Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 2 July 2002


Reinvestment and Reform Initiative

British-Irish Council Summit

North/South Ministerial Council Plenary Meeting

North/South Ministerial Council: Language

Commissioner for Children and Young People Bill: Second Stage

Education and Libraries Bill: Second Stage

Private Hire Vehicle (Carriage of Guide Dogs Etc.) Bill

Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
(Assembly Standards) Bill: First Stage

Draft Access to Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2002: 
Report of Ad Hoc Committee

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr J Wilson] in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Reinvestment and Reform Initiative


Mr Deputy Speaker:

I have received notice from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on the reinvestment and reform initiative.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I understand that the statement is being photocopied now. It should be available shortly. I hope that copies can be distributed to Members while the Deputy First Minister and I are speaking, rather than being left outside the Chamber. The Deputy First Minister would also like a copy.

With permission, the Deputy First Minister and I would like to make a statement on how we are starting to implement the reinvestment and reform initiative. Through this first phase of the initiative we can target £200 million on key aspects of the infrastructure of Northern Ireland. We are adding a further £70 million to that sum from the infrastructure Executive programme fund. Over the next two years that unprecedented package will significantly accelerate major investment. In key areas we will start to address the investment deficit that developed under direct rule.

When we launched the reinvestment and reform initiative on 2 May 2002, we explained that this was the reason that we had secured a unique package of measures through negotiations with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Our purpose was clear. Only if we can address the basic infrastructure can we provide the quality of services that a vibrant economy and a fair society needs. Only with well-designed hospitals can well-trained doctors and nurses provide the quality of care that is needed. Only if there is an end to poor-quality classrooms can we provide the environment for good-quality teaching and learning. Only when crumbling or inadequate water and sewerage systems are replaced can we be confident that Northern Ireland has safe water and a clean environment.

The need to improve our infrastructure unites all Assembly parties and all our people. We agree that improved infrastructure means improved public services and improved conditions for economic growth. That aim is at the core of the Programme for Government and has been central to our approach from the outset.

The Executive introduced the Executive programme fund for infrastructure and capital renewal with that very purpose in mind. We decided from the outset that we had to protect a significant part of the Budget specifically for investment. Over successive Budgets we have sought to increase allocations in that area, seeking to start gradually to turn the tanker of public expenditure in the right direction. We realised, however, that to achieve our ambitions for new investment we had to find ways of doing and thinking outside the traditional box.

A step change in investment must be accompanied by a radical reappraisal of the problem and a search for new solutions. That is why, in the first phase of devolution, we embarked on a series of related reviews to enable us to set a new strategic approach to the financing and delivery of public services. The rating system is undergoing a fundamental examination, and alternative sources of funding are being considered.

At the same time, through the review of public administration, we want a thorough review of the structures for service delivery. That is why we have set in train the most wide-ranging review of the needs and effectiveness of the main expenditure programmes that has ever been conducted in Northern Ireland. It will be the focus of debate in the Executive in the coming weeks. We hope that the evaluations will also play a central role in the Assembly’s consideration of the next Budget and Programme for Government.

In short, there are four key aspects to the Executive’s search for improved public services: alternative sources of finance; rating policy; public administration; and the needs and effectiveness studies. Their common aim is to enable us to provide high-quality public services and enhanced public assets. Some will take time; others can, and should, proceed sooner, as it is clear that early action is needed. It is essential to have a clear strategy and to make a start. The reinvestment and reform initiative lets us make much more substantial progress.

On 7 May we set out the core elements of the initiative for the Assembly and explained that £200 million would be available for investment over the next two years, to which we have now added £70 million from the infrastructure Executive programme fund. There will also be a new borrowing power for the longer term, the transfer of some strategic military and security assets, the creation of a new strategic investment body and a major programme of public-sector reform to secure greater expertise and effectiveness.

We are announcing the detail of the first element of the initiative today. The initiative is an integrated one, so before we describe the allocations in detail, I will remind Members of the key aspects. An Executive subcommittee has been established to oversee the initiative to ensure that the reform is effectively co-ordinated. Central to it is a new mechanism to help individual Ministers, and the Executive as a whole, to plan the organisation and financing of the new capital investment.

The new strategic investment body, which draws together expertise in finance and project planning and delivery from the public and private sectors, will be the central resource to drive through a new way of doing public business. Its mission will be to ensure that strategic infrastructure is much more effectively planned and delivered than before, using all available resources and means.

Much work will be needed to plan and resource the strategic investment body, and progress has been made. A project board has been established, whose members were nominated by all four parties in the Executive, to advise on the remit and status of the body. It has already met three times and will make progress over the coming months. It has already examined the approach taken to those issues in London and Dublin.

The Deputy First Minister and I have also agreed to exchange information and experience on private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the Scottish Executive. We want to be innovative and work out an approach that fits our unique context. However, we have been glad of the opportunities to learn from progress made elsewhere so that we avoid reinventing when we want to be reinvesting.

Discussions are continuing with the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office on the transfer of sites. Work on developing proposals for the major Ebrington site has begun already. The Deputy First Minister and I have established a partnership and regeneration panel that will involve central and local government and the community and business sectors to develop proposals for the Executive’s consideration.

Local experience and expertise will advise the Executive on how best to use this strategically important asset. Community and business groups will also be consulted and involved in developing ideas for the use of the other sites through an approach of not just joined-up but joined-in government. We shall discuss shortly with the relevant Ministers the best legal and administrative framework for realising the potential of the strategic sites. Thinking outside the box secured the sites for the Executive; thinking outside the box will maximise their benefit to all.

The initiative is about reform. We cannot invest in infrastructure if we do not improve service delivery continually. To do otherwise would be to complete only half of the job. Major initiatives, such as the review of public administration, will help us to drive change at a high level. So, too, will our use of public service agreements and service delivery agreements, which will put a spotlight on what we get for our resources. Central to that will be the strategic investment body, which will advise us on the best and most efficient use of resources. However, we expect Ministers to ensure reform in their Departments and agencies alongside the investment that we announce today.

In this statement, we want to focus on the short-term element of the package. From the beginning of our discussions with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we said that we had to make an early start. Now, just two months after the initial launch, the Executive have decided what should be done over the next two years. In preparing the package of measures, we built on proposals identified by Departments.

Originally, we invited bids for allocations out of the infrastructure element of the Executive programme funds. After the announcement of the reinvestment and reform initiative, we asked Departments for further ideas for action in the short term. We made it clear that those should address some of our most urgent infrastructure needs, but without pre-empting the role of the strategic investment body. Details of the 29 programmes or projects that the Executive support are set out in the table attached to the copies of our statement which, I hope, have been provided for Members.

A list of further projects will be identified for consideration by the Executive in the autumn, taking account of the advice of the project board for the strategic investment body. We are, however, committing ourselves to an approach through the reinvestment and reform initiative, which will systematically address our problems in a clear, integrated and transparent way. Many needs cannot be met today, such is the extent of the backlog faced by society, and Committees will be aware of other proposals that Departments have lodged.

The total value of the projects and programmes that are contained, wholly or in part, in the package is £510 million, including contributions from private funds and the mainstream departmental budgets. The new money committed by the Executive in today’s announcement is the £270 million that will fall in the years 2002-03 and 2003-04. The implications of the decisions for later years, when some of those projects will be completed, will be dealt with in future Budget rounds. In turn, that will mean that other projects, which would otherwise have had to wait longer for funding, will be accelerated.

I shall now explain the main actions that we have decided to initiate to address the key weaknesses of our infrastructure. The cancer centre is the most urgently needed major project in the Health Service. It has been a top priority for the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the departmental Committee. Through the centre we can combat more effectively one of the major causes of premature death here, saving many more lives than we have been able to do to date. We are pleased to confirm that the project will now proceed immediately. The funds are available, and the final business case has been proved.

The need to invest in our roads and transport networks is well known and understood by all Members as a key objective of the reinvestment and reform initiative. Today the Executive can confirm funding for strategic road improvement by making a start on the widening of the M1 approach to Belfast. That will be recognised as a highly worthwhile improvement by the many who have to use the route daily. Secondly, there will be structural maintenance of the major routes on the regional strategic transportation network, such as the A8 from Belfast to Larne, the A5 at Strabane, the A32 from Omagh to Enniskillen and the A28 at Newry.

10.45 am

A further £14 million has been allocated for structural maintenance across a wider range of smaller schemes. Those allocations are over and above the £40 million that the Executive committed last year to specific actions on the major trans-European network route that runs between Larne, Belfast and the border south of Newry. Although most of that funding falls outside the time frame of this package, we reaffirm the commitments that will make action possible on those major developments.

The proposed regional transportation strategy also highlights the need for major investment in public transport. We want to determine whether new and innovative approaches to funding are possible in that sector and, in order to return with new ideas in the autumn, we want to work with the Department for Regional Development. However, to address the issue, £5 million has been allocated to enable the purchase of 40 buses.

One area in which we inherited serious difficulties is the water and sewerage infrastructure. There is an investment backlog of several billion pounds there, with no actions having been taken on some structures for many decades. To avoid increased risk to health and the environment, and to ensure that housing and commercial development can proceed where it is needed, we must address those problems.

The package includes £23 million of additional capital investment in that sector. There will be action to improve the water mains and sewers in the following areas, which were identified by the Minister for Regional Development: Portadown, Cookstown, Belfast, west of Newry, north Antrim and Ballymena. Those actions are on top of the programme that is funded from the Department for Regional Development’s core budget, which accounts for a range of schemes that are being implemented. It is in exactly that type of area, in which we must invest for the longer term for generations ahead, that the borrowing power that we achieved under the reinvestment and reform initiative will play such a significant role.

As Members know, we get nothing, and will get nothing, for water under the Barnett formula. Its cost will increasingly press on other services unless we can find new ways of funding investment to make that industry fully efficient and a resource for the future.

Last year, the Executive decided to support the proposals for the extension of the gas supply network through pipelines between Larne and the north-west and from the South to link with the existing network. That will greatly improve the range and security of supply. It will benefit many by widening choice and energy supply and will also make it possible for investment in the new Coolkeeragh Power Station to proceed. Today, we confirm that £12 million of the grant aid that the Executive have agreed to pay towards the pipeline project will come from the reinvestment and reform initiative.

On housing, we are considering the regional infrastructure for energy and addressing the specific problem of fuel poverty. The initiative will make it possible for the Housing Executive to replace outdated heating systems in 2,000 homes. Moreover, 75 new accommodation units will be provided to ensure that action can be taken to address the problem of homelessness. Action on homelessness and fuel poverty will show that the infrastructure package has a clear TSN dimension.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

A Member said that he wished to raise a point of order about the non-availability of the statement at the commencement of business. I told him that I would not take a point of order during the statement. However, I hope that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have noted that the statement was not circulated until six minutes into the First Minister’s delivery. The Speaker dealt with the matter yesterday, and I am dealing with it again today. I hope that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will take note that, although there is no requirement in Standing Orders for Members to be provided with statements in advance, it is reasonable to expect a statement on such an important issue to be available before it is delivered in the Chamber.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Durkan):

Your point is well made, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it has been well taken. Yet again, I apologise for the delay, which was partly to ensure that the First Minister and I did not repeat elements of the statement. It is more difficult to produce than a statement from a Department that has only one Minister.

Before I detail some of the specific projects, I will focus on our strategic approach to deciding how to invest. I said at the launch of the reinvestment and reform initiative that

"Devolution is not a theme park for soft options. It must be a building ground for new prosperity, a growing field for social transformation, a learning zone for new ways of providing, and providing for, public service".

I also said:

"We have to harness the skills of our public sector, the will of our voluntary sector, and the drive of our private sector to deliver the dynamic development we seek. The enterprise and expertise of the social partners, which has done so much to drive regeneration and reconciliation, can join government endeavour to change the regional landscape."

I stress that the initiative includes major investments that are designed to touch on people’s social needs and improve their quality of life. The social inclusion dimension receives a full and fair share of our energy and resources. That dimension includes: health and social care; the fundamental needs of our schoolchildren; housing; and help with heating, which is often an anxiety for the elderly and other householders.

The Executive intend to set a short- and longer-term strategic direction for developing infrastructure. The project board and the Executive subcommittee will assist them in that work. The funds that are available for this year and the next will enable us to make an immediate start on the new strategic approach to infrastructure development.

In recent years, the Executive have agreed that several areas, especially health, education, transport, water and sewerage, suffer as a result of major infrastructure problems. The PPP working group examined the extent of those needs and their implications for our overall expenditure, and they are being considered in the Financing our Future consultation.

Recently, the Executive have been examining in detail our need to invest in the Water Service. We have also been considering the Department for Regional Development’s proposed regional transportation strategy, and we have agreed that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s proposals on acute hospitals should be put forward for consultation also.

In that context, we have concluded that we now need a major set of investments that focus primarily on those areas. That approach fits in with the priorities that we identified in the Programme for Government and the Budget, which we want to refine in the coming year. We must also ensure that all new options are explored creatively and urgently so that people can benefit from better services and facilities. The fundamental idea behind the reinvestment and reform initiative is that it comprises investment, and there is no question of our simply topping up ordinary programmes.

It is vital for the initiative to make a strategic difference in addressing the infrastructure deficit and have an impact on the major needs that we identified. It must also demonstrate our commitment to reforming the delivery of public services. The reform agenda will be integral to the initiative, and appropriate action to progress reform must be an important element alongside all allocations from the new reinvestment and reform initiative funds.

It would be wrong to commit ourselves to financing projects in a new way, using the £125 million loan that we secured from the reinvestment and reform initiative, without ensuring that appropriate action is taken to develop new expertise and a thorough approach to planning and management that will mark a break with the past. We can make a start now, and we must start as we mean to go on. However, I emphasise that some aspects of change, and a substantial leverage of investment from alternative sources, will take longer to acquire and will depend on the development and introduction of the strategic investment body.

As well as the cancer centre, already mentioned by the First Minister, there is investment in essential capacity at six hospitals across Northern Ireland — Antrim Area Hospital, Craigavon Area Hospital, the Mater Hospital, Holywell Hospital, Musgrave Park Hospital and the Erne Hospital. The project at Antrim Area Hospital will include a local cancer unit, which will complement the main cancer centre as part of the strategic approach to addressing that very important issue. That investment will ensure that care of cancer patients in Northern Ireland will be improved to the standards achieved in the best EU countries.

There will also be specific projects at five other hospitals — Altnagelvin Area Hospital, Stradreagh Hospital, Daisy Hill Hospital, Belfast City Hospital and Muckamore Abbey Hospital — and action to upgrade equipment at regional centres will improve services for all parts of the region. This is a major step up in investment in the Health Service estate and is designed to begin the reinvestment that is so badly needed. In total, £110 million from the total of £270 million is going to Health Service projects. When we add the further costs to be incurred beyond 2003-04, the full value of the investment in health will be £167 million, which includes investment of £58 million in the cancer centre.

Today we can announce that funding will be available for three major new school schemes at St Patrick’s College, Dungannon; Fivemiletown High School and St Fanchea’s College, Enniskillen. Funding will also be available for the final phases at three other schools — Regent House School, Meánscoil Feirste and Thornhill College. Together with site purchases for future developments planned for a further two schools — Clondermot/ Faughan Valley High School and Abbey Christian Brothers’ Grammar School, Newry — the full value of this group of projects is £56·7 million. Three special schools will also be built at a cost of £11·9 million, two of which, Cedar Lodge and Harberton, will be in Belfast and the other, Roddensvale, in Larne. That will address the needs of pupils with learning difficulties and reduce the special schools major works backlog by one third. We are also committing £4 million to the integrated sector to enable the Department of Education to make timely and important investment there.

These major schools projects are underpinned by a commitment of £6 million to tackle the needs of 75 small rural schools, a quarter of all such schools. The work will involve replacing temporary accommodation and upgrading toilet facilities. The amounts will be allocated across the region where they are needed most.

We are also allocating £15 million to replace 20% of mobile classrooms with new accommodation. That will provide action on 200 classrooms in the first year and 600 classrooms in the second year. Teachers and pupils deserve good accommodation in which to teach and learn. I am delighted that we have made such a significant step forward in this package.

Investment in lifelong learning is vital for the future of society and for economic development. We are pleased to confirm the Executive’s support for a further programme of investment in university research infrastructure, which will be matched, pound for pound, by a private donor organisation.

Investment in further education colleges is also being provided — £3·2 million in Limavady College of Further and Higher Education and £3·5 million in Fermanagh College of Further Education. Thus further and higher education will receive a total of £12·7 million from the initiative immediately, and total investment will be £56·7 million over the full period of the support programme for university research (SPUR).

To complete the package, the Executive have decided to provide £4·4 million to address the problem of silt and mud in the inner harbour at Kilkeel, which has prevented the regulator from granting the Fisheries Harbour Authority a licence for sea disposal. That will also support investment in the continued existence and safety of Kilkeel harbour and in the extensive structural repair of the South Pier and Windy Gap entrance.

Finally, it will enable the replacement of the slipway winch and at least one cradle, required for health and safety reasons.

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We intend to use all of the £125 million of available borrowing in the period up to March 2004 alongside our mainstream public expenditure provision and the Executive programme funds. We will adhere to the principle that we should borrow to invest, not to support current spending programmes. Furthermore, we will not take out loans that are repayable over periods beyond the useful life of the assets that we are procuring.

The projects that we are supporting represent a balanced investment package that will address some of the most pressing infrastructure needs in schools, the Health Service, roads, and water and sewerage services. The proposed measures will also enable us to address problems such as homelessness and fuel poverty. The measures confirm and underline the clear value and logic of the approach that we began through the Executive programme funds. That approach is already bearing fruit. All of these schemes are high priorities in the Programme for Government and, when delivered, should lead to real and visible improvements in the quality of public services. We are making a positive start on a strategically driven infrastructure programme, based on the priorities that we have already agreed.

Our proposals are also designed to support projects that can be implemented quickly, although this does not override our commitment to ensuring that the highest value-for-money standards are maintained. No projects will be allowed to incur expenditure until the economic appraisal process has been satisfactorily completed. We assure the Assembly that the projects selected for funding will be subject to rigorous analysis and scrutiny before final allocations are made. Let us be clear that the allocations are not about spending for the sake of it simply because we now have additional resources.

In some instances, the allocations create ongoing commitments to complete certain projects, such as the cancer centre. These have to be confirmed in the 2002 Budget. However, much higher costs arise for certain projects in 2004-05 and beyond. In those cases, the Assembly will be able to consider the need for any future investment in the Budget process later this year and as part of the longer-term allocations from the reinvestment and reform initiative.

We will also be looking to the strategic investment body to help us to deliver infrastructure programmes in a unique and strategic way. The new body will enable us to use the best mix of different sources of financing and procurement methods. That will make possible a more strategic approach to investment and procurement than could be achieved if it were left simply to the resources and devices of Departments, some of which are too small to develop and maintain the kind of expertise and drive that is needed to make this happen on a large scale.

To ensure that the momentum of the initiative is sustained we will ask the Departments and the Executive to develop a further range of ideas for the next stage. In the meantime, we will continue to consider alternative sources of funding. The idea is that the project board and the strategic investment body should be able to help the Executive to examine and identify models and optimum funding sources. In that way we will be better able to respond to the range of ideas that will be put forward for the fuller development of the reinvestment and reform initiative.

The investments under the short-term element of the reinvestment and reform initiative are a precursor to the potential of the longer-term provisions. The agreement has given us new relationships and responsibilities. The initiative offers new resources which, when combined with new resolve, can create new realities. Today’s welcome announcements are really a trailer for the quantity and quality of the public service investment we can achieve under the reinvestment and reform initiative in future. We can move from complaining about what we cannot do to planning what we can do, and from lamenting what has not been done to implementing what must be done.

Some Members have expressed fears about the reinvestment and reform initiative’s borrowing powers, despite the fact that they have been advocating public bonds. Borrowing for strategic investment is not about burdening our children; it is about providing for them.

Some fret about responsible and affordable borrowing as imposing a debt on others to come, but we cannot pass on the investment deficit and dilapidated public estate that we have inherited. Indeed, we would be compounding the strategic negligence for which we have been criticising others.

If we believe in public services, public assets and public expenditure, then we should see strategic borrowing, funded by public revenue, as a form of solidarity between generations. It is not just about reversing the underinvestment in infrastructure and the public service fabric for this generation, but about fast-forwarding for the next generation.

There has been much comment in recent days about underspending. Part of our thinking in establishing the strategic investment body was a recognition that we could not rely on traditional forms of expenditure management to drive and deliver the necessary increased investment levels.

More importantly, we want to stress that it is long- term underinvestment, rather than the ephemeral impression of underspending, that is the real problem. It costs us, as a community and a region, in terms of socially important public services and economic competitiveness. We want to break the cycle of underinvestment in a way that will not compound the underspending problem. Hence, we have the reinvestment and reform initiative.

These first fruits indicate our commitment in first establishing the Executive programme funds and then developing the reinvestment and reform initiative to articulate our strategic priorities through more strategic and better-targeted public spending. We stressed that the strategic investment would not be confined to the hard infrastructure of roads, transport, water, sewerage, gas or telecommunications, but apply also to the soft infrastructure of our public services estates in health, schools, colleges, social services, and even housing support. The range and balance of investments afforded and supported in the package announced today are a positive example of how social inclusion and strategic investment can be, as I have always believed, two sides of the public spending coin. We commend these actions to the Assembly.

Dr Birnie:

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has today announced a range of projects across most Departments that, hitherto, the Departments were not able to undertake. Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agree that there should be no doubt as to where credit lies for the achievements of these socially worthwhile investments?

The First Minister:

I agree entirely with the Member about the value of these investments, and, indeed, the difficulty, or perhaps the impossibility, of tackling these in the normal way.

The point about water has not been fully appreciated. There will be no additional money through the Barnett formula for water in Northern Ireland, because there are no increases in expenditure in GB on that subject at all. We know that there is a huge deficit in investment there, and we would have no prospect of coping with that problem simply through squeezing out money from each year’s public expenditure round.

Only by coming outside the normal process and establishing this borrowing power — both short-term and long-term — would it ever have been possible to contemplate raising the money to deal with this issue. This has been an initiative that the Deputy First Minister and I have undertaken, with the support of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and it gives us an opportunity to tackle these issues. It will mean some hard choices having to be made on how we carry this matter through, but at least we have now made a clear start, which I hope will be welcomed by all Members.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Dr Hendron): I warmly welcome the long-awaited go-ahead for the funding of the new cancer centre, which is the key missing link to a fully integrated cancer service for the people of Northern Ireland. I think of all the cancer patients who have been waiting — people such as Pat McGreevy, who we heard this morning on radio — and of the Ulster Cancer Foundation; Action Cancer; and Prof Paddy Johnston in the City Hospital.

My question relates directly to the significant annual revenue costs of the centre. Its capital costs have already escalated from £32 million to £57 million. The new centre must be properly staffed with expert cancer clinicians and nurses and be equipped with the latest technology. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s inquiry into cancer services estimated that the revenue costs would be as high as £10·5 million a year. Therefore, will the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister give the Assembly a commitment that the necessary funds will be secured to support the increase in staffing and equipment costs?

The Deputy First Minister: I acknowledge the Member’s welcome on behalf of the Committee for this announcement. I appreciate the direct and particular interest that the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety has taken in the cancer centre as part of the delivery of the regional cancer strategy, which was tabled many years ago and which we have all needed to see delivered.

The Committee first focused on the idea of targeting Executive programme funds or other moneys outside the departmental mainstream budget after it had seen the Executive make commitments to, for example, the gas pipeline and the road from Larne to Newry out of the Executive programme funds. The advances made with this vital care centre show the value of the concept of the Executive programme funds, now widened out into the broader concept of the reinvestment and reform initiative. These are enabling provisions that we have made. We have built an extension to the devolution house with this initiative. We have created other possibilities for ourselves so that initiatives that were not developing through our normal, confined constraints can now do so.

The announcement made today is about capital investment and use of borrowing power. I said in the statement that we would not be using borrowing power to fund running costs; that is not what we should use borrowing power for. It is for strategic capital investment. We do not intend to provide a centre that will not be properly equipped or staffed. The regional cancer centre’s equipment will be a call on capital investment for the future. That will be pursued through all the proper budgetary channels. Other costs will have to be met and absorbed through appropriate Budget provision.

We have now broken the cycle of frustration around the cancer centre. I recognise the commitment of many interest groups, patient advocacy groups and professionals such as Paddy Johnston and Roy Spence. The Executive have now been able to deliver on that capital investment and provide a platform for all the professional commitment and all the commitment of departmental resources that will be needed to support that centre and deliver the strategy.

Mr Morrow:

I welcome that fact that at long last the deficiencies of Fivemiletown High School have been acknowledged. That school should have been replaced long ago, but I suppose it is better late than never.

In relation to the allocation of funding for rural primary schools, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have said they are allocating £15 million to replace 20% of mobile classrooms with new accommodation. A school in my constituency, Carntall Primary School in Clogher, cannot get a mobile classroom to accommodate its growth. The school has approximately 78 pupils, and it has been told it cannot exceed 80 pupils. However, it will not qualify for additional accommodation until it has 85 pupils.

Does OFMDFM see such schools benefiting from the announcement today? Will this be left to the Department of Education, which is fully aware of the inadequacies that exist there, or will the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister give a directive on schools such as Carntall Primary School, which has been in need for years?

11.15 am

The First Minister:

I thank the Member for his welcome of resources for Fivemiletown High School. However, his question relates to small rural primary schools and to the provision of money for mobile classrooms.

Departments handle financial details. When the Member was a Minister he was properly jealous of that position, and he would appreciate that people who were then his ministerial Colleagues would have the same approach to this issue. The money that has been provided for the removal of mobile classrooms will reduce the existing number by 20%. That is a huge reduction.

The allocation of provision for small rural primary schools will improve accommodation at 75 schools, one quarter of which have fewer than 100 pupils. Small rural schools are under consideration, and allocation details will be announced in due course.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the extra funding for all areas. I congratulate Ministers Bairbre de Brún, Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson for ensuring that their areas of responsibility were prioritised. I also welcome the long-awaited funding for St Fanchea’s College, Enniskillen.

Kilkeel harbour has been given £4·4 million, but there is no further allocation for agriculture. If agriculture is to remain a low priority or to have no priority — apart from departmental overspend — when will the Executive allocate funding to tackle major deficits in on-farm infrastructure and restructure?

The Deputy First Minister:

The statement concerns strategic capital investment, infrastructure and the fabric of the public service estate. These are priorities that were determined by the Executive, following recommendations from myself when I was Minister of Finance and Personnel and from the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Our recommendations were to focus on health, education and transport. To credit a Minister who did not attend the Executive with being part of that prioritisation process shows what sort of warped point-scoring goes on with some Members of Sinn Féin.

The First Minister and I, together with the Minister of Finance and Personnel, undertook the reinvestment and reform initiative and promoted it in negotiations with the British Government. In private negotiations with the Treasury and the Prime Minister we made it clear that issues such as the cancer centre were exactly what we had in mind in our call for a short-term pillar of expenditure and not simply longer-term borrowing power. I hope that Members can do better than that type of cheap point-scoring.

We have made commitments that involve the use of borrowing power. We will not use borrowing power to fund programme costs, recurring costs or salaries. It will be used for strategic capital investment. Much expenditure in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development does not come into that category. However, the fact that we can now use that type of collateral to help strategic capital investment on a range of programmes gives some latitude for other programmes.

We look forward to the development of new ideas, which could include areas that we have not yet examined. If we had come to the Assembly with something for everyone in the audience, and something for all Departments, Members would say that such itsy-bitsy funding meant that there were no strategic priorities. Some Members, and some parties in particular, need to maintain some consistency.

Mr Close:

In spite of what the Deputy First Minister has just said, I shall begin by being somewhat parochial. As I read through the list of worthwhile projects, I must ask what has happened to the Lagan Valley constituency. What has happened to the second largest borough in Northern Ireland? When I look at roads I see mention of Larne, Strabane, Omagh and Enniskillen. When I look at hospitals, I see mention of almost every hospital except Lagan Valley Hospital. When I look at schools, I do not see one school in the Lagan Valley constituency mentioned. Bearing in mind that the borough suffered from an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis a couple of years ago, there is no mention of water and sewerage improvements in Lisburn.

My second point is more important. I shall ask a couple of specific questions, to which I would like specific answers. Will OFMDFM give the House a categoric assurance that the projects announced in this morning’s statement, all of which are worthwhile, have gone through a full supporting economic appraisal based on value for money? Has the Department of Finance and Personnel fully scrutinised them? When will the Statutory Committees have an opportunity to view those economic appraisals? If they have not — and I doubt, as I read the relevant part of the statement, whether they have — will OFMDFM advise the House what magic formula was used to enable the proposals to be presented to the House?

The First Minister:

The Member acknowledged that his initial concerns were a trifle parochial. However, I share some of them. I draw his attention to the modest sum allocated to the widening of the M1 motorway: that is the beginning of a significant development, which will be of benefit to the Member. Admittedly, it will take some time to get there, but it will.

We have acknowledged in the statement that water provision is a major problem. There is a clear need for major investment. We shall return to that issue in the autumn, when I hope we shall be able to make further progress.

All the projects mentioned in the statement have been subject to appraisal, and the relevant information will be conveyed to the relevant Committees. The Member will have the opportunity to examine that information in due course. It is important to note, as the Member acknowledges, that we have been able to make progress on several good projects.

There are many other good projects; our problem has always been that we did not have the resources to address as many infrastructure projects as we would have liked to. We have been able to commit £500 million. Six months ago, Members would not have thought that the Assembly would have had the opportunity to do that at this time. That is the result of the initiative that we have taken, which is supported by other Members in the Executive. We shall develop that initiative further. To carry on that work will involve some hard choices. It is the opportunity for the Administration and the Assembly to come of age.

Mr Foster:

I shall also be somewhat parochial. I welcome the statement; it will help some necessary projects throughout Northern Ireland, especially in Fermanagh. I am glad that the A32 from Omagh to Enniskillen is to be upgraded. Enniskillen is a growth centre and the roads into the town must be improved.

I am also excited that funding is to be made available for three major school schemes in my constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone — at Dungannon, Fivemiletown and Enniskillen. I am pleased that Fivemiletown High School has been mentioned, because I have lobbied on its behalf for some time. The school has done good work in that part of the world for a long time. St Patrick’s in Dungannon and St Fanchea’s College in Enniskillen have also done excellent work.

Carntall Primary School needs extra classrooms. I know that this is beyond what is being discussed today, but the teachers there are working under extremely poor conditions that are unfair to the children in the school. I appeal for some money to go in that direction.

Enniskillen Integrated Primary School is in great need of new accommodation, but it also has been left out. I appeal for some thought to be given to that school.

The development of Fermanagh College is a good incentive for the county of Fermanagh

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have sympathy for whichever of my Colleagues on my left are going to answer the Member’s question, because I have not yet heard it. Mr Foster, do you have a question?

Mr Foster: Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. Before I conclude —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I expect to hear a question, Mr Foster.

Mr Foster:

I welcome the excellent cancer unit. Can some funds be provided for a new integrated primary school in Enniskillen?

The Deputy First Minister:

We have already said that it will not be for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to go through the detail of the secondary allocations that will be made from some of the moneys announced today. However, there is extra money available to help support small rural schools. There is also new and extra money available to support the integrated education sector. As well as that, there is also the money that we have announced for specific schools capital projects and mobile classrooms. That money adds significantly to the Department of Education's budget.

I hope that direct benefits to a variety of schools will flow from these allocations. They should allow for some easement in the Department of Education's already much-pressed budget. I hope that many schools with long-standing needs will benefit from the further announcements.

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has eased the pressure on aspects of existing budgets, and it has made real new provision that will be targeted at schools which would not previously have qualified for consideration by conventional means. That is the added benefit of having this sort of Executive-inspired approach. I hope that many Members who have often expressed doubt about the facility offered by such discretionary instruments as the Executive programme funds or the reinvestment and reform initiative will now acknowledge that they see their distinctive value.

One thing that strikes me - and I also had this experience when I was Minister of Finance and Personnel - is that these announcements from the Executive, either through the Department of Finance and Personnel or through OFMDFM, are subject to more questioning and scrutiny about what is being spent where than are the managed programmes of the Departments. Members should think about that.


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