|Homepage > The Work of the Assembly > Committees > Employment and Learning > Reports > Legacy Report|
COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING
Legacy Report 2007-11
Remit and Powers
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 at the end of the Mandate was as follows:
Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Details of the various changes to the membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 are attached at Appendix One.
Achievements and Successes
The Committee has had a number of notable achievements, highlights and success over the mandate. Perhaps its most fundamental success has been the level of accessibility that the Committee has been able to offer stakeholder groups. The ability of these groups to bring concerns and issues direct to the Committee has been a particular feature of the Committee’s work during this mandate. As a result the Committee has achieved a high level of engagement with an increasingly broad range of stakeholders on a wide range of issues. It has become the Committee’s practice to engage with stakeholders at every level and at every opportunity. The Committee is justifiably proud of the Inquiries it has undertaken and the impact that these have had and also the scrutiny of the Department for Employment and Learning’s (DEL) three Bills during the mandate. The Committee has diligently scrutinised the Department’s budgets and monitoring returns during the mandate, culminating in an extensive Committee response to the Department’s draft budget 2011-15 consultation.
The Committee’s first Inquiry into DEL’s Training for Success Programme was prompted by concerns around the contracting process for the programme. The programme was designed to replace JobSkills and is a key DEL scheme. Members began to take evidence on the programme contracting in June 2007 and the programme began in 2007. The Inquiry report was completed by the Committee in May 2008 with a key recommendation being the removal of apprenticeships from the programme and the establishment of a separate flagship programme for apprenticeships. The Department accepted this key recommendation and created the stand alone Apprenticeships NI programme. The majority of the other Inquiry recommendations were also accepted by the Department and the programme continues to evolve along the lines suggested by the Committee.
In January 2009 the Committee completed its Inquiry into Teacher Training which had been prompted by a change to the funding model for St. Mary’s and Stranmillis University Colleges and which also developed to examine the proposed merger between Stranmillis and Queen’s University, Belfast. The Committee made a number of recommendations which aimed to place the university colleges on a more sustainable footing and to provide breathing space for Stranmillis to consider all the other options open to it. The issues involved in this Inquiry are ongoing and continue to be revisited by the Committee. This Inquiry was the first notable example of the Committee exploring issues which, while within the DEL remit, are part of the remit of another department, in this case Education.
In response to the economic downturn in the latter part of 2008 and the increasing number of apprentices being made redundant, the Committee began an Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships. This Inquiry ended in June 2009 and, again, produced a number of important recommendations which DEL has generally accepted and has fed into the evolution of Apprenticeships NI.
Also in June 2009 the Committee completed an investigation into Workplace Dispute Resolution. This investigation began as a response to changes mooted in this area in Great Britain and the repeal of legislation there. DEL conducted a consultation on the issues around Workplace Dispute Resolution and the Committee decided to use this as a starting point for its own investigation into the issues. Although not a formal Inquiry, the Committee gathered evidence in the normal way and produced a report. The recommendations contained in this report were used as the basis for the Employment (No.2) Bill, which the Committee then scrutinised and agreed in November 2010. The Committee is proud of how well this partnership approach with the Department resulted in legislation in this area of employment policy.
The Committee scrutinised the Employment (No.1) Bill which makes provision regarding the enforcement of legislation for employment agencies and the minimum wage and the membership of, and representation before, the Industrial Court. Members supported the proper enforcement of good practice by employment agencies and also the proper application of the minimum wage as, in many cases, vulnerable groups such as migrant workers had not been receiving this. The Committee agreed the Bill (now the Employment Act 2010) in September 2009 and regards it as a particularly necessary piece of legislation as agency working is now very commonplace and the economic downturn has made unscrupulous employers more likely to exploit vulnerable workers.
Additionally the Committee scrutinised the DEL Student Loan (Amendment) Bill. This Bill seeks to exclude student loans from being incorporated into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) as they are excluded from bankruptcy proceedings. The Committee agreed the Bill in November 2010 and Members regard it as an important piece of legislation that puts IVAs on the same footing as bankruptcy with respect to student loans.
The Committee largest single piece of work and one of its proudest achievements during the mandate was its Inquiry into Young People (16 to 24) Not in Education, Employment or Training, so-called NEET young people. The Committee had become aware that this group of young people had continued to grow over the last number of years - a situation made worse by the economic downturn – and Members wanted to establish the reasons for young people finding themselves NEET and how these issues might best be addressed. The Committee concluded the Inquiry in December 2010. During the process of evidence-gathering form the providers of programmes to re-engage NEET young people and other stakeholders by the Committee considerable momentum to develop a NEET strategy developed. The Committee facilitated the establishment of a Stakeholder Forum and encouraged DEL to engage with other relevant departments to develop such a strategy. The issue has been considered by the Executive and DEL will launch a public consultation on the development of a NEET strategy soon. The Committee regards its Inquiry as being the catalyst for these developments.
Members have also benefited from an intensive programme of Committee study visits during the mandate, which has allowed the Committee to hold its meetings around Northern Ireland, giving stakeholders and the general public much greater access to the Committee and has also raised the profile of the Assembly. The Committee is also very proud of the links that it has made outside Northern Ireland, most notably with Committees in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and the Oireachtas and also with departments in these jurisdictions. Members have facilitated stakeholder groups’ direct engagement with the Department around a number of programmes to achieve this.
The Committee’s Approach to its Work
As indicated previously, the Committee has undertaken considerable engagement with stakeholders during the mandate. The Committee’s four Inquiries and one investigation over the mandate have been prompted by issues raised by stakeholders, which the Committee has then pursued. The Committee’s approach is particularly evident in its Inquiry into Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). This highly emotive issue had been highlighted to the Committee and, in 2010, the Committee decided to examine the issues around NEET young people. Tremendous momentum built up behind the Inquiry, resulting in the establishment of a Stakeholder Forum and the issue being taken to the Executive by DEL before the Committee’s Inquiry report was published. A public consultation is imminent which will seek inputs to the NEET strategy that will be developed by a number of departments in conjunction with the Stakeholder Forum. The Committee undertook a study visit to Scotland and Wales in May 2010 to see the NEET strategies in those jurisdictions in action. Additionally, the Committee corresponded with the relevant department in the republic of Ireland to gain information of work with NEET young people there. The Committee has sought best practice models with respect to the re-engagement of NEET young people wherever these might be found, reflecting Members’ commitment to the delivery of best programmes and services for our community.
Over the lifetime of the mandate the Committee has sought to make the Department a partner where this is possible, while ensuring that Members continue to apply rigorous scrutiny to the Department’s work. As indicated above, the Committee has engaged with other departments, Ministers and Committees here and also in Wales, Scotland, England and the Republic of Ireland.
The Committee has set a premium on the research that it commissions and has used this to inform the direction of its work on a number of occasions. Research has proved particularly useful in helping to scope terms of reference for Inquiries or to provide background to the content of Bills. With regard to evidence sessions, Members have been committed throughout the mandate to hearing evidence from as many relevant stakeholder groups as possible. This has given the Committee a well-deserved reputation for openness and accessibility. The Committee prefers to hear evidence on issues directly from those with experience; for example from NEET young people during its Inquiry into this issue, or student representatives when discussing the issues around student fees.
The Committee has hosted a number of large-scale events, including a breakfast event in October 2010, the focus of which was to promote beneficial links between business and the Further Education sector. There were over 100 attendees and the Committee followed this up with another breakfast event in February 2011 around the promotion of the STEM subjects and how business and Further and Higher Education can co-operate through Knowledge Transfer partnership. The Committee sees the great benefits of joined-up working, whether between government departments, or business and education, and has worked actively to promote this kind of networking through these large events and through smaller, more focused meetings when Members might also involve DEL.
The Committee has visited all the campuses of the Higher Education institutions here (excluding the Open University); generally holding a Committee meeting when Members have visited. This again gives the Committee a better feel for the issues facing this sector. Additionally, the Committee has visited campuses of five of the six regional colleges during the mandate. The Committee also travelled to Enniskillen to meet with staff at Quinn Insurance to hear about their redundancy concerns and to hold a Committee meeting at the South West College. Members believe that it is important that members of the public should be able to access Committee meetings and that has shaped the Committee’s policy of combining study visits with Committee meetings. Additionally, the Committee regards Further and Higher Education as key drivers for our economy and Members believe that the views of these sectors must help to shape government policy; as must the views of business and the community and voluntary sector.
An important theme running through a great deal of the Committee’s work has been how to provide the best careers advice and guidance to young people while expanding the options open to them. The Committee is conscious that the development of links between the various sectors of education and business is key to the development of our local economy. To this end the Committee travelled, accompanied by the then DEL Minister, Sir Reg Empey MLA, to North Carolina in April 2009. This American state has completely strategically redeveloped its economy and underpinning this is the relationship between business and schools, colleges and universities. Members saw for themselves how this development of joined-up thinking and working has allowed North Carolina to re-orient its economy towards growth industries and ensure that its education sectors are providing the kinds of skills that industry requires and that will attract investment into the state. DEL has developed close links with North Carolina and the Committee is supportive of the Department’s work to follow the North Carolina model.
A great deal of the Committee’s work over the mandate has been shaped by the twin themes of social inclusion and widening participation. These themes tie into the Committee’s work in a number of areas, including Further and Higher Education and NEET young people. The Committee regards devolved government as an opportunity to rebuild our society to ensure that the greatest number of people can participate and benefit. Members believe this, in turn, will help us to develop and sustain a vibrant community and economy.
Issues for the new mandate
There are a number of issues that the Committee is likely to continue to pursue in the new mandate:
Strategies for Higher Education, Student Finance and Widening Participation
The early part of the new mandate will see a number of key issues developing for the Higher Education sector. Consultations on a Higher Education (HE) Strategy and a Widening Participation in Higher Education Strategy will conclude and come to the Committee. Members currently hold the view that these issues must be viewed as constituent parts of a bigger HE and economic picture. These strategies will also be shaped by the outcome of discussions on the level of student fees. The Committee has been integral to the debate around this issue and how HE can and should be financed. This issue will involve legislation (probably subordinate) coming to the Committee, with final decisions being made on the floor of the Assembly. The Committee sees HE as a key economic driver and has heavily engaged with stakeholders in the sector. This is likely to remain the case in the new mandate.
DEL response to the recommendations of the Committee’s NEETs Inquiry report
One of the Committee’s key pieces of work during this mandate has been its Inquiry into Young People (16 to 24) Not in Education, Employment or Training. Early in the new mandate the Committee will expect a response to the recommendations coming from the Inquiry report. The report took a holistic view of the NEET issue and the response to the Inquiry will have to come from a number of departments; however, the Committee anticipates that this response will be co-ordinated by DEL. Significant movement towards a NEET strategy has already been made and the Committee and stakeholders expect that the new mandate will seek the development and implementation of such a strategy. The Committee looks forward to the outcomes of the soon to be published DEL consultation on a NEET strategy.
Further Education and the Committee’s relationships with the Regional Colleges
The Committee will continue to develop and deepen the good relationships that it has developed with the Regional Colleges. The Committee sees the rapid development of the colleges over the last ten years as positioning them as much more central economic drivers. The Committee will seek to build on the work it has done facilitating relationships between the colleges and business and the colleges and other sectors of education. The Committee will also seek to support the colleges in their endeavours to build international relationships and develop internationally focused activities. The Committee regards the colleges as an integral part of the development of STEM subjects and the skills agenda in Northern Ireland.
Further primary legislation on employment issues, building on the foundation of the Employment Act 2010 and the Employment (No.2) Bill.
The Committee regards the provisions in these Bills to be a foundation for further developments in the regulation of employment agencies and enforcement of the minimum wage and of further evolution of workplace dispute resolution and ‘time to train’. The Committee will continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders regarding these issues.
The development of links with business, and the profiling of stakeholder initiatives
The Committee has already undertaken a great deal of work around this issue and hosted a number of large, high profile events to promote this work. In the next mandate it is to be hoped that the Committee can deepen this work and engage with the councils and draw them into networks being established between education and business etc.
Following on from the draft Budget for 2011 – 2015, the scrutiny of the final outcome
The Committee has responded to the DEL draft budget consultation and will continue to engage with the Department as the budget process moves on. This will be a priority for the new Committee and engagement with stakeholders in respect of this will continue.
Support for the annual USDAW campaign, condemning the abuse of shopworkers
The Committee has heard about the abuse that shopworkers face at the hands of the public and Members are keen to continue both to support this ongoing campaign and broaden out the awareness of this issue amongst the departments. The Committee has debated this issue in the Assembly and, as a result, there is a greater awareness of its seriousness across the relevant departments and their related bodies and agencies. The Committee sees more work that can be done and it is very likely that the new Committee will continue to support this campaign.
Follow-up on the Committee Inquiry into Teacher Training
The Committee will seek to follow-up on the progress of the recommendations it made under this Inquiry, particularly in the light of the public consultation on the proposed merger of Stranmillis University College and Queen’s University, Belfast. The Committee will want to assess the responses to the consultation and will seek to ascertain the likely implications of the proposed merger for the other providers of Initial Teacher Education and the potential for reviewing existing allocations and structures with 4 providers rather than 5.
Follow-up on the Committee Inquiries into Training for Success and the Way Forward for Apprenticeships
As with its Inquiries into NEET young people and Teacher Training, the Committee will seek to follow-up on the recommendations it made regarding Training for Success and Apprenticeships. It is appropriate to look at the progress that has been made as both programmes will be re-contracted.
The Committee has put this issue at the heart of its work over this mandate and it is to be expected that this will continue into to the new mandate under the new Committee.
Committee for Employment and Learning
1 Mr Chris Lyttle replaced Ms Anna Lo on 13 September 2010
2 Mr Peter Weir replaced Mr David Hilditch on 13 April 2010.
3 Mr Sydney Anderson replaced Mr William Irwin on 13 September 2010
4 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
5 Mr Jonathan Bell replaced Mr Peter Weir as Deputy Chairperson on 28 June 2010, and Mr Thomas Buchanan as a member from 1 February 2010 to 12 April 2010.
6 Mrs Dolores Kelly replaced Ms Sue Ramsey as Chairperson on 12 April 2010.
7 Mr Pat Ramsey replaced Mr Alex Attwood on 29 June 2009.
8 Mr John McCallister replaced Mr David McClarty on 7 February 2011
9 Rev Dr Robert Coulter replaced Mr Basil McCrea on 15 September 2008
10 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.
Committee for Employment and Learning
Committee meetings & visits
Committee Reports (excluding Bill and Inquiry reports)
Primary Legislation Scrutiny