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COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING
End of Session Report: 2009-10
Remit, Powers and Membership
The Committee for Employment and Learning is a Statutory Departmental Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Employment and Learning and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power to:
The Committee has eleven Members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, with a quorum of five. The Membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:
Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson) 1
1 Mrs Dolores Kelly replaced Ms Sue Ramsey as Chairperson on 12 April 2010.
2 Mr Jonathan Bell replaced Mr Peter Weir as Deputy Chairperson on 28 June 2010, and Mr Thomas Buchanan as a member on 1 February 2010.
3 Rev Dr Robert Coulter replaced Mr Basil McCrea on 15 September 2008.
4 Mr Pat Ramsey replaced Mr Alex Attwood on 29 June 2009.
5 Mr Alex Easton, Mr David Hilditch and Mr William Irwin replaced Mr Nelson McCausland, Mr Alastair Ross and Mr Jimmy Spratt on 15 September 2008.
6 Mr Peter Weir replaced Mr David Hilditch on 13 April 2010.
7 Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Jim Wells on 29 May 2007; Mr Robin Newton replaced Mr Jimmy Spratt as Deputy Chairperson on 10 June 2008; Mr Thomas Buchanan replaced Mr Robin Newton as Deputy Chairperson on 4 July 2009; Mr Trevor Clarke replaced Mr Alex Easton on 14 September 2009; Mr Peter Weir replaced Mr David Hilditch and became Deputy Chairperson on 12 April 2010; Mr Jonathan Bell ceased to be a member on 13 April 2010 and rejoined the Committee on 28 June 2010, as (1) above.
This report covers the work of the Committee for Employment and Learning during the 2009-2010 Assembly Session, from 1 st September 2009 to 31 st August 2010, and includes the 2010 summer recess.
The Committee’s work programme for the session included a number of stakeholder events and the commencement of an inquiry into Young People (16-24) Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). The Committee reported on the Employment Act 2010, and began its scrutiny of the Employment (No.2) Bill and the Student Loans (Amendment) Bill; considered a range of subordinate legislation; undertook a number of study visits throughout Northern Ireland, and to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland; and met on 31 occasions.
Details of Committee expenditure during this reporting period are included at Annex A.
Committee Meetings / Visits
Of the 31 meetings convened by the Committee, eight were held outside Parliament Buildings. The venues for these meetings included the Jordanstown and Belfast campuses of the University of Ulster; Lagan Valley Island Centre in Lisburn; Queen’s University, Belfast; the Lisburn campus of the South-Eastern Regional College; Malone House, Belfast; NIACRO at Amelia House, Belfast; and the Technology and Skills Centre of the South-West College, Enniskillen. The Committee has stated a preference for not meeting in closed session unless absolutely necessary and, as a result, has held the majority of its meetings in open, public session.
Throughout the session the Committee visited the campuses of both Universities and two of the Further Education Colleges, enabling Members to meet with the students participating in various activities and to see at first-hand excellent new facilities and buildings. Members were impressed when they met the young people employed at business enterprises operated by the Orchardville Society and the Now Project and also those who were benefitting from careers guidance and support provided at the premises of NIACRO. Members of the Committee also travelled to Dublin in November 2009 and had a useful meeting with the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment which considers similar issues in the Oireachtas. In order to seek further evidence for its ongoing inquiry into young people who are NEET, in May 2010 six Committee Members undertook a four-day study visit to Edinburgh and Cardiff. The itinerary included briefings by representatives and Ministers from the other jurisdictions where strategies have already been developed to help to re-engage young people, and also site visits to projects which are implementing these strategies. The visit proved very valuable, providing Members with a much wider perspective on this issue and an opportunity to observe different examples of effective co-operation between government agencies.
Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2010
The purpose of this Employment Act is to make provision for the enforcement of legislation with regard to employment agencies and the minimum wage; and to legislate for the Membership of, and representation before, the Industrial Court . The Committee raised a number of issues with the Department, including concerns regarding proposals around the rights of trade unions to expel Members who have Memberships or affiliations with political parties/groups whose views are not in tune with those of the trade union ; proposed changes to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB); and changes to the appointment process to the boards of the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and the CITB. However, the Committee was satisfied by the Department’s reassurances on these various issues. The Committee published its Report on the Bill on 6 November 2009; and the Bill passed its Final Stage in the Assembly on 15 June 2010, receiving Royal Assent on 2 August 2010.
Student Loans (Amendment) Bill 2010
The Minister for Employment and Learning introduced this Bill to the Assembly on 25 May 2010; the Bill passed the Second Stage on 8 June 2010 and was referred to the Committee on 9 June 2010. The Student Loan (Amendment) Bill proposes to exclude student loan repayment from Individual Voluntary Arrangements in respect of rescheduling debt. A public notice inviting submissions was published on 1 July 2010 and the Committee will continue its scrutiny after the summer recess. The Committee hopes to report on the Bill in early November 2010.
Employment (No.2) Bill (Northern Ireland) 2010
The Department for Employment and Learning’s Employment (No.2) Bill passed First Stage in the Assembly on 7 June 2010 and Second Stage on 21 June 2010. The Committee stage of the Bill, which will make changes to the way workplace dispute resolution is dealt with and will introduce provisions, allowing workers to take time off work to train, commenced on Tuesday 22 June 2010. On 1 July the Committee published its public notice inviting submissions and it is intended that the Committee will report its findings in early December 2010.
Welfare Reform Act (Northern Ireland) 2010
Although the Department for Social Development took the lead role in this Bill, a number of aspects fell within the remit of the Department for Employment and Learning and, correspondingly, the Committee scrutinised these aspects of the legislation. Members worked closely with the Committee for Social Development throughout the Committee stage of the Bill, which commenced on 20 April 2010 and concluded with its Report on 3 June 2010.
During the session the Committee considered 14 items of subordinate legislation which were laid in the Assembly. As part of its process for scrutinising subordinate legislation, the Committee has sought the views of relevant stakeholder organisations and, where appropriate, has referred these to the Department for Employment and Learning for comment/action.
Inquiry into Young People (16-24) Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)
At its meeting on 3 February 2010 the Committee agreed to undertake an Inquiry into the issues surrounding young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). There are approximately 40,000 young people who fall into this NEET category. Some of these are merely in transition, but there would appear to be a significant proportion of this group who would find themselves in the NEET category over the longer-term and are likely to fall into the economically inactive group within our adult population. Following the publication of a public notice in March 2010, the Committee has begun gathering evidence which will better identify the young people who are most at risk of becoming NEET and which will allow the Committee to examine the options for appropriate strategies to address the increasing numbers of these young people. The issues involved are extremely complex and cross-cutting, and consequently, action to deal with these issues will fall across the remit of a number of Departments. The Committee has been working closely with the Department for Employment and Learning as it finalises a scoping study. The recommendations of this Inquiry will be taken into account as the Department proceeds to formulate a NEETs strategy. The Committee will continue to take further evidence after the summer recess, in order to reflect the large number of stakeholder organisations which responded to the public consultation. It is intended that the Committee will consider its findings by the end of October 2010.
The Committee requested and received briefings from departmental officials at each of the quarterly monitoring rounds in September and December 2009, and February and June 2010. In addition, the Committee was briefed in January 2010 by the Department on the Review of 2010-2011 Spending Plans, and again, in June 2010, on the Budget 2010 process leading to the development of spending plans covering the four year period 2011-12 to 2014-15. The Minister for Employment and Learning also gave the Committee a personal briefing on 9 June 2010 to outline his budget priorities in the current economic climate. The Committee continues to work with the Department to make best use of the Department’s resources.
The Committee remained mindful of the wide range of policies produced by the Department for Employment and Learning and continued to keep a keen eye on these policies and to exercise its scrutiny role. Those programmes that have been scrutinised by the Committee have included: Steps to Work/ Step Ahead; Workplace Dispute Resolution; Apprenticeships NI/ Programme Led Apprenticeships; and Success through Skills 2. The Committee also had a scrutiny role in the Welfare Reform Bill 2010, which, although the Department for Social Development took forward the legislative procedures, also fell within the remit of the Department for Employment and Learning.
Engagement – Informal meetings / events
The Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and individual Members of the Committee hosted and attended a wide range of events and informal meetings throughout the session. Members valued the opportunity to launch the campaign, “End Violence against Women”, organised by the National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland in November 2009. Together with a number of other Committees, Members participated in the RUAS Balmoral Show and found this a useful opportunity to engage with young people from the rural community. In February 2010 the Committee organised a seminar for stakeholders to scope the terms of reference for its inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training. A similar event in January 2010 allowed Members to gain an insight into older people facing difficulties in accessing Lifelong Learning. In April 2010 the Committee facilitated a stakeholder forum for those concerned with the future of the Programme Led Apprenticeships scheme. In addition, throughout the year, the Committee met with various groups on an informal basis, and accepted invitations to a wide range of events, in order to provide further opportunities for stakeholder engagement.
The Committee for Employment and Learning brought forward three motions to the Assembly during this session: on 20 October 2009, the Committee argued in favour of widening access to Educational Maintenance Allowance; on 20 April 2010 Members called for the Minister to promote the ‘Get on Board’ programme to encourage participation in public appointments; and the third motion, on 8 June 2010, reflected the Committee’s concern over the Programme-Led Apprenticeships. All three of these Committee motions not only received the support of the Assembly but also provoked lively and useful debate.
Key Priorities for the 2010-2011 Assembly Session
The Committee aims to concentrate its attention on a wide and varied range of issues throughout the 2010 - 2011 Session including the following:
Underpinning all the Committee's work will continue to be Members' close engagement with stakeholders in respect to all significant issues at all levels.
Committee for Employment and Learning
|Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings|| Includes the cost of committee visits to:
|Printing of committee reports|| Includes the cost of a committee report on:
|Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings|| Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:
|Consultancy support - the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the committee and commissioned research||
|General expenses||Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, and conference fees for Members.||