Pathways to Success: Strategy for Young People not in Education, Employment or Training
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I am very grateful for the opportunity to make the statement today about Pathways to Success, which is the Executive’s strategy for young people who are not in employment, education or training, and its integrated action plan. The strategy builds on the Programme for Government and the Executive’s economic strategy. It is important that we enable every person in this society to develop to their full potential and that our economy utilises fully the productive human resources available to it.
Although my Department led on the development of the strategy, it is a cross-departmental initiative. It is a further demonstration of the commitment of the Executive to young people and to addressing particularly the challenge of young people who are not in education, employment or training — the so-called NEETs.
The strategy has been significantly informed by the inquiry by the previous mandate’s Committee for Employment and Learning into young people not in education, employment or training, by ongoing discussions with the current Committee and by debates in the Assembly. The Committee’s thoughts have been reflected throughout the document, and a list of its recommendations and a description of how they are to be taken forward is provided at annex B. The strategy has also been informed by the findings of a detailed consultation exercise with stakeholders, which included direct engagement with young people.
The Pathways to Success strategy will put a particular emphasis on young people, specifically those who are furthest from the labour market and face barriers to participation in learning and employment.
The number of young people here who are NEET was already rising before the recession. That challenge has obviously been exacerbated by the recession, during which the number of young people becoming unemployed has risen substantially. However, it is important to recognise the difference between youth unemployment in general and the issue of young people who are NEET and face barriers to re-engagement.
Many young people have high-level qualifications and skills and are well placed to take up employment as the economy improves: they merely lack the opportunities. Some will require minimal help to secure employment and some will just need the chance to gain experience. There are others who are much further from the labour market and require much more intensive support and more tailored interventions to overcome their barriers. Those young people are the main focus of the strategy.
The NEETs issue is a major social problem which, if not tackled, will result in young people facing a lifetime of limited opportunity, characterised by worklessness, poverty and ill health, and passing severely reduced life chances from generation to generation. It is also an economic problem. There are major costs to the public purse from young people remaining persistently trapped in the NEET category over the course of their lives. We cannot afford that haemorrhaging of vital resource to continue any longer.
Tackling the root of the issue is not the job of a single Department or organisation, as the Executive have recognised. It requires a cross-departmental approach. The Department for Learning and Employment (DEL) will take the lead, but the issue cannot be just a school, health, welfare or employer strategy: it truly belongs to everyone in our society. Indeed, a clear message of Pathways to Success is that young people have a stake and are part of the solution.
In taking forward the strategy, we want to continue to work with young people and their representatives, and add their voice to the process of delivery and implementation. That is not just my commitment, it is the Executive’s. The strategy will be a key plank of the Delivering Social Change framework to achieve a sustained, long-term reduction in poverty and an improvement in children and young people’s health, well-being and life opportunities.
The strategy’s overall aspiration is that, by 2020:
“Every young person will not only have an opportunity to access education, training or other preparation for employment but, to the extent that they are able, they will also avail of that opportunity.”
The strategy will deliver that vision through a three-tier package of measures aimed at preventing young people from missing opportunities for education and training and/or becoming unemployed; helping young people aged 16 to 18, especially those facing barriers; and assisting unemployed young people aged 18 to 24 more generally.
To deliver that package, the strategy contains measures to improve leadership and co-ordination, preventative measures being taken across Departments, measures to re-engage 16- to 18-year-olds; measures to re-engage 18- to 24-year-olds; and further supporting measures to be taken across Departments. It also sets out a number of key supporting measures to ensure that we can identify our young people’s needs and match them with opportunities to meet those needs.
I will now outline a number of the main measures, for which I am directly responsible, that will contribute significantly towards the achievement of this vision. I have recognised that the Careers Service has a key role to play in supporting young people to develop effective career plans and signposting them to provision that meets their needs. To that end the Careers Service, using information available from schools, colleges, Training for Success providers and other training programmes, will case manage those young people aged 16 and 17 who drop out of provision or do not have a positive destination when they leave school. In addition, work is under way to improve the flow of information between schools and the Careers Service to help identify young people at an early age who are at risk of becoming NEET.
There is also a clear need to develop an identification and tracking system. DEL has already commissioned research to scope the potential for a Northern Ireland tracking system for young people who are in or who might enter the NEET category. I intend to have a tracking system in place by 2014. Such a system will track a young person’s progress and interactions with various Departments and agencies. It will allow all stakeholders to learn more about their particular client group and will have benefits for all concerned.
We will ensure significantly better co-ordination than there has been, and we will work to identify and meet the needs of young people as early as possible. Early interventions also involve a range of other Government services. Education is obviously one key component in ensuring that young people progress and engage further in education, employment or training. Early years provision, measures to improve educational attainment and literacy and numeracy, and raising standards in schools are of particular importance in addressing the needs of such young people.
The further development and implementation of a number of cross-departmental strategies and initiatives designed to address the needs of vulnerable children and young people and tackle barriers associated with their health and general well-being are also important. I plan to introduce a new community family support programme, which will focus on the needs of the most disadvantaged families to enable young people to re-engage with education, training or employment.
I envisage that the programme will provide support including: tackling family issues such as support for parenting and role models; support for needs that children may have and working with schools; social and economic issues, including debt management, essential skills in literacy, numeracy and ICT, money management and how to look for work; health and housing issues such as alcohol or drug abuse, co-working with health agencies, and issues around accommodation; helping those who are in work to stay in work and helping those not in work to develop skills to find work, such as writing CVs, preparation for jobs, timekeeping, and developing problem-solving skills; and identifying suitable employment opportunities.
Such a programme will require involvement from a range of Departments, including the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department for Social Development, the Department of Education (DE) and the Department for Employment and Learning. The objective is to pilot it in 2013 and, subject to evaluation and resources, to mainstream it thereafter. This initiative would support the development of hubs for resources for the child and family and the introduction of family support nurses. This work is also being taken forward under the Delivering Social Change children and young people programme.
I will now turn to measures specifically for 16- to 18-year-olds. Although it is clear that current DEL and DE provision is comprehensive and the overall level of activity is demand led, current provision may not fully meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable young people. The consultation exercise and the Committee for Employment and Learning’s inquiry highlighted in particular the importance of effective signposting and the key difference that a mentoring approach could make in ensuring that young people become and remain engaged throughout the progression from education to employment and training.
Although much of what follows is intended to be additional to existing provision, many programmes and strategies, such as essential skills provision, the Training for Success programme and courses at further education colleges are also highly relevant, in addition to the role of the Careers Service, as I mentioned.
The programme envisaged will consist of four key new measures to assist those young people with barriers who are furthest away from the labour market. Those are a community-based access programme; further promoting the development of individual action plans; the introduction of a training allowance for young people participating on existing European social fund programmes targeted at those who are NEET; and the development of an innovation fund to test new approaches based on sound evidence.
The community-based access programme will engage and mentor young people using community and voluntary sector organisations. The organisations will provide continuity of support for young people to engage or re-engage with learning and to progress through mainstream training provision into employment. Individual action plans will be introduced for 16- to 18-year-olds participating in the community-based access programme. That will mean that a young person can have a personalised plan that identifies his or her individual starting point and needs, and can plot a pathway through education or training to employment.
During the consultation period and thereafter, concern was expressed, including during a debate in this House, at the lack of access to educational maintenance allowance by young people participating on certain programmes targeted at the hardest to reach, when there are allowance schemes for young people at school, in further education and on Training for Success. I considered that issue, and I plan to introduce a training allowance for 16- and 17-year-olds participating on existing programmes funded by the European social fund and targeted at those who are NEET. That allowance will be designed to ensure that there are effective incentives in place for young people to progress from provision that re-engages them with learning to education and training programmes that provide the skills and qualifications to support moving into, and success in, work.
An innovation fund to test new approaches based on sound evidence would be aimed at piloting a range of other approaches to re-engage those young people in the NEET category. That could facilitate further testing of approaches, such as a work-based mentoring service, primarily with small employers, aimed at disengaged 16- to 17-year-olds not participating in Training for Success.
Turning to the interventions planned for 18- to 24-year-olds, the specific aim is to help that group to gain work experience, develop additional skills and achieve recognised relevant qualifications needed by those sectors that have the potential for further growth with regard to jobs and gross value added growth. The focus is on early intervention for those young people who have reached the age where they may be eligible for social security benefits. Members will be aware that a separate package of measures that I put forward to address youth unemployment was accepted by the Executive. Those measures are reflected in the NEET strategy.
The core elements of any new youth unemployment programme will include early intensive diagnosis of employability skills; opportunities for taster work experience for clients while on benefits; individual skills and career-focused assessments; sector-based work experience and training in areas of skills shortage; a new employer subsidy for up to one year; a new emphasis on continuing skills development and growth; and a range of new measures to help young people not in education, employment or training.
Those measures will be additional to existing provision by being targeted at skills development for economic growth. It is important to acknowledge that the measures are informed by local needs and circumstances as well as best practice from other jurisdictions, including Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The measures will mean that due to earlier intervention than is currently offered, skills development can begin after 13 weeks of a benefit claim rather than at 26 weeks, which is the current mandatory trigger for entry to Steps to Work for 18- to 24-year-olds.
The new measures will make provision for job-ready young people who, but for the current economic situation, would be in work and for those who are some distance from the labour market and require considerable support to address their barriers. I am also planning to include what I will refer to as a skills premium for employers: a training grant of up to £750 to assist employers offering full-time jobs with formal training costs or £300 for shorter training on accredited courses.
I have been engaging with the Finance Minister on resourcing the new initiatives. It is important to stress that, whether the additional resources are for the specific youth unemployment measures for Northern Ireland or other elements in the NEET strategy, the necessary financing decisions are matters for the Finance Minister to recommend and for the Executive to agree. Once the resourcing for the new youth unemployment measures has been agreed and the policy subsequently finalised, I will make a fuller statement to the Assembly on these particular matters.
In conclusion, we are not starting afresh in tackling these issues. All Departments already have strategies and policies in place or are working on their development, which have as their focus improving the life chances of individuals who are faced with disadvantage or barriers that prevent them from leading productive lives or from reaching their full potential. This strategy brings added value. First, it will better co-ordinate the existing and future actions of Departments. Secondly, it includes a number of new initiatives, which I have just outlined.
David McIlveen (DUP)
I thank the Minister for his statement on this very important issue. Minister, you mentioned that effective incentives for young people will be in place. Can you outline what incentives will be in place for employers to facilitate the training of these young people? Can you elaborate on your desire for in-house training schemes supported by your Department? Those would free employers to not necessarily be committed to an alliance with colleges, which they currently have?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his question. He raises a number of issues. First, we are focusing on getting people re-engaged and, potentially, going into the world of work with particular incentives. I draw particular attention to the training allowance. That has been raised by a number of Members, and we have responded to that and plan to proceed. It is also about working with young people to give them a sense of understanding of the opportunities that are available to them and to encourage them to engage with the existing provision or some of the new projects that I outlined.
Employers recognise the importance of including young people, and, indeed, as many people as possible in the labour market. We all have self-interest in ensuring that we are maximising the human resources available to our economy. Businesses understand that as well as anyone else. Particularly in the new youth unemployment measures that we are hopefully going to proceed with, there will be a number of incentives for employers, including for some resources up front to help with things such as uniforms and what may be quite significant employer subsidies to encourage them to take people on. Often, employers will say that they are considering taking someone on but that it is sometimes too much of a financial risk to do so. We hope to break that vicious circle by providing that employer with a subsidy.
Finally, the Member mentioned training. We are very open to whether the training takes place off site or on site, and the key issue is that it should be accredited to give people some record of achievement and something that can be transferred. We are happy to work with people in whatever setting is most appropriate for them.
Barry McElduff (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas an Aire. I welcome the Minister’s statement, because the issue has exercised the time and mind of the Employment and Learning Committee for a long time. The Minister referred to the introduction of a new, community family support programme. What extent of contact is there already on this between the various Departments, including the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department for Social Development, the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning? The Minister said that it will require involvement from those Departments, but can he give a sense of the extent of contact already between those Departments? How much, typically, will a training allowance for 16- to 18-year-olds amount to?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his welcome. There already is good collaboration between Departments, and we all recognise that. However, equally, we recognise that we can do more, and we are forever striving for better joined-up government. I believe that people are committed to that.
I draw attention to work that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister will do on child poverty, which will dovetail very well with this. A lot of what we are doing will sit very neatly with the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people and is part of that wider delivering social change architecture, which my Department and all the other Departments are very freely engaging with.
The Member asked about the level of the training allowance. At this stage, subject to resourcing, we anticipate that it will be somewhere in the range of £20 to £25 a week, and the rationale for that is to create an incentive for progression. We will want people to access the European social fund programmes and maximise participation, and we also want to make sure that that is not the end point for people and that they can move on to engage with other programmes, achieve higher-level qualifications and move up that skills ladder to maximise their chances of getting into work and finding secure and sustainable employment.
Sandra Overend (UUP)
I thank the Minister for his statement, which is a very welcome indication of the Executive’s focus on NEETs. As a former member of the Committee for Employment and Learning, I recognise how important that is. Can the Minister outline how the strategy will be financed? Has he submitted a business case to the Minister of Finance and Personnel? What is the likely time frame for that?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for her question and her welcome of the strategy. It very much is a cross-Executive strategy, and it certainly is a priority for the Executive, just as it is a priority for the whole Assembly.
We are very mindful of the need for resources where we need resources, but, before going into the detail of that, I stress that, in some respects, this may facilitate better working without the influx of a lot of new resources. We also need to be conscious of using what we have much more efficiently and effectively, and a strategy such as this can bring real added value. We have submitted a full business case on youth unemployment and on aspects of NEETs to the Minister of Finance. Obviously, it is up to him to deliberate on that and make recommendations to the Executive. Once they are approved by the Executive and announced, potentially as part of a monitoring round, I will come back to the House and make a fuller statement on exactly how the resources will impact on our ability to move ahead with the specific NEET issues and the youth unemployment measures in a more general sense.
The Minister said that the tracking system will be in place by 2014. It is over two years since the Committee for Employment and Learning carried out a very exhaustive inquiry, one of the key elements of which was the deliberation on that, and everybody who participated in the consultation clearly stated that there has to be a tracking mechanism in place. Why has it taken another three years to put in place a tracking mechanism to show where our young people are going? There is a lot of emigration, and it is necessary, Minister, for you to look at this again. It is far too long down the line.
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank Mr Ramsey for his general welcome of the strategy. We are committed to introducing a tracking system. There is no ambiguity with that: it will happen.
(Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)
There are various bureaucratic issues around data sharing to be overcome, such as how we get around interpretations of data protection. As well as that, there are, potentially, some legislative issues that we may need to explore. That is the creation of the formal tracking system. Separate from that, of course, there is scope for the exchange of information between Departments and agencies without the formal tracking system being fully operational. That can happen in any event and will be accelerated from now. Members should be in no doubt that this will happen and will be in place by 2014 or sooner, if we can do that.
Chris Lyttle (Alliance)
I also welcome the statement and the strategic and practical response that it lays out to one of the key challenges that we face in getting education, training and employment opportunities for our young people at this challenging time. I particularly welcome the additional training allowance for the hardest-to-reach young people. I know that that will be welcomed by many people across organisations that work in this area. Given that one of the Committee inquiry’s key recommendations was that the strategy had to be cross-departmental and that OFMDFM, therefore, should have a significant involvement, how has OFMDFM, in its correspondence, suggested taking this forward in the absence of a Department for Employment and Learning?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his general welcome and for throwing me that ever-so-subtle curve ball. There are a number of things to say. First, on the status quo of the Departments, my Department, as is, is very happy to lead on this and will continue to do so. However, it will also be placed in the context of the wider architecture that exists, including the Executive subcommittee on children and young people. It is also very much part of the wider Delivering Social Change agenda, as put forward by OFMDFM. Essentially, OFMDFM is a co-ordinating Department rather than a main delivery Department. However, it is important that we avail ourselves of existing ministerial subcommittees to ensure that all Ministers are actively engaged in implementing the strategy and are sitting round the table to hold each other to account for the delivery of the various targets.
Looking to the future, it is important that we appreciate that dealing with NEETs is both an economic and a social issue and that it primarily applies to over-16s. So, we need to take some care in ensuring that there is a proper, dedicated focus on the issue. Regardless of whether departmental structures are subject to minor reforms or more widespread reforms down the line, we must ensure that we have that clear focus on what is a very important issue for this society.
Alastair Ross (DUP)
I am sure that most Members will agree that prevention is better than cure. To that extent, early identification and intervention, with a focus on early years education, are extremely important.
I return to the tracking system. The Minister mentioned some of the concerns that there may be around data protection and things like that. How does the Minister envisage it working? What practical interventions does he believe could be made, once it is established which young people are at risk of going into the NEET category?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his questions. He, rightly, referred to the importance of prevention and early intervention. In the earliest sense, you can apply that to what happens in the education system and to what we do when people leave school at 16. That is why we put so much emphasis on how we can use a strengthened careers service to engage with young people; how we can put mentoring and family support in place; and how we can take through the signposting. We are also talking about individual careers advisers staying with the same young person from the ages of 16 to 17 to provide that continuity in support.
The Member also mentioned tracking, which is absolutely central to moving this forward. Data will come from a number of sources. Essentially, we want to match that data so that we can see someone moving through the system from early years to post-16 provision. At present, primary-school pupils get a particular identification number. That number does not stay with them when they move into post-16 training, so we end up with a wholly new set of records. We are trying to integrate the records between the different levels of intervention so that we can properly map how someone’s life and life chances evolve over time.
Fra McCann (Sinn Féin)
Page 5 of the Minister’s statement refers to “a community based access programme” and:
“promoting the development of individual action plans”.
As the Minister is aware, a substantial number of people have been bypassed at community level. There are neighbourhood renewal partnerships spread across the region. How will they be dealt with? Will they be used as levers to try to encourage people to take part in the new system?
I will get another one in. Will there be any financial enhancement for 18-year-olds to 24-year-olds to take part in the schemes?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his questions, and I will try to remember all three. First, to be clear, this is not, strictly speaking, an extension of EMA. If Members recall, we had a debate in the Assembly on EMA, during which Members called for its extension. During that debate, I said that there would be legal difficulties in extending EMA away from what it was originally designed for, to support people in schools and FE colleges, to encompass a range of purposes. I also said that we would potentially look at trying to find equivalent support through other means. This is a training allowance, and it is important that we do not cross the line and call it EMA. For example, it will not be part of the future review of the EMA policy, which my Department and the Department of Education will take forward. It is entirely separate.
We recognise that the community is often better placed than the state to deal with some of these issues. The state will have a comprehensive range of programmes, but there will be gaps, and the community is often better placed to engage with people. The precise provision may have to be decided through procurement exercises. Obviously, things become a bit more bureaucratic with that approach, but, to be fair to everyone, we may need to go down that route. It is about trying to be as hands-on with young people as possible by using those who are best placed to interact with them.
Finally, I think that many young people are extremely eager to engage in work experience. They know that the employability skills that that experience will bring are vital to their competiveness in a very difficult job market. Many young people are trapped: they cannot get a job without experience, and they cannot get experience without a job. This is there to break that cycle. Young people will remain on benefits while they participate in the programme, but there will be incentives for employers to take people on.
I would stress that this is not the same as the scheme in England, about which there were many headlines and much controversy earlier this year. It is entirely different and qualitatively different. Furthermore, no sanctions will be applied to young people if they fail to participate in the programme. It is designed to be purely voluntary.
At the top of the scale, we anticipate about 6,000 placements over the next number of years. Regrettably, I imagine that the demand in this society will probably outstretch the supply that we will be able to put in place. However, there is a commitment from me and, hopefully, in due course from the Executive to push as many opportunities in front of young people as we can within the available resources.
Sammy Douglas (DUP)
I also welcome the statement and thank the Minister for it. In the past, the Minister has mentioned the role of the community and voluntary sector. He has also paid tribute to that sector as he did again today. The Minister also mentioned incentives for businesses. What incentives has he in mind to involve the community and voluntary sector? I am thinking along the lines of what happened in the past, when the Step Ahead and Steps to Work programmes, for example, placed some of the young people in community and voluntary organisations.
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his supplementary question. Resources will be available for this, but their scope is still to be determined. I referred to the potential for public procurement around all of this. It is important that we all understand the need for incentives and for a sense of responsibility. Everyone, whether in the community or in business, must appreciate the importance of investing in our young people. The economic cost of not doing that is considerable. If someone gets trapped in unemployment, even for a couple of years, their risk of being unemployed for most of their life is significantly increased. That creates a cost for society in additional benefits and support services. As a Government, we have an incentive to get this right, as does the community sector. Business has an incentive to cater to the future needs of our economy and make sure that we have a skilled workforce that can take up the jobs that will come along. So, certainly, we envisage a partnership approach, and structures will be put in place to implement the strategy and bring together all the sectors in an advisory group for the NEETs strategy.
Kieran McCarthy (Alliance)
I also thank the Minister for bringing this important subject, the NEETs strategy, to the Assembly. Let me say how disgusted I am that, because of a cynical political carve-up by OFMDFM, this important Department will be abolished. It is a shame and disgrace that this young, energetic and progressive Minister will be denied the opportunity to see this strategy through to a successful conclusion.[Interruption.] If some people feel guilty, so be it.
Minister, how do the present divisions in society impact on the problem of young people not in education, employment or training?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his question and introduction — I assure the House that I had no hand in writing it.
Obviously, the nature of our society, particularly the divisions in it, impacts on people’s life chances. It impacts on the number affected and the nature of our NEETs problem. There are clear linkages between deprivation and the nature of the divisions on the ground. I hope that the parallel efforts that the Executive can take forward will help in some of those respects. Equally, we recognise that division is a factor historically and currently in creating the context for the problem that we are dealing with in Northern Ireland. NEETS is also a global problem, and we can learn lessons from how other jurisdictions have dealt with it. In due course, there may be lessons that others want to learn from us, if we get the strategy right and roll it out effectively.
Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice)
Given that, today, four Sinn Féin MPs announced that they are resigning from the Assembly, I was tempted to ask the Minister whether he had any measures in mind for those at a loose end who refuse to go to the place of employment available to them.
On that theme, there are many incentives — many carrots — in this package, and that is good. However, is there any stick to deal with those who may be recalcitrant or reluctant to engage and may be looking for the handout, if we can call it that, but unwilling to make the return? Is there any stick at all in the package?
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank Mr Allister for his question. I will pass over his introduction. I stress that we are going for a sanctions-light or nil-sanctions approach in this or indeed any other context.
Earlier this year, there was a lot of controversy around sanctions in some of the programmes in England, and that detracted enormously from the importance of the schemes. Whether it was eventually government or businesses, the sanctions were a major distraction. I have no doubt whatsoever that a voluntary scheme, with an incentive for people to go on to it, will be effective, and that is all that we need. Some people may be trapped in benefits, and some of the more positive aspects of universal credit will address some of that. Most young people want to have opportunities. For whatever reason, whether it is a lack of opportunities, barriers that have been thrown up in their life or barriers that they face for other reasons, they have been prevented from availing themselves of those opportunities. I hope that the NEETs strategy will unlock those doors and ensure that the young people will be able to have a more productive life and live up to their potential and that society will benefit from their contribution to the economy.
Michael Copeland (UUP)
I, too, welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that we have a situation. He repeatedly used the word “problem”, which I have a difficulty with, as it impugns the young people involved by implying that they are a problem. It is not that they are a problem; it is the damnable situation that they find themselves in. He has, at least, tried to address it. Will he elaborate, if at all possible, on the pilot scheme that he sees as a necessary part of this? I seek an assurance that the pilot scheme will be based in areas where it is most likely to be of use. That, in my view, is in urban areas of Belfast, particularly east Belfast, where these difficulties affect young people of a certain age, regardless of race, religion, colour, creed or gender. I draw to the Minister’s attention the magnificent work being done by the Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust and the Bytes project at its locations in the Short Strand district of east Belfast and the Tullycarnet area of Castlereagh.
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank Mr Copeland for his question. I stress that, in so far as we use the word “problem”, we are talking about a problem in the wider sense — a problem for society, rather than the young people themselves being the problem. I alluded to that, to an extent, in my answer to Mr Allister.
With regard to pilots, I note the pitch that the Member made for his constituency. I do not want to give him any direct commitments, because I fear that some of our colleagues from more rural areas will also make a pitch for some of their particular context. However, it is a general rule in government that there is little point running a pilot in an easy area, The results that you gain from that may not necessarily translate across to the more difficult areas for the design of the more mainstream project. Therefore, if we are to have effective mainstream policy, it makes much more sense to pilot those in some of the more difficult and challenging circumstances to ensure that we know that whatever we mainstream will be fit for purpose.
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
I thank the Member for his question. At this stage, we are not setting a precise figure for the reduction in NEETs. Members will appreciate that it is a multifaceted problem. Much of it will reflect the flow of our labour market and levels of unemployment, which reflect the demand side of our economy. I stress that our overall figures for unemployment in Northern Ireland have been stabilising over the past number of years and, in particular, the past year and that our situation is moving in a more benign direction than that in other parts of the UK. So, things are turning around. That is not to underestimate, in any sense, the scale of the problem that we have in Northern Ireland with NEETs. Our baseline for NEETs is much higher than in virtually any other part of the UK. I think that Wales has a higher baseline problem than we have, but, historically, it has been a significant issue for us.
I stress that this is a priority for the Executive and the Assembly. We are taking this extremely seriously, and the strategy is an indication of that. Ultimately, it will not be a document that sits on a shelf. The strategy will be actively pursued, whether that is by me or somebody else, over the months and years to come.