By the end of March 1999, 12,788 people had started the new deal programme in Northern Ireland.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What role is the voluntary sector playing in the new deal in Northern Ireland, particularly given the widespread anxiety in that sector about the reduction in the extremely important action for community employment programme? Can the new deal help to plug that gap?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That has been a matter of concern to me from my first day in office in Northern Ireland. As a result, I have established a cross-departmental dedicated team to write to and contact all the 188 ACE groups in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend will be glad to hear that, only this week, I have sent letters saying that the Secretary of State has approved an extra £10 million this year for voluntary and other groups for the transfer from ACE to new deal.
I welcome the Minister's statement that most ACE groups have been assimilated into the new deal. Will he assure us that ACE groups that have not been so will be contacted by those implementing the new deal to ensure that no one misses out? Is not the most successful achievement of the new deal the fact that those who have been doing the double have been flushed out, and we have managed to reduce the numbers registering unemployed?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Only a few months ago, 60 ACE programmes signed up with the new deal. After intensive efforts by the dedicated team, there are now almost 160. Only 18 ACE groups have not been transferred. My officials across Departments are daily involved in negotiating with ACE groups. They provide me with a weekly report on progress. The permanent secretaries in Northern Ireland Departments intend to provide the Secretary of State with a progress report every fortnight. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that we are taking this matter seriously. ACE groups are being contacted, and we have met their concerns with the extra finance and resources that the new deal will provide.