Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 6 March 2001 (continued)

On the commitment to realising the full potential for enhanced co-operation through the North/South Ministerial Council, I hope that that there will be improved communication between the two jurisdictions resulting in a more co-ordinated approach to vetting people who work with our vulnerable young people. It is essential to protect our young people's human rights and promote their right to equality. Moreover, the children's commissioner must be independent of the Government and have a broad mandate to protect children's interest and, thus, to make them more visible in the Government's policy structures. That means looking at how the Government can best take into account issues affecting our young people.

We now have the opportunity to widen consultation with children across the whole of Northern Ireland. Choice and involving children in decisions that affect them are important for promoting social inclusion as well as for showing them that their opinions and beliefs are respected and will be considered at the planning stage of Government policy and legislation. That will give them parity of esteem.

The Administration are already equality proofing all their policies to ensure that they promote equality for young people. However, we must also look at the integral workings of the Executive and the Assembly to see how they can best deal with children's issues. The forthcoming strategy for children must do that. All those actions will contribute to addressing the concern that the Government's structures are failing children and will ensure that their needs are met through those structures. They will permit children's active and responsible participation, giving them the opportunity to achieve their full potential. The effect would be to integrate child-friendly policies and cross-departmental co-ordination on issues that affect children.

The assurance of an improvement in the information available on religion, human rights, disability, sexual orientation and age will guarantee equality proofing for all future policies. Measures designed to tackle the social exclusion of travellers should result in improved standards in the provision of suitable accommodation for that group. Transferring responsibility for serviced sites for travellers to the Housing Executive should give them uniform treatment and empower them to have an input into the provision of better accommodation. The opportunity exists to establish a true inter-agency approach to the disadvantages suffered by the travelling community.

The issue of care for the elderly was debated at length last week and proved the need for funding to be given to those people who are greatly disadvantaged. That pensioners will benefit from free travel and public transport from October this year has to be seen as a favourable development. However, the issue of pensions has to be looked into as inequalities exist in the system, particularly for women who stayed at home to raise their families or who worked part-time. Many women, particularly those who are carers, find that they are not entitled to a full pension because they made a reduced number of national insurance contributions. They therefore have to depend on income support, which places many of them in the poverty trap.

I welcome the commitment to accountability of each Department for implementing the equality schemes and targeting social need (TSN) action plans, which form an integral part of each public service agreement. That is essential because of the proposal to link funding to achieving agreed output and outcomes.

In the main, the new commitments made in the Programme for Government demonstrate a willingness by the Executive to promote actively a socially inclusive society in Northern Ireland and to reflect that inclusiveness in future policy making. I therefore support the motion.

The sitting was suspended at 12.30 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker[ Sir John Gorman] in the Chair) -

2.00 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Before the start of business I have some bad news for those Members who have not yet spoken, and it is delivered through the usual channels, as they say in another place. Speeches will be limited to seven minutes, as there are around 35 people on the list. The winding-up speech for the amendment by the Alliance Party will be given 10 minutes. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will have 20 minutes. I am sorry about this, but if we are to get through the business, including two Bills later, Members will have to limit their rhetorical prowess.

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):

I will endeavour to be as brief as possible. There were some directly political comments made this morning by the Member for East Belfast, Sir Reg Empey, in relation to the Programme for Government. There was what I can only describe as the old chestnut of accusation that those of us who are in the Assembly, despite our opposition to the system, were operating the system and sitting on Committees. As this has been the case for a couple of years, I want to state that we have never shied away and we will not shy away from participation in any system, however indirect or faulty it might be. We will not negate the DUP's position by running away from our mandate. Our mandate at the election was to stand for election to the Assembly, to take our seats, to argue our case, to fight our corner and to represent those who voted for us. That was clear in the manifesto, and it is something that we intend to continue - without apology to anyone.

Turning to some departmental issues, the Programme for Government and the public service agreements are supposed to open every aspect of the work of each Department to the Assembly's scrutiny. In the process of preparing documents I have consulted with the Committee for Regional Development and I wish to record my appreciation for the assistance that the Committee has given to me. As this process matures, the Committee's views and advice will increasingly inform my approach.

On the actual content of the Programme for Government, one welcome change from the draft document that appeared last October is the commitment to introduce free travel on public transport for older people by October 2001. This has been one of my priorities ever since I became Minister for Regional Development. I am pleased that we have secured agreement to fund this centrally so that it can be introduced throughout Northern Ireland.

It would be appropriate, at this stage, to pay tribute to my predecessor, Peter Robinson, who did a lot of the groundwork on the initiative; the important role played by district councils throughout the country; all those who strongly advocated the scheme and also the supportive role of the Committee for Regional Development. This initiative provides an essential link to family, friends and the wider community. It is only right that those who contributed much to our society during their working lives can continue to feel part of it by making full use of public transport.

The announcement yesterday by my Colleague and me that we were taking the issue into the legal domain will, I am sure, mean its being highlighted in the other place in the coming weeks.

Several targets contained in the Programme for Government, particularly for roads and transport, reflect the fact that I have inherited a situation caused by decades of underinvestment in the essential infrastructure of the region. Members will be very familiar by now: an additional £2 billion is needed over the next ten years to develop and maintain roads and transport. The Water Service asset management plan, which is nearing completion, is likely to require at least £3 billion over the next 20 years.

The Programme for Government states

"The provision of infrastructure and major public services such as public transport, roads, water and sewerage, are essential for the social and economic well being of the region."

It is therefore imperative that there be further investment in those areas. If we consider the level of investment in transportation throughout the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, we can see that the economic competitiveness of Northern Ireland is dependent on a quantum leap in investment levels.

The proposals for capital road schemes set out in the Programme for Government for the next calendar year are relatively modest. However, we are still preparing schemes that we hope to take forward in 2002-03 and beyond, so it is imperative that we secure the additional resources required for those years. By their nature, capital infrastructure programmes require secure and adequate forward provision to enable sensible programming. I also intend to increase the road structural maintenance programme, with the objective of conforming to good practice treatment frequencies in due course. Again, in the absence of sufficient resources, that is still some time away.

The welcome additions for railways will enable us to agree a meaningful strategy for tackling the underinvestment in rail services in Northern Ireland with the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. Consolidating the existing network will provide a platform for the future development of the railways in the context of the ten-year regional transportation strategy. Likewise, the introduction of a new fully integrated ticketing system for Translink will play a key role. Members will note the modest targets that have been set for investment in buses and coaches. That matter will have to be considered further.

I hope that the private sector will contribute substantially to our attempts to address those major funding deficiencies not only through injections of money, but by introducing innovative solutions to our problems and using its expertise. We will pursue public-private partnerships wherever value-for-money solutions can be found, and in a style and manner with which the people of Northern Ireland are comfortable. Indeed, over the next few days, I am scheduled to visit the United States to gain first-hand experience of private sector involvement in major physical infrastructure projects.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you, Minister, for sticking to your time in such a disciplined way.

The Minister of Education (Mr M McGuinness):

A LeasChann Comhairle, I want to focus on the education elements of the Programme. In the draft Programme, I set out an agenda for schools and the youth service, concentrating on the key pressures and priorities. I was immensely heartened to find that the responses to the consultations on the draft programme revealed broad consensus, both on the key issues that should be addressed and on the central role of the education service in creating and sustaining a stable and healthy society, a view that I have publicly stated as often as possible.

Many respondents expressed the view that the material in section 4.2 of the programme should be expanded to illustrate not only the importance of investing in education, but the broader strategic context in which the actions proposed in that section are set.

I have been very happy to accept that advice, and the revised draft reflects a significant expansion of the references to education, through the inclusion of a range of strategic targets in the text of section 4 and by the inclusion of the detailed supplementary material in my Department's public service agreement in annex B.

As I said in a previous debate on the draft Programme for Government, we have a successful education system here, which has shown steady progress over recent years, and I think we can be justifiably proud of it. We know that our success as an economy depends on the quality of our education and training systems. Education serves more than the needs of the economy, it is the key to the personal development of individuals and to the building of a stable, tolerant and fair society, based on mutual respect and a recognition of diversity. There is therefore no alternative to continuing and growing investment in education, if we want to improve the quality of our peoples' lives and make the most of the skills and talents of all our young people.

The education agenda set out in the Programme for Government is based on the key principles of equality, excellence, accessibility and choice, and it addresses a wide range of issues. It includes taking forward the review of our whole post-primary structure and commits us to a thorough and comprehensive review of the way in which we fund schools to ensure equity of treatment, regardless of sector and geographical location. It carries forward the fundamental review of the curriculum, to ensure that we meet the needs of our young people for a renewed and more relevant curriculum. It commits us to a comprehensive programme to equip all our schools with up-to-date information and communication technology (ICT) provision and all our teachers with the skills they need to use that resource properly in the classroom. It commits us to providing one year of pre-school education for all those children whose parents wish it. It includes a range of measures, both in schools and outside them, to support young people who are having difficulty or who are becoming alienated from the mainstream education system and to promote a safe and secure learning environment for our young people. It gives a commitment to renewing the youth service and helping it to extend access particularly among the most disadvantaged, and it commits us to addressing the backlog of high priority maintenance work and the terrible problem of the huge numbers of old and unsuitable temporary classrooms.

Yesterday, Dr Ian Paisley suggested that there was an imbalance in my capital build programme announced last week. I have consistently said that the schools capital build programme is determined on the basis of educational needs. To suggest, as Dr Paisley appears to, that the capital programme should be determined on the basis of school sector rather than on educational needs is, in effect, suggesting that I should discriminate against schools with greater educational needs. That is unacceptable.

The make-up of this year's conventional school building programme, for Mr Paisley's information, was as follows: six Catholic maintained school projects, costing £25·7 million; 10 controlled school projects, costing £24·1 million; and one grant-maintained integrated school, costing £12·5 million.

In addition, I announced provision for up to eight secondary school projects with a total capital value of some £70 million, under public-private partnerships, and they are grouped under three separate contracting authorities. The trustees of the Catholic maintained schools in the Derry diocese received £34 million, and the North Eastern Education and Library Board and the South Eastern Education and Library Board received some £36 million between them.

Dr Paisley is a bit long in the tooth for me to propose that he needs to return to school, but I am prepared to speak with my colleague, Minister Sean Farren, to establish if it is possible to find a place for Dr Paisley in further education, where he might yet learn to count.

One other vital commitment in the programme, is to the development of a real partnership for change. The education system is a complex network of agencies, and to improve the quality of what we offer our young people we need the commitment of everybody working in the education system. Hence the further commitment to provide an opportunity for all the education partners - the statutory bodies, the voluntary sector, the teachers unions and the teacher training institutions - to have a role and a say in developing education policy through the creation of an education partnership.

Finally, I will continue to take forward co-operation on the agreed North/South agenda in education which includes a range of vital issues such as educational underachievement, special educational needs, teacher qualifications, and school, youth and teacher exchanges, all of which hold out the prospect of real and practical gains for our young people no matter which part of this island they live on.

2.15 pm

A LeasCheann Comhairle, this is a challenging and exciting programme for our education system and it will require a major investment in our schools and youth service. Consultations have shown that the programme has the commitment of all major interests in society, and I commend it gladly to the Assembly and the wider community.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline my Department's contribution to the Programme for Government. However, I will first address two comments that were made about my Department in the debate yesterday.

Mr Neeson commented that the problem of sectarianism in sport is not mentioned in the Programme for Government. I refer him to the answer I gave to Mr McCarthy on 4 December 2000:

"Although not specifically mentioned in the Programme for Government, the issue of sectarianism in sport is included under the Safe Sports Grounds scheme, which is referred to in section 2.4.2 of the Programme for Government. It is a condition of the grant under this scheme that successful applicants will be required to formulate an equity statement for inclusion in the organisation's constitution memorandum and articles of association, highlighting practical measures for how family, disability and sectarian issues will be addressed."

Mr McGrady has commented on the lack of mention of museums in the programme. I refer Mr McGrady to section 5.3.3, which states that we will

"develop a programme to enhance the range and quality of culture and leisure facilities, including our maritime and industrial heritage".

In addition, in my Department's corporate strategy there is a specific action to develop a policy and strategy for local museums and heritage in Northern Ireland in partnership with the Northern Ireland Museums Council. My Department has 27 actions in the document out of a total of 250, all in priority areas.

As a new Department, our most pressing task, apart from tackling the years of underfunding for culture, arts and sports, has been to produce a plan for the future. We have published our first corporate strategy, and it sets out several key goals that underpin the priorities in the programme. These goals include increased participation in culture, arts and leisure and promoting and celebrating cultural diversity and individual creativity.

It is also vital that we contribute to the positive image of Northern Ireland at home and abroad and that we preserve and make available our cultural and information resources to the widest possible audience. My Department therefore has developed a daunting set of tasks, and we are totally committed to ensuring that we play a full part in making a real difference to everyone. For example, we want to make sure that art galleries, museums and sporting venues are accessible to everyone. It is vital to the well-being of society that as many people as possible can participate in sporting activities.

Creativity must be developed and encouraged for the benefit of the individual and, ultimately, the economy of Northern Ireland. We will help to secure a competitive economy - one of the programme's priorities - by, for example, developing and promoting inland waterways and fisheries.

It is important that Northern Ireland is seen in the best light on the world's stage, and we are committed to securing high-profile, international events. We have made a bid to be the 2008 City of Culture.

To achieve all our goals we will need to work closely with all the Northern Ireland Departments, the voluntary and community sectors and all the non-departmental and North/South bodies that provide culture, arts and leisure services.

I have been heartened by the welcome that our actions have received from the bodies that responded to the draft Programme for Government. Those included the Chinese Welfare Association, the Civic Forum, Queen's University, the Heritage and Lottery Fund and the Training for Women Network Ltd. Those are just a few of the sources of widespread support that I have received, and it is very encouraging as we move forward in the devolved Administration.

As the locally elected representatives of the people, we know what the problems are and what issues really matter to the people of Northern Ireland. The Programme for Government highlights the priority issues that we need to tackle and outlines what we intend to do in the immediate future to solve those problems.

My Department will play its role fully. I urge Members to approve the Executive's first Programme for Government. It is an excellent example of what can be achieved through working together. I am convinced that the programme, when fully implemented, will make a real difference to people's lives. Everyone in Northern Ireland will benefit, and I commend the programme to the Assembly.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time limit for speeches is now seven minutes.

The Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Dr Farren):

The programme captures all the major themes that will be at the centre of my Department's efforts to make a real difference in higher and further education, training and employment. On the training and employment side, the programme is set in a social, economic and political context that is positive and full of hope and new opportunities.

The more stable political environment has brought significant benefits such as increased investment and higher levels of economic growth. The effects of that growth pertinent to my Department's responsibility can be seen in the increased demand for skills in the new high-tech industries as well as in more traditional areas such as hospitality and catering.

Participation in higher and further education and training has increased due to the recent developments. Northern Ireland's universities and colleges are expanding and are developing plans to meet the increased need. A wider range of full-time and part-time courses is on offer to students. Courses range from basic pre-vocational to degree standard - from pre-employment to post- experience levels.

In further education, the merger of the Training and Employment Agency's training centre network with the further education colleges has provided a new focus for the delivery of vocational training. Lifelong learning has been encouraged by the establishment of the University for Industry through its learn direct services.

Key skill areas such as electronic engineering, software and telecommunications have been identified for particular expansion, and additional places are being made available in colleges and universities to meet current and expected demand.

New two-year foundation degrees - the design of which will involve universities, colleges and employers - will be introduced on a pilot basis in the next academic year.

To ensure that our research capacity is expanded to support, and indeed point the way forward for, social and economic development, additional funding is being provided through programmes such as the innovative support programme for university research.

My Department is conscious of the need to target resources to meet particular social needs. Its policies, as the programme reflects, take full account of those who are deficient in basic skills and the needs of those who could participate in post school education but who do not do so because of social and personal disadvantage.

Too many people have low literacy and numeracy skills. Too many young people leave education poorly equipped for work in a modern economy despite the high levels of achievement by others.

Too many people are unemployed on a long-term basis. Community differentials remain the same: Catholic men are still over represented in the numbers of long-term unemployed. Too many of our women remain economically inactive in comparison with other regions. If appropriate training and further education opportunities were available many would be anxious to return to the labour market.

These are some of the challenges my Department and I hope to address, both in the areas of the Programme for Government that are our responsibility and in those where we share responsibility with other Departments, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

A particular focus of my Department's work in the coming year will be on widening access to higher and further education. In doing so we will be offering increased support to those from low-income backgrounds. To this end, I will soon bring to the Executive and Assembly detailed proposals on improved student support arrangements, including enhanced fee remission, means-tested, non-repayable access bursaries and additional places in higher and further education. I will also invest in the development of staff, particularly in further education, to improve standards and student achievement.

I will also take further steps to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have access to continuing education and training, including up-to-date learning resources to maintain and enhance their employability in a fast-changing world. My Department will provide individual learning accounts to help pay fees for part-time students in certain higher and further education vocational courses. Reducing long-term unemployment is fundamental to tackling a whole range of social and economic problems. By March 2002, my Department will have piloted a new training programme for adults with basic literacy and numeracy problems. From April next, we will introduce an enhanced version of the New Deal 25 plus programme, which contains specific Northern Ireland provision allowing early entry to the scheme for those returning to the labour market. In addition, I will chair an interdepartmental task force on employability and the long-term unemployed, the first meeting of which is to take place next week. This will focus on factors that make people employable; not just on knowledge, skills and motivation, but on considerations such as childcare, and the readiness and ability to travel to find work.

I draw particular attention to some of my Department's targets and actions. They include providing an additional 850 domestic higher education places; increasing further education enrolments; developing the adult literacy and numeracy programme; activating 17,000 individual learning accounts, of which 10,000 have already been activated; and piloting the ONE initiative on joined-up welfare and employment services in association with other Government Departments.

In conclusion, I thank the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure for all its hard work and input into the formulation of the Programme for Government in my areas of responsibility.

Sean Neeson raised a question yesterday, and I would just like to answer it. He referred to the absence of a reference to the exchange programme for lecturers on a North/South basis. The absence is explained by the fact that we are now working on a more comprehensive package of activities in further and higher education on a North/South basis, details of which I will bring forward. Those details will include reference to programmes where lecturers from colleges on both sides of the border will be able to participate.

The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow):

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on my Department's actions as set out in the Programme for Government. As I have said before, meeting social and economic need lies at the core of my Department's programme. Since the draft programme was presented to the Assembly in October, we have sought to strengthen our commitments in the document to New TSN, as well as our commitments to ensuring that public sector resources are used for the purposes intended. I am grateful to all those, including the Committee for Social Development, who contributed to the consultation process.

Within the priority of "Growing as a Community", my Department will work for the renewal of the most disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods, bringing new life into our towns and cities. We will identify and target those areas that have become the most deprived. We will develop and deliver a co-ordinated response to the needs of those areas on a partnership basis with the community and private sectors. We will also work to improve the physical environment of towns and cities, with a particular focus on urban centres. While a number of existing urban programmes will continue, I intend to bring forward new strategies in support of urban regeneration. These will range from an overarching policy context to particular geographical strategies, relevant European programmes, and policy aimed at reinvigorating town centres. The primary focus will, however, be on disadvantaged urban communities through the establishment of neighbourhood regeneration task forces.

2.30 pm

My Department recognises the strength and vibrancy of our voluntary and community sectors and the contribution they make to social and economic regeneration. Action will be taken to develop community infrastructure in the most disadvantaged areas and where it is weakest.

Specific actions as set out in the Programme for Government will ensure that not only are there specific, targeted programmes of support, but that there are coherent strategies within the Government for the support and funding of the voluntary and community sectors.

In contributing to the priority of securing a competitive economy, Members will be aware that I have introduced new legislation on street trading. This piece of legislation has passed its Final Stage in the Assembly and is awaiting Royal Assent.

I now turn to housing. I have said before, and I make no apology for saying it again, that a decent home is a basic right rather than a privilege. My housing priorities within the Programme for Government recognise that poor housing is a contributory factor to social exclusion, and seek to address the problem across a wide front.

I aim to reduce unfitness levels, especially in rural areas where the problem is greatest. We have a good track record in reducing housing unfitness, and it is important that this continues. I intend to ensure that existing public sector housing is properly maintained. Housing is a valuable asset, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we look after it and do not allow it to deteriorate through neglect or inadequate funding.

I will also ensure that sufficient new houses are built for those unable to buy and that their rents remain affordable. High rents can prove a disincentive for those who want to work, and, as I have done this year, we must keep rent increases to an absolute minimum.

I aim to examine new ways of enabling those on low incomes to get access to the housing market - particularly for first-time buyers. House prices in Northern Ireland have increased dramatically, and I am concerned about the problem that this creates for young people and those who want to move from rented accommodation to owner occupation.

I intend to ensure that the new build programme makes proper provision for special needs accommodation to cater for those vulnerable people who need assistance. I also plan to introduce a new Housing Bill, which will bring forward a raft of new measures designed to improve housing in Northern Ireland. By way of an example, included in this Bill will be new provisions for dealing with anti-social behaviour, measures that I am sure all Members will welcome.

It is estimated that approximately 600 people die each year in Northern Ireland because they live in cold, badly insulated houses, which they cannot afford to heat properly. That this should be happening in the twenty-first century is a total scandal. Therefore I am proposing to tackle this problem by introducing a new energy efficiency scheme. This will come into operation on 1 April and will provide a comprehensive range of energy-efficiency measures to the most vulnerable groups in society from 1 July onwards.

My objective for housing is therefore to ensure that affordable, fit, energy-efficient homes are available to those on low incomes. My Department and its agencies touch the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland at one stage or another - from childhood, through our working lifetimes and in times of sickness and retirement.

The social security, child support and pension schemes bring support to every individual and household in Northern Ireland at some stage and play a key role in our drive to combat poverty, particularly where it affects children.

We often provide the sole means of support for some of the most vulnerable groups of people. Therefore, it is essential that we seek to identify and meet the needs of our customers, continuously improving all we do. It is also essential that they understand their rights; have ready information about the various services provided; know how to get access to them and where to go or whom to speak to when they need assistance; are given the right support at the right time; and that they are treated with understanding and dignity.

Poverty has blighted the lives of individuals and whole communities for too long. As a key part of my Department's plans in the Programme for Government, we are committed to tackling both its causes and its effects.

Our policies and actions will focus on activities to address deprivation. We will ensure that housing and social security work alongside education and training programmes to ensure that actions to meet the needs of our community are properly co-ordinated. We will work with others in the Government to combat unemployment and differentials in employment rates.

I am committed to the modernisation of social welfare, promoting social inclusion, tackling fraud and error and putting work at the heart of the system. I also fully recognise our responsibility to ensure a reasonable standard of living for those who cannot support themselves. My Department and I are committed to providing a fair system of financial help for those in need.

We will work to modernise the delivery of social security benefits and provide a high quality, social security service as set out in my Department's public service agreements.

We will seek to improve the service given to all customers by implementing a programme of action plans to improve the delivery of social security services to the disabled, older people, people with literacy problems, people living in isolated and deprived areas, those affected by the conflict and those belonging to minority ethnic groups. We will start to bring the tax and benefit systems together for pensioners and provide more help for those who need it.

In conclusion, my Department will work vigorously to tackle disadvantage where it occurs and to strengthen communities, particularly for those living in the most disadvantaged and deprived areas.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you, Minister. Again, that was an admirably timed script.

The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Ms de Brún):

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is cóir go dtugtar áit do thosaíocht 'Ag Obair ar mhaithe le Pobal níos Sláintiúla' sa Chlár do Rialtas ós cuspóir don Chlár "difear a dhéanamh" trí "oibriú i gcomhar le chéile trasna Ranna agus gníomhaireacthaí." Caithfimid oibriú i gcomhar le chéile má táimid le dul i ngleic le cuid de na fadhbanna sláinte is daingne atá againn agus le deis a thabhairt do chách togha na sláinte a bheith acu. B'fhéidir gurb eol do Chomhaltaí go bhfuil mé i mo chathaoirleach ar an Ghrúpa Aireachta ar an tSláinte Phoiblí. Cuimsíonn seo iomlán na Ranna, nó tá foinsí na sláinte agus an leasa sóisialta, eacnamaíoch agus timpeallachtach chomh maith le pearsanta agus cliniciúil.

Ar ndóigh, ní ar chúram an Rialtais amháin atá seo: tá fachtóirí pearsanta tábhachtacha sa siúl, agus caithfimid ár ndícheall a dhéanamh ar fud na sochaí. Aithníonn 'Ag Infheistiú don tSláinte', ar toradh é ar chomhchainteanna an Ghrúpa Aireachta, go bhfuil teorainn ar an mhéid a thig le gníomhaireachtaí poiblí a dhéanamh agus guíonn sé ar chách oibriú ar son na tosaíochta seo. Caithfidh an cur chuige bheith cuimsitheach má tá le héirí leis ár gcaighdeáin sláinte agus leasa a ardú go dtí sin ár gcomharsan Eorpach.

It is particularly fitting that the priority of 'Working for a Healthier People' should find a place in the Programme for Government because the programme's purpose is to make a difference by working together across Departments and agencies. It is essential that we work together if we are to tackle some of the most deep-seated health problems and give everyone a fair chance of better health. Members may know that I chair the ministerial group on public health. This comprises all Departments because the upstream sources of health and well-being are social, economic and environmental, as well personal and clinical.

Of course, it is not just a matter for the Government to deal with. There are important personal factors at work. We must also mobilise efforts across the whole of society. 'Investing for Health' - the product of the ministerial group's joint deliberations - recognises that there are limitations to what public agencies can do and calls on everyone to work to make this a priority. This approach must be inclusive if it is to succeed and bring our standards of health and well-being up to those of our European neighbours.

Until the consultation on 'Investing for Health' is complete, the Programme for Government cannot offer detailed, measurable targets for improving health and well-being. There are other aspects of my Department's contribution to the programme, in particular, the public service agreement (PSA), that require development. Some of these are partly technical - for example, the desirability of having milestones for some of the more distant targets. In some cases, such as the reduction in waiting lists, we have been able to set meaningful, intermediate targets. I would also like to see a greater emphasis on the output rather than the input of each investment.

The Programme for Government and the PSA aim to explain how health and social services will provide better and more accessible care over the next three years. The commitments that we are now entering into take account of the numerous suggestions received since we began to draft our contribution.

As we all know, the clinical dimension of health and social care costs a lot of money. I inherited a health and personal social services budget of £2 billion, but that has not been adequate to deliver the kind of effective and accessible service that we wish for the public. Mr McGrady asked about the costing of developments that would follow the reviews of the ambulance and maternity services in Belfast and especially the review of acute hospitals. The key point is that all the commitments in the Programme for Government and the public service agreement have been costed to the best of our ability. We have given undertakings only where we feel that it is possible to deliver.

In fact, the outcome of the acute hospitals review is a good example of that. The target is to develop a fully articulated implementation plan by December 2002. The target date was carefully chosen. It reflects not only the time required to examine the review's recommendations, assess its quality impact, consult and draw up a rigorous business case, but also the fact that the 2002 spending review will give us the opportunity to bid for the necessary funds.

The same applies to the Ambulance Service, where it is the Health Department's commitment to begin the implementation of an investment programme targeted initially at essential fleet replacement by the autumn. The health budget allows for that. However, the full implementation of the review's recommendations will be dependent on more money's being available.

Health and personal social services are contending with the legacy of years of underfunding, and those inherited problems will not be solved at a stroke. It was due to the scale of those difficulties that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety's spending review bids amounted to £274 million, a sum that represented a realistic assessment of what would be needed to meet next year's challenges. Even though the budget addition of £161 million is a lot of money, it will not enable the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to match the radical programme for action that is, for instance, set out in the public service agreement for the NHS in England.

In allocating the budget my priority was the maintenance next year of this year's level of service. Having done so I am left with £41 million and some difficult choices. In deciding where to allocate the money I have listened to the views of representatives from the wider health and social services bodies, members of the public, representatives from community and voluntary groups, public representatives and, in particular, the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. There is more to be done, and more resources are required.


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