Northern Ireland Assembly
I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the SDLP in recognising the Programme for Government, which has been somewhat long awaited. I have to draw a contrast between the very short turnaround period from the closure of consultee reports with the eight months to one year that was required to look at that which followed the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy. Let us hope that the short time period does not reflect a lack of commitment by the Executive to listen to what the stakeholders had to say about the Programme for Government. After all, it is a three-year Programme for Government at a time of severe hardship when many people are crying out for help. It is a time when people are hoping that devolution will make a difference to their lives.
The document contains a number of good points. Some of the positive elements include challenging targets in tourism, and I note with interest how the First Minister lauded, quite properly, our sporting and movie stars who have achieved world-class status, prizes and recognition. I contrast that with the slashing of the DCAL budget, and I wonder whether that is the best way in which we should be nurturing in our young people ambitious targets for hero worship. They want to follow their stars but lack the financial assistance to reach that acclaim and those targets.
The Programme for Government also includes a financial capability strategy, and we are happy that that has been taken on board. In our party’s contribution in response to the draft PFG, we had asked for that. Social clauses are also included, and a lot of work is to be done around procurement and in educating some of our smaller firms and businesses in how to secure tenders for government work in particular. The inclusion of the social clauses will provide an opportunity to assist the needs of our long-term unemployed, and I look forward to the working out of those.
As the First Minister referred to, in comparison to the draft Programme for Government, there are more specific targets and measures on combating fuel poverty. The extension of the social protection fund is very much welcomed, although I am not sure which pot of money that has come from because, initially, there was only £20 million for that in the first year. We will wait to hear from the First Minister or others about where that money is coming from.
There are too many other concerns. The document contains no legislative programme to ensure implementation and delivery. It is unclear where it links with the finance programme. It is too vague on key commitments, detail and measurable targets, and those comments have been made not only by the SDLP but by many stakeholders, including in response to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s lack of commitment to the eradication of TB and on the comments that the Chair of the Education Committee outlined on the pressures facing the education sector following CCMS and the viability —