Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 3 July 2001 (continued)
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):
Like other Members, I welcome the report of the Committee for Finance and Personnel on public-private partnerships. It is, as some Members have said, very timely. It deserves serious consideration by all of us with an interest in the future development of the infrastructure of our public services. It is a weighty and wide-ranging report. If I wanted to be cheeky, I might say that we are being asked to debate a report of great weight and size, and we have only had a few days to consider it. I could turn the tables on the usual complaint that is made against myself and the Executive by the Committee.
The amount of work that has gone into the report - and importantly the amount of work that should flow from the report and follow up on some of its ground-turning work - means that it does not come to the end of its life cycle just by virtue of this debate. This is a take-note debate; we are not coming to full determinations or conclusions about any of the report's recommendations. The report itself rightly points out that further work must be done on a number of issues and that there are other issues that we must explore, but it gives good pointers as to the premises on which that future work should be based.
As the Executive have emphasised in the Programme for Government, the resources available from the taxpayer are finite and are stretched by the need to provide for services at greater levels of need than the UK average. The Executive must address a legacy of historical underfunding, which many Members have referred to, in the infrastructure of our public services. Currently many parts of the public services, especially health, education and transport, require levels of capital investment far in excess of the resources that are available if we are to simply fund them in the traditional manner. It is essential that the Executive and Departments explore new ways of financing and providing services such as public-private partnerships and the range of forms that they might take, providing they are affordable, deliver value for money and provide effective solutions to meet the needs of our public services.
We need to examine all options carefully and objectively, and to develop a clear policy in this area. All those points are underlined at various stages in the report, and in various ways by many of those who gave evidence to the Committee.
Under direct rule, our vital services were underfunded for years. Those issues are not confined solely to direct rule. I do not pretend that they are simply a function of direct rule, but the historic reality is that we have a legacy of underinvestment. The Executive are determined to break those patterns, but, as we have already stressed, the resources available for funding our public services are limited and hard-pressed, and are already stretched by the need for us to provide services at greater levels of need than elsewhere. Therefore we have to research and examine carefully how we fund and deliver public services, not least - but not only - in areas such as health and education.
No one should be under the illusion that there is a miracle cure. Solutions that focus on alternative sources of borrowing are not sufficient because of the way the spending rules operate, and I will come to that point again when dealing with the questions Members raised about bonds.
I recognise that recently there has been considerable media coverage of this subject, including concerns expressed in certain quarters - especially by trade unions - about the use of public-private partnerships in delivering public services. In addition, the recently published report by the Institute of Public Policy Research in London, which some Members referred to, provides further evidence about the use of PPPs that also deserves careful consideration. The high-level working group being set up to review the use of PPPs in public services by March 2002, in accordance with commitments set out in the Programme for Government, will address these issues. I will soon be giving the Committee for Finance and Personnel a copy of the terms of reference that I have agreed with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Copies will be placed in the Assembly Library in due course.
The working group will take into account evidence from many quarters on the benefits and constraints of using PPP. It will also look at the report published last week by the Institute of Public Policy Research, and, in particular, the report published today by the Committee for Finance and Personnel and the many helpful pointers that it gives.
I do not propose to deal with the detailed recommendations of the report now, with one exception that I will come to soon. The recommendations deserve serious consideration and not some knee-jerk or summary response. The quality and detail of the work that was put into the report, both by those who made submissions and by those who worked to put the report together, deserves equally thorough consideration.
I want to express a debt of thanks that the Assembly owes to the Committee for being able to gather such a wide cross-section of views and input from all sectors, not just from here but from further afield, in what is a very important and complex subject.
That wide spectrum of views is, in itself, important to acknowledge. The evidence gathered as a result will be all the more valuable as a source of information upon which the PPP working group established on behalf of the Executive will be able to build in its deliberations.
I said that I did not want to dwell unduly on any particular recommendations in the report. However, I think it would be helpful to pick up on some of the points that have been made in the debate. I do not necessarily want to reply to them but to join in the exchange of observations.
Some Members raised concerns or reflected concerns expressed by others. It is clear that public service employees have a number of misgivings about developments in this field. I understand and appreciate those, and many of them arise from particular experiences of previous private finance initiative projects that have taken place elsewhere. We are all learning a number of lessons. The report properly reflects some of those fears. It highlights some of the downsides but also emphasises that action can be taken to minimise those and to maximise advantages.
Reference was made to proposals from the Labour Government with regard to the NHS. I should point out that they are confined to pilot projects that are to be reported on by the end of the year. I am not aware of any commitment to extend secondment of public sector employees to private operators.
James Leslie made the point that has been made elsewhere in the media recently about a comparison with hire purchase. I am not disputing that comparison on some levels. However, people need to recognise - as Mr Leslie did - that there can be advantages in terms of better value for money in the service delivered and scope for third party revenue.
We also need to remember that it is not always necessarily best for the public to own and manage as many buildings as it might need to use for any given purpose. There can be advantages in sweating assets to get the best overall benefit. There are issues in the context of resource accounting and budgeting that we cannot ignore.
Some Members referred to bonds. As Peter Weir pointed out, the report from the Committee is very measured and reasonable in its approach to this issue. The idea of bonds has been explored before now; it is not entirely new. We all need to understand, as some Members have reflected, that bonds are just a form of borrowing. They do not necessarily open new doors for us. I remind Members that we are subject to a departmental expenditure limit.
As my officials keep telling me, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Borrowing does not allow us to spend more. Bonds might help us as part of a wider PPP approach if the private partner can avail of advantageous borrowing terms, but the concept of acquiring capital in this way, as it is being sold at the minute, is not as effective a solution as one might think.
In regard to the Welsh Water model, we need to understand that a high credit rating is needed to acquire servicing bonds on the international bond market. One Member asked what credit rating we, as a regional Administration, would be given in current circumstances. We should recognise that the Welsh Water credit rating was achieved only after privatisation and 10 years of capital investment of £2·5 billion. We need to remember that all that glisters is not necessarily gold.
Monica McWilliams discussed the sale of surplus assets as part of PPP deals and the idea that such action is like selling the family's silver to meet today's needs. Such assets, if they are part of PPP deals, must be clearly determined as being surplus to requirements for the foreseeable future. That can release value that can enhance the affordability of deals. If surplus assets are not disposed of they become a drain on public expenditure resources, particularly in the context of resource accounting and budgeting.
Mr Leslie said that PPP requires long-term budgeting. Under resource accounting and budgeting, the procurement of an asset by conventional means leads to a call on the resource budget for as long as the asset is held. Resource accounting and budgeting means that we will bear the cost of holding assets and that will be a real cost. There will always be the choice of selling the asset. We must consider the idea of holding and managing only those assets that we need to provide priority services.
When introducing the Government Resources and Accounts Bill, I said that in the context of resource accounting and budgeting the Assembly will be controlling not only the flow and allocation of expenditure but the stock of assets that it possesses. We therefore need to take this into consideration. Potential conflicts of objective between the private and public sectors were mentioned. We need to ensure that we negotiate terms and arrangements that give us contracts that tie private sector aims and methods to the achievement of public sector requirements at the best available cost to ourselves.
The report rightly registers the idea of a not-for-profit trust, but it does not go into handstands on the subject. We looked at the matter at official level and came to the same conclusion. We are not conclusively negative, but we remain unclear about how much of a contribution that approach might make. We have not ruled out further exploration but have indicated that it is not as easy an answer as has been suggested. I accept that the report does not suggest any easy answer in that regard, or in any other respect. The report calls for much hard work to be carried out in regard to many difficult issues in order to deliver much needed services and to reduce the many difficulties that exist across a range of services. An operator will only get paid if services are provided to the standards contracted for. At worst in a PFI deal, the asset will revert to public service ownership.
At one level, the Department needs to ensure that there is greater understanding of the various interests in the impetus that there would be in any deal, particularly if we are trying to bring forward new models. I am particularly interested in the Committee's emphasis on the need to ensure service-wide developments. That is not on a basis of one size fitting all. However, there needs to be enough information and openness about developments to make sure that best practice can be broadcast, replicated and picked up by others.
Equally, we have to bear in mind that there will be a need for a degree of commercial confidentiality. Too much disclosure might do more to prevent us getting better deals in the future than to ensure that we get better deals.
Monica McWilliams suggested referring the report to the Civic Forum. I have no argument with the Forum being recruited to look at any issue. However, in making her observation, Prof McWilliams said that the interdepartmental working group looking at the issues would consist only of civil servants. I must point out that the working group will comprise representatives from all sectors - the private, public and voluntary sectors and the trade unions. It will work on an open and organic basis to turn over a number of the issues that have been well opened by the report and that we need to consider further, as the report rightly requests us to do.
The point about the working group's being able to involve a range of social interests brings me back to one of the key recommendations in the report. It advocates that the support of key players, such as the private and voluntary sectors and local communities, be sought and that a social partnership approach should be used to achieve that support. That is a significant and healthy proposal. It is entirely in tune with the Executive's desire to secure widespread support for how public services are to be developed and delivered in the future. It is consistent with the Department's plans for the composition of the high-level working group.
The Department of Finance and Personnel is committed to exploring funding opportunities in these islands and beyond. That will also be reflected in the composition of the working group.
The notion of social partnerships helping to bring new light and dimensions to the concept of PPPs is timely. It rhymes well with the emphasis that the Executive have been placing on the development of the partnership model in the context of the next round of EU programmes.
I recall an earlier exchange in the House concerning EU programmes when I said that the local strategy partnerships might have an influence not only on what local government or statutory agencies were doing but also on some private finance decisions. Some Members asked what I meant, and they wondered how those socially based local partnerships could have that sort of influence. Therefore the thinking of the Committee rhymes very well with the thinking of the Executive in that regard.
It is noteworthy that the report reflects a cross-party consensus in the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the use of PPPs.
In that respect it reinforces the view that it is only through various forms of partnership, including PPP, that we can realistically hope to see the type of modern, well- resourced and well-managed public services that our people deserve in the twenty-first century.
I congratulate the Committee and its staff for producing a report on this complex issue in such a relatively short time. I assure Members that the findings will be taken into account fully in the months ahead as the PPP working group undertakes its task. I can say with every confidence that the Committee for Finance and Personnel will make sure that its findings and recommendations for further work will be followed up by the Department and the Executive.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister and all of the Members who participated in the debate. I welcome the support or otherwise for the report and the Minister's agreement on the need to tackle the deficit urgently and constructively.
Mr Leslie mentioned the ownership of buildings. It is a very important issue. In relocating Government offices, the fact that the Government own buildings means that it can be difficult to locate elsewhere. We found that there were difficulties when there were old buildings that were no longer serviceable. We felt that a complete break had to be made sometimes.
I support Seamus Close's statement about the Barnett formula. Further work needs to be done in order to address the matter. The Minister cautioned that in raising the issue of the Barnett formula we also have to come up with alternatives to it. Our report is partly concerned with that matter.
Monica McWilliams said that the report does not give clear indications. We recognise that quite a lot of work has to be done. The aim of the report is to start debate in the Assembly and in the Executive about the direction we should take. We hope that we have addressed some of the issues and concerns that she raised.
We would welcome a wider debate within the Civic Forum. There was nothing to stop members of the Civic Forum answering our advertisement for people to come forward and give evidence. It is important that we mention that.
The ongoing review of PPP by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will consider all of this, and that is another aspect. We agree that there is a need for transparency, and that is one of the issues that came up in the report. However, there is also the issue of confidentiality. Sometimes it is not in the best interests of the Assembly, or for the public purse, to divulge information that will be of benefit to those who are in competition. We must achieve a balance. The Committee recognised that all of the information should be available, and that is one of the issues that we have highlighted.
It is important to state that the Committee is not recommending that we go down the road of PPP; we are saying the opposite. We are saying that PPP may be used in a number of different occasions, and that in certain circumstances it could be beneficial. However, it is not to be used in all circumstances. It is not the be-all and end-all.
The report is trying to put together a strategy to help deal with PPP and other finance issues and to put together a structure that will ensure that investment is achieved in whatever contracts are entered into. We have looked at that situation thoroughly.
The issue of land sales arose during our investigations. The Committee advocates that the social partnership approach in dealing with investment needs to be in consultation with the local community and with its involvement. It does not mean simply paying lip service to local consultations or the community view but taking their ideas on board.
One of the recommendations that arose from our consultations was that land was not a good mechanism for putting together a partnership. It is best to take the land issue out of the matter completely, and it would then be clear what you were dealing with in pure cash terms.
Ms McWilliams stated that we had dismissed the not-for-profit trusts, but to the contrary we marked that up as an alternative, and we had long discussions on the matter. We did not want to go down the road of having PPPs as the only means of raising finance; we wanted to deal with the alternatives. This inquiry was dealing with PPPs, and to institute another investigation into bonds and other methods would have taken the Committee into a diversion. The report endeavoured to stay within the terms of reference.
We are recommending to the Executive that we look at alternatives. The Committee recognised the need to determine value for money by establishing the risks to be transferred and to put that structure together.
One thing that came across very clearly in a number of projects that we considered here, in Dublin and in England was the fact that contractors operated a better build policy, because they knew that they would be responsible for maintaining the building for 25 or 30 years. It was pointed out that the contractors actually changed the type and strength of materials that go into the building of a school or other structure when they realised that part of the contract involved the maintenance of that building. That is one of the advantages that we pointed up.
School buildings are underutilised. With this particular type and design of project there is the opportunity for communities to use the buildings in a more inclusive way.
Ms Lewsley mentioned that PPP was a tool in the mechanism of dealing with the deficits. I welcomed the Member's comment that there must be a continuous assessment and revaluation. That is part of the whole process, not just at the first stage and then it is over and done with. The Dublin people went for continuous revaluation and looking at situations with a view to making money.
Mr Weir mentioned the Committee's caution in relation to PPP. I agree with him that it is too early to evaluate fully the impact of these projects. None of them has been running for long enough to carry out a proper assessment. I do not know where some Members got the idea that buildings built under the PPP initiative were falling down around us; we found that these projects had not been in existence long enough to fall down.
The deal flow idea came across from the business community, and that is to do with investment by the private sector. We need to send a clear direction that we are dealing with investment; it is not just PPP. There is an opportunity for investment there.
The quality of building has to be taken into account, and the report points out the danger of PPP projects falling apart, because they do not have a proper deal flow.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel dealt with the issue of affordability and value for money and stated that there are no miracle cures. The fact that there are no miracle cures is one of the issues that we strongly pointed up in the report. There are some projects that will be of benefit if we go down this road, but PPP is not the panacea for everything. We have to look at the options. Some avenues we may not go down at all, and public finance may be the preferred option if that were available.
On the issue of privatisation, there is a danger of the mistakes and baggage of the past being repeated in respect of the privatisation of the present Health Service and other services. This was not done well in the past, and the involvement of trade unions brought the issue into question. We should not confuse privatisation with PPP or finance-raising mechanisms.
That may be the case for some. However, as James Leslie pointed out, most of the people that we talked to said that those who transferred to the private sector would not return to the public sector.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to the social partnership. This issue was discussed in our Dublin meetings. There was involvement from all the different partners - the trade unions, the employers and various other structures - in putting together this type of project. Putting that social partnership together was the means of ensuring that there was continuity, that all the issues were addressed and that there was a mechanism for comeback.
We found the same thing when we talked to people who were managing schools. The maintenance of the building was taken out of their hands, and they were free to run educational establishments and not simply act as caretakers. They had an opportunity to put someone in charge of a building's maintenance, and the contractor had the overall responsibility.
This has been a useful debate. It is to be hoped that the report will be of benefit to all in the future and that along with this debate it sets the scene for further work. The Minister is correct in saying that we are simply marking out work for the future. It is the role of the Executive and the Committees to scrutinise and to ensure that the infrastructure and investment is tackled in this way.
The Committee for Finance and Personnel will return to this subject in the autumn when the Finance Minister will report to the Committee on his consideration of the report and its recommendations. I trust that there will be an opportunity for the Assembly to hear about agreement and real progress for investment in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly takes note of the report prepared by the Committee for Finance and Personnel following its Inquiry into the use of Public-Private Partnerships.
That the Assembly do now adjourn. - [Mr Speaker]
Mr Paisley Jnr:
As Members know, Adjournment debates afford them the opportunity to raise issues concerning their constituencies. I have chosen to raise the issue of tourism in the North Antrim area. I welcome the opportunity to do this in the last Adjournment debate of this session, and possibly of this Assembly, given what happened at the beginning of the week.
Yesterday the House debated the Department for Regional Development's strategy, which mentions a number of key strategic issues concerning tourism in Northern Ireland. These have some relevance when applied to our constituencies. Today we debated and progressed the Industrial Development Bill, which is also relevant when we consider its proposals on the functions of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Now we can discuss tourism specifically in the context of a constituency. All three issues are therefore linked. In Northern Ireland nothing happens in a vacuum, so they are linked by the long-term strategy for Northern Ireland and the organisation for delivering that strategy for tourism in North Antrim.
Tourism relies on a strategy, and if it is to be successful in constituencies and not just in Northern Ireland as a whole, it is essential to have a strategy for each area. I hope that such a strategy exists. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response to a number of points that I intend to raise during this debate.
I welcome the Industrial Development Bill's proposals regarding the functions of the Tourist Board. These will be helpful, especially in focusing on specific constituency issues. I will give that a fair wind.
As I said, in Northern Ireland nothing happens in a vacuum. Foot-and-mouth disease was not specifically related to farming in North Antrim. It was related to the entire business of Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland plc.
Foot-and-mouth disease had a devastating effect on tourism and on farming in my constituency; at the peak of the disease tourist numbers fell. Bed and breakfasts, hoteliers and restaurateurs all suffered financially. I hope that the Minister can introduce recovery plans for his areas of responsibility.
In a neighbouring constituency to mine the North West 200 was cancelled. That was a devastating blow to my constituency because it robbed the area of holidaymakers, day trippers and visitors to the races and the practice sessions. It had an effect on the number of people who stayed and spent money. That effect must be addressed through a recovery plan.
The responsibility falls to several Ministers, not just to Sir Reg Empey, and I hope that there is some joined-up government action such as rate rebates for bed and breakfasts, hoteliers and restaurateurs. Special emergency grants would help them bridge the gap between this year's season and next year's. I hope that those businesses are given assistance to upgrade their facilities so that they become much more attractive holiday destinations.
I hope too that there will be consequential compensation for the tourist industry, as that would be very helpful to my constituency. However, I appreciate that not all those things are in the remit of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I urge him to make that case to the Prime Minister and to other Colleagues.
The Department for Regional Development's strategy made some specific points about tourism generally in Northern Ireland and my constituency in particular. It sets the scene for the future and for a constituency-specific strategy. If we are to strengthen Northern Ireland we must enhance its attractiveness to international and local tourists.
I have full confidence in the owners of bed and breakfasts, hotels and restaurants throughout Northern Ireland. However, they need encouragement, encouragement that should not be misinterpreted as interference. Those businesses should be encouraged to have a free hand to develop tourism, not to hinder it.
I hope that Northern Ireland can attract tourists and offer them something when they get here. Getting tourists hooked on Northern Ireland is one thing; keeping them in the Province, encouraging them to return to North Antrim to see the Glens, Slemish or the Giant's Causeway is a different thing altogether.
If we are successful as a magnet for worldwide tourism we must recognise the implications it will have for Northern Ireland's development. We shall have to build partnerships between the public and private sectors, and that flows directly from the last debate. It is essential that those partnerships be established.
We require joined-up government. Any tourism strategy must have a location infrastructure to allow tourists easy access to the area. In my constituency it is very difficult to get planning permission for bed and breakfasts and motels. The Department for Regional Development's strategy, which the House debated yesterday, recommends that motels and bed and breakfasts be at the edge of towns or at major tourist crossroads, preferably on regional transport networks.
I recently had great trouble trying to convince the planners in my constituency of the need for a bed and breakfast motel/coffee-house facility along the A26 outside Ballymoney. Such a facility is missing. People who would normally just pass through the area could stay overnight. That could be critical for local business.
Northern Ireland also has the potential, as has my constituency, to offer itself as a major area for sports tourism. I know that the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has some interest in that, given his time on the Sports Council. I hope that the opportunity is given to develop a world-class region, whether it be for golfing facilities or to host golfing events. Developers should be given the opportunity to build world-class golf courses, unhindered by unnecessary and restrictive planning considerations. I hope the planners will permit the development of these facilities in picturesque areas.
This should not be limited to golf courses. Members will know that I have a particular interest in motor sport, and I hope that the Minister is prepared to press the case for a specially designed motor sport facility. I would prefer it to be in my constituency, but if that is not possible I do not really mind. I hope that he is pressing his party and ministerial Colleague to make an announcement soon on the issue of a dedicated, state-of-the-art, modern motor sport centre. Northern Ireland requires that vision if it is to capitalise on the tourism opportunities available, and from those will flow economic and social opportunities.
There is a need for a destination resort concept. In many constituencies people whose normal reaction would be "Not in my back yard" would cry out "Please put it in my back yard". I hope that the new tourism board will be able to come up with that destination resort concept. I make a bid now that it should go to North Antrim, and I hope it gets there very soon. I heard it said on a radio programme not so long ago that we do not want a "Disney-type experience". Northern Ireland needs such an experience - apart from this place - and certainly requires something that will attract tourists, provide a focus for them and to which they will return year in, year out. I hope that efforts are being made to draw up such a strategy.
Recently I met with people from the Mid-Glens Foot- and-mouth Disease Regeneration Group, who reiterated the view of a strategy for North Antrim. They said that it is necessary to emphasise that the Glens are back in business, whether farming, tourism or any other. The Minister has a responsibility to really beat that drum, and the sooner people hear that the sooner we can recover some of what was lost in the early part of the tourist season.
How do we assess the current tourism policy in North Antrim? I suppose a school report might read "misdirected at times", "tries very hard but can get distracted" and "overall, could do a lot better". That would not be the most satisfactory result, but I am not here to knock either the tourist industry or the tourism board. They have a very difficult job to do, but even if we appreciate the difficulties they face we must make sure that they try a lot harder and are given every encouragement.
In North Antrim we offer magnificent tourism opportunities. Slemish, the Glens and the Giant's Causeway provide some of the most spectacular countryside for the visitor. The visitor, however, requires places to stay and things to do. Many of Northern Ireland's key destinations do not compare favourably with such equivalents as the Lake District or the Cotswolds with regard to overall visitor experience. Increasing the visitor experience is a key issue, and I hope that the Minister can indicate how he intends to do that in my constituency.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) figures for self-catering facilities demonstrate the problems that exist. In Northern Ireland in 1995, 8,795 weeks were sold; that accounts for about 54% of the available space. In 1999 that had fallen to 41%, and there has been no real growth in the number of weeks sold since.
In the north-east the NITB figures show that in 1995 occupancy was at 57%. However, in 1999 - the last year for which figures are available - 3,550 weeks were sold, accounting for about 39% of total occupancy.
Some of that drop can be accredited to seasonal issues such as the Drumcree factor. However, not all of it can, and we must face up to that. The fact is that, if it is to increase, the tourist experience must be developed with a strategy. I hope that the Minister can outline what that strategy will be for my constituency in particular.
The NITB has figures that show the level of tourism- related employment. The Minister knows that Moyle is an employment black spot. The jobs issue there is critical. Of all of the areas in my constituency, Moyle is crucially in need of jobs. One or two jobs could make a difference because it is so small. However, the NITB figures claim that, in 1995, 3,575 people were employed in the north Antrim area. By 1999 there seemed to have been impressive growth with 5,054 people employed in the hotel and tourist sector. That growth looks good on paper, but what is it based on? It is not based on actual jobs, but on what the small print in the NITB report refers to as
"full-time equivalent jobs supported by tourism spend and estimated as a proportion of total spend."
That shows that they are not real jobs - the figures were massaged. I hope that the Minister can provide Members with the real figures, and I suggest that the number is considerably lower than the 5,054 that were indicated. The new Invest Northern Ireland (INI) board has taken on some of the powers of the NITB, and I hope that it can produce more accurate figures and that the Minister can give us that assurance.
An important strategic review of the Giant's Causeway called 'Managing Our Future' was published in 1997. It was drawn up by several Government agencies including the NITB, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Economic Development, the National Trust and Moyle District Council. People ask whether there is a strategy for the area. According to that document there is. However, is that plan in operation today? What progress has been made on the implementation of the issues that that strategy identified?
Everything that I hear from some people who are involved in the NITB suggests that we do not want premature growth or to go off at a particular tangent and that we should slow down tourism development. That is the wrong approach. Northern Ireland, and my constituency, needs tourism development, and it should not be slowed down because there is no strategy. The reality is that there is a strategy. Can the Department report back on how it is being implemented? I accept that development must be part of a strategy, but that plan must come into operation sooner rather than later.
I hope that the Minister agrees that too much dilly- dallying has gone on. It is not enough to dilly-dally on these issues. Hard sweat must be spilt to deliver a strategy. I hope that the Minister agrees that a strategy must revolve around more than a cup of tea and a bun. It was put to me recently that a cup of tea and bun would send a tourist on his or her way. I hope that the tourist stays for much more than that.