COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING
End of Session Report 2008-09
Remit, Powers and Members
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 Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act and under Standing Order 48 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role in respect of the Department for Employment and Learning 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 Minister for Employment and Learning.
The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons and papers and records that are relevant to its inquiries.
The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of 5. The membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Buchanan (Deputy Chairperson) 1,5
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter 2
Mr Alex Easton 3
Mr David Hilditch 7,3
Mr William Irwin 3
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey 4
7 Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Jim Wells on 29 May 2007.
1 Mr Robin Newton replaced Mr Jimmy Spratt as Deputy Chairperson on 10th June 2008.
2 Rev Dr Robert Coulter replaced Mr Basil McCrea on 15 September 2008.
3 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.
4 Mr Pat Ramsey replaced Mr Alex Attwood on 29 June 2009.
5 Mr Thomas Buchanan replaced Mr Robin Newton as Deputy Chairperson on 4th July 2009
Session Report: 2008-09
This report covers the work of the Committee for Employment and Learning during the 2008-2009 Parliamentary Session, from 1st September 2008 to 31st August 2009, and includes the 2009 summer recess.
The Committee’s work programme for the session included the completion of its Stakeholder Review of Teacher Education, an inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships, and a Review of Workplace Dispute Resolution. The Committee also considered a range of subordinate legislation; commenced the Committee Stage of the Employment Bill; undertook a number of study visits throughout Northern Ireland and to the United States of America; and met on 37 occasions.
Details of Committee expenditure during this reporting period are included at Annex A.
Committee Meetings / Visits
Of the 37 meetings convened by the Committee, five were held outside Parliament Buildings. The venues for these meetings included: St. Mary’s University College (Falls Road); the Employment Services Board (Millennium Centre, Springfield Road); Stranmillis University College; Newtownabbey Jobs and Benefits Office; and South Eastern Regional College at its Bangor Campus. The Committee also undertook three study visits: the Cedar foundation in Belfast; Foyle School and Employer Connections (FOSEC) in Derry; and Northern Ireland Electricity at its Nutts Corner apprentice training facility. The Committee met in closed session regarding discussion and final approval for its inquiries into teacher education and apprenticeships and its report on alternative dispute resolution. In addition, the Committee met in closed session to discuss staffing and funding issues at the Queen’s University of Belfast. The Committee has stated a preference for not meeting in closed session unless absolutely necessary.
From 19th to 24th April four Members of the Committee – Sue Ramsey, Robin Newton, David McClarty and Anna Lo - undertook a study visit to the USA. Members visited Boston (MA), Raleigh (NC) and Washington DC. The objectives of the visit included: to examine approaches in the US to training, education and workforce development and to attracting and retaining high value-added businesses and how this might be applied here; to examine the policies and measures being taken forward at Federal and State level in tailoring education, training and workforce development initiatives in response to the current economic downturn; and to examine how models designed to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) are developed in North Carolina and the role played by the Community College system in encouraging new FDI and other investment opportunities. The visit was extremely successful, with the stated objectives being achieved, and Members returned with a number of ideas which will be explored in conjunction with the Department for Employment and Learning over the coming months. The Department has already modified and utilised models of workforce development seen in the USA and the Committee is keen to be involved in the further development of this work. The Committee sees considerable scope for the more seamless integration of economic development and workforce development here, based on the American model. Those Members who travelled to the USA were also impressed by the ability of the North Carolina Community College system to respond rapidly and effectively to the training and skills needs of local industry. Additionally, Members noted the benefits of close co-operation between the community colleges and industry in terms of curriculum planning and the relevance of professional and technical qualifications.
Members and the Minister meet with the Governor of North Carolina, Beverly Perdue, at the State Capitol in Raleigh NC
Committee Members with Northern Ireland Electricity apprentices Stewart McConaghy, David Adamson and Ethan Furphy and their instructor Cathill McCarney during the visit to the NIE training centre at Nutts Corner.
Committee Chairperson, Sue Ramsey, with the Speaker, William Hay, and QUB Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Peter Gregson, at the launch of the Assembly Postgraduate Bursary Programme
Members with Charlie Nicell and M á ire Gallagher of FOSEC during the Committee’s visit on 20th May
The Department for Employment and Learning’s Employment Bill passed First Stage in the Assembly on 22nd June and Second Stage on 30th June. The Committee stage of the Bill commenced on Wednesday 1st July. On 2nd July the Committee published its public notice inviting submissions to the Committee Stage and it is intended that the Committee will report its findings in mid-October.
During the session the Committee approved 13 items of subordinate legislation laid in the Assembly. As part of its process for approving subordinate legislation, the Committee seeks the views of relevant stakeholder organisations in relation to items of legislation. Stakeholders made useful suggestions and observations that the Committee has considered and, where appropriate, referred these to the Department for Employment and Learning for comment/action.
Inquiries / Reviews
Stakeholder Review of Teacher Education
This stakeholder review resulted from the Committee being briefed by the Minister for Employment and Learning on potential changes to the funding mechanism for teacher education delivered at Stranmillis and St. Mary’s University Colleges. The Committee expressed a number of concerns with regard to the future of teacher education, not least the proposal that Stranmillis and Queen’s University should merge, and agreed to conduct a ‘stakeholder review’ in order that a full range of opinions and views could be fully articulated. The objective of the review was “to collate and consider the opinions and views of those involved in, and affected by, proposed changes to teacher education and to produce a report of recommendations to the Minister for Employment and Learning”. The Committee’s report was agreed on 21st January 2009 and debated in the Assembly on 3rd February 2009. The Report made a number of important recommendations around long-term funding and security for the two university colleges and about the integrity of teacher education here going into the future. The Committee also called for the Departments of Employment and Learning and Education to bring forward their review of teacher education, which was first commissioned in 2003. The response to the Report from the Minister for Employment and Learning indicated that he would explore a number of the issues and recommendations raised by the Committee with the Minister for Education. The Committee continues to monitor the progress of these issues and the debate around them is still live, particularly that regarding the proposed Stranmillis/Queen’s merger and the financial viability in the longer term of both Stranmillis and St. Mary’s.
This inquiry resulted from the Minister for Employment and Learning’s statement to the Assembly on 11th November regarding contingencies to help apprentices that have been made redundant during the current economic downturn. The Committee saw this as an opportunity to consider how the current system of apprenticeships might evolve to be more robust in the face of an economic downturn and be more responsive to the fast-changing requirements for particular skills and skills pools in the global economy. In addition, re-tendering for ApprenticeshipsNI will take place in 2010, with preparatory work starting in 2009. The objective of the inquiry was “to collate and consider the opinions and views of the providers, recipients and the utilisers of apprenticeships, and to seek useful regional and international examples of good practice in apprenticeships, with a view to producing a report of recommendations to the Minister for Employment and Learning”. The Committee’s report was agreed on 17th June 2009 and debated in the Assembly on 22nd June 2009. The Committee has received indications from the Department for Employment and Learning that the recommendations flowing from the Report will be carefully considered and Members anticipate that these will have an influence on the design of the contracts when ApprenticeshipsNI is put out to tender again for 2010. The Department has already undertaken a variety of activities to raise the profile of apprenticeships as per the Committee’s recommendations.
At its meeting on 12 November 2008, following a briefing from the Department for Employment and Learning, the Committee decided to undertake a review of workplace dispute resolution. The objective of the review was “to collate and consider the opinions and views of relevant stakeholder organisations on a way forward for workplace dispute resolution in Northern Ireland”. Members heard evidence from a number of key stakeholders and the Committee’s report was agreed on 24th June 2009. The Report enabled the Committee to publish its findings and to establish a Committee viewpoint. The next stage for the Committee is to work with the Department and stakeholders to design pilot projects to examine a variety of options for workplace dispute resolution. The Committee aims to partner the Department and stakeholders in producing legislation regarding dispute resolution once these pilot projects are completed and assessed.
The Committee requested and received briefings from Departmental Officials at each of the quarterly monitoring rounds in September and December 2008, and February and June 2009. In addition, the Committee sought a personal briefing from the Minister for Employment and Learning for the February 2009 monitoring round, to which he agreed, and this took place at the Committee’s meeting on 25th February 2009. The reason for the personal briefing was that the Department had returned a significant sum in that Monitoring Round. The Minister reassured Members that his Department’s effort to return as much as possible had been to facilitate the Executive’s plan to create a fund to pay for measures to ease the impact of the recession on local people. Members understood this priority and were supportive. The Chairperson spoke during all of the Assembly debates regarding monitoring rounds. The Committee continues to work with the Department to eliminate budget underspend and make best use the Department’s resources. The Committee has indicated to the Department that Members expect budget underspend to be significantly reduced in future Monitoring Rounds.
The Committee remained mindful of the wide range of policies produced by the Department for Employment and Learning and continued to keep a keen watch on these policies and to scrutinise where necessary. Those programmes that have been scrutinised by the Committee have included: Steps to Work; Workplace Dispute Resolution; Training for Success; Apprenticeships NI; Success Through Skills; the New Deal for 18 to 24 year olds and New Deal 25+ programmes.
Engagement – Informal meetings / events
The Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and individual Members of the Committee attended a wide range of events and hosted a number of informal meetings throughout the session and into the recess period. Organisations involved included: NICVA, FOSEC, Citizens Advice, EGSA, Disability Action, the Holyland Stakeholder Forum, the Now Project, LearnDirect, Training for Women, NIUSE and many others.
Members of the Committee also participated in a number of events, such as: the UK Commission for Employment and Skills launch of its 5-Year Strategic Plan; the DEL/Forfas All-Island Skills Conference; the launch of the A2B “Benefit Calculator”; the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2009; the launch of the Assembly’s Postgraduate Bursary Programme; the Apprentice of the Year Awards; the Sentinus Young Inventors STEM event; the LearnDirect Achievement Awards; and a host of other events.
The Committee for Employment and Learning brought forward three motions to the Assembly during this session. These included a debate on its Report on the Review of Teacher Education on 3rd February; a call for the reinstatement of concessionary rates at Further Education colleges for older people on 9th June; and a debate on the Committee’s Report of its Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships on 22nd June. All three of these Committee motions stimulated interesting and thought-provoking debate and, most importantly, received the support of the Assembly.
Key Priorities for the 2009-2010 Assembly Session
The Committee aims to concentrate its attention on a wide and varied range of issues throughout the 2009-10 Session. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Taking forward the Committee Stage of the Employment Bill;
- A second Inquiry into the Department’s Training for Success programme, which will focus on key areas of concern to stakeholders;
- Funding/staffing and development issues at Queens University and the University of Ulster – involving the Committee leading the debate on how to balance the focus of the universities in terms of local and international profiles as well as resourcing teaching and research and the pros and cons of increased commercial activity;
- Consideration of the findings of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Review jointly undertaken by the Departments for Employment and Learning and Education and potential Committee actions in conjunction with key stakeholders;
- Respond to the outworkings of the Department for Employment and Learning’s September Monitoring Round;
- Continuation of work to address issues surrounding apprenticeships including the Department’s ApprenticeshipsNI programme;
- Lead a response to the outworkings of the Review of Variable Student Fees and Student Finance.
- Participating in the development of the Department’s Higher Education Strategy;
- Consideration of issues relating to people with disabilities that fall within the remit of the Department and the Committee;
- Consideration of issues relating to individuals who are not in employment, education or training (NEETS);
- Consideration of budgetary concerns raised in relation to the Further Education sector;
- Consideration of the findings of the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s Scrutiny of Public Procurement Practices in Northern Ireland and how they relate to programme delivery within the Department for Employment and Learning;
- Participation in the development of pilot projects with the Department and stakeholders with regard to Workplace Dispute Resolution – moving towards partnership in developing legislation in this area in the longer term;
- Monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of the Department’s Steps to Work programme;
Committee for Employment and Learning
Expenditure for the period 1 September 2008 – 31 August 2009
|Committee Members and Staff Travel – includes travel and subsistence in relation to visits and Committee meetings outside Parliament Buildings||Includes 5 external Committee meetings and 2 study visits||£1203.60|
|Costs of Committee visit to USA (Boston, Raleigh, Washington D.C.) – 19th to 24th April 2009|
|Printing of Committee reports||Inquiry on Teacher Education / Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships / Investigation into Alternative Dispute Resolution||£33,917.81|
|Advertising||Costs associated with the Committee’s public notice regarding the Employment Bill||£4,163.18|
|General Expenses: Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire and witness expenses.||£1,855.57|