balance. The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, David McNarry, was concerned about the lack of detail in the investment strategy, which hinders Committee scrutiny.
Mark Durkan welcomed the commitment to invest in technology infrastructure. Sammy Wilson had concerns about the ability of the Department of Education to deliver large infrastructure projects. Jennifer McCann was concerned about delays that may be created as a result of PFI. The Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development, Fred Cobain, raised the need for clarity in relation to how the pillars in the investment strategy relate to the draft Programme for Government priorities. Jimmy Spratt thought that the investment strategy demonstrated that the Executive meant business by investing in education.
We moved through the lengthy but useful debate. Other Members, such as Dominic Bradley, spoke about educational issues. Nelson McCausland mentioned that it was good for resources to be invested in cultural tourism. Michelle O’Neill challenged the statement about 100% broadband and its high cost in rural areas. Trevor Lunn said that there was a lack of new actions and targets, and added that many targets were restatements of existing commitments.
Simon Hamilton highlighted the benefits of the draft investment strategy and gave the example of the proposed rapid-transport system. Mary Bradley made an impassioned plea for free personal care on behalf of older people, and she also highlighted the plight of the homeless.
I thank the First Minister for his response to the motion. I particularly welcome his comments on the contribution that Committees make; the importance placed on those contributions, and his assurance that Committees have had, and will continue to have, an important input into the draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. I also welcome the First Minister’s commitment to a genuine consultation process and the public aspects of that process. I hope that account will be taken of the many useful comments and views expressed during today’s debate before both the documents are finalised.
I hope that I have been able to reflect some of the main points that were raised in the debate. The points that I have missed will, of course, be contained in the Hansard report. No doubt, that report will make for essential bedtime reading tomorrow night. The purpose of the debate was to afford Members an opportunity to make the Executive aware of their views on the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, and, in that regard, I believe that it has been a success.
I am mindful of my position as Chairman of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, so it would be unwise for me to comment in detail on the amendment in the names of Mr Ford and other Alliance Party Members. It will be for Members to decide whether they will support that amendment, and I have no doubt that individual Members, and parties, will determine that for themselves. I trust that the Executive will take careful account of the views expressed today and the views of the Committees as expressed in our forthcoming report.
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate, and I commend the motion to the Assembly.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 24; Noes 50.
Mr Beggs, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley,
Mr P J Bradley, Mr Burns, Mr Cobain, Mr Cree,
Mr Elliott, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mrs Hanna,
Mrs D Kelly, Ms Lo, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn,
Mr A Maginness, Mr McCarthy, Mr B McCrea,
Mr McGlone, Mr McNarry, Mr O’Loan, Ms Purvis, Mr P Ramsey, Mr B Wilson.
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Lunn and Mr McCarthy.
Mr Boylan, Mr Brady, Mr Bresland, Mr Brolly,
Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr Butler, Mr T Clarke, Mr W Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Dodds, Mr Donaldson, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch,
Mr Irwin, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann,
Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCausland,
Mr I McCrea, Mrs McGill, Mr McHugh,
Miss McIlveen, Mr McLaughlin, Mr McQuillan,
Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mrs O’Neill, Mr Paisley Jnr,
Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Mr Poots, Ms S Ramsey,
Mr G Robinson, Mrs I Robinson, Mr P Robinson,
Mr Ross, Mr Shannon, Mr Simpson, Mr Spratt,
Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr S Wilson.
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Buchanan and Mr Moutray.
The following Member voted in both Lobbies and is therefore not counted in the result: Mr Kennedy.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes the draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and the draft Investment Strategy 2008-2018.
Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The structure of the Assembly is built around a mandatory coalition that was negotiated principally by the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. The Programme for Government is the basis on which any coalitiwon Government are able to progress. Lest there be any doubt at a later stage, without an agreed Programme for Government, there cannot be government.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Adjourned at 9.22 pm.
[EXTRACT HANSARD FOR 26 NOVEMBER 2007]
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
Committee Office Room 404
Belfast BT4 3XX
Tel: (028) 9052 1677
Fax: (028) 9052 1083
Date: 9 November 2007
Draft Programme for Government 2008-2011 and Draft Investment Strategy 2008-2018
The First Minister and deputy First Minister announced the draft Programme for Government (PfG) and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI) in the Assembly on Thursday 25 October 2007.
At the request of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has agreed to liaise with the other Assembly Statutory Committees and co-ordinate the responses on the draft PfG and draft ISNI in a published report. The Committee also intends to table a ‘take note’ motion to enable an Assembly debate to take place on the draft PfG and ISNI towards the end of November 2007.
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister therefore invites each Statutory Committee to put forward its view on the draft PfG and ISNI by Wednesday 28 November 2007. This will enable a co-coordinated report to be published and presented to the First Minister and deputy First Minister prior to Christmas recess and the end of the consultation period on 4 January 2008.
The Committee has also agreed broad themes and issues which Committees may wish to follow when taking evidence from their respective departments and in structuring responses and these are attached at Annex 1.
I look forward to receiving the response from your Committee.
Danny Kennedy MLA
Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
Suggested Themes for Committee Responses
Draft Programme for Government/PSA Framework
1. Committee views on the overarching aim, strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes (pages 2, 3 and 4) of the Programme for Government.
Committees may also wish to propose additional priorities. If so, it would be helpful if they could indicate whether they would wish to replace an existing priority with the new priority being proposed.
2. Committee views on key goals in relation to the strategic priorities of interest to the Committee. Committees may in particular wish to comment on the relevance, SMARTness and deliverability of the goals.
Committees may also wish to indicate if there are other goals that would seem critical to the delivery of a strategic priority and which have not been included. If this is the case Committees may wish to consider if there are goals which could be replaced or removed.
3. Committee views on the proposals for delivering the aims and priorities including in particular whether the proposals set out in the PfG will ensure the delivery of the cross-cutting priorities of a better future, which embraces fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity, and sustainability.
In particular, views would be welcomed on whether the proposals set out in PfG and the related PSAs will adequately address patterns of disadvantage and tackle inequalities.
4. Committee views on whether the objectives and targets set out in the PSAs are SMART and adequately aligned with the strategic priorities.
5. Committee views on whether the actions set out in the PSAs will deliver the objectives and targets and on whether there is clarity regarding which Department has lead responsibility for the delivery of each action.
Committees may also wish to propose additional actions/targets. If so, it would be helpful if they could indicate whether they would wish to replace an existing action/target with the new one being proposed.
Draft Investment Strategy
6. Committee views on how the objectives, priorities and investment framework in the Investment Strategy align with and contribute to the delivery of PfG priorities, goals and targets.
7. Committee views on the funding allocated to the Investment Pillars in 2008-2011 and 2011/12- 2017/18 and whether the allocations reflect the PfG priorities.
8. Committee views on the key goals and milestones for those Investment Pillars of interest to the Committee.
Committees may also wish to propose additional key goals/milestones. If so, it would be helpful if they could indicate whether they would wish to replace an existing goal/milestone with the new goal/milestone being proposed.
9. Committee views on the adequacy of arrangements for delivery of the Investment Strategy, whether there is clarity regarding which Department has lead responsibility for the delivery of each milestone and on the capability of Departments to deliver their responsibilities in full.
10. Committee views on the role of procurement in delivering the objectives of the Investment Strategy.
Programme for Government and Investment Strategy Information and Process
11. Committee views on the structure, accessibility, quality and relevance of the information provided in relation to PfG and the Investment Strategy, including views on additional information that would assist the Committee in undertaking its scrutiny role.
12. Committee views on how the process to develop PfG and the Investment Strategy could be improved.
Written Submission by: Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (the Committee) formally considered the above at it’s meeting of 20 November 2007 and would make it’s response to you below. I have recorded these comments using the themes suggested in your letter of 9 November 2007.
1. Overarching aim, strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes of the PfG
The Committee agrees with the principles expounded in the draft PfG, particularly in relation to “raising standards”. The Committee takes its scrutiny role very seriously and has had the long established objective to ensure that the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is held accountable for its actions.
The Committee subscribes to the view that the Department needs to pursue an innovative and productive economy, particularly in relation to the means that “protect and enhance the physical and natural environment”. Farming and the farming community remain the backbone of the rural and, arguably, the wider Northern Ireland economy and are very much the guardians of the environment. The Committee is of the opinion that these sectors need, therefore, to be supported and enhanced to ensure the protection of the natural environment within Northern Ireland. This is all the more relevant given the recent findings of the Red Meat task force and the state of the Northern Ireland pig and fishing industries.
The Committee would wish, therefore, to propose the following:
- Countering the findings of the Red Meat task force and the support and development of the red meat, pig and fishing industries;
- The eradication, rather than reduction, of TB and Brucellosis in Northern Ireland; and
- The promotion of Northern Ireland origined produce.
2. Key Goals and Strategic Priorities
The Committee would make the following comments:
- Grow a dynamic innovative economy: The Committee welcomes the investment of £45m on improving the competitiveness of the agricultural sector. However, there is no indication of how these monies are to be used to achieve this objective. Indeed, such a substantial amount of money does not merit a mention under the key goals;
- Promote tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being: Again, the Committee welcomes the investment of £10m against this goal but queries what this money will be allocated against;
- Protect and enhance our environment and natural resources: DARD expresses its intent to increase to 50% (from what?) the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental enhancement agreements. The Committee has heard arguments that this will herald the end of intensive farming in Northern Ireland and would seek assurances that this is not the case. In addition, the Committee cannot understand how TB/Brucellosis reductions fit into this objective. The Committee will make comment on the targets at a later stage. With regards to the nitrates directive, the Committee would hope that other Northern Ireland Civil Service departments will react accordingly to this goal, particularly in respect of planning applications.
- Invest to build our infrastructure: The Committee welcomes the investment of £100m in respect of diversification within rural businesses. However, the Committee remains very concerned that insufficient focus is being provided towards the red, pig and fishing sectors within the Northern Ireland economy;
- Deliver modern high quality and efficient public services: the Committee welcomes the reduction in the administrative burden on farmers but queries how the Department will achieve this and against what baseline the Department intends measuring. The Committee, at its last meeting, agreed to bring a Committee Bill seeking to implement the motion agreed by the Assembly to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. The Committee would, again, call on the Department to enact the Assembly’s wishes and remove this level of bureaucracy with immediate effect. With regards to the establishment of “one-stop shops”, the Committee is currently considering this matter and reserves judgement at this point. Whilst the Committee welcomes the proposed challenging reductions in the Department’s administration and resource budgets, the Committee does not wish to see a reduction in front-line services to the farming community, particularly at this time of crisis within the industry;
The Committee calls on the Department and the Executive to consider re-prioritisation of departmental objectives in the light of the Red Meat task force findings and the decline of the pig and fish industries.
3. Proposals for the delivery of aims and priorities
The Committee is concerned that agriculture, arguably the only remaining Northern Ireland industry, does not feature as prominently as it should. Whilst there is some indication of targets, mainly the application of substantial, and welcomed, amounts of money against vague programmes, it remains difficult to see how this PfG will support and enhance the industry and the communities it supports. The Committee is of the view that the priorities for the industry, and the wider economy, changed with the publication of the Red Meat task force report and with the continued decline of the pig and fishing industries. The Committee is also concerned at some contradictions detailed in the PSA’s, for example seeking to reduce the bureaucratic burden on farmers by 25% whilst increasing the number of farms complying with cross-compliance requirements, one of the greatest forms of bureaucracy faced by farmers, to 90%.
Whilst the investment of £10 specifically on tackling rural poverty and disadvantage is welcome, the Committee would like more detail before voicing their final opinion. The Committee remains of the view, however, that the Executive and the Department could remove greater disadvantage by insisting on the same high levels of welfare and animal health on meat exports deriving from South America.
4. Alignment of objectives against strategic priorities
The objectives and targets defined in the PSA, and relating to DARD, are, on the whole, vague and do not indicate how they will contribute to the overall priorities of the PfG. For example:
- Investing £45m to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, including £10m to support the modernisation of farms. This investment is welcome but there is no indication as to what the competitiveness baseline is, what level of increase is to be sought nor how this investment will result in increased competitiveness;
- Reduce bureaucracy by 25% by 2013 (15% by 2011). Again, from what level and how is this to be achieved?
- Reductions in incidence levels of TB and Brucellosis. The Committee strongly advocates that this target should be re-written to read “the eradication of TB/Brucellosis by 2013, which would bring Northern Ireland into line with the vast majority of the EU. The Committee is concerned that the Department has established a “comfort zone” with regards to these diseases;
- Reducing the number of properties at significant risk of flooding from 28,000 to 27,700 by 2011. The Committee would query whether this is challenging enough, particularly in light of the experiences of Cushendun and Cushendall earlier in the year.
The Committee would wish to see targets established to protect, support and enhance:
- The red meat sector
- The pig sector
- The fishing sector
The Committee is also concerned that using the term “up to...” (e.g. up to 4,700 farmers adhering to the nitrates directive) allows the Department an opportunity to consider failure as success, e.g. if only 4,000 adhere to the directives, the Department will still have achieved its targets. The Committee would call on such targets to be strengthened.
5. Clarity and “deliverabilitiy” of objectives and targets
The Committee remains to be convinced whether the objectives and targets within the PSA’s are both measurable and deliverable. The Committee believes that the Department needs to re-prioritise in light of the severe difficulties facing the red meat, pig and fishing sectors. The Committee is of the opinion that the Department needs to establish long-term strategic goals to retrieve the industry from these difficulties rather than the current short-term “hits”.
The Committee would propose the following as a start:
- Eradicate TB and Brucellosis by 2013;
- Develop a strategic approach to countering the difficulties facing the red meat and pig sectors by August 2008.
6. Objectives, Priorities and Investment framework in the Investment Strategy
The Committee would be concerned that compliance with the nitrates directive, whilst a priority within the Department, might not attract the same categorisation within other very, relevant government functions, for example the planning service.
The Committee is conducting an inquiry into renewable energy and alternative land use and would hope to contribute more substantively to this investment strategy which, as it stands, is very vague.
The Committee would have preferred to see an agriculture pillar, not just as the largest industry in Northern Ireland but also in light of the well-publicised decline of the red meat and pig sectors. The Committee is concerned that, even under the Environment pillar, agriculture, arguably the backbone of the environment, is reduced to a mere mention under “water and waste water, waste management, flood risk management, environment”.
This is equally applicable to the “Productive” pillar, where the emphasis appears to be on the £10m farm moderisation programme and compliance with EU directives. The Committee opinion is that the Department needs to be taking a more prominent and proactive role in tackling the crises of the collapse of the red meat and pig industries.
7. Funding Allocations in the ISNI
The Committee is concerned at the apparent reliance on Executive funds only. The Committee has often called on the Department to explore and exploit alternative funding sources to enable the Northern Ireland agricultural sector to compete on a level playing field with close EU and global competitors.
8. Committee interest in Key goals and milestones
The Committee comments on the goals and milestones are detailed above.
The Committee would wish to see a separate distinct agriculture pillar and believes that this is necessary, given the current dreadful state of the industry.
9. Arrangements for the delivery of the ISNI
The Committee notes that there is little clarity regarding which department or function will take the lead in achieving the goals and milestones identified, for example, in relation to the environment and flood risks.
10. Role of Procurement in delivering the objectives of the ISNI
The Committee believes that there is scope for procurement playing a central role in the delivery of these objectives and has called on a centralised procurement exercise for the purchase of Northern Ireland origined agricultural produce within the public sector.
26 November 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure
Programme for Government
Overarching aim, strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes of the Programme for Government
The Committee noted the overall aim of the Programme for Government – ‘to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come’. The Committee suggested that reference should be made to the ‘shared future’ concept.
The Committee was of the view that in relation to the top priority of growing a dynamic, innovative economy, there is a huge potential for cultural tourism to contribute to the economy. The Committee believes that a more joined up approach between the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment /Northern Ireland Tourist Board could maximise the potential that cultural tourism can bring to the Northern Ireland economy.
The Committee was of the view that the role of fishing also needs to be recognised. Fishing is a growing sport in the United Kingdom. Many people from Northern Ireland currently go to the Republic to take advantage of the fishing facilities there. Northern Ireland has equally good facilities and they should be utilised. Inland fishing has the potential for growth, potential for the economy and the potential for creating jobs.
Key goals in relation to the strategic priorities
One of the key goals in relation to growing the economy is to grow the creative industries sector by up to 15% by 2011. Clarity is required on what exactly is meant by ‘creative industries’ and whether it includes cultural tourism. While growing creative industries is an admirable target, the Committee notes that the Department is still exploring opportunities to secure additional funds from the innovation Fund to increase activity in this area– this suggests that inadequate funding is contained in the Draft Budget. The Minister has informed the Committee that his Department does not have a dedicated creative industries branch – therefore the Committee would query how DCAL will be able to deliver this ambitious target. The Committee has been informed that DCAL will work in partnership with DE, DEL and DETI on this target. However, the Committee is of the view that clarity is needed as to which Department will have the lead responsibility for meeting this target.
The Committee is of the view that it is not clear which Department has the lead on the goal of ‘Promoting tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being’. In relation to the DCAL target for ‘Promoting tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being’, which is for Northern Ireland to host at least 10 countries at training camps for the 2012 Olympics or Paralympics, the Committee believes this is a soft and easy target. The Committee believes that DCAL can have a real impact on promoting tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being through arts and sport which can deliver community integration. These are real issues which should be included in the target, as well as tackling the problems of sectarianism in sport.
One of the targets is to invest £110 million in sports facilities by 2011, thereby ensuring a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games. The Committee is concerned that there is no detail available about how this money will be allocated, which sports will benefit and what the geographical spread of the funding will be. The Committee would also query how much of this money has been previously ‘ring-fenced’ and therefore there may be very little ‘new money’ for sports infrastructure. Clarity is required on all of these issues. The Committee is also concerned that there is still a great deal of uncertainty in relation to the proposed multi-sports stadium and how and when the various issues will be resolved.
The Committee believes that the target of getting 125,000 young people participating in sport by 2011 is weak. There should be benchmarks along the way – how many young people will be in sport by 2009? By 2010? How will the Department measure this target? The Committee also is curious as to the role of the Department of Education in this target – surely all young people should be participating in sport while at school? There is also the issue of funding – where is the money to pay for the coaches and facilities to allow young people and those with disabilities to participate in sport at a community level? The Committee notes with concern that there is no funding allocation in the DCAL Draft Budget for capital projects at a community level.
In relation to the priority of ‘Protect and enhance our environment and natural resources’, the Committee is concerned that there is no reference to the role of inland fishing. DCAL does have a role in the protection and conservation of salmon and inland fisheries. Our rivers need to be protected, and there may be a need for the setting up of an Independent Environmental Protection Agency.
Public Service Agreements (PSAs)
PSA 4 (Supporting Rural Businesses) – This PSA gives DCAL a role and the Department has advised that its role is to distribute any allocation it receives from the European Fisheries Fund. However, despite this role all of the targets relate to DARD. The Committee would question why no specific target is required of DCAL in this PSA.
PSA 5 (Tourism) – This PSA only gives DCAL a role in terms allocating capital money into buildings. The Committee is of the view that DCAL needs to be much more innovative in terms of how it can contribute to tourism, particularly cultural tourism. More detail is also needed on how DCAL will work with local councils and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment / Northern Ireland Tourist Board to achieve its tourist potential.
PSA 6 (Children and Family) – This PSA makes reference to re-establishing a Ministerial sub-committee on Children. The Committee is of the view that this target is too vague. Specific targets are needed regarding when the sub-committee will be set up, when it will report and to whom.
In relation to the target of having 125,000 children participating in sport and physical recreation by 2011. The Committee is concerned that DCAL does not have the resources to meet this target in the Draft Budget but will have to pursue avenues of funding in the coming years. The Committee is also concerned that there is no corresponding target for getting young people to participate in arts and cultural activities.
PSA 8 (Promoting health and addressing health equalities) – This PSA gives DCAL a target of halting the decline in adult participation in sport. The Committee is concerned that there is inadequate funding available in the draft Budget to deliver this target. The Committee would ask whether any money in the Health Budget could be set aside to assist with this target, and it would advocate a dual approach between DCAL and the Department of Health.
PSA 9 (Promoting access to culture, arts and leisure) – Again the Committee is of the view that all the targets for DCAL need to be backed up by appropriate funding.
This PSA refers to the Northern Ireland Library Authority. One of the targets is to maintain present levels of customer satisfaction. The Committee believes this is a soft target and that a more challenging target is required. The Committee believes that the new library authority should be accountable at a local level, and further detail is needed in this PSA as to how that accountability will be achieved.
This PSA has a target of increasing the proportion of National Museums collections that are available on the internet. The Committee is of the view that a percentage target should be agreed as soon as possible between the Department and National Museums Northern Ireland.
PSA 10 (Helping our children and young people through education) – This PSA gives DCAL a responsibility in relation to a literacy and numeracy strategy for young people. However, the Department has informed the Committee that it does not have a responsibility in this area, and that it’s only role is to provide access to informal learning through museums. If this is the case, the Committee would query why DCAL is listed as having a responsibility under this PSA. The Committee is of the view that the public library service, which does fall under the DCAL remit, should be included as having a role in relation to literacy and numeracy.
PSA 12 (Housing, urban regeneration and community development) – The Committee is aware that the DCAL Minister appointed a new Ministerial Advisory Group in September 2007 to advise him on the implementation of the Architecture and Built Environment Policy. Therefore, the Committee would expect to see a target for this Ministerial Advisory Group which sets out how and when it will report, and how its success or otherwise will be measured.
Draft Investment Strategy
Cross cutting objectives
The Committee has also examined the Investment Strategy. It noted the 3 cross cutting themes of Economic, Societal, and Environmental. Given the importance of culture and the wider benefits it brings to society, the Committee would suggest that ‘Cultural’ is included as a cross cutting theme.
Investment Pillars 2008 - 2011
In relation to the Investment Pillar of Skills, DCAL has been allocated £31 million. The Committee cannot say whether this amount will be adequate to modernise the library service as DCAL has not provided it with details on how the £31 million will be spent.
Regarding the Investment Pillar of Social, DCAL has been allocated £210 million for culture, arts and leisure. Again the Committee cannot say whether this amount will be adequate because it does not know how it will be broken down.
Delivery of Investment Strategy
The Committee is of the view that there is a lack of clarity on whether government department are dependent upon the sale of land in order to be able to deliver their programmes.
The Committee was of the view that DCAL did not provide it with sufficient information on how it intends to allocate its capital spend in order to allow the Committee to fully assess the Investment Strategy.
The Committee was of the view that the Public Service Agreements are not sufficiently detailed so as to provide absolute clarity on which Department has the lead responsibility for delivering a target.
In conclusion, the Committee is of the view that there is insufficient information provided in the Draft Investment Strategy to allow for a proper assessment of it to be made, and in future would ask that the Executive work to ensure a much more comprehensive document is produced.
29 November 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Education
Background and Analysis
1. The Committee for Education commenced its scrutiny of the CSR 07, the Draft PfG and Draft ISNI in relation to education through a Departmental briefing session at its meeting of 7 September 2007. This was followed up by comprehensive briefings from senior officials on the Draft Budget, Draft PfG and Draft ISNI on 9 and 16 November 2007, culminating in a presentation from and discussion with the Minister of Education on 20 November.
2. Through its role in providing opportunity for all children and young people and preparing them for life and work, and in reforming Education administration, Education contributes to the PfG priorities of:
- a dynamic, innovative economy
- Promoting tolerance, inclusion and health & well-being
- Delivering modern, high-quality and efficient public services.
The Committee welcomes the statement under the PFG’s top priority of Growing the Economy that ‘Building a strong economy requires a healthy, well educated population…’. This is reflected in key goals under each of these priorities and underpinned by Public Service Agreement (PSA) aims, objectives, actions and targets. The key education goals for the first two priorities are:
- Ensuring by 2011 that 70% of school leavers achieve 5 or more GCSE passes at A* to C;
- Achieving a position by 2011 where 30% of school leavers entitled to free school meals obtain GCSE passes at A* to C in English and Maths.
(see the Committee’s concerns, regarding these two goals, reflected below under PSA 10 & 19)
While the key education goal under the third priority is:
- Establishing an Education & Skills Authority by 2009.
To support these priorities and help realise these specific goals are by a range of education-related PSAs, in particular under:
- PSA 2 – Skills for Prosperity
- PSA10 – Helping our Children and Young People to achieve through education
- PSA 16 – Investing in the Education Estate
- PSA 19 – Raising Standards in Schools
- PSA 20 – Improving Public Services
3. The Committee for Education, primarily through its scrutiny of the draft Budget proposals, would make the following observations on the PfG specific education key goals, education-related PSAs and the aims, objectives, actions and targets within individual PSAs.
The Committee’s primary concern is that the available resources from the Draft Budget may not allow specific education-related PSA actions and targets to be met. Depending on the Budget final allocations and the Minister’s decisions on the allocation of the available resources for education, some of the PSA actions and targets may well have to be revised and/or scaled back as appropriate. In particular, the Committee would have concerns about the achievement of:
- PSA 2 – Objective 3 actions and targets regarding DE’s implementation of the Careers Education, Information Strategy; the introduction of Learning for Life in the School Curriculum and the development and implementation of the Entitlement Framework.
- PSA 2 – Objective 4 regarding the increase in skills & career choices in STEM subjects, associated actions and targets.
- PSA 6 – Objective 1 actions to take forward the Early Years Strategy and associated targets.
- PSA 10 – Objective 1 target regarding delivering the DE element of the new Early Years Strategy.
- PSA 10 – Objective 2 action regarding the implementation of Literacy & Numeracy and School Improvement Policy and the associated target (which contributes to one of the key education goals) i.e. increasing to 30% of students by 2011, with entitlement to free school meals, gaining a Level 2 qualification by the time they leave school. The Committee considers this target should be revised to reflect educational achievements at the age of 11 and/or earlier.
- PSA 10 – Objective 2 action regarding improved access to the youth service for young people most at risk of exclusion and associated target
- PSA 10 – Objective 3 regarding the Special Educational Needs objective, action and target
- PSA 16 – Objective 4 actions, particularly to improve the strategic planning of the school estate and associated target
- PSA 19 – Objectives 1, 2 & 3 regarding raising standards in our schools, associated actions and targets – all targets by 2011 are dependent on the timely implementation of School Improvement policy, the Revised Curriculum, the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, the Special Needs Policy and revised Alternative Education Provisions.
The Committee considers the education key goal of ‘Ensuring by 2011 that 70% of school leavers achieve 5 or more GCSE passes at A* to C’ should be revised to read ‘Ensuring by 2011 that 80% of school leavers achieve 5 or more GCSE passes at A* to C, to include English and Maths’.
4. Turning now to the Draft ISNI 2008 – 2018, one of the proposed six investment Pillars has a specific School and Youth Services Sub-Pillar. The Committee welcomes the recognition in the Draft Budget and ISNI that it is important to deliver over the next 10 years a modern and sustainable school (and youth) estate with links to the further education across the region, to support the development of a well-educated populace with the skills to engage fully and positively in society and the economy. The Draft PfG proposed PSA 16 ‘investing to provide a modern fit-for-purpose education estate in line with best practice and ensuring VFM’ sets out DE’s specific objective (Objective 4) actions and targets in this area. The Committee sees it important to replace deficient school buildings, but alongside this an area-based cross-sectoral planning approach must be development and implemented as soon as possible. However, as set out in paragraph 4 above, the Committee would have concerns because of resource constraints and depending on how final Budget resource allocations are used, that the implementation of an area-based planning approach may be delayed. The Committee would very much agree that schools of the future may also perform extended roles in communities. A total of £714.5m is proposed for allocation to Schools and Youth Services over the 3-year Budget period, with an indicative allocation of £2,792m over the remaining 7 years (£3,506m in total). This will enable over 100 major schools projects (previously announced) to be taken forward over the period, including 8 special needs schools, as well as continued investment in the school estate.
5. The Committee noted that this will include both conventionally funded and PFI projects and that the Department is currently analysing anticipated profiles of project capital spend to determine how best to manage the delivery of the projects within the budget allocations. The Committee will carefully scrutinise the Department’s Investment Delivery Plans under the new procurement framework when published early 2008, as the Committee has concerns about delays in school capital projects, as shown by the £20m education capital underspend reported in 2006 – 07. In particular, the Committee will be asking for feedback from DE on what additional resources for investment can be found from the disposal of DE assets under the new ‘Capital Realisation Taskforce’ set up by OFMDFM and DFP. In this respect the Committee notes the assumption that DE capital receipts from the disposal of surplus assets over the three-year budget period is £48.5m and welcomes the Executive’s view that schools are a priority area if additional capital funds materialise as a result of this Taskforce.
3 December 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Employment and Learning
Overarching aim, strategic priorities and cross – cutting themes
1. The Committee for Employment and Learning (‘the Committee’) considers the role the Department for Employment and Learning as central to the delivery of two of the following two key priorities in the Programme for Government (‘PfG’). These are:
- Growing a dynamic and innovative economy; and
- Promote tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being
The role of the Department in delivering on both an innovative approach to economic development and working towards reducing social disadvantage and poverty is critical.
2. The Committee wishes to see the Department working in a fully joined up and integrated manner to deliver on key PfG goals. In particular, on key economic issues, there needs to be close working relationship between the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. On essential skills, joint working between the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education is viewed as critical.
3. In briefings that the Committee has received to date, the importance of developing the economy has been stressed as the key priority. The Executive has clearly stressed that it is to be economic development that will be the main instrument to lift people out of poverty and positions of social disadvantage. The delivery of a challenging skills and learning agenda is clearly central to this.
4. Similarly, it has been stressed to the Committee that we are moving to a highly technical, knowledge - based economy and that, in addition to increasing the skills base, innovation and research and development capacity is central to developing a leading local economy. The Committee looks forward to working with the Department in striving for a robust modern economy.
Key goals and strategic priorities
5. The Committee welcomes and supports the Commitment within the PfG of the focus on small and medium sized businesses. A number of Members of the Committee bring significant private sector experience to the Committee setting and continually stress the need for support, for example R & D and skills support, to be geared towards the SME sector.
The Committee considers that the demand - led approach being pursued by the Department, if appropriately resourced, should allow this to happen.
6. The Committee will be taking a very keen interest in the welfare reform agenda and the Executive’s focus on reducing economic inactivity rates. The Committee is keen to see this achieved. However, the Committee would wish to see this achieved within a robust and highly professional environment. The ‘Pathways to Work’ initiative offers the vehicle for this to happen. As with the Committee’s scrutiny of the rollout of ‘Training for Success’ however, the Committee will to monitor the Pathways programme to be satisfied that it delivers not only the employment opportunities required, but also serves to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
7. The PfG states very clearly that there will be an increase of 300 PhDs by 2010. The Committee strongly supports this within the context of economic development. However, the Committee has concluded that there currently does not appear to be the resources to fulfil this commitment. The Committee hears continually about the negative impact of the so-called ‘brain drain’. The additional PhDs proposed offers the ideal opportunity for the brightest in our society to remain and conduct technological research in our two excellent universities. If the Executive is stressing the need for high value jobs, then leading edge research has a key role to play in this. The Committee would wish to see this PfG commitment on PhDs delivered in full.
8. The PfG also has a key commitment relating to the university sector and the commercialisation of college research with a target set for this to be complete by 2010. The Committee is unclear as to what this actually involves and is not convinced that there is anything new in this commitment. The Committee would ask for clarity on what precisely this involves and what differentiates it from other statements related to increased commercial focus within the university sector.
9. Closely linked to this, is the goal to secure £120m private sector investment and to encourage 300 companies to become engaged in R & D activity for the first time. Again the Committee is very supportive of this goal. However, the Committee has found it very difficult to get clarity on how much funding will actually be available for levering and supporting innovation. The Committee would ask that in supporting this PfG goal, there is an urgent clear statement of intent from the Executive with regard to innovation funding in order that the private sector and the universities can plan to allow for the achievement of this goal.
10. Essential skills is a clear priority for the Committee and this is reflected in the PfG. This relates to the proposed 90,000 adult learners achieving a qualification in literacy, numeracy and ICT by 2015. This whole area has been on the Committee agenda effectively every week since devolution and it has indeed been discussed extensively during many plenary debates within the Assembly. The Committee acknowledges that the Department is working extremely hard in this area. However, the Committee was alarmed to see the poor CSR outcome on this area. The Committee has received assurances from the Department that it considers the resources available to address this as a ‘good start’ and something to build upon. The Committee will be closely monitoring this position and would urge that resources going into this area are kept continually under review against targets.
11. The Committee again supports the goal to increase students going into STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the parallel goal of increasing numbers of higher education students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the Committee sees these as two separate issues. The Committee has expressed a strong desire to see the outcome of the research and review of variable student fees on the profile of students taking up courses at our universities and the Committee will be returning to the issue of general student finance in the new - year.
As already mentioned, the Committee will be scrutinising the implementation of the Pathways initiative as it rolls out from its pilot phase to complete coverage by April 2008. The introduction of the Employment and Support Allowance in April 2008 is a major policy change highlighted in the PfG and there are obvious overlaps with the work of Department of Social Development. The Committee recently received very welcome and encouraging correspondence from the Minister for Employment and Learning on the front-line services being delivered by the Jobs and Benefits Offices. The Minister was greatly enthused and impressed by the new personalised service delivery model in place. The Committee will be following up on this assessment in very near future.
12. The PfG highlights the new careers service to be put in place. From the Committee’s perspective, the provision of quality and comprehensive careers advisory services for adults is a priority. The Committee has been told continually by the Department that the training and careers needs for those currently in work will be extensive as the structure of the economy changes. In addition to the broader economic development agenda, those adults currently excluded from mainstream careers and education advice have very specific needs requiring specialist services. The Committee has expressed some concern that those currently involved in the delivery of both guidance and actual courses are facing an uncertain funding future, making it very difficult for community sector providers to plan in the medium and longer term. The Committee would ask that this delivery continues to be a priority for the Department and that this is reinforced with the development of the long promised Learner Access and Support strategy at the earliest possible opportunity.
28 November 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment
1. The Committee is required to report to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister by 28 November giving its views on the Programme for Government, PSA Framework and the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland.
2. The Minister gave evidence to the Committee on 6 November on the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy. Officials from the Department subsequently, attended a second briefing on 15 November and answered a number of questions put by Members of the Committee.
3. Views were also sought from key stakeholders in the business, energy and voluntary sectors. A number of submissions were received from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and the Carbon Trust. (A summary of responses is attached at Appendix 1.)
Draft Programme for Government/PSA Framework
4. The Committee is generally content with the overarching aim, strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes of the Programme for Government. However, the Committee believes that further work will be needed to determine whether the objectives and targets, set out in the PSA’s, are SMART and adequately aligned with the strategic priorities. Systems will need to be put in place to ensure that cross-cutting PSA’s can be adequately tracked and monitored.
5. The Committee welcomes that a ‘growing, dynamic, innovative economy’ is cited as the top priority over the lifetime of the Programme for Government. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) will have an important role to play in the delivery of that goal, working with other Departments, as well as with its own agencies.
6. Furthermore, the Committee believes that building a dynamic economy is essential to the overarching aim of building a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland. The Committee agrees with the Chamber of Commerce that increased economic performance will, through the generation of employment opportunities and societal wealth, enable Northern Ireland to develop the health, education and environmental structures, which will be needed in the coming months.
7. The Committee welcomes the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy, on a number of levels, as they relate to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI). However, the Committee recognises that balancing public policy priorities with resource constraints will be a challenge for Ministers, the Executive and the Assembly. This will be difficult to do with the current resources and tight expenditure lines with a real increase in public expenditure of just 1.2%.
8. Halving the private-sector productivity gap with the UK average, excluding the South East, is an ambitious goal that presents a challenge, particularly as the productivity gap is, in fact, widening. This represents a failure of UK Government Regional Policy. The Committee believes that while this presents a challenge, it is not clear that sufficient resources have been made available to deliver that target, or what measures are planned to deliver it, beyond the aspiration.
9. The Committee would like to see what plans the Executive has in respect of developing those actions. However the Committee does recognise that the Assembly and the Executive do not have the fiscal discretion that would help deliver that target. We await the results of the Varney Review, but with limited expectations of this outcome.
10. Furthermore, the Committee has some questions on whether sufficient resources have been available to improve the skills supply as it is emphasised in key high-value added sectors in the economy. The Committee would recommend that milestones are established to monitor progress in that regard.
The PSA Framework
11. In support of the economic goals, targets and actions within the PfG, DETI has a key role or significant input into the following PSA’s:
- PSA 1: Productivity Growth
- PSA 3: Increasing Employment
- PSA 5: Tourism
- PSA 22: Protecting our environment & reducing our carbon footprint
PSA 1 - Productivity Growth
12. The Department’s strategic objectives in relation to the PSA 1 are as follows:
- to promote a competitive and outward looking economy
- to attract and support high quality investment, both foreign and locally owned
- ensure a modern sustainable infrastructure to support business, i.e. opening up energy markets
13. The Committee is of the view that if the region is to aspire to halving the productivity gap by 2015, then the DSOs identified under this PSA are the correct ones.
14. The Committee welcomes the targets for productivity growth and the overall commitments to enterprise support, commercialising both university and college research. However, the Committee would like to see more detail on the instruments and actions that will provide that support. For example, it is not clear what business support will be made available to certain key business activities that are essential for improving productivity. The CBI has raised this concern in relation to business improvement services, support for innovation and the use of technology provided by Invest NI.
15. The Committee also note that no particular measures have been adopted in relation to the social economy; nor any target associated with the action to consider projects that will bring specific benefits to areas of economic disadvantage. This is an important commitment, but so far, no targets have been associated with it. The Committee recommends that an action be included that addresses this issue.
16. The Committee welcomes the fact that the Minister has emphasised that alongside the importance of continuing to pursue foreign direct investment, local indigenous businesses will be supported. However the Committee is concerned that the positive statements from the Minister do not seem to be matched by an active commitment on the part of Invest NI to work with local enterprise agencies to support small and medium-sized enterprises.
17. The Committee believes there is a sense of psychological withdrawal by Invest NI, on the issue of the social economy which is an area where DETI should take an active working policy lead.
18. As highlighted by NICVA, Government in Westminster has taken an active role in the promotion of social enterprise and regards the social economy as playing a key role in making the UK a fairer and more inclusive society. The Office of the Third Sector (OTS) launched a Social Enterprise Action Plan in 2006, building on the Government’s 2002 Social Enterprise Strategy. NICVA has advocated that DETI further develop its lead role in encouraging the growth of social enterprise. The Committee supports this view and would recommend that a specific action to support the social economy is added to PSA 1.
19. In relation to specific actions under PSA 1 the Committee has commented as follows:
Support 45 new businesses and 600 new jobs by 2011.
The Committee notes that the CBI has indicated that these targets may not be sufficiently ambitious given that the annual target is less that what was achieved in 2006/7
Securing inward investment commitments promising 6500 new jobs by 2011 and ensuring that at least 75% of these provide salaries are above the local private sector average.
The Committee considers that this target should be questioned, continually tracked and monitored, not least given the recent announcement of job losses at Seagate Technologies in Limavady.
In responding to the type of situation in Limavady, the Committee has noted that the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget anticipate the demise of the Integrated Development Fund, which was the final remainder of the sort of Executive Programme Funds created during the previous period of devolution. For circumstances requiring a coherent, strategic response to a crisis, the Integrated Development Fund would be a useful tool, and the Committee asks the Executive to further consider this option.
Securing £120m of private sector investment commitments in innovation and 300 companies engaging in R&D/innovation for the first time by 2010/2011 and supporting Matrix in developing a more effective relationship between industry and the R&D/science base.
The Committee believes these actions will be necessary if the region is to develop an innovative economy. It is unclear to the Committee, where innovation funding provided by Treasury and the Irish Government is reflected in the Budget. We believe that these monies should be clearly set out in the Budget so that both the new funding and the additional outcomes sought are identifiable.
The Committee also notes the Carbon Trust’s view that action is required to support carbon research, development and innovation in order to encourage the creation and development of local businesses that are able to commercially exploit the substantial opportunities that exist for low carbon solutions globally
Work with the business sector to deliver widespread access for businesses to next generation Broadband by 2011 and establish an international telecommunications link in the North West directly to North America and Europe by 2012.
The Committee welcomes the important role that DETI will have in relation to network development, improvements in telecommunications and broadband availability. The Committee would like to see this role developed positively and wish to ensure that there is comprehensive coverage across the region, as it takes up next generation of broadband provision. The Committee also recognises that wider measures in the draft Investment Strategy around networks and infrastructure development, although not directly under the delivery arm of DETI, will be central to ensuring competitive economic performance.
Furthermore, the Committee is keen to foster support for the creative industries and support DETI in taking a lead role in this area that will be of particular help to this sector.
PSA 2 - Skills for Prosperity
20. In view of the need to improve the skills supply in key high value-added sectors of the economy, the Committee welcomes the emphasis on developing skills and improving links with FE colleges and universities. However, no consideration has been given to the sufficient use of apprenticeships as a route to attaining high value-added jobs. The education system should be capable of enabling everyone, regardless of social background, to access high quality jobs. The Committee therefore recommends an action that will deliver high quality apprenticeships that will be made available to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will enable them to develop the skills base necessary to ensure equality of opportunity when they access employment, including high valued-added jobs.
21. In relation to specific actions under PSA 2, the Committee has commented as follows:
A commitment to increase PhD numbers by 300 by 2010.
The Committee believes this target will need to be reviewed in the long-term.
Increase the number of students studying STEM subjects.
The Committee regards a target of a 5% increase as being relatively low and would urge that this target is reviewed within the context of the action to increase links with and promoting STEM within local industry.
A commitment for more coherent FE/Industry links.
The Committee welcomes this target. However it believes that this target requires further clarification and will need to be quantified.
PSA 3 - Increasing Employment
22. The Committee notes the Minister’s comments, on 6 November, in relation to the tension between the productivity targets and the employment targets. The Minister informed the Committee that the aim of the productivity target is to drive Northern Ireland up the value chain, to products and services that require more highly skilled people, while the employment target is directed, in part, to reducing the high level of economic inactivity. In recognition of the needs of people entering the employment market after long periods of economic inactivity with little or no skills, job promotion activity will, in reality, continue to deliver jobs at, or below, the private sector median. The Committee intend to return to this issue to ensure that relevant Agencies adopt a more proactive approach and are setting more ambitious targets.
23. The Committee welcomes the dual emphasis of skills and needs at both ends of the market as a necessary prerequisite to ensuring that PSA’s remain inclusive, sustainable, fair and promote equality of opportunity. However, as previously stated, the Committee is concerned that there is no target associated with the action ‘to consider projects that will bring specific benefits to areas of economic disadvantage’ and would recommend that an action is included that will address the issues above.
24. The Committee welcomes the target to increase tourism spend to £520m by 2011. The Committee notes that this target is 40% higher than tourism spend in 2006 and supports the draft budget allocation to provide significant resources to marketing activities in an attempt to realise this goal. However the Committee is concerned that that there are no actions or targets associated with product development and would recommend that an action is added to address this gap with the necessary resources diverted from the tourism budget to support this action.
25. Finally, the Committee considers that the target to ensure significant progress in the completion of all signature projects by 2011 is too vague and requires greater clarity.
PSA 22: Protecting our Environment and Reducing our Carbon Footprint
26. The Committee welcomes the PfG’s determination to reduce carbon emissions and to support the development of an indigenous renewable energy sector. The Committee notes the Carbon Trust’s assertion that improving standards of energy management and energy efficiency offers the most cost effective solution to reducing emissions and will deliver the bulk of the carbon reductions required to meet the Executive’s key goal of “reducing our carbon footprint by at least 25% by 2025.” In relation to the specific action of ensuring that 12% of our electricity is generated from indigenous renewable sources by 2012, the Committee notes the CBI’s concern that a target of 12% is challenging, considering the delays many applications experience with the planning system. The Committee believe the challenges involved in delivering carbon reductions, growth of renewables and waste reduction and conversion should be seen as opportunities for encouraging innovation and enterprise by local firms.
27. DETI has a key role in achieving the aim of improving private sector productivity. However other Departments will also contribute to this goal. The Committee notes, for example, that DETI and DEL have a shared objective to develop the Higher Education research base, and DEL will have a wider role in improving the skills of the workforce. The Committee would suggest that greater clarity is required to identify which Department has lead responsibility for the delivery of actions and associated targets under this objective.
28. DETI will have to work closely with DEL and DE to deliver a high quality employment service and address the skill barriers to employment, including gaining access to high value-added jobs. Intervention at school level is critically important to ensure employment opportunities are accessible to those living in economically disadvantages areas. The Committee would also like to emphasise the important role of the voluntary and community sector in creating a necessary platform for such opportunities and believes this should be reflected in the cross- departmental objectives.
Draft Investment Strategy
29. On 6 November, the Minister indicated, to the Committee that he was generally satisfied with the capital bids in the draft Budget and the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland. DETI’s potential capital investment requirements have been met under the CSR period.
30. The Committee recognises the importance of infrastructure spend and welcomes the broader investment in infrastructure that has been agreed in the draft Investment Strategy, and the 10-year Investment Plan. The Committee notes that this arose from decisions taken during the previous period of devolution, when it was recognised that there was a need to frame a much longer-term capital investment strategy to take the region forward.
31. The Committee welcomes the draft Investment Strategy’s reference to “including consideration of social outcomes in procurement issues” that will be issued to public bodies in the near future. This will apply to the delivery of all plans for infrastructure investment which will hopefully ensure that local people, particularly the most disadvantaged in society, will benefit from any new employment opportunities that will arise. To support this goal, the Committee recommends that policy considerations that include a full social multipliers. Efforts should be made to ensure that the business benefits of delivering such a large scale capital investment are not confined to large multinational players but are shared by local firms large and small. Encouraging companies to develop to take best advantage of public procurement opportunities should be a key standard of growing the capacity of our region’s private sector.
32. The Committee also welcomes the significant focus on capital expenditure which will make a substantial contribution to the overall productivity of the economy and FDI.
Enterprise Support Pillar
33. The Enterprise Support Measure has forecast gross expenditure of £194.m over the CSR period. The Measure, in the main, encompasses forecast capital investment required by Invest NI to encourage the development of a high value-added, innovative, enterprising and competitive economy. The Committee welcomes the focus of this measure. The capital investment includes capital grants and shares of £120m to support investment by existing businesses increasing capability, enhancing export performance and promoting Northern Ireland internationally to secure new inward investment projects.
34. The proposals to support the NI export base are strongly welcomed by the Committee. However, the Committee would like to stress the importance of ensuring that support for existing businesses must be a top priority and that existing programmes are continually reviewed to ensure that the right balance between supporting indigenous companies and attracting FDI is achieved.
35. The Committee welcomes the importance attached to the provision and availability of suitable industrial sites across Northern Ireland. However, the Committee would share the Minister’s concern over land availability, land banking and market prices, and would query whether the proposals to purchase land and buildings of £62.9m are adequate given these market conditions. The Committee will wish to probe these plans further.
36. The Committee welcomes the commitment to invest in the five signature projects but is concerned by the Minister’s statement about “the funding gap in the Titanic Quarter project, and the conditional nature of the allocation for the Giant’s Causeway project”. The Committee intend to monitor developments in these areas very closely.
Telecommunications and Energy
37. The Committee welcomes the telecommunication and energy allocations under the Network Pillar. The Committee would like to see the region take a lead on progressing energy issues. The Committee is aware of the difficulties associated with operating different renewable obligation regimes in the single electricity market, an issue that will need to be addressed by DETI.
38. The Committee welcomes the commitment to promoting renewable energy and commitments in relation to the Reconnect grant. According to NICVA, Ernst and Young estimate that investment in worldwide renewable will increase seven-fold to £375m in the next decade. This presents opportunities for local companies to display their innovative skills in the fields of energy, power station technologies and recycling and waste management. The Committee would urge the Department to maximise these opportunities in collaboration with the private sector.
PfG Information and Process
39. Given the cross-cutting nature of PSA’s the Committee considered that there might be a quarterly monitoring mechanism introduced to allow for each PSAs to be reviewed and tracked by MLAs. It is suggested that the Chairpersons Liaison Group might be a suitable body to explore possible models for such cross-cutting scrutiny on behalf of the Assembly..
10 December 2007
Summary of Responses to the Draft Budget/Pfg/Isni
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI)
1. Growing the Economy
Based on research carried out by the Chamber’s Export Focus Group the Chamber recommends the following:
- More aggressive marketing of the Agency’s Business Information Centre.
- Tailored, company-specific export coaching / mentoring of companies with export potential.
- Greater involvement of the private sector in the development of an exporting culture among local companies.
- Intensification of the joint Invest NI/Enterprise Ireland effort to identify and develop export markets overseas.
- Company-specific support in new export markets.
- Sharper focus by Invest NI’s client executives on the development of client companies’ export performance. Specific targets for individual client executives and credit for success in areas such as export development should be enhanced.
2. Reducing the Productivity Gap with the UK average
The management of locally owned companies needs assistance, and mentoring that will enable them to understand and respond to the factors inhibiting productivity growth. It would also suggest that indigenous companies find it difficult to invest in the requisite in-house workforce training – something which Invest NI and DEL need to address co-operatively.
3. Increasing Inward Investment and the Creation of 6500+ New Jobs by 2011
Invest NI should be encouraged to explore new avenues for contacting new potential investors. The situation must be avoided where inward investors fail to find the labour that they have been promised. Close co-operation between Invest NI, DEL and DE, with meaningful private sector involvement, is essential if the skills shortages in certain areas, e.g. engineering, construction and IT, are not to become a major barrier to growth.
4. Increasing Tourism Spend
Tourists all too often find their tourism experience in Northern Ireland undermined by levels of skill and service below that which they would expect at home. Greater investment in recruitment and training – assisted where necessary by DEL and / or NITB.
Some consideration should be given to the level of arts funding in the draft budget and that very small reductions in other Departmental budgets, if applied to particular areas of arts funding, could make disproportionate, positive contributions to the tourism offering.
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
Invest NI must have in place the programmes to assist those encouraged to look beyond local borders. There are two distinct types of such businesses; those newly formed with a focus upon hi-tech industries and traditional, established enterprises with the potential to consider expanding into new markets for the first time. The support programmes should recognise the distinctions and where possible be tailored to meet the different needs.
FSB believes that the Northern Ireland Executive has much work to do in terms of upgrading infrastructure and skills and training availability to meet this target. Undoubtedly a high proportion of this figure, at least in the short term, can only be reached by attracting large, quality overseas corporations to Northern Ireland.
The development of an effective tourism strategy is essential. There are many natural and historical attractions which can be exploited, sensitively, supplemented by increasingly sophisticated man-made attractions.
The identification of ‘tourist hotspots’ and targeting resources towards these can help the industry to bring the best to the fore. There must be effective partnership between businesses and the government, the latter responsible for ensuring the tourist infrastructure is in place, and that an effective marketing campaign promotes the province in the best possible light through the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
1. Reducing the Productivity gap
CBI believes that fiscal incentives will be required to help achieve this goal, and hope that the Varney Report will reach the same conclusions. Another concern is that insufficient resources are being targeted to improve the skills supply in key high value-added sectors of the economy
2. Increasing Inward Investment
Increasing the quantity and quality of foreign direct investment (FDI) will make a major contribution towards achieving the productivity goal set for 2015. The goal set is reasonable though some consideration should be given to having a target of net new jobs taking account of potential job losses over the period.
The skills base and supply side must be adequate
3. Increasing Tourism Spend
CBI welcomes the targets which will deliver more tourism spend per tourist (by around 12%) although the revenue target could be set at an even more ambitious level.
4. Growing a dynamic, innovative economy
Creating a ‘can do’ mentality and ensuring this is reflected in the public sector’s ability to make speedy decisions and get things done. A revised Regional Economic Strategy is required with ‘transformational actions’ to set the economy onto a new trajectory.
5. Draft Programme for Government
CBI strongly welcomes the importance and priority attached to the economy. The business community is pleased to see a more strategic and outcome focused program which has ambitious goals agreed by the entire Executive.
Commitments on policy areas are particularly welcomed:
- ambitious goals for increasing private sector productivity and increasing economic activity rates;
- commitment of intent by the Finance Minister to cap industrial rates at 30%;
- a new program to commercialise university and college research;
- a salary target level for high value jobs set at a higher level, i.e. 75% of inward investment jobs with salaries some 30% above average private sector earnings;
- delivery of widespread access to next generation broadband by 2011; and
- targets on efficiency savings on administration of 5% pa for three years
There are some emerging areas where greater clarity, more ambition or greater focus is required:
- Many large retail, housing, renewable energy, waste etc developments may fall outside the scope of the six month commitment for a planning decision – yet these are critical for Northern Ireland’s future development. There is a need for greater clarity on which projects will meet these criteria. The Executive should consider the introduction of ‘planning zones’ for significant industrial and commercial sites which could help reduce planning delays and bureaucracy.
- Growing the creative industries sector by 15% by 2011 does not appear to be a particularly challenging target
- It is essential that the GCSE target includes Maths and English.
6. Draft Budget
- The removal of the Invest NI concordat is welcomed.
- The focus on productivity and closing the productivity gap is welcomed.
- The increased resources being allocated to tourism is welcomed.
- The FDI target of focusing on higher quality and higher paid jobs is welcomed.
- The proposals to develop a new telecoms link with the transatlantic network, (when six cables already exist) are welcomed. However this does raise the issue of what precisely is the problem and whether the proposed solution is the best value for money solution.
- There is a need to ensure that DEL has sufficient resources to ensure that suitable skills are available.
7. Draft Investment Strategy
- The increased focus on capital expenditure on infrastructure is very welcome.
- The proposals to support the NI export base are strongly welcomed including the availability of suitable and affordable land.
- CBI welcomes the commitment to invest in the five tourism signature projects.
- CBI welcomes the importance attached to the provision of suitable industrial sites across Northern Ireland.
Draft Programme for Government (PfG) 2008-11
1. Growing a Dynamic, Innovative Economy
The reference to “sustainable economic growth” is to be welcomed. There have been a number of international, national and local developments in recent years that has given impetus to the need to make rapid, deep cuts in carbon emissions.
The Committee (and the Executive) should recognise the existence of investor confidence in clean energy technologies and take action to support indigenous low carbon research, development and innovation in order to encourage the creation and development of local businesses that are able to commercially exploit the substantial opportunities that exist for low carbon solutions globally.
The Carbon Trust welcome’s the PfG’s determination to reduce carbon emissions and to support the development of an indigenous renewable energy sector.
The Executive’s target of “ensuring that 12% of our electricity is generated from indigenous renewable sources by 2012” is achievable and should be delivered within existing policy frameworks (assuming planning considerations do not unduly stymie developments). However, attainment of the target stated in the NI Sustainable Development Strategy requiring 40% of electricity consumed beyond 2025 from indigenous renewable sources (with at least 25% from non-wind technologies) will require very careful stewardship of energy demands.
There is a real possibility that Northern Ireland’s carbon footprint could easily exceed current levels by 2025, unless major initiatives are taken to decouple economic activity and lifestyles from the consumption of fossil fuels.
However, there are compelling economic and environmental reasons for ensuring that the planned new-build program achieves the very highest standards of design and performance regarding their energy requirements, carbon emissions and workplace productivity.
The Strategic Investment Board’s investment strategy could play a pivotal role in ensuring that low carbon buildings become the norm in Northern Ireland ahead of regulatory requirements.
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA)
No child should leave primary school without being able to read, write and count and those that slip through the net should be able to access these skills at any stage in their lives.
The loss of the Children’s and Young People’s Fund is a cause for concern.
2. Enterprise and Innovation:
Women in Northern Ireland are 2.5 times less likely to be entrepreneurs than men. These figures point to the need to invest in creating the necessary conditions to enable women to engage in innovation, such as access to affordable childcare and providing information on a wide range of educational, training and employment opportunities including areas of economic life.
3. Infrastructure (including employment)
There is a need to see the economic value of investing in measures to help people with disabilities get and keep the jobs they want. There is also a need to provide affordable quality childcare and to provide quality apprenticeships and training for young people.
The PfG and budget does not indicate clearly how these will be tackled. It also does not deal with the concern that aiming for a 75% rate of economic inactivity by the next decade will require employment in the tens of thousands.
With regard to the draft Investment Strategy, most of the programme for the next three years is funded from within the resources of the Northern Ireland Executive. However it is not clear how robust the plan might be as it depends on a sell off of unused assets.
The PfG, budget and investment strategy all refer to sustainable development as a key strategic focus. The actual spending patterns are a cause for concern and the associated target of a ‘carbon footprint’ reduction is confusing. This is neither the recognized ecological footprint measure nor a carbon emissions target which is what is needed.
There is still no commitment to the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as recommended by an independent panel and no budget provision seems to have been made in this regard.
NICVA are surprised to see that a Renewable Energy Fund has not been included in the budget.
5. Social Enterprise
NICVA would like to see DETI further develop its lead role in encouraging the growth of social enterprise in Northern Ireland in a similar way to the Social Enterprise Action Plan 2006, building on the Governments 2002 Social Enterprise Strategy (by The Office of the Third Sector OTS).
6. Delivering On Promises
NICVA has concerns over levels of inward investment in the midst of what looks like a global slowdown.
The new Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit, set up to monitor these savings, will be important in monitoring and hopefully reacting to this issue.
Public assets can only be sold once. After that public money has to be used. There is no mention of any consultation on this nor of a comprehensive plan to examine what assets are currently needed, likely to be needed and never needed.
Written Submission by: Committee for the Environment
The Committee welcomes the over-arching aim to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come.
The Committee believes that this should be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment and use resources as effectively and sustainably as possible as stated in the draft Programme for Government.
The Committee also welcomes the cross-cutting themes set out in the Investment Strategy NI and in particular the themes that building a sustainable future will be a key requirement for our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.
The Committee welcomes in particular the priority to “protect and enhance our environment and natural resources”.
The Committee welcomes, subject to proper resources, the priorities in the Programme for Government relating to:
- Delivering a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011.
- Strengthening the protection of key habitats and species by declaring 200 new Areas of Specific Scientific Interest by 2016.
- Reducing landfill significantly by creating a network of new Waste Treatment facilities at Council level by 2011.
- Increasing to 50% the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental enhancement agreements by 2011
The Committee also welcomes the key goals to:
- Reduce our carbon footprint by at least 25% by 2025
- Enable up to 4700 farmers to comply with the Nitrates Directive by 2009
- Increase by 1650 hectares the area of forest and woodland by 2011
- Halt the loss of indigenous species and habitats by 2015
The Committee would prefer to see a higher profile in the Programme for Government (included as key goals) for:
- Climate Change (including an explicit commitment to tackle climate change and to highlight the implications of climate change on society). The Committee are aware that the Department had sought the inclusion of a specific goal relating to raising awareness of its impact on Northern Ireland.
- Illegal Waste – the Committee supports a further crackdown on illegal waste disposal by pursuing prosecution of offenders.
The Committee endorses the key goals as set out by the Department to: -
- Strengthen the partnership approach to cut the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by at least one third by 2012.
- Have a 50% reduction of 1995 levels in the amount of bio-degradable waste going to landfill sites by 2013.
- Halt biodiversity loss as far as possible taking into account of the effects of climate change in Northern Ireland by 2015 by protecting our indigenous plants and animals in their natural habitats.
- Ensure full compliance with the Water Framework Directive by 2015 to achieve good water quality.
- Declare a further 200 Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI’s) by 2016.
The Committee also notes that there is no reference to the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency.
The committee recognises the cross cutting nature of Sustainable Development and the role of all Departments in its implementation. The Committee believes that there is a specific role for the Department of the Environment in Sustainable Development.
The Committee recommend that there are adequate or sufficient funds provided to ensure the delivery of the key goals.
The Committee acknowledges that the PSA Annex to the Programme for Government addresses the cross-cutting issues and challenges, cutting across Departmental boundaries and that many of the outcomes are inter dependent.
The Committee commented on the following PSA’s:
PSA 4 (Supporting Rural Business)
The Committee welcomes the aim to increase by 50% the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental enhancement agreements by 2011
PSA 14 (Promoting Safer Roads)
The Committee acknowledges that the KSI targets are currently under review by the Department and believe that more ambitious targets should be agreed. The Committee took into account the recommendations in the Report on Northern Ireland’s Road Safety Strategy, published 09 November 2007.
PSA 17 (Rural Infrastructure)
The Committee notes and welcomes the target to ensure that rural issues are mainstreamed into all relevant Government policies and programmes and would welcome sight of the proposed Rural White Paper when published.
PSA 20 (Improving Public Services)
The Committee notes the objective to modernise and reform the Local Government sector. The Committee has already engaged with the Department and looks forward to further engagement. The Committee has recently been briefed by the Department on Emerging Findings.
PSA 22 (Protecting our environment and reducing our carbon footprint)
Members agreed, in a response to questions from Arlene Foster, Minister of the Environment, to sign up to the UK Climate Change Bill as presented, but with a commitment to provide for Northern Ireland targets at a future point.
The Committee also supported UK Carbon Reduction targets as set out in the draft UK Bill (including an overall UK target of 60% reduction by 2050 with a 26 – 32% reduction by 2020).
The Committee welcomes the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2025 and Improve Energy Efficiency in homes, which is consistent with the targets in the UK Climate Change Bill.
Members are content with the objectives to:
- Improve the quality and ecological status of the water environment
- Take forward action to improve air quality
- Improve the condition of our monuments and listed buildings, including structures currently on the Built Heritage at Risk Register (BHARNI)
The Committee has already stated that the issue of illegal dumping should have a higher priority in the Programme for Government.
The Committee would support the inclusion of Waste Management as a key goal in the Programme for Government.
The Committee notes the objective to deliver a modern effective planning system and the priority commitment to a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011.
Members are concerned that the proposed efficiency reductions set out in the draft Budget will impact on the delivery of a modern effective planning system to meet the needs of the whole community and the economy while protecting the environment.
Members are also concerned that there may not be sufficient resources for the Planning Appeals Commission to deal with its backlogs.
Members are also concerned at how the proposed efficiencies will be achieved considering possible staffing cutbacks in the Department.
Furthermore, the Committee notes the target of ensuring a fit for purpose suite of draft or adopted development plans in place by March 2011 and is concerned that this target may not be achievable. The Committee noted that judicial reviews have stalled progress on three major area plans.
PSA 23 (Managing the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea)
The Committee feels that there is a need to consider future planning in order to deliver sustainable flood risk management policies.
The Committee recognises that there is a role for planning in the delivery of the sustainable flood risk management policy.
Draft Investment Strategy
The Committee notes that the draft Investment Strategy NI 2008 – 2018 sets out the framework for the creation of a sustainable twenty-first century infrastructure.
The Committee welcomes the cross-cutting objectives in the strategy, particularly the environmental objective relating to investment in infrastructure to enhance and protect the environment, particularly addressing areas affected by EU Directives.
The Committee notes that £18b will be invested in the next 10 years to deliver essential infrastructure - £5.5b in the next 3 years. The Committee notes the framework for infrastructure investment in six “pillars” and would welcome the environment pillar.
The Committee in particular notes and welcomes the key goal of a new approach to waste management that is compliant with EU Regulations and uses more sustainable technologies and notes the commitment to reduce the levels of landfilled biodegradable municipal waste to 75% of 1995 levels by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 35% by 2020 in response to European legislation.
The Committee welcomes the inclusion of the need to invest in waste management infrastructure to ensure compliance with EU regulations both as a key goal and a milestone in the draft Investment Strategy NI.
Local authorities to deliver the waste management infrastructure
In addition, the Committee notes and welcomes the key milestone of supporting local authorities to deliver the waste management infrastructure by 2011 (with up to £200m or 50% of the capital cost, whichever is the less.
Investment in our environment
The Committee notes and welcomes a reference to the investment in our environment including nature reserves, monuments, archaeological sites, listed buildings and country parks [which] will promote the enjoyment of our heritage for the benefit of all including visitors.
The Committee acknowledges the goal of sustainable flood risk management to meet the social, environmental and economic needs of the region. The Committee recognises that there is a role for planning in sustainable flood risk management.
The Committee recommends that there should be a clear indication regarding which Department has lead responsibility for each issue in terms of the Key Goals and Milestones listed for the Environment Investment Pillar. The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment should be identified as the lead Department for taking forward the Waste Management agenda.
27 November 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Finance and Personnel
1. The Committee for Finance and Personnel heard evidence from Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) officials on 14 November 2007 in relation to the Department’s contribution to the draft Programme for Government (PfG) and Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI). Following the evidence session, members requested and received a written response to further issues on which the Committee required clarification.
2. The key issues for DFP in the draft PfG are the implementation of the NI Direct programme, which will see a single telephone number point of contact being taken forward over the PfG period, and delivering the wider Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) reform programme. In addition, the Workplace 2010 programme is expected to contribute an estimated £175m to ISNI. These issues are reflected in the following Committee response which was considered and agreed at the Committee’s meeting on 28 November 2007.
Draft Programme for Government 2008 – 2011
Priority: Deliver Modern High Quality and Efficient Public Services
3. Reference is made under this priority to the NICS reform programme, which is being co-ordinated by DFP, realising significant savings which will be redirected to delivering key services. The Committee requested quantification of the savings to be generated by the reform programme over the 3-year budgetary period. In response, DFP explained that delivery of benefits across all 11 departments, both financial and non-financial, from the reform programme, including shared services, will take time and will be measured by a series of key performance indicators, which will be integrated within departmental business planning.
4. The Department is currently developing a benefits realisation framework which will address the delivery of both quantitative and qualitative benefits in respect of the reform programmes/projects being implemented within DFP. The Committee will wish to undertake regular reviews of progress against this benefits realisation framework and considers that the finalised framework should be placed in the public domain. Moreover, the Committee considers that the Department should outline the anticipated efficiency savings to accrue across all 11 departments from the various reform programmes.
5. The Committee believes that the significant savings from the reform programmes are an important part of the Executive’s Draft Budget and will play a key role in the delivery of the Programme for Government. Given that the savings from reform programmes are specifically referred to in the draft PfG under this priority, the Committee considers that the revised PfG would be enhanced by these savings being quantified.
6. The key goals for DFP come under the priority to deliver modern, high quality and efficient public services and relate to the delivery of efficiency savings; the generation of additional capital realisations and the consolidation of public sector websites. The Committee’s views on these goals are included in the following section on Public Service Agreements.
Public Service Agreements (PSAs)
PSA 11 - Driving Investment and Sustainable Development
Objective 4 – Support the wider public sector in taking account of sustainable development principles when procuring works, supplies and services
7. The Committee has concerns that the target for considering sustainable development principles in capital investment decisions will take 3 years to achieve and sought further clarification from the Department. DFP has indicated that this target could be accelerated and will review this matter. The Committee therefore looks forward to the target for implementation being brought forward in the revised PfG.
8. Under this objective, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are to be given opportunities to do business with public sector organisations by September 2008. When considering the draft PfG, the Committee was unclear on what this process involves and indeed, on why such opportunities are not already in place. It requested and received further information from DFP explaining that, whilst access to public sector business is currently available to SMEs, a sustainable action plan is being drafted to develop systems by September 2008 to allow both SMEs and Social Economy Enterprises (SEEs) to have improved access to doing business directly with the public sector and with prime contractors on major targets. The Committee believes that suitable measurement arrangements need to be put in place to determine the success of this policy and to enable progress to be reported to the Assembly.
9. The Committee considers that the sustainable development implementation plan for 2008 – 2011 has a major role to play in the achievement of this objective. The Committee acknowledges that OFMDFM leads on sustainable development, including co-ordination of the implementation plan, but believes that the finalised plan should include a clear statement on the departments responsible for implementation and that this should be placed in the public domain. Scrutiny of progress against targets could then be a regular agenda item for meetings of the appropriate statutory committees.
10. DFP also has a central role to promote sustainability in the procurement, operation and maintenance of buildings and the procurement of sustainable supplies and services. It is also responsible for regulating building standards and promoting energy efficiency across the public sector. The Department has informed the Committee that it is soon to finalise its own action plan in relation to sustainable development and the Committee has already requested quarterly updates.
11. Finally in relation to sustainable development, the Committee believes that the target for trained professional practitioners applying sustainable procurement principles within the public procurement process should have a timescale for delivery.
PSA 20 - Improving Public Services
Objective 1 – Deliver a programme of Civil Service reform
12. Target dates for the various NICS reform programmes are included under this objective. The Committee sought clarification from DFP that these targets are for the full implementation of the various programmes, as opposed to piloting the programmes and also requested a comparison of these targets with the original implementation plans. Having considered further information from DFP, the Committee agrees that the target for implementation of the various reform programmes should be amended to emphasise that these targets are for the programmes to be implemented in full.
13. A notable exception here is the target for Workplace 2010, as the Committee was informed that the target date of 30 November 2008 reflects only partial implementation. The Committee considers that the revised PfG should clarify this point and include a target date for full implementation of the Workplace 2010 programme. Whilst the target dates in the draft PfG represent some slippage in original plans across a number of programmes, the Committee has been assured that the programmes are currently on track for delivery by the target dates included in the draft PfG.
14. The targets for the various reform programmes also refer to realisation of the benefits from the various programmes and the Committee had some concerns as to whether the benefits arising from the reform programmes will be fully realised by the target dates for implementation. Again, it sought further clarification on this matter. The Committee was informed that, whilst benefits will commence during the draft PfG period, they will be on a phased basis and full realisation will take place over the lifespan of the individual programmes. The Committee therefore considers that the target dates for implementation and realisation of the benefits from the various reform programmes is potentially confusing, as the benefits will take some time to be realised following implementation.
15. The Committee also queried how the reform programmes contribution to the improvement in the quality and cost effectiveness of public services could be measured. The Department has explained that the benefits realisation framework, which it is developing, will provide a basis for monitoring the quality and efficiency of service delivery. In addition, projects and programmes will be subject to a post project evaluation and an independent evaluation through the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Review process. These are an important part of the reform process as the Committee considers that it is vital that the various reform programmes meet their objectives in terms of quality and efficiency if the PfG is to be delivered successfully. The Committee will take a keen interest in the post evaluation stages.
Objective 4 – Promote and improve access to public services and information in Northern Ireland
16. Under this objective, a single telephone number point of contact for selected public services is to be in place by December 2008. The Committee has learned that four NICS organisations have been selected for this first phase: DARD; DFP’s Land and Property Services agency; the General Register Office and the Planning Service. DFP will then be working to define a roadmap for the majority of citizen facing services and, whilst a timeframe has yet to be agreed for the inclusion of these services, rollout is expected to start in 2009/10.
17. Whilst the Committee welcomes this project, it has the potential to be high profile and must therefore work effectively from the outset. The Committee therefore believes that the following information should be included in relation to this target in the revised PfG:
- the proportion of public services to be covered by a single telephone number point of contact when the first phase is introduced in December 2008;
- further detail on subsequent rollout within the timeframe of the draft PfG i.e. 2008 – 2011 and
- a specific target to deal effectively with x% of calls at the first point of contact. (The Committee has been informed that a target for a percentage of ‘one and done’ calls to be handled at first point of contact is currently under consideration).
18. A target has also been stipulated for consolidating 70% of NICS and agency websites into a single web presence by March 2009. The Committee made enquiries as to what would happen with the remaining websites and was informed that these have been excluded either because they are large transactional sites or due to existing contract arrangements which would be costly or difficult to terminate. The sites not included in the initial consolidation will be monitored for subsequent inclusion, at an appropriate time such as the end of the contract period. Members also sought further information on the potential efficiencies resulting from this consolidation and were informed that efficiencies resulting from a reduction in external hosting costs would not be realised until the end of such contracts.
19. Finally under this objective, the Committee obtained further detail on the digital inclusion programme, due to concerns at the absence of a target date for delivery. The programme addresses access to, and exploitation of, modern technology and computing to enhance the quality of life in Northern Ireland society, and includes a range of projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2009. The Committee agreed that the end of 2009 should therefore be included as a target date for programme delivery.
PSA 21 - Enabling Efficient Government
Objective 1 – Support the First and deputy First Minister in leading the Executive
20. The Committee notes that there is a target of January 2009 for the first review of the Budget for 2008 – 2011. The Committee considers that an annual timetable for budget setting and review, which builds in sufficient time for the effective involvement of the Assembly’s statutory committees needs to be published by DFP as soon as possible and the Committee will be working with the Department to achieve this.
Objective 2 – Build the capacity of the Civil Service to deliver the Government’s priorities by improving leadership, skills, professionalism, diversity and equality
21. The Committee has been briefed on the actions to be taken by DFP to encourage applications to the NICS from under-represented groups and on new research to be undertaken into perceived barriers to employment in the NICS. The Committee looks forward to considering the outcome of this research and notes the absence of a timescale for the NICS to be reflective of the diversity of NI society. This should be addressed in the revised PfG as the Committee has received specific diversity targets from DFP to be achieved by 2008.
22. The Committee also highlighted to DFP the absence of timescales for the delivery of the target to ensure that NICS has the right skills and expertise to deliver effective services to the people of Northern Ireland. The Committee has received further information on the annual training and development process co-ordinated by DFP but considers that achievement of this target may prove difficult to measure.
Objective 3 – To ensure public expenditure is managed effectively to deliver best value for the people of Northern Ireland
23. A target has been included under this objective to ensure that public spending delivers value for money. The Committee requests that more detail be included as to how the delivery of value for money in public spending is to be measured objectively. The Committee understands that departmental efficiency delivery plans will be published alongside the final Budget document and will therefore be available to statutory committees for scrutiny.
24. The Committee has been briefed on the role of the Performance Efficiency Delivery Unit and plans to monitor the outputs from the Unit in driving higher levels of savings.
Objective 5 – Deliver value for money gains in Government procurement
25. The Committee requested further detail on the structure of Centres of Procurement Expertise (CoPEs) which are to deliver value for money gains in Government procurement. In addition to DFP’s Central Procurement Directorate, seven other CoPEs exist to provide a more integrated procurement service to public bodies throughout the public sector. The Committee wishes to see dates for delivery against the following targets included under this objective:
- 3% value-for-money gains on procurement spend;
- Independent assessment of the capability of Centres of Procurement Expertise (CoPEs); and
- Reduction of non-CoPE procurement by 25% year-on-year.
The Committee has been informed that these targets are currently under discussion and therefore expects to see implementation dates in the revised PfG.
26. The Committee also considers that, in the interests of transparency, the starting point against which the 3% value-for-money gains on procurement spend and the annual reduction of non-CoPE procurement are to be measured should be included in the revised PfG.
Draft Investment Strategy 2008 – 2018
27. DFP’s capital bids and its proposed distribution of the indicative allocation made in the draft ISNI have been annexed to this response. The Department bid for approximately £94.2m over the three financial years from 2008 – 2011 (£38.3m, £32.8m and £23.1m) and was allocated £68.7m (£30m, 322.7m, £16m). The Committee will continue to monitor the potential effect which the allocations proposed for DFP in the draft ISNI may have on delivery and how DFP plans to manage with an allocation significantly below the amount sought.
Land and Property Services (LPS)
28. The Committee had concerns as to whether the capital allocations for LPS were sufficient to allow the organisation to alleviate the difficulties associated with its IT systems, especially with regard to rates relief. A response was obtained from DFP stating that the allocations were sufficient and the Committee will be keeping a watching brief on this matter. However, the Department also highlighted the fact that the Agency’s capital requirements will need to be further assessed in light of the outcome of the current review of domestic rating, the first stage of which was announced by the Minister of Finance and Personnel on 26 November. LPS has a key role in the implementation of the reforms to be introduced in April 2008 and beyond and the Committee considers that any further funding requirements arising from rating reform should be met in any revised allocations.
Central Energy Efficiency Fund
29. DFP also bid for £15m over the 3-year period for the Central Energy Efficiency Fund, used to support measures to improve the energy performance of, and reduce emissions of CO2 from, buildings occupied by NI public bodies. The Committee believes that the £6m allocated to this fund in the draft ISNI runs contrary to the prominence given to sustainability by the Executive in the draft Programme for Government.
30. One of the Department’s major contributions to the draft ISNI is the delivery of £175m capital receipt from the Workplace 2010 programme. The Committee was given an assurance by departmental officials as to the accuracy of this figure and also that it will be delivered in the 2008/09 financial year, despite potential delays from the current legal challenge with regard to the programme. The Committee will be monitoring progress on the key goals and milestones for Workplace 2010, as set out under the ‘Productive’ Investment pillar in the draft ISNI.
Review of Public Sector Sites/Role of Capital Realisation Taskforce
31. The Committee has also highlighted the review of public sector sites by 2008, which is detailed as a key milestone in the draft ISNI and has been briefed on the work of the Capital Realisation Taskforce. Whilst recognising that the Taskforce has cross-departmental membership (SIB, OFMDFM and DFP officials) the Committee intends to examine the work of the Taskforce in so far as it may affect the capital allocation covered in the Draft Budget period. In particular, the Committee understands that the Taskforce will make an initial report by December 2007 which will influence final settlements for 2008 – 2011. The Committee has arranged to take evidence from the Taskforce in this regard.
32. In relation to the review of public sector sites, DFP has informed the Committee that a significant proportion of public sector sites managed by DFP will form part of the Workplace 2010 programme and that the Department’s input to the review will therefore focus largely on the remaining office estate properties. DFP has already engaged with the Capital Realisation Taskforce on the utilisation of assets for which it is responsible.
33. In relation to monitoring of performance, the draft ISNI states that departments are in the process of developing individual Investment Delivery Plans and that monitoring arrangements are also being developed to monitor departmental performance in delivering investment. The Committee has already requested DFP’s Investment Delivery Plan, and has been informed that investment Plans will be published alongside the ISNI in January 2008. The Committee believes that the monitoring arrangements being developed should include a clear role for the Assembly’s statutory committees.
34. The Committee notes that reference has been made to the various NICS reform programmes under the ‘Productive’ Investment pillar and considers that these should be included in the key goals or milestones section, with dates for implementation.
35. Regarding the delivery of infrastructure investment plans, in relation to procurement, the draft ISNI anticipates that guidance on embedding equality and sustainability into procurement processes will be issued to public bodies in the near future. The Committee believes that the Department responsible for issuing the guidance and ensuring compliance should be detailed in the revised draft.
36. The Committee for Finance and Personnel looks forward to publication of the finalised PfG and ISNI in January 2008 and will be working with DFP to ensure that the recommendations included in this response, which relate to the Department, are addressed in the finalised documents.
28 November 2007
Department of Finance and Personnel - Isni
Capital Bids and Proposed Distribution of Indicative Allocation
Basis of Bid
Account NI Programme
To meet contractual commitments.
Central Procurement Directorate Line of Business ICT Systems
To meet ongoing ICT requirements.
To meet contractual commitments.
ICT Shared Services and Line of Business ICT Systems
To meet delivery of ICT shared services commitments including PC refresh across the NICS.
Accommodation Services Capital Projects
To meet ongoing capital projects in Jobs and Benefits Offices in support of the Welfare Reform and Modernisation Programme, and to meet ongoing accommodation requirements including provision for the Office of Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunals.
Central Energy Efficiency Fund
To support measures to improve the energy performance of, and reduce emissions of CO2 from, buildings occupied by NI public bodies.
NI Statistics and Research Agency Line of Business ICT Systems
To meet ongoing ICT requirements and support delivery of digitisation of records in the General Records Office.
Land and Property Services Line of Business ICT Systems
To support maintenance and enhancement of line of business systems.
Land and Property Services Systems Integration
To integrate systems within each partner organisation to support future LPS business processes, realise efficiencies and improve service to the customer.
Land and Property Services Data Model
To consolidate data across partner organisations to support future LPS business processes, realise efficiencies and improve service to the customer.
Land and Property Services Land Registration Infrastructure
To progress e-registration and e-payments systems to support land registration.
Written Submission by: Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety
1. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety commenced its scrutiny of the implications for health, social services and public safety in the draft Budget, PFG, and ISNI with a briefing from Departmental officials at its meeting on 15 November 2007. This was followed by formal evidence from Professor Roy McClelland, Chairman of the Mental Health and Learning Disability Board, and from representatives of the four Health and Social Services Boards on 22 November 2007. The Committee concluded its formal evidence with a presentation from and discussion with the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety on 6 December 2007. A transcript of these evidence sessions will be published on the Committee website.
2. In addition the Committee considered the draft Budget, PFG and ISNI at closed meetings on 15 November, 22 November, 29 November, 6 December and 13 December 2007. The Committee is grateful to all who gave evidence and would like to thank Professor Ciaran O’Neill, Health Economist, Queens University Belfast, for his advice and assistance to the Committee during its deliberations.
Draft Programme for Government
3. The Committee welcomes the recognition in the draft Programme for Government that “the overall health status of our population needs urgent attention”. The draft Programme for Government draws attention to the higher than average mortality from heart disease, cancer and stroke, as well as the over-reliance on long-stay hospitals and limited services available in primary and community care for people with mental health and learning disabilities. The relatively poor state of health of the population in Northern Ireland was clearly identified in ‘A Healthier Future: A Twenty Year Vision for Health and Wellbeing in Northern Ireland 2005-2025’. The strategy also highlighted the higher rates of people with disabilities and mental health problems compared to GB.
4. The Committee fully supports the principles set out in the draft Programme for Government and accepts the view of the Executive that growing the economy will be the top priority but is also conscious that building a strong economy will require a healthy workforce.
5. The Committee believes that health and social care in Northern Ireland has been under funded for many years, particularly throughout the years of the troubles, despite an increased priority given to spending in DHSSPS in recent years by Direct Rule Ministers reflecting general UK trends. The Committee concurs with the view in the draft Budget that “one of the most significant issues facing this and future Executives will be the priority that should be given to health and social services compared to other public services”.
6. The Committee welcomes the statement that “Given the importance of a healthy, well-educated and highly skilled population to the achievement of our strategic priorities, the spending committed to these areas over the three year period covered by this Programme for Government will be maintained at the same high level, rising to almost 70% of the total by 2010-11”.
7. The Committee has concerns that, given the draft Budget outcome, targets relating to health and social care in the draft Programme for Government may not be met.
Draft Investment Strategy
8. The Committee notes that future investment will be taken forward under six ‘pillars’ and welcomes the emphasis under the Health Pillar on providing investment in Primary and Community Care, Health and Care Centres, and Emergency Services.
9. The Committee notes the establishment of a Capital Realisations Taskforce set up by the Executive to report before the draft budget and draft Investment Strategy are finalised. The Committee believes that the disposal of any surplus assets identified by the Taskforce could provide welcome additional capital funds for investment. The Committee will wish to pursue this issue with the Department in due course.
14 December 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
Programme for Government
Aim, Strategic Priorities and Cross-cutting Themes
1. The Committee generally welcomes the strategic priorities and the cross-cutting nature of the draft Programme for Government (PfG).
2. It is vital when such cross-cutting plans are established that there are effective arrangements for ensuring that resources follow priorities and that departments are effectively held to account for delivering on their cross-cutting commitments. To that end, the Committee wishes to see within PfG/Budget/ISNI and related delivery plans, robust arrangements for the delivery of cross-cutting priorities and clearer identification of resources that are being directed towards these priorities.
Relevance, SMARTness and Deliverability of Goals
3. The functions and priorities of OFMDFM align well with the Executive’s strategic and cross-cutting priorities.
4. The Committee very much welcomes the priority afforded within the Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and the draft Budget to Victims and Survivors and would wish to see this directly reflected in the Programme for Government document.
5. The Committee also welcomes the commitments in the PSAs to establish an international strategy, to implement the children’s strategy, to deliver a strong independent voice for older people and to increase resources afforded to the Planning Appeals Commission.
6. The only goals specifically mentioned within PfG, for which OFMDFM has lead responsibility, are those to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010 and to eliminate child poverty by 2020. The Committee agrees in principle with these ambitious targets but is very concerned at the lack of detail within PfG and the PSAs as to how the 2010 target is to be delivered. This is particularly significant as information provided to the Committee would seem to indicate that there has been little or no progress in reducing child poverty over the past three years. Indeed it has been estimated that only 27,000 children have been removed from poverty in Northern Ireland in the past seven years, but to achieve the proposed target by 2010, 41,000 will need to be removed in the next three years. Much of the responsibility for removing children from poverty will fall to departments other than OFMDFM but sufficient information does not seem to be available within PfG on the new initiatives that will ensure rapid progress towards this target.
7. The Committee calls on Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to ensure that within the Programme for Government and the related delivery plans, the new initiatives planned by all departments to tackle child poverty are clearly detailed.
8. Concern was expressed by members of the Committee in relation to the lack of depth within the Programme for Government on Good Relations.
Proposals for Delivering the Aims and Priorities, Including the Delivery of the Cross-cutting Priorities of a Better Future and Sustainability
9. The Committee would like appropriate priority and further information to be included in the final Programme for Government document and PSAs in relation how the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability will add to the existing and planned strategies on matters such as tackling poverty, good relations and sustainability (for which OFMDFM already has responsibility) and what role, if any, OFMDFM has in ensuring that departments take account of these themes within their policies and services.
10. The Committee considers that additional information should be included in the Programme for Government and relevant delivery plans on:
(a) how progress in taking these themes forward is to be measured;
(b) how and by whom departmental plans for delivery on the cross-cutting themes are to be assessed and, if necessary, challenged; and
(c) when progress against key milestones will be reported.
11. The Committee has been advised that additional information on delivery of the cross-cutting themes will be included in delivery agreements which are currently under development. It is the Committee’s view that these documents should be published alongside the Programme for Government and should detail the contribution of each department to the achievement of targets established by the Executive on a better future and sustainability.
12. The Committee’s ability to assess the extent to which PfG/ISNI will ensure the delivery of the objective of a better future is limited as a result of the unavailability of the strategic assessment of the equality impacts of PfG/ISNI.
Public Service Agreements
13. As indicated previously, the Committee is concerned that there is insufficient information available within PfG/Budget/ISNI to enable the Committee to satisfy itself that targets on child poverty, as set out in PSA 7, are deliverable.
14. The Committee is also concerned that the budget allocations for tackling child poverty may not be sufficient to deliver the challenging targets set by the Executive.
15. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should review the targets and actions for which it is responsible within the PSAs, to ensure that all targets are SMART. In particular, it is recommended that additional information on timescales and measurement should be included to improve the SMARTness of targets relating to:
- development of the International Strategy (PSA 1)
- establishment of the Ministerial sub-committee on children (PSA 6)
- production of the Anti-Poverty Strategy (PSA 7)
- strategic actions to promote social inclusion, equality and the enforcement of rights (PSA 7)
- gender pay gap and the rights of the child (PSA 7)
- reporting progress on the sustainable development implementation plan and the related communications strategy (PSA 11)
- minimisation of slippage in the number of Executive Bills (PSA 21).
16. The Committee considers that whilst there are a number of good targets and actions there is a need for improved read across on how the actions will achieve the targets.
Draft Investment Strategy
Alignment of the Objectives, Priorities and Investment Framework with PfG Priorities, Goals and Targets
17. The Committee welcomes and recognises the value to infrastructure development of the long-term approach provided by the Investment Strategy. The strategy is needed to clearly identify how departmental capital budgets will be deployed in one cohesive strategy to achieve the Executive’s priorities. It also has a role in informing the construction and technology industries, careers agencies and education and training organisations of the medium to long-term needs and opportunities created through the Strategy.
18. The Committee would welcome clarification on the rationale for the cross-cutting objectives in the Investment Strategy, which are additional to the strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes in PfG, and would welcome an explanation as to their purpose.
19. The Committee has sought and received assurances that the first three years of the strategy are aligned fully with the draft Budget, which includes the assumption of £600m of receipts from assets disposal. The Committee looks forward to seeing the detail of the asset disposals within the Investment Delivery Plans.
Key Goals and Milestones
20. The Committee has visited and been appraised of the proposals for investment programmes at Ebrington Barracks and Fort George and notes the proposed milestone date for regeneration of the site by 2012. The Committee has also visited and been briefed on the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site but notes that no milestone for the regeneration of the site is included in the Investment Strategy. The Committee recommends that a specific milestone is included in the Strategy for the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site.
Arrangements for Delivery of the Investment Strategy
21. The Committee has been advised that additional information on delivery will be included in a new performance management and delivery framework under development by OFMDFM and Department of Finance and Personnel. The Committee welcomes the commitment provided by OFMDFM that delivery plans will be published alongside the Investment Strategy. Members wish to see specific detail included within the delivery plans on how the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability are being taken into account.
22. The Committee would welcome clarification on how the objective of promoting regional balance is to be measured and how this objective differs from tackling regional disparity.
23. The Committee recognises the importance of infrastructure investment in tackling objective need. The Committee would therefore wish to be advised as to how the geographical distribution of deprivation has informed the Investment Strategy.
24. The Committee supports the views of the Advisory Council on Infrastructure Investment on the importance of there being a cohesive approach across government departments to investment planning and delivery, the need for action to address limitations in skills and government culture and the need to see results from a monitoring process that is capable of evaluating deliverables.
25. The Committee recommends that a detailed plan of action should be developed by the Strategic Investment Board and the Department of Finance and Personnel to address the lack of capacity within the Public Sector to deliver the Investment Strategy.
The Role of Procurement
26. Committee members were concerned at the lack of information that officials from OFMDFM were able to provide on how procurement practices will help to deliver strategy objectives and would wish to see specific target dates set for the development of guidance on embedding equality and sustainability into procurement practice.
Programme for Government and Investment Strategy- Information and Process
Structure, Accessibility, Quality and Relevance of Information
27. PfG/Budget/ISNI are very closely linked. The Committee is concerned that there can be difficulty in cross-referencing these documents because of the number of different priorities, themes, objectives, goals, milestones and targets and would encourage the Executive to consider whether the framework could be simplified or more effectively cross-referenced.
28. The Committee is concerned that it was required to complete its scrutiny of the Programme for Government without having the opportunity to consider the strategic level equality impact assessment of PfG/Budget and ISNI. It is vital that this is corrected for future years.
29. Similarly, more detailed information in relation to the geographic spread of new capital investments will not be available until the final version of the Investment Strategy is produced. The Committee is not therefore in a position to comment on the extent to which the strategy objective of promoting regional balance is being delivered. The Committee recommends that such information should be available in future years when Committees consider the draft Investment Strategy.
30. The Committee would also to wish to have information included in PfG and ISNI in future years on the role, purpose and format of investment and delivery plans so that it is clear what further information will be available to statutory committees to assist them in monitoring departmental performance.
Improving the Process to Develop PfG and the Investment Strategy
31. The schedule for this year’s consultation exercises on Programme for Government, Investment Strategy and Budget was not satisfactory. The 10 week consultation period started on 25 October 2007 and the closing date is 4 January 2008. The reality for many Committees was that they had their first opportunity to consider the documents during week commencing 5 November 2007, when they first met following the statements, and ended at the end of November when Committees were asked to respond to the Finance and OFMDFM Committees.
32. As a result, there was insufficient time available to the statutory committees to scrutinise relevant aspects of PfG/ISNI. This significantly limited the ability of the Committee to hear views from stakeholders before forming its own opinions. The Committee accepts the exceptional reasons and circumstances relating to the cycle this year, but would wish to see this addressed in future years, when there must be a much longer period available for statutory committees to properly scrutinise PFG/ISNI.
33. The Committee intends to work with the Committee for Finance and Personnel to develop proposals for improving the scrutiny by the Assembly of PfG/Budget/ISNI.
34. The Committee would wish to see the Executive, early in 2008, bringing forward a timetable in relation to the development of PfG/Budget/ISNI for future years.
14 December 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Regional Development
1. Following Committee consideration of the draft Programme for Government and draft Investment Strategy at its meetings of 7 November, 14 November and 21 November 2007, the Committee would make the following response to the request by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for committee views.
Draft Programme for Government/PSA Framework
2. The Department has responsibility for delivering PSAs that contribute to each of the five priority areas identified by the Executive in the draft PfG. The Committee supports the five priorities, and in particular, the Committee notes and commends the inclusion of the priority to Protect and enhance our environment and natural resources.
3. In addition to the role infrastructure plays as a driver of economic development and social inclusion underpinning many of the Executive’s key goals, the Committee notes a number of key goals for which the Department has explicit responsibility, including
Priority 1 – Growing a dynamic, innovative economy
Infrastructure has been identified as a key driver of economic growth and productivity, a critical factor in competitiveness and in the decisions of FDI in the choice of host locations. DRD contributes to the achievement of this priority through its investment in roads and public transport, and its management of policy in relation to water and sewerage services, ports and airports.
Priority 2 – Promote tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being
Goal 10 - Reducing by 33% the overall number of people, and by 50% the number of children, killed or seriously injured.
Priority 3 – Protect and enhance our environment and natural resources
Goal 5 – Delivering a new sewer project for central Belfast by 2010.
Priority 4 – Invest to build our infrastructure
Goal 2 – Investing £3.1bn in our road network by 2018.
Goal 3 – Investing £1.4bn in our water and waste water infrastructure by 2018.
Goals 1, 2, 3, and 5. – Achieving 5% efficiency savings on administration costs for the next 3 years; delivering 3% per annum on resource budgets; contributing to the generation of an extra £1bn capital realisation; and streamlining department and agency websites by 2009.
4. The Committee is of the view that, with 38 goals, it would not be helpful to add to the list at this time. However, it may be useful if, in future revisions of the Programmes for Government, the centrality of environmentally sustainable infrastructure and connectivity were made more explicit and given higher priority.
5. In terms of the SMARTness and achievability of the existing goals, those that are explicitly within the remit of the Department are, on the whole, SMART.
6. The Committee notes with some concern that the road safety targets for percentage reductions in those killed and seriously injured (ksi) are not new. Although road conditions are responsible for a small proportion of ksi incidents on our roads, the Committee is firmly of the view that reductions in this area will not be achievable without adequate funding for structural road maintenance and local traffic measures.
7. The achievability of those goals at priority four - investing £3.1bn in our road network by 2018 and investing £1.4bn in our water and waste water infrastructure by 2018, are dependent on the availability of funding outside the current Budget period. The Committee is supportive of these goals; however their achievability is dependent on potential funding allocations by a future Executive.
8. The Committee notes that, of the five strategic and interrelated priority areas identified by the Executive, one priority Growing a dynamic and innovative economy is identified as the top priority. This is followed a discussion of the cross-cutting themes of A better future and Sustainability, which the Executive states will underpin delivery of their priorities.
9. In its analysis of the discourse on A better future, the Committee had some concerns in relation to the meaning and force of some of the language used in the commitments outlined. For example ‘ … fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity will be watchwords for all our policies and programmes.’ The following paragraph states that the Executive has an overarching responsibility ‘ … to proactively change the existing patterns of social disadvantage by using increased prosperity and economic growth to tackle ongoing poverty.’
10. It is unclear to the Committee what force, if any, attaches to a cross-cutting theme or a watchword, particularly in light of the second quote above which suggests that the proceeds of prosperity and growth, when achieved, will be used to tackle ongoing poverty, rather than seeking to grow and prosper in a way that begins to address poverty.
11. NICVA, in its evidence to the Committee noted that A Shared Future has become A better future with no definition of what the watchwords of fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity might mean. NICVA was also critical of what it saw as the trickledown assumptions inherent in the approach used in the Programme for Government.
12. On the issue of sustainability, the Committee is of the view that a radically different approach is required if Northern Ireland is to play its part in achieving the 60-80% reduction in carbon emissions outlined by the Prime Minister in his speech on 19 November 2007. NICVA, in its evidence to the Committee, highlighted the imbalance between spending on roads in comparison to planned spending on public transport and what it saw as the small consideration of carbon emissions in transport. The Committee is of the view that the issue is not simply one of bus and rail versus roads. Much of our public transport is bus based, and improvement in our roads means improvements in bus journey times, further enhancing the carbon efficiency of bus journeys. For the Committee, a more useful discussion is one that focuses on the carbon emissions of the different modes of transport, and it would welcome consideration of green energy and hybrid based modes of public transport within this mix.
13. Again, as a cross cutting theme, it is not clear to the Committee what force, if any, sustainability has in terms of implementation. Although PSA 22 refers to reducing our carbon footprint, it does not contain an explicit carbon emissions reductions action or target, nor does DRD have a target in this area.
14. The Department for Regional Development has 8 priorities spread over four PSAs. Of these, it has sole responsibility for the delivery of two, has responsibility as shareholder for a third, and shares the fourth with the Department for the Environment, which is in the lead. It is the view of the Committee that for the Department for Regional Development, lines of responsibility are clear.
Draft Investment Strategy
15. As a stand alone document the draft Investment Strategy’s pillars and sub pillars structure, together with the cross-cutting objectives, provides a clear matrix within which to think about infrastructure investment. The ISNI states its aims are within the PfG, however it is not clear whether the ISNI pillars and cross-cutting themes matrix refers to activities within Priority 4 – Invest to build our infrastructure or to all infrastructure investment under any of the Executives priorities. Therefore, it is the view of the Committee that this matrix is insufficiently aligned to the five priorities and two cross-cutting themes identified by the Executive in the Programme for Government. The 23 sub-pillars, in the case of the Department for Regional Development, closely align with the budget objectives, which is not surprising as years 1-3 of the ISNI map to the Budget period, but it is not sufficiently clear how these relate to the 23 PSAs.
16. The Committee is of the view that, given the indicative nature of funding for the ISNI beyond year three, the key goals are aspirational. This is at odds with the role of the ISNI as a strategic forward look at infrastructure needs, however it may be inevitable if the ISNI is tied to the Budget. This is problematic as the infrastructure industries and others will be seeking clarity and certainty in order to prepare to compete for forthcoming government business.
17. The nature of infrastructure projects is that there is a long lead and development time, in many cases outside the three year budget period, a fact which contributes to the aspirational nature of the key goals. This means that most of the milestones contained in the ISNI of relevance to the Committee for Regional Development refer to projects already well advanced. In some respects, this means that commitments are being made on those projects which are on the way to being delivered, and the observer may be tempted to ask where the challenge for departments lies.
18. The Environment pillar makes reference to investment in Water and Waste Water infrastructure. The Committee is of the view that until the Executive has made decisions on the outstanding Strand One issues, and Strand Two of the Independent Water Review has been published, it is not in a position to make further comment on the proposals in this pillar.
19. The Committee again highlights the lack of discussion in the final ISNI of carbon emissions in the Networks pillar, although the Measure Investment Proposals submitted as part of the ISNI bidding process devoted considerable attention to this topic. Turning to the Environment pillar, the discussion is limited to consideration of water and waste water compliance with EU Directives, rather than any fuller consideration of carbon footprint of all our investment activities.
Programme for Government and Investment Strategy Information and Process
20. The Committee understands that, because of the timing of restoration, the Programme for Government, ISNI and Budget process for this year has been somewhat shorter than normal. However the time scale this year was too short to allow sufficient time for Committee consideration and the Assembly process.
21. The Committee would like to see clarification, simplification and harmonisation of the terminology used in the Programme for Government, the Investment Strategy, and the Budget.
22. Within the Programme for Government there is one overarching aim, five strategic and interrelated priorities of which one is the top priority, two cross-cutting themes and 38 goals, in addition to 23 PSAs, encompassing 95 objectives above a myriad of actions and targets.
23. Within the Investment Strategy, which it states shares the overarching aim of the Programme for Government, there are six investment pillars encompassing 23 sub-pillars.
24. Within the Budget, each department’s DEL is split between capital and investment, which are delineated into objectives labelled by a letter rather than an activity, although they should align with the Department’s objectives, and below that into spending areas. The spending areas align closely with the sub-pillars of the Investment Strategy because of the relationship between the capital budget and the ISNI. However the departmental objectives used to organise the Budget are at a different level to the objectives used in the PSAs and differ again from the PSAs themselves.
25. The Committee is of the view that aligning the PSAs more closely with the Budget documents (Departmental objectives and spending areas) would allow Committees to assess what their Department is to achieve with the funding allocated to it, which would in turn enhance ongoing Committee scrutiny.
26. There is also the question of the hierarchy and relationship between the PSA objectives and targets in the PSA annex to the PfG and the key goals listed in the PfG. This is not clear, nor is it clear that when a commitment is given to monitoring and reporting on progress, what exactly is to be monitored and reported on.
27. It is the view of the Committee that the Departmental Position Report and Executive Position Report stages of the budget process under the previous Assembly provided useful and timely information to Committees and should be a feature in the process for next year. In addition to the alignment of budget allocations to priorities and actions, the publication of an annual report illustrating both spend and delivery would begin to provide the information needed by Committees and the Assembly to discharge their scrutiny and advisory functions.
28. On behalf of the Committee for Regional Development, I would thank you and the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for your co-ordination work on the draft Programme for Government and draft ISNI. I am forwarding a copy of this letter to the Minister for Regional Development.
28 November 2007
Written Submission by: Committee for Social Development
Draft Programme for Government
1. The Committee is content with the priorities detailed in the draft Programme for Government and believes that they reflect the role of the Department for Social Development in tackling poverty and disadvantage and in building communities.
2. The Committee believes that the key goals associated with the Executive’s priorities adequately reflect the work of the Department for Social Development.
3. The Department for Social Development is working to refine the actions and targets in the draft Programme for Government to ensure they are SMART and to take account of budget constraints. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Committee to comment, at this stage, on the effectiveness of the proposals for delivering the aims and priorities of the Programme.
4. The Committee appreciates that targets should be challenging but is concerned that some targets, in particular those relating to the eradication of fuel poverty and severe child poverty, may be aspirational rather than realistic.
5. The Committee has noted the Minister’s concerns in relation to the funding available to tackle fuel poverty and to progress the Warm Homes Scheme. The Committee recognises the importance of raising energy efficiency standards in dwellings to tackle the fuel poverty issue and would wish to see targets relating to the improvement of energy efficiency strengthened.
6. The Committee noted the use of the phrase, ‘new ethnic minorities’ (see PSA 7). This phrase has not been defined in the document and raises questions about what happens to established ethnic minorities – will they benefit from the strategic action to promote social inclusion?
Draft Investment Strategy
7. The Committee understands that the work of the Department for Social Development cuts across all the priorities and all the investment pillars. The Committee recognises that the priorities and pillars are not mutually exclusive.
8. The draft Investment Strategy does not refer specifically to relevant departments however the Committee believes that it is clear from the pillar and the sub-pillar references, and detail of allocations, which department is involved.
9. The Committee believes that the funding allocated to the investment pillars will present the Department for Social Development with major challenges. The Committee understands that the Department is examining a number of measures to identify where additional funds can be accessed. The Department will also engage with the Department for Finance and Personnel to discuss the accounting arrangements for major retail led regeneration schemes and other large capital schemes. These discussions will focus mainly on the difficulties associated with the lack of flexibility to handle the movement of funds between years.
10. The Committee would wish to draw your attention to the comments made by the Department for Social Development in relation to the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy:
“As with the Budget process, there will undoubtedly be learning points from this first Programme for Government and Investment Strategy under the new devolved administration. There was perhaps insufficient time to develop a full cohesion and proper running order to the process, the role of the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Strategic Investment Board was unclear, as was the extent to which information provided by the Department to support its bids was used to determine the allocations”.
6 December 2007
Committee for OFMDFM
22 November 2007
OFMDFM Committee Questions – PfG/Budget/ISNI
Your letter of 16 November 2007 seeking responses to questions raised by the OFMDFM Committee following the evidence session last week refers.
I have set out below responses to Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on strategic issues.
Are all the commitments and goals in the PfG document for the period 2008-2011 for each of the PfG priorities included as PSA actions and targets or as Investment Milestones?.
While a number of the goals and commitments are included in the PSA Framework, not all are. Details of how the Executive will aim to deliver the goals and announcements set out in the PfG, alongside the PSAs, will be included in the Delivery Agreements which departments are in the process of developing.
When will the results of the equality assessments of PfG/ISNI be available to the Committee?
A draft strategic level equality impact assessment of the PfG, Budget and Investment Strategy is currently being prepared. It will be available shortly for public consultation and the Committee’s consideration.
Have all departments conducted a high level assessment of poverty/social exclusion and sustainable development impacts of PfG/Budget proposals?
All departments undertook a series of High-Level Impact Assessments (HLIAs) on all policy and spending proposals for the period 2008-11. In addition to equality and good relations, the HLIAs considered the poverty/social exclusion and sustainable development impacts of the proposals.
How will progress on the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability be assessed?
Departments are working to develop Delivery Agreements and an associated monitoring framework for each of the PSAs and the Executive’s key goals, as set out in the PfG. This process will address how the Executive proposes to monitor progress on the cross cutting themes of a better future and sustainability.
In addition, the sustainability performance of Government departments will be assessed through the monitoring and reporting mechanisms of the Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan which are currently being reviewed by Ministers.
Has any assessment been made of the % of targets and actions contained within the PSAs which aim to reduce poverty or disadvantage among population groups or between geographical areas?
The overall potential impact of the PfG on reducing poverty or disadvantage will be considered as part of the draft strategic level Equality Impact Assessment.
Signed Gail McKibbin
Departmental Assembly Liaison Officer
Committee for OFMDFM
27 November 2007
OFMDFM Committee Questions – PfG/Budget/ISNI
Your letter of 16 November 2007 sought responses to questions raised by the OFMDFM Committee following the evidence session on 14 November.
I have set out below the responses to Questions 16, 17, 18, and 19 about the Investment Strategy.
16. How will investment goals be aligned with Executive and departmental priorities in the proposed Investment Delivery Plans?
The overall objectives of investment are set out in the Investment Strategy and these are fully aligned with the priorities in the Programme for Government. Key Goals have been set out under each of the Investment Pillars in line with these overall investment objectives, and are supported by financial allocations that will enable departments to undertake substantive programmes of projects to deliver the Key Goals.
More significant projects in support of each of the Key Goals are indicated in the Investment Strategy itself, but departments will have flexibility to decide on the priority and phasing of their total capital programmes, taking account of individual departmental priorities. Fuller information on all of the capital programmes will be contained in the Investment Delivery Plans.
17. Where and when will lead responsibility for the delivery of goals set out in the Investment Strategy be defined?
OFMDFM is working with DFP, SIB and departments to put in place arrangements that will define a clear framework of responsibility and accountability for the delivery of the Investment Strategy. This framework is currently being finalised, with a view to the arrangements being implemented early in 2008. Details of the performance management and delivery arrangements will be included in the final published version of the Investment Strategy.
18. When will departments be required to produce Investment Delivery Plans? How often will the plans be reviewed?
Investment Delivery Plans will be published in the first part of 2008, following the finalisation of the Investment Strategy. The performance management and delivery framework, which is currently being finalised, will define how often the Delivery Plans will be reviewed and the methodology for doing so. As noted above, details of the performance management and delivery arrangements will be included in the final published version of the Investment Strategy.
19. What level of assets need to be realised during the first three years of the Investment Strategy to fund the commitments set out in the strategy? When will details be made available of the main assets that are to be disposed of to assist with the funding of the Investment Strategy?
The first three years of the Investment Strategy align fully with the financial allocations in the draft Budget, which includes the assumption of some £600m of receipts from asset disposals. More information about planned asset disposals will be available in departments’ Investment Delivery Plans.
The Capital Realisations Taskforce is currently considering the scope for any further asset disposals (over and beyond those already included in the Budget). This reflects the Executive’s ambition to invest even more in modernising our infrastructure. The Taskforce will report its initial findings to the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Finance Minister by mid-December. The intention is that any additional asset realisations should be taken into account in finalising the Investment Strategy.
Signed Gail McKibbin
Departmental Assembly Liaison Officer