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COMMITTEE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS: TUESDAY 3 SEPTEMBER 2002,
The meeting opened at 2.07pm in open session.
The Chairman informed members that Mr Doherty had resigned as an MLA on 31 August 2002 and that he was sorry to see him leave the Committee. He welcomed Ms Gildernew to her first meeting since replacing Mrs Nelis on the Committee.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Minutes of 4 July 2002
Members noted the minutes of the meeting on 4 July 2002 which, as agreed, had been approved by the Chairman for inclusion in the Committee's Report.
3. Matters Arising
Members noted the letter from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) in relation to European Union funding. The Chairman informed members that he had requested a copy of the Permanent Secretary's response from the PAC, which had not yet been received.
Members considered a draft motion in relation to the Committee's Report on DEL's Response to the Committee's Report on the Inquiry into Education and Training for Industry. It was agreed that this should be submitted to the Business Office, requesting a debate in the Assembly in week commencing Monday 23 September 2002 at the earliest, to allow the Committee to complete its deliberations on the Employment Bill.
Members noted the overview and executive summary of the Needs and Effectiveness Evaluation of Vocational Education and Training. Whilst it was agreed that this was a useful analysis, members expressed disappointment that it had been received much later than anticipated, which had limited its effectiveness to inform both the Minister and the Committee on their budget decisions. The Chairman informed members that the full report had not yet been completed and therefore the Committee still did not have access to the evidence and statistics to test the conclusions arrived at.
2.20pm. Mrs Carson and Prof McWilliams joined the meeting.
Members noted the draft Report and Action Plan from the Taskforce on Employability and Long-Term Unemployment and the deadline for the Committee's response of Friday 20 September 2002. Members agreed to request Assembly Research to critically evaluate the document and to brief the Committee at their meeting on 12 September 2002. The Chairman emphasised that the document was strictly confidential.
The Chairman advised members that copies of the document had been forwarded to the Committee for Education; the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment; the Committee for Social Development and the Committee of the Centre for comment.
Members considered further information from DEL on the learndirect network and agreed that this should be forwarded for the views of the correspondent who had initially raised concerns with the Committee. Members would decide on the way forward once any further comments were received.
Members considered information from DEL on the recent selection process for governors in Further Education Colleges (FECs) and agreed to ask for further information on the role of college principals' in the process and on how DEL intended to monitor and develop the performance of governing bodies during their period of tenure.
2.40pm. Dr Adamson joined the meeting.
Members examined DEL's response to the Committee's submission to the consultation on the Essential Skills for Living Strategy and agreed to ask for further clarification on the composition of the target audience and the timescale for proposed research. It was also agreed to raise the issue of secondary schools retaining funding for pupils under 16 years of age who had dropped out of compulsory education and were attending outreach centres.
It was agreed to forward correspondence on the strategy received from the Education Committee to the Minister.
Members agreed that adequate funding to implement the strategy would remain one of the Committee's main priorities and that the Minister should be informed of the Committee's continuing very strong support in this area.
The Committee considered the written briefing requested from DEL on the Modern Apprenticeship programme and noted that the Department had commenced a review of the programme to be completed in December 2002. It was agreed to request further information on the funding arrangements for the programme; the system of Apprenticeship Agents recommended in the recent Cassells Report and how the programme benefited the rural economy.
Members directed the Clerk to include an oral briefing from DEL officials on Modern Apprenticeships on the Committee's Forward Work Programme.
Members considered the Minister's response to the National Union of Students/Union of Students in Ireland's (NUS-USI) paper on student finance and noted that the outcome of the review at Westminster of student finance was imminent. It was agreed to write to the Minister to ask why this topic had never been on the agenda for British-Irish Council meetings.
Members noted a further response from the Minister on the Committee's continuing concerns at the transfer of responsibility for processing work permit applications from Northern Ireland employers to Work Permits (UK).
Members noted clarification from DEL on several issues raised in the Committee's submission on DEL's draft Service Delivery Agreement, together with further information on the extension of the pilot of the ONE service.
3.00pm. Mr McElduff left the meeting.
Members considered a further response from DEL to the Committee's continuing concerns at the potential conflict of interest in the subsequent use of consultancy firms who had been engaged in an audit capacity in FECs, to help with financial recovery plans. The Committee agreed that there was still a potential conflict of interests in this area and that the views of the Northern Ireland Audit Office through the PAC should be sought before writing again to the Minister if required.
Members considered DEL's response on areas of concern raised by the Committee on Keyskill requirements within the Jobskills programme. Members noted that DEL was considering the possibility of developing a provision to deliver National Vocational Qualifications only and agreed to write to the Minister asking to be kept informed of developments in this area.
It was also agreed to forward the response for comment to the organisation that had originally raised the matter with the Committee.
Members considered DEL's response on the provision of advice to potential students who are currently in receipt of Social Security benefits. It was noted that DEL had commissioned the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA) to provide an information and advice service to mature students about the costs and other aspects of higher education. Members agreed to write to EGSA to determine how this service was operating in practice.
Members considered information from DEL on the creation of centres of excellence in the further education sector. It was agreed to ask for further clarification on whether such awards could be retracted if performance did not meet the stipulated criteria.
3.15pm. Mr Dallat left the meeting.
Members noted correspondence from the Committee for Education on the Review of Careers Education and Guidance.
Members noted correspondence from a Lithuanian firm in relation to the provision of work permits and that a subsequent enquiry had been forwarded to the Minister. The Deputy Chairman asked that an acknowledgment be sent to the firm, together with a copy of the letter sent to the Minister.
Members considered the Minister's response to queries raised by the Chairman on the rights of Portuguese workers in the Dungannon area and whether officials were aware of any increase in Eastern European or Russian migrants working in Northern Ireland without work permits. It was noted that DEL had not received any formal complaints in respect of private employment agencies nor local employers in the Dungannon area. Members agreed to write to the Minister for further information.
The Clerk was directed to contact both employers and employee representatives in the Dungannon and South Belfast areas to obtain their views on this matter.
It was also agreed to ask for a research paper on the Scottish Parliament's recent deliberations on the handling of work permits for both EU and non-EU workers.
3.30pm. Mr Hilditch left the meeting.
Members noted correspondence from the Minister for Finance and Personnel on the Executive Programme Funds, stating that revised guidance for departments will specify a timescale for consultation with statutory committees with regard to future bids.
3.35pm. Mr Dallat joined the meeting.
Members noted a response from the Permanent Secretary of DEL, stating the reasons why the Committee had not been consulted before DEL's last set of bids for support from the Executive Programme Funds had been submitted.
Members considered correspondence from DEL on the Walsh Visa programme and welcomed the additional categories of persons who could apply to participate. Members noted that an interim evaluation of the programme would be due shortly and agreed to write to DEL to ensure that this was forwarded to the Committee.
The Committee considered DEL's response on the administration of Worktrack by City Wide Action and noted DEL's commitment to inform the Committee of the final outcome of investigations which were to be completed in a few weeks.
Members considered information from the Minister on the rationale behind her decision to approve the recent merger of the Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College with the University of Ulster, together with the public expenditure implications and the cost of the economic appraisal in relation to the merger. It was agreed to request information on the number of students who had accepted courses in the faculty in the forthcoming academic year.
The Clerk was directed to ensure that a review of the effectiveness of the merger was placed on the Committee's Forward Work Programme.
Members noted information from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisue on the forthcoming visit to Parliament Buildings by the French Minister for Culture.
3.45pm. Prof McWilliams left the meeting.
Members noted the following correspondence:
The Committee considered a number of policy documents received for consideration over the summer recess. Members agreed that, due to pressure of work, they would not respond to:
The Committee agreed that they would return to consider the following policy documents later in the session if time permitted:
The Committee directed the Clerk to include consideration of the following consultations in the Committee's Forward Work Programme:
It was agreed to request research papers on these consultation documents and that the Clerk should seek the views of relevant bodies.
6. Committee Stage of the Employment Bill
Members noted the proposed amendments to the Employment Bill which had been received over the summer recess from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC-ICTU); the Federation of Small Businesses and the Equality Commission.
The Chairman informed members that he had requested a research paper on the potential costs of several of these amendments and that this would be available for the next meeting.
Members noted the Minister's response to queries raised with DEL officials during their evidence session with the Committee prior to the summer recess. Members also noted the five draft Statutory Rules from DEL which would stem from the finalised Employment Bill.
Members noted that the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment had no comment to make on the Employment Bill.
It was agreed to meet on Thursday 5 September 2002, to debate the general principles of the Employment Bill, prior to undertaking a clause-by-clause reading of the Bill. At this meeting, members would also consider whether to seek an extension to the Committee Stage of the Employment Bill.
4.03pm. Mr Dallat left the meeting.
Mr W Caldwell from DEL briefed the Committee in relation to the rights emanating from the Employment Bill for parents of children, due to be born on 6 April 2003, who were born pre-term.
4.08pm. Mrs Carson left the meeting.
As the meeting was inquorate, the Chairman adjourned the meeting at 4.05pm.
Dr Esmond Birnie MLA
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