Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 1 July 2002 (continued)

Mrs Courtney:

I will be brief. I welcome the allocation of £3 million for the relief of cardiac-surgery waiting lists in Northern Ireland. It will be warmly welcomed by those people who are awaiting heart surgery and by the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association, which has lobbied for such a fund. Will the Minister confirm how that allocation has come about?

Dr Farren:

The allocation has come about because the money has been made available to the Executive as the result of the monitoring of expenditure, which I have been attempting to explain to the House this afternoon. It has come about because there is a real need; and professionals who are involved in cardiac surgery, and many Members, have been lobbying the Executive. I trust that the £3 million will be welcomed. It may not be sufficient to deal with all of the cases on the waiting list, but as we move through the year I would like to think that we could allocate additional funding for this need.

Executive Programme Children's Fund


Mr Deputy Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement on the Executive programme children's fund.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Dr Farren): On behalf of the Executive, I want to make a brief statement on the latest round of allocations to Departments with regard to the Executive programme children's fund. The establishment of the Executive programme funds has been well recorded, and they have been discussed in the House on many occasions. They represent an effective mechanism through which the Executive can support its Programme for Government and encourage cross-cutting policy development.

Today's statement links to that made by my predecessor, Mark Durkan, in April 2001, when he announced the first of the allocations from the Executive programme funds, particularly the children's fund, to support projects primarily run by Departments or other statutory bodies. Those projects can involve more than one Department and can also have some voluntary and community sector involvement. I will explain the position on the separate process for projects led by those sectors shortly.

Last year we allocated £10·5 million to 12 projects run by statutory bodies, covering a range of schemes such as specialist residential units, a school-age mothers' programme, new counselling services for pupils, and redeveloping the youth service. That left £18·5 million available for further projects. However, at the Executive meeting on 18 April 2002, we decided to allocate an additional £3 million to the children's fund. We also agreed that £9 million, from the new total of £21·5 million, would be directly accessible by the voluntary and community sectors. Today's announcement adds a further 14 schemes to the programme. The £10·1 million that we are allocating now brings the amount that we have committed to specific actions to address the needs of children to £20·6 million.

I want to explain briefly the process that we have undergone. In April, the Executive invited a second round of bids from Departments to be evaluated against a set of objectives, of which the principal theme was the provision of additional resources beyond those available from mainstream programmes, aimed at improving the life chances and citizenship of vulnerable children and young people.

We invited projects to address other themes such as child abuse, improving play services, improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable children, and improving their long-term health and well-being. We wanted to encourage teenage parents to stay in education and support families to care better for their children. We sought projects that might promote child-friendly environments, including those in rural settings, and support a range of vulnerable children and young people - for example, those who are disabled, homeless, in care or leaving care. It is a lengthy and impressive list of objectives to which we can all readily subscribe.

This year we received 20 bids from five Departments: the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; the Department of the Environment; the Department of Education; the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; and the Department for Regional Development. The bids amounted to £12·1 million.

There was a total of £12·5 million available to cover the 20 bids received. However, after careful analysis, carried out on behalf of the Executive by my Department working closely with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, the Executive decided that 14 of those bids, totalling £10·1 million, should be funded at this time. A small number of further bids may meet the requirements following further analysis and the provision of more detailed information.

Rather than defer the 14 bids that have met our requirements until after the summer recess, we have decided to announce them now and carry the other six bids and the unallocated £2·4 million over to the autumn. Those bids will be considered alongside bids emerging from the voluntary and community sector. It remains open to the Executive to allocate all or part of the outstanding £2·4 million to bids coming from that sector. I emphasise that the funds available to that sector remain fully available to that sector and will be allocated to worthwhile projects as speedily as possible using the process that we have agreed and announced.

2.15 pm

The projects announced today will deliver much needed services for children in need and young people at risk. The most costly one is the replacement of secure accommodation at Lakewood Special School in Bangor. Despite the use of the term "secure accommodation", I emphasise that the facility is not a correctional centre. It is part of residential care services and represents the last resort for some extremely vulnerable young people who are at risk of absconding or self-harm. Expenditure on that will total £6 million. However, that must be viewed as long-term investment since it represents a capital asset from which those essential services will continue to be provided long into the future.

The 13 remaining projects cover a range of very worthwhile schemes. They focus on child abuse through the extension of the work of an advisory officer for child protection in sport in partnership with the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Sports Council and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). They also keep a focus on road safety, an important element of the Programme for Government, by providing resources to develop additional road safety materials for use in schools. Focusing on the most vulnerable young people, support will be provided for enhanced training for foster carers, early intervention services to prevent exclusion from school, a new family centre in the Causeway Health and Social Services Trust area, more support for the adoption service and more aid for young carers.

The Executive are confident that those schemes will make a difference to the lives of a large number of vulnerable children and young people. They need our help, and we have already made a start on addressing the huge problems that they cannot face without support and care. What we propose will enable the provision of new and enhanced services to give that very support in line with the commitment that we gave in the Programme for Government to support children in need and young people at risk to secure their right to a safe, happy and fulfilling childhood.

This announcement continues the process of allocations from the children's fund. In conjunction with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister I made a call for applications from the voluntary and community sector on 20 June 2002. The closing date is 13 September 2002. We want the further allocations that will flow from those applications to lead to real benefits for children and young people. I plan to announce the outcome of the bidding round for voluntary and community sector projects in the autumn. The Executive's decision to allow direct access to the fund by that sector underlines the value that we attach to the work it does in delivering services and providing a voice for young people. We recognise the experience and expertise that is there, and, through the children's fund, we want to capitalise on those.

We hope to see a range of good-quality bids to complement the initiatives that have been announced today and make a real contribution to helping vulnerable children to achieve their full potential. I encourage the voluntary and community sector to seize the opportunity and suggest good-quality projects. I hope the Assembly will welcome those allocations and agree that they represent a big step towards addressing an important aspect of the Programme for Government.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr Molloy):

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister's statement and the allocations that have been made. They will have a considerable impact on children in need and in care.

Five Departments are involved in one of the projects. Are Departments taking a cross-cutting approach? Have they come together on some of those applications? Could they tie in their role with the voluntary and community sector to ensure that if there are gaps, they can identify them and work with the communities to try to rectify them?

Dr Farren:

Opportunities are built in to several of the bids. It is explicit that there will be co-operation across Departments and with the voluntary sector. I will be pleased to supply the Member with the details of the cross-cutting nature of some of the bids and the involvement of the community and voluntary sector in other bids.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the Minister's statement, as will the projects that will directly benefit from the allocations he announced. The innovative nature of the Executive programme funds and the opportunity that they provide to meet changing and developing priorities is a tribute to the success of Mark Durkan and Seán Farren. The Executive have made the needs of children and young people a priority, which the SDLP welcomes.

Will the Minister give more details on the early intervention project? In what schools or areas will it be offered? If it is deemed to be a success, will the intervention involved be rolled out across Northern Ireland? By what process will the voluntary and community sector be able to bid for the next round of funding? When will that begin, and what will be the timescale?

Dr Farren:

The early intervention project will assist schools in supporting children of primary school age with high levels of behavioural problems, mental and physical health problems or attendance problems, and those who have suffered trauma or who have problems engaging with their parents. The project aims to prevent exclusion from school, to improve co-ordination of services and liaison between professionals and schools, and to respond to the needs of children as identified by both education and health and social services.

The majority of the project costs will focus on creating new posts to address directly school-related problems. The bid will enable schools to meet children's educational and social needs. It will be targeted at primary schools in areas of highest social need. I cannot be more precise than that. However, as the project is developed, the identification of the precise areas will emerge. That information can then be communicated to the Member.

Ms McWilliams:

I also support the bids under the children's fund, although I am somewhat concerned that they have taken so long to arrive. Again, in the last week before recess, we have received a large amount of information with very little time to deal with it. Nonetheless, it is helpful to see the 14 bids. We will, no doubt, see the remaining six in the autumn.

Like Ms Lewsley, I want more detail on the bids. Although the Minister might not be able to give that detail today, perhaps we can receive written information about where the projects will take place and who will be commissioned to undertake them. Those details were not in his statement.

Is the Minister aware of any bids to deal with children who have already been excluded? It is important that children be protected from abuse and that services be provided. Children who may be at risk of exclusion are not the only problem. As political representatives in our communities, we all know that children who have already been excluded are another major problem.

Is the £6 million earmarked for Lakewood purely for capital investment to provide 16 beds there? Those beds may not be ready by the target date because there is no revenue for staff.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

Dr Farren:

I confirm that the bid that is being met for accommodation at Lakewood is for the capital needs with respect to the secure accommodation that is required.

In response to the Member's general question on details, the various Departments that have received the allocations, and that are primarily responsible for the particular bids, will supply the details as those bids are assessed. A table that shows the allocations associated with each of the bids, together with relevant notes, is attached to the statement, and if the Member cares to look at that she will be able to identify several of the bids that apply to children after they leave care. Should the Member wish, we shall provide any further information available at this stage on the nature of the successful bids. The Departments responsible will provide the operational details.

Mr McCarthy:

I very much welcome the Minister's report. Will he outline briefly the criteria used by the children's fund to select the 14 schemes that have been mentioned?

Dr Farren:

I indicated in my statement that the schemes would have to address the needs of vulnerable children: children who are at risk; children whose particular family and social circumstances put them at risk; children who have experienced abuse; children who are in care; and children whose educational development needs to be addressed by means other than the traditional provision. The general criteria include the requirement that projects are targeted at young people under 18 years of age who are, essentially, in the care system.

Draft Births, Deaths and Marriages
(Fees) (No. 2) Order (Northern Ireland) 2002


Mr Speaker:

Before I ask Dr Farren to move the motion, I remind Members that a draft Statutory Rule subject to approval by resolution requires the approval of the Assembly before it can be made by the Department.

I call the Minister at this stage, because I have received no other requests to speak. The Minister may therefore wish to address the matter before Question Time.

Dr Farren:

I did not anticipate that we would have reached this point before Question Time. Although I wish to move the Order, some remarks that I wish to make would cause us to stray into the time that has been allocated for questions.

Therefore, I beg leave of the House to make my presentation after Question Time.

Mr Speaker:

I am happy to indulge the Minister in that regard, and I hear no objections from the House. The House, therefore, should take its ease for the remainder of the time until 2.30 pm.

2.30 pm

Oral Answers to Questions

Enterprise, Trade and Investment


Warners (Dromore)


Ms Lewsley

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what communication he has had with the management of Warners in Dromore regarding the impending closure of the factory.

(AQO 1686/01)

The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):

Officials from Invest Northern Ireland (INI) had recent discussions with the management of Warners UK Ltd about a decision to place its workers in Dromore and Keady on 90 days, protective notice. Officials continue to work with the company, local councils and the Department for Employment and Learning to help them to find alternative employment and retraining opportunities when, as is anticipated, the factories close.

Ms Lewsley:

Given the detrimental effect that the closure of the factory will have on approximately 100 workers and their families, and the potential effect on the local economy, does the Department plan to attract other companies to the area in the near future?

Sir Reg Empey:

I concur with the Member's views. This is not the first time that contraction has been necessary in that area. Some 18 months ago, a similar situation arose. However, on that occasion, some jobs were saved because distribution work was substituted for some of the manufacturing work.

I am advised that the problem is not with the workforce or the quality of the product. The issue is that, despite INI's intervention and its offer to consult with Warners to see what it could do to save the jobs, the company said that it had made a commercial decision and was not prepared to pursue INI's proposals any further. Therefore, it is likely that production will be moved offshore to north Africa.

The case is not unique but it is regrettable. In the short term, INI, together with the Department for Employment and Learning, is trying to deal with the workforce to determine what training would be beneficial and what advice the workers might require to, for example, establish their own businesses.

To answer Ms Lewsley's main point, INI is acutely aware of the need to bring more work to the area. However, as the Member will know, it is neither easy nor something that we can deliver alone. We require the support of businesses. Keady is a TSN area; therefore, INI is obliged to meet the targets for that area.

Standard Industrial Classification
(Printing and Publishing)



Mr Dallat

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment if printing and publishing are classified together under subsection 22 of the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities.

(AQO 1677/01)

Sir Reg Empey:

Printing and publishing are classified together under subsection 22 of the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities 1992. However, they can be distinguished separately as industry group 22·1, which refers to publishing, and industry group 22·2, which refers to printing and service activities related to printing.

Mr Dallat:

The Minister will know that his accounting officer recently gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee. He emphasised that there is a clear distinction between printing and publishing. That evidence was in connection with the award of Northern Ireland Tourist Board contracts for its 'Breakaways' brochure. Will the Minister outline why his accounting officer misled the Committee in that way?

Sir Reg Empey:

I am not conscious of my answer to Mr Dallat's question being in conflict with the answer that the accounting officer gave. However, for clarification, I shall read the transcript of the Committee meeting. As I have said, there is an industry classification under the heading of printing and publishing, in which subsection 22·1 refers to publishing and subsection 22·2 refers to printing and service activities related to printing. Therefore, there is a distinction between printing and publishing. However, it also comes under a broad heading. This is not a unique feature in product headings. If one looks at the numbers of people who are employed in any particular classification, one sees that jobs are grouped together, whether they are in optics, electrics, aerospace or engineering. They are then subdivided for greater clarification.

Therefore, there is no conflict. In attempting to calculate the number of people in particular fields, there is inevitably a group factor involved. For instance, tobacco is linked to several classifications, but we can still ascertain how many people are employed in the tobacco business. Therefore there is a range of classifications; they are subdivided, and that is a well-established pattern in industry.

Innovation in Businesses
 (West of the Bann)



Mr Armstrong

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what action has been taken to encourage innovation in businesses west of the Bann.

(AQO 1687/01)

Sir Reg Empey:

Invest Northern Ireland (INI) has been working actively in several areas to promote business innovation west of the Bann. Those include: an innovation management programme for the furniture and engineering sectors; a directory of support for the innovation of local companies; an information and communication technology (ICT) and e-commerce programme; innovation awards; and an innovation conference. Additionally, Invest Northern Ireland provides an ICT advisory service to promote innovation through the use of ICT.

Mr Armstrong:

I thank the Minister for his reply, but he only partly answered my question. Will he comment on the uptake of the Northern Ireland innovation audit programme west of the Bann? Will he give the House an assessment of the adoption of innovation procedures during business start-ups?

Sir Reg Empey:

I can partly answer the Member's question now and give him figures for Northern Ireland as a whole, but I am happy to write to him later with a more detailed response.

The innovation audit programme, which was formerly called the technology audit scheme, provides grants to small and medium-sized enterprises to audit their design and manufacturing technology processes. It offers consultancy support of 50% of the cost, as well as up to 17 days' consultancy. Thus far, offers have been made to 135 companies, which amount to a grant of approximately £530,000. That expenditure includes support for innovation audits of businesses in County Tyrone and County Fermanagh.

I do not have the breakdown by county to hand, but I shall endeavour to write to the Member with that information, if possible. It ought to be possible; however, the figures are not stored on a county-by-county basis, but as a total for Northern Ireland. Therefore, more than £500,000 has been put forward, which is support from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for consultancy to the significant tune of up to 50%, and that will go a considerable way to giving companies the sense and the wherewithal to carry out a proper audit. I shall write to the Member about County Tyrone later.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister outline the situation on broadband provision in the Omagh district, which is west of the Bann? My question is pertinent, given the recognition of Omagh as a growth centre in the 'Shaping our Future' strategy and the need to create a level playing field for businesses in that area.

Sir Reg Empey:

I admire the Member's innovation in bringing that matter to the House. Strictly speaking, it is not a supplementary to the original question, but I shall try to give a parenthetical and general response.

From answers that I have given to him and to every other MLA from West Tyrone, the Member will know that we know full well about the requirement to ensure the roll-out of broadband in rural areas.

The Member will also be aware that we announced a scheme at the beginning of the year that was designed to ensure that companies, particularly those in rural areas, had access to satellite broadband, and that we were providing a 50% grant up to £1,500 to cover the initial cost of equipment and the first year's running costs. Further to that, we received £1·47 million from the Department of Trade and Industry to fund a parallel scheme whereby local demand for a wireless-based roll-out of broadband could be aggregated. If providers, such as the local council, make a joint declaration that they had a reasonable volume of demand, we could find a wireless solution, which is aimed at individuals or small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Department is fully cognisant of the need to ensure the roll-out of broadband. I hope that as the year progresses, we will seek expressions of interest from companies that wish to develop further. A cable-based broadband facility would be exceptionally expensive and out of the reach of most, especially in rural areas. However, I am pleased to say that in the past couple of months BT Northern Ireland has decided to install an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) exchange in Londonderry, which received a broad welcome.

Energy Market Strategy:
Consultation Paper



Mr Neeson

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to outline which of the proposals in the consultation paper 'Towards a New Energy Market Strategy for Northern Ireland' are designed to reduce electricity prices.

(AQO 1683/01)

Sir Reg Empey:

The paper's primary purpose was to invite views on a new strategy to deliver a secure, diverse, competitive and efficient energy market in an all-island and European context. Such a fully open market, with an extended gas industry and new generation capacity, will create downward pressure on electricity prices.

Mr Neeson:

The Minister knows that I would prefer to ask about the dangerous state of the salt mines in Carrickfergus.

Does he agree that the proposed legislation to enable more efficient financing of costs in the electricity and gas industries is essential to their future development, that it could result in significant savings to consumers, and, therefore, should be included in the energy Bill?

Does the Minister have a view on the use of bonds to buy out the existing electricity generation contracts?

Sir Reg Empey:

The Assembly does not lack innovation. Mr Neeson is concerned about the potential collapse of a mine on the Trailcock Road in Carrickfergus. Our officials visited the area on Friday, and a senior mines inspector has studied the situation. Unfortunately, some householders on the Trailcock Road will experience difficulty. We are installing a temporary road, but a permanent solution is still being considered. The operation will be an expensive one.

I intend to introduce in September an energy Bill that will cover various issues such as consumer representation on electricity matters and the structure of the industry. The Bill may be amended substantially at Committee Stage, as many complicated issues must be resolved.

The possibility of bonds has been raised before, and the Committee shares the genuine dilemma that exists. The starting point was the bad deal that was done for Northern Ireland in 1991: extremely expensive contracts were agreed; their yield was 60% higher than those created during the privatisation process in England and Wales. As a result, our consumers have been saddled with higher electricity prices than would have been the case.

The Department has attempted to make improvements to the market, and some have taken place: we are no longer an isolated energy market; we have electricity interconnection, and gas interconnection with the Republic has been agreed. Therefore, the situation has a European dimension.

2.45 pm

We have new operators, and new-generation capacity, which is under construction in the Member's constituency, will be coming on-stream. That will eventually reduce the cost of electricity. There is also the matter of renewables. With regard to floating a public bond, the question is basically whether to mortgage the future and ask the next generation to pay the excesses, or to take it on the chin and stick with it, as we are over halfway through the contracts. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

In September, I hope to introduce proposals that will go some way towards alleviating the problems. I am in discussion with the operators, the generators, and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE), and I am certainly determined to do something. We are still awaiting the outcome of the regulator's transmission and distribution review. We do not know whether NIE will accept his proposals. I am aware that we have not finally resolved our attitude to a public bond, and I will not take a hard and fast position on that until September.

Mr McGrady:

I welcome the Minister's detailed reply. He said that there would be a downward pressure on electricity prices and that he hoped to address some of the other problems in the energy Bill in September. Has the Minister read the report by the director general of electricity supply, entitled 'Transmission and Distribution Price Control Review'? The report points out the limitations of the entire regulatory system. Does the Bill that will be introduced in September envisage more stringent regulations being imposed on the transmission and distribution companies for an ever-increasing pricing spiral which indicates higher profitability, less efficiency, or a lack of adequate controls?

Sir Reg Empey:

The regulator has exclusive responsibility for the transmission and distribution review; it would be inappropriate for me to second-guess its outcome. We are very near the final outcome. The regulator has put forward his final proposals; NIE must respond this month; and we will know whether NIE has accepted the regulator's revised proposals, or whether it will go to the Competition Commission. Either way, the outcome will be backdated to 1 April 2002. The energy Bill deals with a range of issues concerned with the way in which the market is structured. This is an extremely complicated area. When I took on this job, I did not appreciate just how difficult it is to deal with these contracts.

With regard to transmission and distribution, other proposals have been introduced to the public debate. A proposal has been made to take the transmission and distribution assets away from NIE and put them in the ownership of consumer representatives. One bank in particular has expressed an interest in that. That is a matter between those who made the proposal and Viridian Group plc shareholders. I cannot determine what the outcome will be. However, I am anxious to see NIE's response to the regulator, because if it agrees to the proposals, we will know where we stand in relation to that component. That would have a downward pressure on prices, which is the important issue for consumers.

Mr Hussey:

I listened carefully to the Minister's answers and welcome his and others' efforts to reduce electricity prices for the domestic and business sectors. Does the Minister agree that competition is a major element in pricing? Can he confirm that the new energy market strategy will operate to ensure that competition is extended beyond Londonderry by providing natural gas to the rest of Northern Ireland?

Sir Reg Empey:

There was a twist in the tale of that question. The Member was doing well, until his last words.

Competition is critical, and the absence of competition and the effects of these bad contracts have brought us to this position. The Bill will address the competitive nature of the market, which will be difficult.

The Executive's proposal will bring gas to a further 32% of the population - over and above the 45% living in Greater Belfast. If my arithmetic is right, that brings us to the high 70s. It would be misleading for me to suggest that the Castle Inn in Castlederg could avail of gas - that is unlikely in the short term. The regulator will be asking for expressions of interest from companies that wish to supply gas to towns and villages along the pipelines when they are laid. That is imminent. It is unrealistic to expect natural gas to be available to every hamlet or town in the Province; that is not financially possible. Our task is to make consumer choice and a relatively clean fuel available to the maximum number of people, which is certainly the Department's intention.

Rural Generation Ltd/
"Green" Electricity and Power



Mr Clyde

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to outline (a) his assessment of the work being carried out by Rural Generation Ltd at the Brook Hall estate, Londonderry; and (b) whether he would look favourably at "green" electricity and power.

(AQO 1684/01)

Sir Reg Empey:

The work being carried out by Rural Generation Ltd at the Brook Hall estate, Londonderry, has contributed significantly to developing a commercial combined heat and power unit. This involves gasification, using short rotation coppice willow. I am committed to increasing the electricity generated from renewable sources and will set targets for this in the autumn.

Mr Clyde:

Does the Minister agree that important job opportunities may be provided in growing and harvesting willow? Will he consider making grant aid available to ventures similar to the Brook Hall estate to increase the uptake of renewable energy in Northern Ireland?

Sir Reg Empey:

I shall write to the Member about Brook Hall, as I do not wish to give him an unprepared answer at this stage. I am aware of the potential job opportunities, particularly in rural areas where people have been suffering. The farming community has been suffering greatly over the past few years, with foot-and-mouth disease, the weather, and the change in the European Union's approach to agriculture. There has been enormous pressure. Some have suggested tourism solutions, and some have suggested rural regeneration. That is one possibility.

We must raise our game, and I shall be setting targets for renewables in the autumn. However, this is controversial in many places. Rural Generation Ltd has made a grant application, which is being evaluated. I cannot give the Member a "Yes" or "No", but it is under active consideration. The Department looks favourably on the disposal of waste from farms. The generation of methane gas from waste slurry products to drive generation is another method. In small rural areas this could increase job opportunities.

Mrs Courtney:

I welcome the Minister's response, having visited the Brook Hall estate recently with the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, and I am familiar with the green innovations being carried out there. Does the Minister recommend a subsidy for those using green energy in future?

Sir Reg Empey:

If we subsidise green energy, who will pay for it? People in Northern Ireland are paying a premium. Percentage-wise, we have the greatest take-up anywhere in the UK of people who are ready to pay above our existing high rates of electricity charges to get green electricity. That is a tremendous tribute to the many thousands of customers who have already done so. As Mrs Courtney knows, the Minister of Finance and Personnel has been encouraging Departments throughout the Government estate to take up a green tariff, and my Department is no exception.

However, not everyone can avail of a subsidy, because the current amount of electricity generated from renewables is very small. Our aim is to get that to grow. We must get it to a scale on which it can be economically produced and where the question of a subsidy will not arise. Presently, it is by and large at market risk with the exception of grants that are given for development in exactly the same fashion as we sometimes give grants to help businesses to develop. I need some convincing that the subsidy route is the right one.

Mr K Robinson:

Is the Minister aware that small suppliers of wind-generated electricity, who may have only one wind-generating item on their property, can contribute electricity to the grid for a return of approximately 1·8p for each unit sold? However, when they use electricity from that same grid, they are forced to buy each extra unit required for about 7p each. Will the Minister raise that with Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) and the larger generators so that small suppliers can be further encouraged to contribute to the drive towards clean, renewable and sustainable energy?

Sir Reg Empey:

I am aware of the Member's point. I have already taken it up with NIE. It says that that creates huge technical difficulties for the company. The distribution network would have to be able to take intermittent supplies of electricity that may or may not be produced in a particular area. There is a cost involved from NIE's point of view. I understand the Member's point, and I will undertake to raise it with NIE again. However, I understand NIE's point that there would be huge technical difficulties if one had a whole series of small operators with on-off supply. The network is sometimes not technically capable of dealing with that. One also must keep levels of distribution and supply in balance in each area. There are huge problems with this, but technical adjustments to the network may be capable of resolving them. I will come back to the Member.

Employment Figures



Mr Beggs

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to make a statement on the latest labour force survey employment figures and the claimant count unemployment rates by district council areas for May 2002.

(AQO 1685/01)

Sir Reg Empey:

The most up-to-date figures for the labour force survey relate to the quarter from February to April 2002. At that time, total employment was 726,000, which is 15,000 higher than one year ago. The latest claimant count on employment rates by district council areas relates to May 2002 and can be found in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's labour market statistics publication, copies of which are in the Assembly Library.

Mr Beggs:

Will the Minister acknowledge that Carrickfergus, with 6·5% unemployment, has the fourth-highest unemployment of any district council area in Northern Ireland and that Larne, with 5·7%, is well above the Northern Ireland average? When can we expect to hear an outcome of the review of New TSN, which is discriminating against my constituency?

Turning to the potential safety and employment implications of the warnings issued by the Minister's Department about the conditions of salt mines in the Trailcock Road area of Carrickfergus, will the Minister advise -

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member may have been straying a little in the first part of his question, but he is way out in the second part. I call the Minister to address the first part of the question.

Sir Reg Empey:

The Member has raised this issue with me before, both publicly and privately. I am conscious of the unemployment rate in Carrickfergus. I hope in the early autumn to publish maps that will deal with my Department's response to TSN.

There are changes, some for the better, some for the worse, and they must be reflected in the new maps. I will give those matters serious consideration.

3.00 pm

Employment and Learning


Mr Speaker:

Question 8, standing in the name of Ms Mary Nelis, has been withdrawn and will receive a written answer. Question 11, standing in the name of Mr John Kelly, has been transferred to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and will receive a written answer.

Day-Care Provision:
Disabled Adults



Mr Armstrong:

asked the Minister for Employment and Learning what discussions she has had with her ministerial counterpart in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to introduce legislation to improve day-care centre provision for disabled adults.

(AQO 1694/01)

The Minister for Employment and Learning (Ms Hanna):

This is an area where working together cross-departmentally is essential to ensure that disabled adults have an opportunity to achieve their potential. However, the provision of day-care services is the responsibility of the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. My Department has no plans to introduce legislation on day-care provision for adults with disabilities. However, I plan to meet the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister of Education in the near future to discuss the provision of services for young people with disabilities leaving special schools, many of whom require day-care provision.

Mr Armstrong:

What does the Minister propose to do to ensure that day-care centre provision for the most severely disabled is a recognised right, not an option, especially in light of article 14 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which prohibits discrimination? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that any further policy considerations should be guided by day-care centre provision as of right?

Ms Hanna:

That is outside my remit and is the responsibility of the Minister of Health. I am aware from meeting the Member, and other Members, that there are issues and concerns about young people with disabilities. I plan to meet the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education as soon as possible.

Ms Lewsley:

I commend the Minister for taking this cross-departmental approach. Some weeks ago I asked the Minister of Health if she would do that, and the Minister for Employment and Learning has taken it on.

What is the Minister doing to support the voluntary and community organisations that are providing services for people with disabilities?

Ms Hanna:

My Department provides substantial funding to a range of organisations in the voluntary and community sector that provide services for people with disabilities. Those organisations cover a wide range of disabilities, including learning disabilities. However, important decisions must be taken about priorities for funding. We must endeavour to ensure that all essential services, especially to adults and young people with disabilities, are maintained.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Further to the helpful meeting we had with the Minister when I led a delegation to her recently, will she inform the House what steps her Department has since taken to open up opportunities for disabled adults to further their education after the age of 19? That opportunity is afforded to every other child and young person.

Ms Hanna:

I had a very good meeting with the Member. I share his concerns for the future of young people with disabilities. My Department deals primarily with training, and that is why I want a meeting with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education. Different Departments have different responsibilities, and this is an area where we need to work together.


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