I remind Members that today’s motion on Supply, standing in the name of Mr Durkan, must be carried with cross-community support. We dealt with this matter last week, and there is urgency about it. Standing Order 25 states that a vote, resolution or act which appropriates a sum out of the Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland, or increases a sum to be appropriated — which this motion clearly does — shall not be passed without cross-community support.
I beg to move
That a sum not exceeding £4,296,588,000 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund to complete the sum necessary to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31 March 2001 for expenditure by Northern Ireland Departments
In my statements on 5 June I advised the Assembly about the process that we would be following for the scrutiny and consideration of the 2000-01 Main Estimates. This process formally begins today with consideration of this Supply Resolution, which is the vehicle through which the Main Estimates can be examined directly by the Assembly. Approval of the Supply Resolution signifies the approval of the Estimates. If the resolution is approved, the second stage of the Appropriation Bill 2000, which was introduced on Monday 5 June, will follow.
Although the Estimates may be approved by the Assembly, legislation is still required in order to give Departments statutory authority to incur expenditure and to appropriate sums for specific purposes. The Supply Resolution before us is the first opportunity the Assembly has had to examine the spending plans of Departments in any detail. This is an important moment. We are now getting down to the real business of governing, which is what the people have sent us here to do. I wish to make some brief general points about how spending controls operate and the relationship between the Department of Finance and Personnel and the other Departments.
Members may find this helpful in understanding what they are being asked to approve today.
The total amount sought in the 2000-01 Main Estimates is £7·8 billion. This is the amount of voted money that Departments need to implement the budget proposals which I introduced to the Assembly on 15 December last, increased by the extra allocations for health and education announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his budget on 21 March.
This is a substantial sum that the Estimates booklet breaks down to a much finer level of detail across Departments. Although my Department scrutinises and approves these Estimates, in most instances the underlying allocations reflect decisions taken by Departments and approved by their Ministers within delegated financial authority given by the Department of Finance and Personnel. Thus, while I will endeavour to respond to any question of detail on a Department’s Estimate, any concerns raised by Members will also be brought to the attention of the appropriate Minister.
I also wish to reassure Members that in matters of public finance, Departments operate within a framework of controls and safeguards to help ensure that money is spent appropriately and properly. Most of these controls and safeguards are set by my Department and are kept under continual review. They include clear accounting rules, the need for specific statutory authority for most spending and defined delegated limits that determine whether specific approval from my Department is required. The operation of these safeguards will also be now subject to scrutiny by the Assembly.
Spending proposals are subject to tests to determine economic viability, where that is appropriate, and that they meet the requirements for fairness and equal treatment under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and are in line with the new targeting social need policy.
One of the most important safeguards is that the spending by Departments is scrutinised by the Northern Ireland Audit Office — a body wholly independent of the Executive and headed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is a servant of the Assembly. Through the Public Accounts Committee, the Assembly will be able to scrutinise how Departments and public bodies perform in meeting their objectives and in how they use the resources allocated to them. These safeguards are important, and I am fully committed to supporting them.
I turn now to the Main Estimates themselves. The full details are set out in the Main Estimates Booklets that have been made available to Members. A few minor printing errors were discovered in the document, but correction sheets have been distributed. I will highlight only some of the main features of what is contained in the Estimates to give Members maximum time for debate. All the figures that I quote are, by convention, generally rounded to the nearest million pounds.
I will start with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In Vote A there is a net provision of £17 million to fund the EU and agriculture support measures which apply throughout the United Kingdom. However, this is net of the various market support measures administered under the Common Agricultural Policy, totalling some £149 million. These are fully funded by the European Union receipt and, therefore, cancel within the Vote.
In Vote B, £151 million is for ongoing regional services and support measures. This includes £67 million for development of agriculture and the agricultural products industries and for scientific and veterinary services. Some £21 million is for farm support, enhancement of the countryside and fisheries and forestry services; £18 million is for central administration, including information technology and specialist accommodation services; and £8 million is for the rural development programme. Some £20 million is for the Rivers Agency, and £12 million is in respect of processing and marketing, fishing projects and structural funds that are fully funded by the European Union.
This Vote also contains provision of £4 million for the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme, which incorporates agriculture, rural and water based projects.
Turning to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, a net total of £64 million is sought in Vote A. This includes £22 million for expenditure by education and library boards on public libraries. Some £9 million is for the National Museums and Galleries in Northern Ireland, £7·5 million is for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and other miscellaneous support for the arts, with some £5 million for the Odyssey Landmark project.
In the Department of Education a net total of £1,268 million is sought in Vote A, an increase of 8·7% on last year’s provision. Vote A includes £916 million for recurrent expenditure by education and library boards. This comprises £880 million for schools and £36 million for youth services and administration. Vote A also provides £55 million for boards’ capital projects, £79 million for capital projects in voluntary and grant-maintained integrated schools and £174 million for recurrent expenditure in voluntary and grant- maintained integrated schools. This amount includes £32 million recurrent expenditure for grant-maintained integrated schools. The provision for boards’ and other schools’ capital amounts to £124 million. A further £7 million under the Government’s New Deal has been allocated to schools capital. Some £5 million has also been made available in Vote A under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme.
In the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Vote A includes £140 million is for the Industrial Development Board (IDB). This major commitment of resources will enable the IDB to offer very competitive packages of assistance to both new and existing firms. A profitable and competitive business sector is crucial to the development of a vibrant Northern Ireland economy. In 1999/00 the IDB supported 52 investment projects with the prospect of some 7,145 new jobs.
In Vote B £148 million is required. This includes £16 million to enable the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to assist with the development of tourism. Also in this vote, £28 million is required to enable the Local Enterprise Development Unit (LEDU) to assist in developing competitiveness, enterprise and innovation in the important small firms sector. A further £21·5 million is sought to enable the Industrial Research and Technology Unit to improve the competitiveness of businesses in world markets by raising the level of research and development.
Moving to Department of the Environment Vote A, £86 million is sought. Of this, nearly £26 million is for the protection of the natural and built environment, while a further £7 million is to fund planning functions. Also being sought in this vote is provision of nearly £44 million to support local government services, while £4 million is required for road safety and related services.
I now turn to the Department for Regional Development, where there are two votes. Vote A seeks £240 million for roads, transport and other services, including services to other Departments. This includes £159 million for the development, operation and maintenance of Northern Ireland’s public road system. £20 million is for road passenger services and £16 million for continued support for the railways.
Vote B seeks the provision of £188 million for water and sewerage services. Capital expenditure on these services is estimated at almost £100 million, while £123 million is allowed for operational, maintenance and administration costs, with receipts of about £38 million appropriated in aid.
With regard to the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, a net total of £414 million is being sought in Vote A and £224 million in Vote B. Vote A includes over £124 million to provide for colleges of further education, £135 million for local universities and £132 million for student support, including grants and student loans.
Vote B includes £63 million under the welfare-to-work initiative to provide 25,000 places in a range of employment and training measures mainly within the New Deal for 18- to 24-year-olds and for the long-term unemployed. Almost £60 million is to provide in excess of 12,000 places under the job skills training programme. A further £17 million is for other training and temporary employment programmes providing some 3,100 places for long-term unemployed adults who are not eligible for the New Deal.
I now turn to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety where in Vote A £1,913 million is sought for expenditure on hospitals, community health and personal social services, health and social services trusts, family health services and some other services. This amount represents an increase of 7·7% on last year’s final net provision. In Vote B £51·5 million is sought to cover expenditure on fire and related services. This represents an increase of 3·8% on last year’s final net provision.
In the Department for Social Development Vote A, £133 million is sought to meet the Department’s administration and other miscellaneous service costs, which includes £105 million for the Social Security Agency.
Vote B relates to housing services, where £256 million will be provided, mainly to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the voluntary housing movement. When net borrowing and the Housing Executive’s rents and capital receipts from house sales are taken into account, the total resources available for housing will be approximately £600 million. Gross resources for the voluntary housing sector will be around £120 million, which takes into account some £49 million of private funding.
In Vote C, £61 million is sought for urban regeneration and community development, £29 million of which will be provided to promote and implement a comprehensive approach to tackling social, economic and physical regeneration, and £6 million for grants to voluntary bodies. £18 million will be made available under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme, of which £13 million will be funded from EU receipts.
In Vote D, £1,778 million is sought for social security benefit expenditure, which is administered by the Social Security Agency. This represents an increase of 2·3% compared to the forecast out-turn for last year. It covers not only the general uprating of benefits from April 2000 but also an increasing number of beneficiaries.
In Vote E, £405 million is being sought to cover expenditure on the independent living funds, motability, housing benefits, the social fund and payments into the Northern Ireland national insurance fund. The payment into the social fund includes provision for the extension of the winter fuel payment scheme to men over 60 years of age and the increase in payments to £150 from this winter.
I now turn to the Department of Finance and Personnel. A net total of £100 million is required in Vote A. This includes £18 million for the financial administration and central management of the Civil Service, £39 million for the management of the Government estate and £17 million for the provision of some important central services for all Departments, such as the Construction Service, the Business Development Service and the Government Purchasing Agency. Some £20 million is also provided for the Valuation and Lands Agency, the Rate Collection Agency and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, and it includes £3 million towards the preparations currently under way for the census of Northern Ireland which will be carried out in 2001.
I come now to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Vote A seeks provision of £27 million to meet administration costs in support of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. This includes £6 million to promote community relations programmes and £6 million for a grant-in-aid to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
Finally, I turn to the Northern Ireland Assembly Vote, where £31·5 million is sought to meet the running costs of the Assembly itself for the remainder of the financial year.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will try to answer as many of the points as I can in my winding-up at the end of the debate. As I have already indicated, where I am unable to reply, or I feel that it would be more appropriate for another Minister to respond, I will ensure that the matter is drawn to the attention of the Minister responsible.
Before proceeding with the debate I would like to report that a very large number of Members — more than 34 — have asked to be called to speak. It might be a good idea to limit the speeches to 10 minutes this morning and consider moving to a shorter period in the afternoon. Would everyone be content with that?
A Chathaoirligh. As Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on behalf of that Committee. Last December, when the Minister of Finance and Personnel laid the expenditure plans before the Assembly, departmental Committees started to consider the spending plans for their respective Departments. The Executive Committee had agreed proposals for public expenditure of £8·9 million, with the Assembly having full discretion over departmental expenditure totalling £5·1 million.
Unfortunately, the suspension of the Assembly by Mr Mandelson interrupted the examination of this substantial allocation before it could be completed. At that time, the Finance and Personnel Committee was co-ordinating a formal report on the budget on behalf of the Departments and the Committees. In view of the lack of time that the Committees have had to consider the Main Estimates upon which this Supply motion is based, I want to give the Assembly a flavour of the general response to the overall allocation. I am sure the Chairpersons of the Committees will deal with this in more detail.
The Finance and Personnel Committee expressed concern that it had not been possible to tie the budget for the programme of government being developed by the Executive into the Estimates. We recognise, however, that the Executive had inherited expenditure plans for 2000-01 from the previous Administration, and that it was a very late stage in the financial year to develop this.
The Committee questioned departmental officials about the allocation of £104 million. This excluded the annual managed expenditure on civil servants’ pensions of £11 million. Members recognised that at this late stage of the financial year, it was not possible to properly scrutinise expenditure plans, and they did not propose to make any changes to the level of provision across the various areas of expenditure.
The Regional Development Committee considered that there were a number of shortcomings in the level of provision across many areas for that Department and that the budget was insufficient to allow the Department to meet all its responsibilities. While the Committee welcomed the initial provision for capital projects, it considered that the amounts fell short of what was required for essential future investment in infrastructure and economic development.
The Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development expressed concern that departmental running costs continued to rise when programme expenditure had fallen in many areas. The Committee also sought assurances that the opportunity would be put in place to provide match funding, needed when drawing down grants and assistance from European sources. Members were concerned to ensure that the Committee would be consulted in the assessment and easements of bids during the incoming monitoring rounds and in the preparation of future expenditure plans.
The Committee of Health, Social Services and Public Safety felt that some of the written information provided by the Department was not sufficiently detailed to allow proper scrutiny of the budget. The Committee sought further detail on a number of different points.
The Committee of Culture, Arts and Leisure considered that there were shortcomings in the level of provision across all areas of the Department, and that the budget would not enable the Department to meet many of its needs. With the lifting of suspension the Committee of Environment and the Committee of Enterprise, Trade and Investment have been able to consider the budget for their Departments. The Committee of Environment raised concerns on a number of issues and particularly raised the matter of the inadequate level of provision in the budget. However, I am pleased to see that the Department of Finance and Personnel was able to agree the spending of £2·1 million for receipts on staff to reduce the backlog of work in these key areas. The Committee of Enterprise, Trade and Investment also recorded the need to increase the departmental allocation if future challenges are to be met.
It is my view — and this point has also arisen in the Committee — that one of the drawbacks in not having a Committee stage within the accelerated passage is that the Committee scrutiny of all the Departments in relation to budgets, and how they are related to the full implementation of the very important policy of new TSN, will not take place. All Departments will have to examine how their budgets actually relate to the targeting of social need within their areas.
I would also like to see budgeting for the reallocation and decentralisation of Departments so as to re-balance the east/west divide. This is something that, in future, the Departments will have to look at. I believe that I speak for all Departments when I say that more resources should be made available to ensure we are able to take up the challenges, and to make the changes necessary so that we actually improve the quality of life for people in different areas. These resources are necessary so that we do not simply continue the programme that existed before we came into operation. This matter concerns broad issues across all Departments — health, education, infrastructure and agriculture. I hope that these issues will be dealt with in more detail within the new spending review.
I also believe that I speak for all of the departmental Committees when I say that they must be fully consulted on future spending plans, as well as related financial matters, such as the respend and review, the regional rate and European structural funds. This must be done at the earliest possible stage. We are already running late on that if it is actually to be effective.
In addition, each Department has a duty to ensure that the respective Committees have the information they need to perform the statutory role of scrutinising, considering and advising on departmental Estimates. Before I draw my remarks to a close I want to impress upon the Minister the overriding need to set in place an agreed procedure for handling the annual financial cycle in future years. I know we have discussed this with the Minister many times and I believe he is in agreement.
As we are becoming acutely aware, this is a never-ending cycle. As soon as one year’s Appropriation Bill has been put in place, the work begins on preparing the Estimates for the following year. We want the Committees to be involved as much as possible and as early as possible. Will the Minister ensure that he brings forward proposals so that a process of consultation can begin at a very early stage in the Assembly? It will be totally unacceptable if the Assembly and its Committees are denied the proper opportunity to contribute to the annual public expenditure round for a second year in succession.
Since the Minister’s announcement of the budget proposals in December, a number of changes in funding have occurred. The most significant was the welcome addition of £68 million for health and education following the Chancellor’s budget in March. I understand that, owing to the manner in which the Estimates for 2000-01 are presented, some of the other figures look significantly different to those in the original budget proposal. However, I am assured that, with one or two exceptions as outlined above, there is little change in the actual amount of provision given.
In my capacity as Chairman of the Audit Committee I advise the House that the Committee, as required under section 66 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, has laid before the Assembly the Estimate of the expenses for the Northern Ireland Audit Office for the year 2000-01. That Estimate has been scrutinised by the Department of Finance and Personnel, as required by the Act. It has also been examined under direct-rule arrangements by the Public Accounts Commission at Westminster, which approved a net Estimate of £4·298 million.
Furthermore, the Audit Committee has consulted the Public Accounts Committee of this Assembly and has had regard to its views. I can therefore confirm to the House that the Audit Committee has fully discharged its functions in relation to the expenses of the Northern Ireland Audit Office. The Audit Committee has invited the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland to appear before it shortly, and after the summer recess we will review with him the detailed strategic and business plans for his office. In this way the Audit Committee will be well prepared to undertake a full scrutiny of the proposed expenses of the Comptroller and Auditor General in advance of laying before this House his Estimate for 2001-02.
In presenting this report, I thank the Deputy Chairman of the Audit Committee, Mr Billy Hutchinson, the other members of the Audit Committee and the Clerks for their help. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent work already done by the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that this House gets value for money, both from the Audit Office and from the various Departments and public bodies audited by the Audit Office.
Because of the timing of the initial period of devolution, and then the suspension, my Committee did not have the opportunity to scrutinise an agreed budget linked to policies and programmes. We certainly need to continue to seek clarity and certainty as to the role of Committees in the budgeting process. The Belfast Agreement states that Committees shall
"consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation."
Over and above the specific concern as to the scrutiny of the Estimates that have just been summarised by the Minister, I have a wider concern which is shared by members of my Committee and other Committees. We need to be involved in the consideration of the so-called spending review, which informs spending decisions across Departments for a forward three-year period, and we strongly desire that that should not slip through the net of departmental scrutiny. My own Committee has written to the Minister for details of his strategic plan and early notice of his Department’s proposals for expenditure over the next three years.
I also ask the Minister for Finance and Personnel to provide to Committees for consideration a timetable for the spending review 2000, which clarifies how in an annual cycle, all the relevant parties can play their full role in a process of consultation for planning public expenditure on the three-year forward programme. With regard to the content of these Estimates, an area of concern to my Committee and others is the issue of research and development.
I want to make three points. First, research and development is inherently important. It is public expenditure that represents investment, as opposed to consumption. Therefore, to the extent that moneys are contained in these Estimates to boost the level of research and development in Northern Ireland, we are actually expanding the total amount of resources which will be available in future years. In other words, to use an analogy beloved of a previous Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, with research and development we are not so much dealing with dividing up the cake of public expenditure — important though that is, and much of the debate this morning will be about that — as attempting to bake a bigger cake in the future. My first point is that research and development is inherently important.
Secondly, it is certainly the case that public moneys allocated to some aspects of supporting research and development, notably the core funding for research in the two universities, have decreased markedly, especially in relation to what has happened in Great Britain and given, over the last decade, what has happened in the Republic of Ireland. There is no indication from these Estimates that the shortfall is to be made good.
Thirdly, taking the Estimates as a whole, total publicly supported research and development is somewhat scattered and indeed disguised within them. It is not possible by looking at the lines within the various Votes to identify in every case how much money is being devoted to research and development. How we identify spending on research and development is a broader issue for the future. I refer to points made at the end of last year in an excellent report by the Northern Ireland Economic Council.
I should like to make some observations and ask questions about two aspects of the Appropriation Account. The first one concerns housing. There will be great disappointment at the reduction of 3·5% in the housing budget which, as a result of the comprehensive spending review, has been imposed this year in Northern Ireland. That reduction is already having repercussions right across the Province, leading to the freezing of improvements to properties. Some of these properties have had no major works carried out on them for over 30 years, yet, as a result of the decisions made under the comprehensive spending review, which — and I accept this from the Minister — we have inherited, we shall find that these difficulties will roll on from one year to another.
No consideration appears to have been given to the fact that there are additional pressures on the housing budget. For example, as we found out at the Social Development Committee last week, the amount of money that the Housing Executive is having to spend on purchasing properties from people who have been intimidated from their homes has more than doubled since the signing of the agreement, yet no provision has been made for that. The number of adaptations because of the age profile of the population has been increasing. It appears that the housing budget is required to take on a security function and a health function, and while both those burdens are increasing, the amount of money available for housing has been reduced.
I trust that during the review of spending this year the Minister will take into consideration the pressures on the housing budget and the fact that cuts in it are having a real effect on the living conditions in, and the long-term sustainability of, many Housing Executive properties.
I now want to deal with the education budget. I welcome the fact that it has been increased by 9·6% this year. I am a bit concerned, though, at the cavalier way in which spending has been conducted in the Education Department to date and at the ways in which that 9.6% increase may be used. I know that the Minister of Finance and Personnel will not be able to give me a reply to some specific questions, and I appreciate his offer to pass on questions to absent Ministers. It is a great pity that the Minister of Education is not here since the first thing that I would like to know is how much of this budget will be used to pay for his second office. Or should I call it his "safe house"? We know that he has spent part of his life on the run from the British security forces. It appears that he is now on the run from the flag-waving Loyalists of Bangor and that the education budget is going to have to pay for that. Perhaps the Minister will pass onto the Minister of Education this request for information about the cost of his "safe house".
Secondly, I note that the amount of money available in the education budget for capital spending on schools is in the region of £126 million.
There was great anger and dismay at the way in which the last round of capital expenditure was handled by the Minister of Education. There is an increase in the amount of money available for capital spending on schools for the next year, and I hope that we will not see the same blatant sectarian division of the money that we saw the last time when he included spending for a school that had been allowed for in previous years. He also included spending for a school in Antrim, which will not be used this year but sometime in the future. When you take that out of last year’s expenditure, schools in the controlled sector, the schools that broadly cater for the Protestant population, which is half of the school population, got less than a quarter of the spending which was available in the capital budget.
I trust that we are not going to see the same kind of blatant discrimination this year, especially now that extra money has been made available to the Department of Education for capital expenditure. Another thing was sneaked in before the Assembly was suspended. In the very last hour before suspension the Minister sneaked in another piece of discriminatory policy: he now considers as viable Irish-language schools that have only 12 pupils. Controlled schools are being closed down because they have fewer than 100 pupils, yet this policy was got in by the Minister through the back door and without discussion in the dying hours of the Assembly before its suspension in February, a policy which is going to put a very real burden on the resources of his Department. There is no indication in this document of how much of the increase which has been made available to the Department of Education is going to be spent on that.
Finally, the Assembly and its Committees have an important job to do to ensure that the allocation of funding for next year reflects the wishes of Assembly Members more than it does this year. It also has the important job of ensuring that the money which has been voted through this year is spent fairly so that this does not become a "misappropriation account" instead of an Appropriation Account or a means by which particular Ministers — and I think of the Minister of Education — can follow a political agenda of plundering the budget for narrow, sectarian ends rather than ensuring that the budget is divided out evenly and fairly across the services which are required by the people of Northern Ireland.
I welcome this debate. For far too long the people of Northern Ireland suffered the injustices of direct rule, where we slavishly had to follow Government policy. We now have devolution. I welcome that fact, as do the people of Northern Ireland. We no longer have to go cap-in-hand to Northern Ireland Office Ministers, as so often in the past. We are now in control of our own affairs, and that will make the difference to government here in Northern Ireland. In the context of the global economy and the developing European Union, the importance of regional government cannot be over-stressed. We are now basically in a Europe of the regions, and Northern Ireland must take every opportunity that that development provides.
It is vital for this Assembly to set out its own priorities that are appropriate to and for the people of Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party has always believed in putting people first, and the opportunity is now here to make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland. It is important that we do not seek to replicate the government policy that has already been established at Westminster. This Assembly not only has its administrative responsibilities but also legislative responsibilities, and we must make full use of them.
Considering the events that have taken place over the last two years, this Assembly now has a real opportunity to establish its credibility with the people of Northern Ireland. I am very confident that if we work together we can provide that credibility. The Assembly must think strategically about what public expenditure priorities should be. While the so-called peace process has presented economic opportunities, there are many socio-economic problems in our society. Unemployment persists at one of the highest rates in the United Kingdom. There is a vicious circle of deprivation, social exclusion and ghettoization in which many individuals in Northern Ireland remain trapped. This is reinforced by the consequences of sectarianism and segregation within our society.
More broadly, it is important that, as a society, we begin to realise the social and economic costs that arise from maintaining separate community structures in many areas. The Alliance Party appreciates that the nature of government is changing around the world. Government is no longer seen as the automatic solution to every problem. However, many problems can be addressed through the appropriate application of public expenditure. There is an urgent need for this Assembly to develop its priorities. One only has to consider the crisis on the railways. Large lengths of track remain under threat. Two years ago I highlighted the problems that the railways faced with obsolete rolling stock and a track in poor condition. This is down to many years of underfunding. That is what this Assembly is all about.
The Minister for Regional Development, Mr Peter Robinson, should accept the importance of addressing rolling stock rather than rolling Ministers. The Assembly needs to seriously consider the whole question of public transport.
On education, we have the opportunity to follow the Scottish Parliament in abolishing tuition fees for students. These fees are a major barrier to many young people in Northern Ireland entering third-level education. If Scotland can do it, so can we.
Our Health Service is in crisis. There is uncertainty about the future. What is going to happen to our acute hospitals? Waiting lists are still unacceptable. There is uncertainty among the hospital staff. These issues need to be clarified.
I have a special interest in the economy. The Assembly has already addressed the extension of the natural gas pipeline to the north-west. A decision is urgently needed. We must create a level playing field of economic opportunity throughout Northern Ireland. The Coolkeeragh proposal, in particular, needs to be addressed by the Department. I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later.
We have also debated the problem in the textile industry. We need to look at creating replacement jobs for the heavy losses that have been sustained in that industry. All Members will be pleased by the recently announced orders for Harland & Wolff. It is important that the necessary finances be made available for the shipyard this year.
We now live in a Europe of the regions. The Assembly must recognise how Europe impacts on it and on the people of Northern Ireland. It is important that we have input into the new proposals for the transitional programme, now that we have lost Objective 1 status. Those funds must be strategically led for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, not departmentally-led as has happened so often in the past.
There is also the question of Northern Ireland’s representation in Europe. The other regions of the United Kingdom, as well as the Republic of Ireland, already have their own offices up and running in Brussels. The Assembly should also be represented there as a matter of urgency. We should acknowledge the vital role played by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe over the years.
There are many issues that I would like to address. I have outlined some of the priorities. I hope that now, after the ups and downs of the last couple of years, the Assembly is for real and will deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
I share some of the sentiments that have been expressed by other Members. I look forward to the review of future spending. It is difficult for us to comment or, indeed, to ask the Minister to comment on percentage increases and decreases about which we can do little. Nonetheless, I have a number of questions for the Minister.
The first question relates to an issue raised earlier in connection with another Department. Mr Sammy Wilson made the point that the Department for Social Development will be picking up some of the security and health costs of rehousing those who have been intimidated out of their homes, and that a budget has not been allocated for that.
I make a similar point in relation to the departmental Committee that I serve on — Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Members may be aware that there has been a huge change in the way that juvenile justice has been dealt with in the past number of years. Clearly the Northern Ireland Office was picking up that bill where juveniles were kept in secure units. This is no longer the case, and health and social services now pick up the costs for the care of those young people. It represents a huge and substantial part of the budget. Since the increase in that Department’s budget is minimal, that money has clearly to be found from elsewhere. Therefore cuts are being made in other parts of that Department’s budget to accommodate this legislative change. It is a devolved power having to contest with a reserved power. How are Members to deal with that? There is a certain budget set aside for reserved powers, yet we are picking up the pieces for the devolved part of that administration.
Having spoken to the boards, I am aware that we are in crisis in Northern Ireland. The position in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board reflects, I am sure, the crisis in health and social services that the boards are facing. It has calculated that it has approximately only one third of what it needs to maintain services at their current rate, and it probably cannot make the developments required, even on a statutory basis. The Audit Committee needs to address that matter.
In the Eastern Board area, an extra £2 million per annum is needed to accommodate demographic changes for the elderly; the board does not have that presently. The stark reality is that in the Eastern Board area — and no doubt Members could say the same about other board areas — there are currently 270 people over the age of 65 waiting for care packages because of the lack of funding. I know that this is not something that the Minister himself will be able to address, but clearly it is extremely serious.
We also need to draw attention to the past, disastrous, policy of GP fundholding. It is good that it will now be stood down, but the board is currently picking up a £2·7 million deficit as a result of the GPs with fundholding practices overspending. What a disgraceful policy. They spent money very liberally and now we have to pick up this deficit for years, knowing that old people are waiting for care packages and cannot get them. A huge amount was spent, probably on doing up buildings and putting in modern-looking equipment, that had not been budgeted for in the first place.
I share Dr Birnie’s point about research and development, and I welcome the £3 million set aside for Springvale, but I am concerned that £14 million of student loans is irrecoverable, either through default or deferment. Again, this is a substantial amount that we cannot pick up and for which we will have to find the money from elsewhere. The Minister did not address, although he may come to it later, the matter of the huge 54% increase in the superannuation budget in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety that I raised with him last week. It is under Vote C and was not mentioned this morning.
I am concerned that urban regeneration and community development expenditure is down by 21% or £16 million. I would like to pay tribute to those people who, throughout the 30 years of the troubles, and with minimal budgets, had to pay for the community development of their areas. More recently, their excellent work has been resourced through departmental funds, but they may now be facing redundancies or, indeed, closure of one of the most important areas. Many communities need to go through the community development of their areas before they can get to the stage of economic development, and Mr Neeson spoke about resources for that. I would like the Minister and, indeed, those responsible for this Department to acknowledge that we may be picking up the pieces for many years to come if we do not continue to resource these areas.
Finally, I realise that the Minister has difficulties. As he said last week, he is complimented when there is money for increases although we are always disappointed when we see decreases. In spite of the fact that we did not have much of an input into these estimates the Minister generally has my support. I will most certainly look forward to all the Committees’ being able to examine the Estimates much more closely in the future.
I welcome the news from the Minister about the new allocation of money. I am pleased that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has got a share of the funding. We may not be getting what we would have liked, but I hope that this new input of money will help to take away the uncertainty that exists in the Department. I hope that, in the days to come, this money will mean that all payments will be made on time and that we will not have to go through a similar situation to the one that we have been through recently.
The uncertainty which existed meant that Departments could not make plans and that the plans that they had were put on hold. I hope that in the very near future they can get on with what they had planned to do.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development recognises the difficulties that agriculture has had and the need, as my Colleague, Esmond Birnie, and Ms McWilliams mentioned for marketing, research and development and public relations. Our industry has come through a difficult patch over the past two or three years, and we must eliminate the uncertainty to do with BSE.
Within Europe, Northern Ireland is trying to promote its low incidence of BSE. We have the smallest incidence of BSE in Europe, and research and development and public relations must ensure that everything is done to promote agriculture. Northern Ireland is a very small country, and the agriculture industry is its backbone, and people are starting to realise that.
Allegations have been made about the Housing Executive.
I am very much involved in the housing associations, and I would not like this to be a case of housing associations versus Housing Executive. There is room for both of them. They have had a good working relationship over the years, and I hope that that will continue to flourish.
Another matter that has been touched on is our textile industry which needs encouragement and assistance to find new markets in a very competitive Europe. In Northern Ireland we have expertise in the textile industry —in the same way as we have expertise in the agriculture industry — and it would be a great disaster if that expertise were lost. The extra money that is available will be a major boost to Northern Ireland. It will get people into work, and, very importantly, sustain the jobs of those in work. Their future very much depends on it. We have a wealth of knowledge in the textile and agriculture industries, and it would be a disaster if that know-how were allowed to fall by the wayside.
The points I wish to make relate to the education budget. I would like to bring the House’s attention to the issue of prioritisation of expenditure within education, and ask whether we are satisfied that money is being spent in the right areas within that Department.
In particular I would like to focus on the logic in having, and the bureaucracy involved in maintaining, five education boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Curriculum Council for Examination Assessment, the Transferers Representative Council, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and the Irish medium. I believe that there is a need for better coherence between all these boards, and, while it will be costly in the start-up, in the long term it should save money.
The question is simple: is such bureaucracy the most efficient use of precious resources? Should we not be asking the Minister of Education to undertake, as a matter of urgency, a review of the need to sustain all 10 boards, in order for him to be satisfied that resources are being spent effectively in his Department.
One example is the local management of schools (LMS), where funding is going directly to schools and not being eaten up by administration costs in these boards. I welcome an early consultation on the issue of LMS to ensure that schools are properly funded, particularly with regard to areas dealing with deprivation and to this Government’s commitment to the new targeting social need.
It would be a far more efficient use of resources to slash this bureaucracy and instead redirect some of these moneys into areas such as ensuring that children with special needs are able to take their full and rightful part in mainstream education. It would be advantageous to increase special needs funding at primary level, rather than secondary level, in order to address the issue of special needs education at an earlier stage. Literacy, numeracy and disruptive behaviour are harder to deal with at secondary level than at primary level. It would also be advisable to put in place better accountability with regard to how special needs budgets are spent.
Another example of how prioritisation in the education budget could bring benefits is in the education of children with disabilities. Prioritisation would help children with disabilities gain access into mainstream education. I know from the experience of a family in my constituency that the excuse of lack of resources is too often held up as a barrier to allowing children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools.
It is simply not good enough that a society that rightly attaches so much importance to the equality agenda falters on the very first hurdle in the life of our children — education. I ask the House to consider carefully the signals we are giving out if we fail to deliver on this crucial test of equality. If we cannot deliver on this, what can we deliver on?
With regard to selection at age 11, consultation is due to start in September and to come to fruition in January/February 2001. A decision is to be made by the Executive by March next year.
In order for consultation to work properly it will be important to have a detailed study of the post-primary sector and to take into account and plan for that evaluation. We would need to go back and look at similarities to the Cowan Report in 1977 and to take into consideration the proposals acted upon on a post-selective basis, to ensure that adequate provision for funding be put in place to implement these changes.
With regard to the most precious resource we have in education, which I believe is our teachers, we need to support wholly the teachers union in the second phase of pay negotiations. It is important to realise the professional development of teachers’ needs and that Northern Ireland solutions need to be brought forward for Northern Ireland concerns. British solutions are not appropriate for Northern Ireland.
There is a very high level of quality and excellence of teachers in Northern Ireland. Students who wish to enter teacher training college here must have two grade As and a grade B in comparison to those in the rest of the United Kingdom who have to get two grade Ds and a grade E only. I am sure Members will agree that this is a very big qualitative difference.
Finally, I would like to comment on the remarks of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to the ETI Committee last Thursday when he suggested that the Executive should direct more finances towards economic development, and he implied that somehow health and education were well catered for under present funding arrangements. As a member of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee I am fully conversant as to the importance of economic development to Northern Ireland’s future. However, I must depart from the Minister’s assertion that finances be taken from health and education and given to enterprise, trade and investment. Whilst economic development may be an important factor in our future prosperity, a decent education is its bedrock. Let us not lose sight of the fact that investment in an educated and skilled workforce is, in reality, also an investment in the future.
A redirection of funds from education would be not just counter-productive; it would be contradictory to the very purpose of successful economic development in the future. This is something, I believe, that the House could not readily support.
I wish to direct my remarks in two particular directions. The first one is with regard to the Department of Regional Development (DRD), and the second to the Department of Social Development. I note that, under DRD, there is provision — and it has been referred to previously — for the railway services. There was some mention, I think from Mr Neeson — albeit sarcastically — regarding the promotion of railway stock. Indeed, that is accurate. I hope that there is support across this House for the build up and promotion of transportation links in Northern Ireland, and obviously, public transportation is an essential part of that. I would like to see a greater degree of funding going in that direction.
Just as we would support, I hope, the building up of infrastructure in transportation links in Northern Ireland, we would support links between Northern Ireland and other countries such as the Republic of Ireland. As long as this is kept on a purely infrastructural basis, there should be no difficulties. When there are political elements to that, that is when the difficulties will occur. I saw that even today with the commencement of an air link between Londonderry and Dublin. Obviously we support all international flights from Northern Ireland to other countries, but the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic had to — I was going to say hijack the plane, but unfortunately that was not the case. However, the incident was politically hijacked in order to make some overtly political comments. Nevertheless, it would be advantageous if we were to promote greater infrastructural links both within our own country and with others.
As the working party gets to grips over the next few months considering the £183 million which is required for safety reasons, I hope that the Minister of Finance and Personnel will, over the next 18 months to two years, provide the Department of Regional Development with the wherewithal not only to provide that safety provision but also to increase the rolling stock.
In terms of public transportation we have been told by those involved that there is an increase in private vehicle ownership of 4% per year. Over the next 10 to 12 years this will result in an additional 50% of private car ownership in Northern Ireland. One has only to consider what the main arterial routes such as the Westlink and Sandyknowes will be like with such an increase in private car usage.
As Chairman of the Regional Development Committee, I welcome the Member’s words. Does he agree that rotation of the post of Minister for Regional Development with other Members from the DUP will not help to ease congestion on our roads or to provide additional capital funding for rolling stock, roads and other infrastructure projects?
No. I do not agree with the hon Member — either in English or in French.
With regard to the Department of Social Development, I note that under the sub-heading detail there is provision for European Social Fund grants to community groups. Members will be aware of the excellent work done by many of these community groups and of the continuance of such work. I hope that funding will be made available in order that that programme can be built upon. It is somewhat disingenuous for some groups who obtain grants like that — as happened in my constituency of East Londonderry last week — to invite the President of the Irish Republic to a community group announcement. This tends to politicise that which ought not to be political and that should entail the support of both sections of the community. It is with mixed feelings that I speak in similar vein to those who address the curate’s egg when they say it is very good, but only in parts.
I hope that there will be additional funding for these important Departments, which are both headed up by able Ministers. Irrespective of who occupies those ministerial positions — whether the present incumbents or others — they will continue to be directed by very able people.
A LeasCheann Comhairle. Given the urgency that is required to deal with these estimates, we support the Appropriation Bill. The fundamental problem is that this budget is not big enough. Although our society is emerging from conflict, it continues to suffer the social and economic consequences of that conflict. This is not reflected in the Appropriation Bill. The economic legacy of discrimination, inequality, conflict and injustice needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The negative effects of partition have had a massive effect on the border regions, and the particular problems faced in rural economies also need to be addressed.
The transformation of an economy emerging from conflict requires fundamental change in the social and economic experience of people living across the Six Counties. That process must empower, and be led by local economies and local communities. We must promote the new concept of economic democracy. This means that local communities should have an integral role in the planning and running of their own local economies. Economic policy must and should be formulated from the bottom-up, not, as is the case now, from the top-down. We have to recognise that everyone has a right to a decent standard of living with proper housing and access to adequate health care and education services. We believe the aim of that economic activity is to make this a reality for all.
Of course, there is a great danger that if we do not find ways and means to increase the overall budget, the existing 10 Departments — or at least the eight Ministers that attend — will tend to vie with each other within that very limited budget. We have had some indications already of a very dangerous trend — other Ministries targeting the budgets allocated to health and education. That is not the way to go. The way to go is by finding ways of increasing the overall budget.
At the core of any budget is the creation of wealth. How do we create a more wealthy society? How do we develop right across the board the demands and the needs of local communities to access that wealth? One of the key agencies given the task of doing that is the IDB. The Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee which I chair, examined the overall budget and identified the need for a bigger slice of the cake. However, the IDB, within that Department, must be made accountable for targeting areas of social need. It must create jobs, and not get into creative accountancy, which projects the image that jobs have been created. We must bring equality to bear effectively in many areas.
I have read IDB reports in which district councils like Moyle and Strabane come bottom of the league. In terms of investment I have often seen the figure zero. Jobs created — zero. Opportunities created — zero. All of that must change, and the way to change it is to take on board the political point made earlier that we are a society coming out of conflict — and to use that argument to increase the overall budget so that all of the Departments can, instead of targeting the two big Departments of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and Education, actually get an increase in their budget.
Within the 10 Departments there are many areas which require expansion. There are some details that we were not given the opportunity to properly scrutinise, and I look forward to future budgets when we will have the time to do that. I urge the Minister responsible to seek ways of bringing to bear the core argument — that what we need is an overall increase in the budget to allow all the Departments to be adequately funded.
In many respects the exercise we are involved in today is like being the executors of the last will and testimony of a previous unaccountable regime. It is an educational exercise for all of us, as we must learn from the Estimates before us, by way of the Supply motion, and scrutinising them, how to prioritise matters in the interests of the people who have sent us here. That will be the challenge for us, not just today, but in future years when the exercise will become more meaningful. It is with those comments in mind that I turn to the Estimates for 2000-01 and go through some of the votes.
I do not have a tremendously deep knowledge of agriculture matters and the Department of Agriculture. As a layman, I am rather surprised and somewhat horrified that when I read about the difficult times agriculture has been going through in Northern Ireland over the past number of years—I read the very sad stories about farmers, the fits of depression, and the state in which they find themselves—to see, at vote A and vote B, that the amount of money being provided for agriculture is lower than that in previous years. In fact vote A is 38·4% lower. Again, as a layman, I must say that I find this amazing. One would have thought that when one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland, namely the agriculture industry, is in such difficulties that more money would be allocated to try to improve the lot of farmers and get them out of the financial difficulties in which they find themselves. Agriculture is one area where I would hope that when we come to be doing this job and are accountable to the people of Northern Ireland, the facts as they pertain and affect farmers today would be realised by the respective Minister, his Committee and within the Programme for Government.
As regards vote A of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I welcome the £2·8 million of grant and aid to the Sports Council for Northern Ireland. I do not think that we, as Members of the Assembly, can praise the excellent work that is done throughout Northern Ireland by sporting bodies too highly. Where there is so much division in Northern Ireland, sport is the one area that brings people together. Investment and development of sport repays itself more than ten-fold each and every year.
As regards the provision of money for inland waterways, I welcome the sizeable figure given, in particular, to cross border bodies, and I hope that we in Northern Ireland can learn something from the developments that have taken place in inland waterways in the South. I have a certain vested interest, insofar as the River Lagan and its associated canals run through my constituency. Lisburn Borough Council, through the provision of its new civic centre, has been doing tremendous work opening canals in the vicinity, and our goal is to extend the Lagan navigational system to its full extent. Once again, this is an area where the expenditure of money can in future years generate income through tourism.
I note the increase in the budget of the Department of Education, an area where investment in our youth cannot be overemphasised. Northern Ireland’s future depends on the education of its young people and those in further and higher education. In the primary sector, it is exceedingly important that class sizes are reduced and that teachers have the tools with which to do the job. I hope those areas are to the fore in the new Programme for Government, with which I hope the Executive is well advanced.
I cannot help but notice the increase in funding for the CCEA, and I hope and pray that the moneys afforded to that organisation will help reduce the seemingly annual incidence of cock-ups in the setting and marking of exams — and the trauma they put our young people through.
I require some explanation on Vote B. I have no particular difficulty with money being paid, but the area is that of superannuation benefits and pensions. A sizeable sum of money is provided for, and whilst I accept totally that it has been earned, I wish to ask if we can anticipate increases of 33% year on year. Has a blip in the system at this time led to this £20 million increase?
I should like to make a brief comment on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Vote A, for the IDB. I note that, while there is a reduction in this figure, there still seems to be an ongoing increase for land and buildings, and I seek an assurance that we are not adding to the bank of land or factories. We have reached the stage in Northern Ireland where we should be endeavouring to achieve a greater occupancy of land and buildings under the control of the IDB rather than extending their number. I seek clarification that no land bank has been added to.
Another aspect on which I have briefly touched in the Enterprise, Trade and Investment area is the amount of money allocated to tourism. That is an area where investment will be recovered, and the potential for growth in tourism in Northern Ireland — if stability takes hold — far outstrips anything else. That stability can in many ways be demonstrated by the way this House is seen to be working, and how we manage the economy in all its aspects. Finance should be allocated to this area with the expectation of greater returns than in the past.
While welcoming the increased expenditure of £17 million for roads in the budget of the Department for Regional Development, Vote A, I am appalled that the railways will have the rather small increase of £1·5 million, despite the fact that we have heard so much in recent days about the need for spending over £180 million on rolling stock. In anybody’s estimation, the sum is small beer in the context of the problem, and I hope that when we deal with those issues ourselves, the Minister responsible will take the necessary steps to ensure that adequate finances are available.
Moving on to the area of higher and further education, the one issue that sticks in my throat is the marked movement from student grants to student loans. The education and library board’s grants for student awards, including reimbursement of EU student fees, shows that the net out-turn figure for 1998-99 was £82·5 million. That has now been reduced in the current year to a mere £13 million, which is effectively taking £70 million out of the hands of our students. None of us can be satisfied with that type of exercise. We want to see a change so that once again — and I hope that this will be in the Government’s programme — students will get an education, not so much because of their ability to pay but because they are given grants to enable them to pursue tertiary education. There can be no worse thing than teaching young people to get into debt. A little aside to that, Mr Deputy Speaker, is the burden that the repayment of these loans places on small business. Once again small business will be encumbered.
In closing, I must point out this has been our only opportunity, as elected representatives, to scrutinise these Estimates. Ten minutes is totally inadequate. One change that I hope will be made next year is that we shall have proper opportunities to scrutinise these Estimates fully.
Further to that point of order. I understood the Deputy Speaker to suggest that it might be necessary to reduce speeches to five minutes. I hope — as every Member does — that we shall have as much time as possible to deal with very important matters that are before the House today.
I think that you are quite right, Mr Paisley. The Deputy Speaker stated that the matter would be kept under review. I have a significant number of names at the moment, so I shall make that review in a relatively short time. I remind Members that for every extra minute they take, a minute is taken off somewhere else. I shall come back to this very soon.
I shall start by following the remarks that Mr Close was making, but which he was unable to complete. We need to be aware that by the time the Appropriation Bill and the Estimates are put before the House, to all intents and purposes, we are looking at a done deal. There is a risk the same thing will happen again, so it is crucial that the departmental scrutiny — especially Committee scrutiny of the departmental budgets — commences in September, as soon as the Committees resume. Otherwise, we may again be confronted with rows of figures and with very little time to amend them.
We also need to bear in mind the fact that the next spending review will roll out a three-year programme of spending. It might be the last programme in which the generosity to the devolved territories, or the devolved regions, is the same as it is now. It is very instructive for this House to consider the agitation that there has been in Westminster about spending in Scotland, particularly given that Scotland could raise some money itself, if it chose to do so. I would not advocate that course of action, but it is sensible for this House to be mindful of the possible restraints that may come in its budget in the future.
However, if we can manage the affairs of Northern Ireland so that our own economy grows as it is doing at the moment and continues to do so at levels well in excess of those in the rest of the United Kingdom, this difficulty will become very much less because the proportionate tax being contributed to the Exchequer by Northern Ireland will inevitably go up.
There is quite a lot of speculation about the tax base in Northern Ireland. I was interested to find out from questioning officials in the Department of Finance and Personnel that no precise figures were available. It was not a calculation that the Treasury or the tax office has ever been minded to do, so the numbers that are in the public domain are assessments or estimates rather than statistically provable figures. We must be mindful that we are to a large extent spending other people’s money and, therefore, must be good custodians of it. Money started in taxpayers’ pockets. Then it went to the Exchequer, and when the Budget goes through at Westminster, the Government are given permission to spend that money. It is not the Government’s money; it is our money and other people’s as well. The sanction that the people have, at least in theory, is that if they do not like the way in which the Government spend the money, they can throw that Government out and try another one.
We must also be mindful that the money that we are spending on public services must be seen to give good value to the public because they are the people contributing to the money that is providing those services.
In Northern Ireland our current public spending per capita is about 28% greater than the UK average, with the excesses particularly noticeable in health and in education. For that reason we must focus very closely on those Departments to be sure that are we getting extra results from the extra money. We do have extra problems; we have a larger number of school age children which is inevitably going to put a greater burden on the education system; and we do seem to have poorer health, a problem we share with Scotland. Perhaps it would be very useful if we could get our heads together with the people in Scotland and try to identify why that is and how we can address it.
I hope that those Departments involved in capital spending projects, particularly education, health and regional development, will be looking closely at sources of private finance in order to free up the public money that is available by way of private finance initiatives. In this, Scotland is well ahead of us. In Northern Ireland we have identified about £500m worth of projects for private finance initiatives; in Scotland, at £2billion, four times that level have been identified. We should try to be imaginative and progressive in that respect.
The Department that anyone represents is the one for which that person seeks more money. We must be mindful as we go ahead — and I am aware of the time left — that the cake may not increase very fast at all. Indeed, if inflation were to increase much over 2·5%, the size of the cake would go down. Each Department should pay a considerable amount of attention to whether the existing resources could be made to go further. In particular, some attention needs to be given to the amount of money being spent on administration. The Minister is aware of my concerns as I have already tackled him on this subject, but that was merely a skirmish. Since the Department of Finance and Personnel is responsible for the overall establishment of the Civil Service, I shall be looking to see whether he thinks any efficiencies can be made there with the view to getting the overall costs of administration down and saving money that can be spent elsewhere, and there are many demands elsewhere for greater spending on public services.
I said that I would keep the timing under review. At the moment there are 21 Members scheduled to speak. If a few do not use their full 10 minutes, we can just about take everyone by 5.30. However, if more Members indicate a wish to speak, or if Members go on longer than 10 minutes, that will have to be reviewed.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. I agree that the management of public spending is a fundamental responsibility of any Government. We must protect the interests of the public and ensure that their money is well spent.
I am wearing the little ribbon of the Carers National Association of Northern Ireland today, because this is the beginning of "carers’ week". A document is being launched at Belfast city hall today. There are a quarter of a million carers in Northern Ireland, aged from eight to 80, looking after people with all sorts of disabilities and illnesses. These carers are the backbone of community care. There are major financial implications for childcare, so it is relevant to bring that up in this debate.
The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee has childcare among its top priorities. The rights of children are paramount, yet the boards and trusts are not meeting their statutory obligations. The Committee will be holding hearings on this subject over the next couple of weeks. Members who read ‘The Observer’ yesterday will have noticed the conclusion of a major United Nations report that childhood poverty in Britain is among the worst in Western Europe. The report alternates between "Britain" and "the UK", but I think that it applies to Northern Ireland. We know that there is high childhood poverty in Northern Ireland. For some children, main meals consist of things like toast and beans. Many of them live in terrible surroundings: damp walls, inadequate heating. They cannot afford the proper clothes. Bad performance at school is almost inevitable. Childhood poverty is a very serious problem.
There is a crisis in residential care, a lack of total beds and specialist placement. Inappropriate placement due to lack of quality placement options. Staff stress leads to exhaustion and demoralisation. We need investment now. Lack of key staff time can lead to a drift in planning for children’s futures. As available staff are absorbed in crisis reaction, there is insufficient time for in-depth assessment and planning such as review of court work.
We need more social workers. Early identification and intervention with children requires a multi-agency approach. We should be targeting seven-to nine-year-olds who are starting to exhibit social problems. That is a strong indicator of delinquency at a later stage. We should be supporting our young families in co-operation with the voluntary sector. Respite for children with disabilities, support for young carers, including mental health — all of these have major resource implications and must be taken up with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
The financial resources for hospitals are truly massive. I would like to see the Royal group of hospitals coming together with the City Hospital more quickly. We have debated maternity services, but there are other aspects that need to be faced. The south-west must have an area hospital. Members who live in the area will appreciate that. Decisions must be made soon. Again, there are major resource implications.
Reference was made earlier to Ards Hospital. I visited Bangor Community Hospital recently. It is outstanding. I would be sorry to hear of anything happening to Ards Hospital because I believe it is also very good. In the future we must sort out the hospitals. There are important financial implications. Our Committee has yet to discuss the question of primary care in Northern Ireland but certainly over the next few months that must be at the top of our agenda. The ‘Putting it Right’ document, produced by John McFall, is a new approach in which he has strongly suggested that co-operatives be formed with primary care groups taking in the various health care professionals. That is very important, and I hope that it will come about.
On cost implications alone there are far too many trusts, and major reductions can take place. Each part of the health and social care system impacts on every other part. On 29 March the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, having referred to £2 billion extra for the health service, which included tobacco duty of £300 million, mentioned five challenges for the health service. The first was the partnership challenge to end bed blocking. That is very relevant here in Northern Ireland, but it is not the time to go into the recent winter crisis, of which we are all well aware. The second was a performance challenge for good clinical practice that applies to doctors, nurses and so forth. The third, the patient care challenge, is to treat patients with serious conditions quickly. In Northern Ireland there are terrible waiting lists for people who are seriously ill, and operations have to be cancelled.
The fourth is to do with prevention. In terms of the healthy lifestyle to which the Prime Minister referred and of targeting social need, the health action zones along with the Health Promotion Agency have a big part to play. The financial allocations going towards health prevention are minimal. This is something else for further discussion. I appreciate that this is not the Minister’s direct responsibility. It is the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Services, but targeting social need, which was emphasised in the Good Friday Agreement, is cross-departmental. I believe that it is by way of health action zones, which are also cross-departmental, that we should proceed.
The fifth was to do with mental health care. One in seven visits their GP each year with a potentially significant mental health problem. Anyone can have a mental health illness, but with the establishment of primary care groups there will be fundamental challenges to the dominance of secondary care in this area. We must also focus on child and adolescent mental health. The subject of suicide may not be relevant here, but there were 1,027 deaths by suicide between 1990 and 1997. Of those, 793 were males and 234 females — frightening figures.
Reference was made to cancer today by the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Ms de Brún. We have had a memorandum signed by the former Health Minister, George Howarth, the Minister in the South, and the Americans on doing major research. The Americans are prepared to put millions of pounds into research, but only if it is reciprocated here. That is very important, bearing in mind the number of people who die of cancer on this island.
I will speak on a subject which has already been touched on this morning by the leader of the Alliance Party, and that is the provision of natural gas to the rest of the Province, and especially to the north and north-west. Someone talked earlier about having a level playing field. It is very difficult to know which Department would have the responsibility for looking after a natural gas pipeline if such a project were to go ahead, but I know that the Minister of Finance and Personnel is au fait with the situation. It is something that he has talked about on many occasions.
Members are well aware that natural gas came to Northern Ireland in 1997, and we all welcomed that. EU funding for the Scotland pipeline was £45 million, and £14 million was for the extension from Larne to Belfast. I recognise the very good work that Group 22 has done in spearheading the project and making a very good case for taking natural gas to the rest of the Province, with its social, economic and inward investment benefits. I must remind the House that if natural gas does not come to the rest of the Province, then one fifth of the population of Northern Ireland will be without the resource of natural gas. That would be sad.
I do not know what resources the various Departments have to try to move this project along. If the political will to move this project along is not there, then I believe that we will lose out on natural gas coming to the north and north-west of the Province. I do not need to remind Members that Coolkeeragh power station is to close in 2004. That is definite: the contract for electricity supply runs out then.
Political decisions must be made in the next few months if the project is to become a reality. Coolkeeragh power station is currently being run down. Members need to know if a decision will be taken in the next few months concerning the project. There has to be a lead-in time for the entire project, so it is vital that the political will is there to make the political decision that is needed. I must remind the House that a private consortium is very much on board and has bid for the licence to construct that gas pipeline. It is talking about investing over £200 million up front in the project. I have always seen the project as a private one, in partnership with Government. My information is that the project falls into line with EU structures, and that there has been no specific priority outlined in relation to the money. I understand that £40 million is needed from the European fund to try to get this project up and running.
What have former Ministers done about this project? Everything has been done by Group 22. The private consortium is very much on board, and some other interests have been taken on board. I understand that the regulator in Northern Ireland is very anxious that this project be moved forward very quickly. My fear is that the political will may not be there to do so. I understand that no political or financial case has been put to Europe regarding future EU structural funds.
This is a project that needs to happen. Decisions must be made in the next few months if the project is to be viable.
We know that Coolkeeragh power station is the main anchor tenant; that is already secured. It will take 75% of the entire supply, which is also important. Let us be clear, too, that if Coolkeeragh power station closes, it will not be economically viable to have a natural gas pipeline to the rest of the Province, which should have the choice of a new source of clean energy. I do not know which Department has responsibility for the project; it may be the responsibility of two or three Departments, but I want a Department to deal with the project, so that it can move forward. Let us hope that there is money available for the project to proceed as soon as possible and to show that the political will is there to do the job.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. We are all aware that this debate has to go through an accelerated process, and because of the time constraints Sinn Féin will vote in favour of this Appropriation Bill. However, we have concerns. First, the suspension of the political institutions left little or no time for the Bill to be properly scrutinised by the different Committees. That is a shame, because the details of the Bill will affect everyone in the North of Ireland. It is all the more important because we are a society emerging from 30 years of conflict. During that time, a vast amount of money was spent on military and security budgets while there was a serious underspend in other areas, particularly health, education and infrastructure. There are serious social and economic issues to be tackled as a consequence. There is a legacy of discrimination which has existed for generations and needs to be redressed and which has left areas of the North severely disadvantaged.
For example, the Derry City Council area has the highest level of long-term unemployment since 1938. An economic development report published by the Council two years ago stated that Derry would need 12,000 jobs in five years just to bring it up to the Six County average. That is an example of the scale of the problems that face us all. The transformation of the war economy of the Six Counties into a productive and developed peace-time economy is vital. The Assembly can lead the way and initiate the fundamental social and economic changes that are required.
In order to bring about fundamental change, social justice and equality need to be placed at the heart of government. Targeting social need and policy appraisal and fair treatment must be placed centrally in all Departments, to ensure parity of esteem and equality of treatment. In this society, we should be providing well-paid, skilled and sustainable employment, education and training for all, and we must eradicate discrimination. There should be openness and accountability in all Departments, and we need comprehensive monitoring and evaluation processes. We also need effective planning, management and monitoring of economic resources and a more cohesive and integrated approach to the development of indigenous industry.
The Assembly should be to the fore in supporting the role of the community and voluntary sectors. We should support the participation of communities in local economic development, and on that point, I ask the Minister how much money has been set aside for the Civic Forum.
I now turn to the issue of EU funding. Again, in all of this we need absolute guarantees on the honouring of the additionality principle, and, by extension, we need full commitment, social inclusion, local development and conflict resolution in Peace II. Does the Minister and his Department intend to enshrine North/South co-operation as a horizontal principle in the context of the joint chapter?
In relation to delivery mechanisms — and again my party would argue the need to be capable of working in partnership with the local communities — they need to be representative, competent, committed to the ethos of the funding programmes and wholly transparent in their operations. In this context, would the Minister agree that to place the financing of this solely with district councils and take it out of the hands of the partnership boards would be a retrograde step?
Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party. It argues that only by the creation of an all-Ireland economy, by the elimination of the economic distortions created by partition, by the attraction of foreign investment on an all-Ireland basis and by the harmonisation of financial incentives for industrial development will we go into a new society. My party wants to promote — and this Assembly should be promoting — a new concept of economic democracy which places people at the heart of the new social and economic system. Go raibh maith agat.
Today we are faced with public expenditure plans inherited from the previous Administration. If we look carefully at what is being presented to us and reflect back on the way in which Government expenditure was, distributed during the sustained period of direct rule, we can see an historic neglect. There was a neglect of investment in our infrastructure, public services and in many areas of human activity. That is something that one should regret, for we are faced now with a situation where many of our public services have been starved of funding over a prolonged period.
It is for us as a new Assembly and a new Administration to address that historic underfunding. I illustrate that by reference to the Department of Regional Development — whose Statutory Committee I chair — and I refer in particular to three areas there where, I believe, underinvestment is emphasised.
The first concerns roads. Although the expenditure plans show that there are plans to spend £166 million, on looking carefully at the detail of those plans, one can see that roads maintenance is receiving 50% of what it needs.
If we do not invest in road maintenance — I am not talking about capital projects or infrastructural projects — then the whole fabric of the road network will deteriorate, so it would not be a saving to limit the amount of money spent on road maintenance. In fact, it would create a situation where we would have to pay for that in the long term by greater capital expenditure. We must address that, although obviously not in this budget. However, looking forward one year — indeed, three, four or five years — we should be addressing that type of issue.
Take water, for example. Those of us on the Regional Development Committee were horrified by the Water Service’s account of the state of the infrastructure which is needed for the collection and transportation of water throughout the system. The same problems apply to sewerage.
Massive works have to be undertaken to bring our public Water Service up to universally acceptable standards. Standards have been laid down by the EU, and we will have to adhere to them. We must not be found wanting. We simply have to invest more money in the Water Service. If we fail to do this, not only do we fall foul of the European Union, but we are also putting the whole population at risk. Besides creating potential health problems, a situation would exist in which development of housing and industrial projects would be restricted, because we would not have the necessary infrastructure to support their development.
Again, there can be no savings there, and although the amount of money being spent — £188 million — seems a lot, representing an increase of 8%, it is still insufficient to tackle the continuing need in the Water Service.
Let us look at public transportation. The amount of money earmarked for expenditure this year is £32·9 million. Last year it was £33·2 million. That represents a decrease. I understand that there will be fairly substantial receipts which should compensate for that real reduction in expenditure on public transportation. However, public transportation is an essential feature of any modern transportation policy. If you do not have a quality public transportation service for the community then you will be unable to end traffic congestion, and the road system will further deteriorate. If you do not invest in public transportation you are, in effect, creating greater transportation problems right across the community.
There are also very serious safety implications. I refer in particular to the railways — an issue which has been referred to by several Members. In March, the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company produced a strategic safety review of Northern Ireland Railways. This review indicated that, although the safety standards were adequate, they were just adequate and nothing more. There is not just a long-term problem, but certainly a medium-term problem, and perhaps even a short-term problem with regard to safety. We need to invest sufficient funds in order to address the fundamental issue of safety on the railways. If we do not address that, the inevitable will occur, and we will suffer line closures.
The amount of money that the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company indicated was necessary for upgrading and bringing our railways up to a safe standard, for providing new railway stock, and for carrying out capital programmes, was £183 million. That is a massive amount of money, which will be required over the next 10 years.
Members will have to apply their minds to dealing with the problem of public transport and the railway system. We ignore these issues at our peril. One way of dealing with the matter is to involve private financing, and we shall have to look long and hard at the issue of public/private financing. Another way is to lease the rolling stock and the trains that are necessary for the system. We must be innovative. If we are not, we shall be failing in our duty to the public.
We need to take a radical look at the question of finance, because the Northern Ireland block is not infinite. It will continue for the foreseeable future but, in the medium term, may well be reviewed by the Westminster Government. We must look for alternative sources of finance, which is a serious challenge for all Assembly Members.
Finally, I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity, both in the Assembly and through our Committee system, to scrutinise properly and bring all of these issues to the public, and we should do that diligently and efficiently.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and to inform the House that the Environment Committee, of which I am Chairman, has considered the budget implications on the services — or lack of them — that will be provided to our citizens. The Committee noted that the budget reflects the public expenditure plans inherited from the previous Administration. However, we are deeply concerned that the budget has declined in real spending power compared with 1999-2000, and this part of the United Kingdom will suffer the consequences of that lack of funding.
The Committee is concerned that inadequate provision has been made to enable the Department of Environment to meet many of its regulatory and statutory obligations in the current financial year. We outlined to the Minister at a recent meeting some of the concerns that have been expressed on the budget. For example, we mentioned the inability of the Department, because of the lack of funding, to meet many of its legislative requirements and the associated risk of Northern Ireland infringing EU directives. That has serious implications about which we are deeply concerned.
Another major concern is the underfunding of road safety and the shortage of road safety education officers. That must be redressed, otherwise the safety of our children will be adversely affected. In our deliberations, we in the Environment Committee expressed our pleasure that the Public Accounts Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the report on road safety from the Comptroller and Auditor General in November 1999. That is a matter near and dear to the hearts of many members of the Environment Committee. We genuinely believe that there is a total lack of urgency in the matter and that the Department of the Environment could, even with its budget, find financing to enable appropriate numbers of road safety education officers to be employed as a matter of urgency.
There is also a serious backlog in area development plans and planning applications, and the list seems to get longer. We are told that the reason is the lack of departmental officials to deal with the area plans, which are totally out of date.
Many of them are considerably out of date and will therefore be stopping or impeding the progress and development of the particular district council area.
The Committee is pleased to learn that the Department of Finance and Personnel has now agreed that the planning service can spend £850,000 from receipts to recruit extra staff to process planning applications. We would urge that Department to carry that forth immediately, because those staff are needed urgently.
In the Environment and Heritage Service, there is also a backlog in the transposal of EU directives into Northern Ireland legislation. This also gives rise to the risk of infraction procedures by the EU. The Committee is also pleased that the Department of Finance and Personnel has now agreed that £1·25 million from receipts can now be spent on staff engaged in the new regulatory functions in the Environment and Heritage Service. We hope that, in future, there will be detailed consultations much earlier in the year — as we believe there can be — because we would have liked to have had a more in-depth contribution to make to this budget. The Committee will then, of course, have the opportunity to influence the overall financial allocations to the Department.
The realities of government are now dawning on many Members, and I have no doubt that they will continue to dawn. I have rightly heard Members constantly raising, as I will, the fact that we simply need to invest more money in different aspects of our public services, and we therefore need additional funds. It is not that our Government at Westminster have a lack of funds in the Exchequer’s pot, because I believe that they are endeavouring to build up a war chest ready to hand out a list of goodies on the mainland to buy their way to a second term of office at the next general election. Of course, they will have no candidates in Northern Ireland, and therefore I am deeply concerned that they will not be overly troubled about meeting the needs of our constituents. So, although many promises have been made — especially by the pro-agreement parties — that if the Assembly got its hand on the finances, on the wheel, it was going to work miracles, those same promises will lead to frustration and disillusionment because some of them cannot be realised in the foreseeable future.
I believe that there is a need for extra finance, and that is the only way that we can meet the requirements of our constituents. For example, there is an urgent need under the budget for regional development for a bypass around Cookstown and around Magherafelt. I have been a councillor for 28 years, and we have been listening to talk of a bypass for Magherafelt being on the 15-year programme. In fact, it has now been removed from the 15-year programme after about 15 years. It has been put on the long finger. The Department must be given additional finances to meet those needs.
I thank my hon Friend for the urgency with which he sanctioned the commencement of the Toome bypass. I am delighted that he was able to bring good news to the people in the west of the Province, who are faced daily with long queues to get over the Toomebridge. But when you go up the M2 and come to the Sandyknowes roundabout, you face further queues, so that is another urgent matter to be dealt with.
In the Department of Education budget, there is an urgent need for finances to give proper education to children in rural schools like Churchtown and Toberlane, bearing in mind that a shadow has been cast over them for a number of years with the threat of closure. It is about time the Department of Education removed that threat from these excellent teachers, and the pupils, who have attained excellent education results, with many going on to be head boy or girl in our principal colleges.
I believe that the threat should be removed, and these schools should be allowed to give an excellent quality of education so as to attract many other children into them. I know that they can, and I know that with the backing of the Department they will.
Another problem is in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. When is the money that has been talked about for so long going to come to the farmers? We have heard about money, new money, and extra money. When will the farmer actually receive this money? When will he stop dying in debt? Promises, promises. When farmers go to the bank, they again find themselves constantly under pressure, because although actual money has been promised, little or none is being made available to them to keep them out of Stubbs Gazette. It is an absolute disgrace that money has not been made available to the farming community. Many are the problems within this area.
There is a need to secure the future of the Mid-Ulster and Whiteabbey Hospitals and to ensure that the Northern Board is able to give them the proper finances to work along with the central area hospital in Antrim to provide an excellent service to the vast community they serve. Many are the needs. We need the finance to do the job.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement, and I would like to address a number of issues in relation to the whole remit of finance and how the budget will be spent next year. My particular interest is in agriculture and rural development, and in the fact that the money has been cut rather than enhanced. I would have thought that at this particular time there should be an increase in funds instead of money being taken away.
It seems there has been a 9% cut since the last budget. At this time of transition, and in a phase during which we are reaching a new future, we need extra funding for many aspects of agriculture and rural development.
The agriculture base is presently being eroded. If we are to have a future in which young farmers want to get involved in agriculture, or a future in which we have an agriculture-based industry, which is still the main industry in many areas such as Fermanagh and south Tyrone, we have to invest in the infrastructure itself. We have to invest in on-farm infrastructure, and in capital funding in the structural base, which has not happened for a number of years. We have not been getting capital funding from Europe or elsewhere, and the British Government have not been looking for capital funding for the farmers of this area either.
If we were to benchmark ourselves, or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, against those in the South and look at the results and the differences between farming there and the conditions in which their farmers operate compared to ours, we would see that there is no commitment from the British Government to farmers in the North. In the South, there is full commitment to the farmers, in terms of money, structural funding, the application of money, and through policy.
Those are distinct differences that I would like to see changed. However, I would like to see changes being achieved through the better use of our finances — not by taking away money that was going directly to farmers and putting it into another fund which may or may not return it to the areas in which it is needed. Quite a large amount of this money ends up being allocated to outside areas, and it is drained away from the areas for which it was intended. That is something from which we have always suffered.
A vision group in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will look at the whole situation regarding where we are, in terms of agriculture and rural development, and where we want to go in the future. The aims, objectives and actions of that group need to be resourced. If the group comes up with a strategy, that strategy will need to be implemented if we are to make any impact at all. We need resources to do that. It may be that the Department will need to move resources, perhaps away from administration and over-administration, in terms of paperwork that farmers and everyone else are involved in. That may be the best value for money in terms of implementing the strategy.
There must also be a change in the mindset of the Government and those who work in planning rural development and sustaining many of the projects and initiatives that communities in rural areas have come up with to this point. In a few short years, we shall be faced with the difficult situation whereby many of these projects, which, having built themselves up, are now quite good, may fail because the money and technical expertise they need will not be there to support them. In other words, they will be unable to continue when the European money finishes.
Another point with regard to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is the scrutiny that we can bring to bear to achieve accountability in funding — indeed, beyond the point where the Department gives funds to a particular group. We must see that there is value for money and accountability on how that money is fed down, who gets it, and how it is handled. We must seek best practice in, and be able to justify, the use of the money.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has a great impact on areas west of the Bann, and in particular in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, with its planning policy. ‘Shaping Our Future’ has yet to reach its final draft. Our concerns are always listened to, but perhaps not always acted on. We ask that they be taken account of in that document’s final draft, since many of our concerns in areas such as those west of the Bann are well-founded.
The difficulty in mindset is also evident in issues such as health services and housing, which has seen a £13 million loss this year alone. I should like to know roughly where that money will come from. There is a long waiting list for replacement dwellings, and year on year it is becoming extremely costly to keep people waiting before we can get on with the jobs and building progress. That is a serious question. The other issues are roads, transport corridors and the emphasis on development and where it is to take place. There is a mindset difficulty.
When deciding where money should be spent, there is a notion that rural areas should be kept the way they are and that development should take place in the larger, metropolitan areas of Belfast and Derry. We should be working on cross-border rural policies which are of an all-Ireland nature. The last Member to speak mentioned the difficulties we have with doing things over here and the fact that the final answer may not always do very much for us. We may not have as much control as we imagine.
We should be looking to all-Ireland policies — having control of our destiny in its entirety and using cross-border collaboration and co-operation in funding. Perhaps we should ask the Southern authorities to put money into the roads and main transport corridors. Once again I am thinking in particular of Fermanagh, where there are directions through Sligo if one wishes to return to Belfast. There is an argument for asking the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to go to the South and ask it for some money, since it seems to have plenty. Cavan has £8 million, while Fermanagh’s budget is extremely small.
Someone mentioned an increase of 50% as the sum required for the upkeep of roads. We have probably several hundred per cent too little for the upkeep of the road structure in Fermanagh. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, also needs to reverse its thinking on enterprise and investment, particularly in rural areas such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone. There is a tendency to send potential investors to Belfast and the greater Belfast area rather than to us, in spite of the fact that we are an area where tourism could be used to bring us out of our present crisis.
Tourism, while it has a lot going for it, will not replace our base industries, nor will it replace full-time, well-paid jobs as against seasonal and low-paid jobs, which is mostly what people will get from tourism. The other aspect of tourism, and indeed trade and industry, is that we can have tourism used as a millstone round our neck. If we are to have a nice environment, like Fermanagh, and keep that environment beautiful so that people can come from Belfast and urban areas to look at it, we cannot have our heavier industries. Employers like Sean Quinn are the industries that keep areas like that going. If we were to go down the road of tourism only, we would stifle that type of development. We would have to ask whether that was a benefit or not.
With the IDB, there is also the accountability factor given the recent criticisms of the number of jobs created. Job promotions will not take the place of real jobs. I would like to see real jobs on the ground rather than talk about job promotions. I am very dissatisfied with the IDB’s recent returns.
That is all I want to say, a Cheann Comhairle. Go raibh maith agat.
There are many items that one would wish to comment on. The discussion has been wide-ranging, but perhaps a couple of sharp points might get a better response from the Minister. I see that he is taking notice now.
I wish to express the disappointment of my Committee — the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee. The budget for the education and library boards and the miscellaneous library services remains the same as last year. We all know that more and more people wish to use these services, particularly the libraries. It is obvious that the library service will not be expanded as we would wish. Indeed, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure has already acknowledged this deficit. The libraries in Newtownards, Bangor and elsewhere could do with further investment. We should be prepared, as far as possible, to have a library service available to all local communities. Indeed, many of the budgets for Culture, Arts and Leisure remain the same or have been reduced, and that must be regretted. The arts, museums, sports et cetera are being expected to function on a reduced budget. Surely this must be rectified.
The roads budget of the Department for Regional Development looks large indeed, but the budgets given to the local section offices are not. Rural roads maintenance is almost non-existent. As has been mentioned earlier, the provision of road safety measures, such as zebra crossings and traffic calming measures, all depend on funds being made available. Thus, we endanger the lives of young children and senior citizens every time they cross a busy main road or street. I appeal for more funding for a real road-safety policy.
I now want to refer to the Strangford/Portaferry ferry service, which is very important for the many people who use it daily. Our present two vessels are now outdated, particularly the Portaferry. We have been waiting for years for a replacement. Not a second-or third-hand vessel, but a new, modern, up-to-date one with the latest equipment and technology on board is what we want and expect. I ask the Minister if the funding for such a vessel is included in these figures and, if so, when we can expect the new vessel to be in service. Perhaps the Minister would like to consider funding a bridge across Strangford Lough. At present, momentum is growing for this to be the long-term answer to the problem.
Firstly, I would like to introduce a number of themes that have been running through meetings of the Enterprise, Trade and Industry Committee in relation to the integration of further and higher education provision, to graduates and to work opportunities in the North. Before suspension, the vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster attended the Committee, and he outlined a number of requirements he sought in order to bring about a situation where further and higher education provision matched the availability of work in the North and elsewhere. When the Minister, Sir Reg Empey, attended a Committee last week he commented positively in respect of these matters. I think it is important that in planning the Programme for Government and in deciding the finance for government, that the initiatives and requirements outlined by Professor McKenna are endorsed broadly and carefully considered by the relevant Departments and by the Minister himself.
Professor McKenna referred to three issues that were important in relation to bringing about graduate opportunities and the relevance of further and higher education training in the North. He commented that the level of funding for higher education institutes in the North was less than that which was being enjoyed by universities in Britain. Over a number of years there had been a proportional decrease in the level of research funding to our further education institutes. He highlighted that that was impeding the training of undergraduates in the appropriate skills for job opportunities in the North and elsewhere. He asked that the Committee, the Assembly and the relevant Minister look at the issue of increasing research funding for higher education. The proof and the relevance of that request is diverse.
When a trade mission from Belfast City Council attended Boston, Pittsburgh and elsewhere in North America in recent weeks, the number of companies anxious to have relationships with companies in the North whose personnel had come from the universities in the North was, as John Cullinine, a North American friend of Belfast, put it, exceptional. There was a recognition in America that the educational skills of our graduates were very high and that the research output of our universities was of a high calibre. That experience has been duplicated in many other places in many other ways, making Gerry McKenna’s point a valid one.
His second point was that there needed to be a re-examination of student numbers and funding for increased student numbers in the North, where, in his view, there were additional opportunities for many thousands of undergraduates if they could gain access to third-level courses. That would not only stop the haemorrhage of students going to universities in Britain and the South, but would also ensure that graduates of universities in the North were available for local job opportunities. There is clear evidence that 90% of graduates in informatics from the University of Ulster now go South. They do not stay in the North, because the job opportunities do not exist here. In respect of the job opportunities that do exist, it will be necessary to have graduates in informatics, high technology and other relevant skills available for those positions. This will require an increase in the number of students going into third-level education.
His third point was that there was a need for further provision, both financial and legislative, to protect intellectual property. Given the trade in ideas and the value of ideas and the transmission of ideas into practice, especially in the high tech area and given the skills that exist in the University of Ulster and particularly at Queens where Professor John McCannie and his department are based, the protection of intellectual property and investment in intellectual property through the various agencies in the North are going to be important requirements if we are going to increase and improve the quality of our education and the quality of jobs for our graduates.
My second point concerns the future workings of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. When he was before the Committee, the Minister quite properly and correctly said that the board had been working in an adverse environment for the last 30 years because of the civil conflict and resulting image problems. He said that the board would be a key agency, perhaps leading to the development of tourism as the largest industry in the North. He also would have acknowledged that it is necessary for the board to re-examine and revise its management, promotions, structure and policies generally to ensure that it is as energetic and dynamic as possible so as to exploit and enlarge tourist opportunities in the North. That will have consequences for Ministers, as well as for funding.
I will give a small example. The destruction of the tourist centre at the Giant’s Causeway is an opportunity to create a better centre for the greater promotion of that part of the North. Out of difficulty comes opportunity. That will have financial and practical consequences for the Assembly, the Executive and the relevant Minister. The Minister of Finance and Personnel needs to be aware of it.
Monica McWilliams has already mentioned the third matter I want to raise. She raised questions about the funding of juvenile justice centres. Justice continues to be a matter reserved to the British Government, but it appeared from what she said — I am open to correction on this — that the funding obligation may fall to the Northern Ireland institutions. A number of financial and practical issues arise from that.
The Northern Ireland Office is conducting a review of the future provision of juvenile justice centres. At present there are three, but it is suggested that there should be only one. I urge any Minister of Finance, whether here or in London, with a funding responsibility for juvenile justice centres, to ensure that we do not go down the road of having only one such centre. We should consider having two. There would be cost consequences, but the benefit would be significant, and not just for juvenile justice. The proximity of juvenile justice centres to the areas where offenders have previously lived is essential for rehabilitation, but there would also be significant benefit for certain communities in the North, particularly west Belfast. There is one juvenile justice centre there at the moment: St Patrick’s. The consequences of closure for its 40 staff would be severe. Juvenile offenders’ access to justice provision would be put in jeopardy.
I trust that the conclusion will be to guarantee the two-centre option and ensure that St Patrick’s remains open, that the jobs remain in place, that the community in north and west Belfast is still served, and that that disadvantaged community continues to have the benefit, financial and otherwise, of the centre.
My final point is a broader one. I do not wish to reintroduce the issue of the Patten Report and the Police Bill, but in relation to future police funding, it is our understanding that when funding for the Patten recommendations were discussed, the British Government indicated that they would accept, in full, the financial consequences of the change, including severance packages and all other financial consequences that would arise. There is some suggestion that the British Exchequer is taking the opportunity to target funds out of the Northern Ireland budget to fund part of the policing change. Without going into any detail of the change, it would be disadvantageous to the economy in the North and to the financial budget of this institution if that were allowed to happen. I trust that it will not.
I realise that many of the main points have already been made. I am reminded of what Henry VIII is alleged to have said to one of his wives: "I do not intend to keep you long." I am speaking on behalf of the Education Committee, of which I am Chairman. Like all departmental Committees, we have had very little time for an effective scrutiny of the main Estimates and spending plans contained in this report. It is my strong view, and that of the Education Committee, that we must ensure that this does not happen again in the next financial round. We call for an agreed procedure of the annual cycle to be put in place as soon as possible. It must include all elements of the public expenditure process, including the spending review and a requirement for all Departments to consult Committees as part of in-year monitoring rounds. If the Assembly is to work properly, efficiently and effectively, all Committees must be involved in that process.
Will the Minister say if and when this procedure will be put in place, so that the Committees can schedule it into their work programmes, which is an important aspect?
My Committee welcomes the additional money for the education sector announced in the March budget. We realise that education has many needs, and that clearly there will not be enough money to provide for all areas, especially in the maintenance of school buildings and the new building capital starts that are required. We will be making a strong case in the future for additional resource allocations, as we are aware that many schools require upgrading. The main fabric of many school buildings is in a dreadful state and we want to address that problem as quickly as possible.
There is also concern about the cost of administration and the fact that not enough money is reaching the classroom or school principals and hard-working teachers, to allow them to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently. The Education Committee will consider how we can achieve that, but our primary concern is that measures should be put in place urgently, so that for the next financial cycle the Committee will have full access to all of these matters.
Last week, when the Minister of Finance introduced the Estimates to us, we were told that we could speak on anything from Dan to Beer-sheba. I hope that the Minister of Finance will be pleased that I shall go only from Kells to the Causeway and no further. It is not every day that you get to spend £4 billion, give or take two or three million. Some Members told to me that their wives would make a very good job at spending £4 billion for them, but the reality is that we must not miss the importance of this debate today.
Members have to decide today whether they are going to approve a Supply resolution that will allocate billions of pounds to people in Northern Ireland. Some Members think this is a done deal and that we are therefore wasting time discussing it. However, there are many issues that we can flag up to the Minister of Finance, and to the other Departments, to draw attention to policy and how resources are allocated to achieve policy, and I hope that Members can do that.
Last week my party was criticised publicly by the Minister for fun and freebies, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure — I do not see him here today. He said that my party had the opportunity to wreck this process by not voting through the appropriation. My party is not interested in hurting the people of Northern Ireland, but it is interested in targeting enemy number one: the Republican movement.
This debate does not lend itself to attacks of a party political nature, and I hope that the Minister for fun and freebies, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure will remember that, the next time that he cares to open his mouth about this particular subject.
Many parties have said that they want to see this money allocated on a fair and equitable basis, and we can all agree with that. The north-east of the Province is growing in population, yet the Estimates clearly show that Government spending has not increased on a pro rata basis for that area. I believe that my constituency is deprived in the housing, health, education, and economic development budgets. There is nothing in these Estimates or in this Supply debate and motion that shows to me that that is going to change radically. Cash is in short supply, but so too are imaginative and constructive policies. Until Ministers actually develop imaginative and constructive policies, all that the Assembly will be is a rubber-stamping house for policies that are initiated in Whitehall and elsewhere.
As regards the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Estimates do not show how much of the budget for that Department will be spent on meeting the Minister’s key policy priorities versus that spent on administration. We see the millions of pounds that are going to be allocated to the administration of the Department, but we do not see how that money is going to achieve key policies and priorities. In fact, the Agriculture Committee is still waiting to hear from the Minister of Agriculture what the key priorities are. I hope that we will hear them soon because we need to see not only those key priorities and policies but also a key strategy on how to implement those policies.
The entire community relies on the economic activity of the farming community, yet incomes in that community are down, in some areas by over 50%, and we need activity to generate incomes in the agriculture sector. In my constituency, the Agivey pork processing plant and the Ahoghill processing plant have been lost, resulting in the loss of over 300 jobs. It is essential that we get alternative employment opportunities in this sector. Dr McCrea asked the rhetorical question about when the farmers would actually get money in their pockets. Looking at the Northern Ireland Estimates and the Supply resolution, I say to my Colleague that it looks like they are not going to get that money in their pockets. The Supply resolution does not allow for it.
My constituents are also concerned when they see ex-prisoners being retrained, re-educated, rehoused and rehabilitated, while those who have worked in society, especially the farming community, do not appear to have those same opportunities and privileges. I would like to see a farm retirement scheme adopted by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and to see the Government construct a policy on this issue. I would also like to see the Minister showing Members that she has the teeth to face Europe on the beef labelling categorisation policy that is currently before the European Union.
I would like to see subsidies paid effectively and on time to the farmers. I would also like to see a farmland planning easement scheme on the agenda. This would allow farmers to release their land for special planning projects.
With regard to economic development, the region which I represent is ripe for investment. Infrastructure is improving. There is a young, educated workforce; there is an excellent research university on our doorstep; and there is a tradition of a hard work ethic. Yet these Estimates, like previous Estimates, have ignored the fact that there should be investment in the north-east. In the last 10 years there has been no IDB investment in Ballymoney at all. Many of my constituents have asked why. Many people from west of the Bann, and indeed from west Belfast, feel that their area is in most economic need because of high unemployment. In reality, the most recent unemployment statistics show that the Moyle area is Northern Ireland’s unemployment black spot, not west Belfast and not parts of Northern Ireland west of the Bann. In the Moyle area 10·4% of people are unemployed, yet there does not appear to be an economic or investment strategy from Government or in these Estimates to address that issue.
With regard to LEDU, I am glad that the record appears to be a little better. In Ballymena, 44 clients employ 822 people. That is a vast improvement on the IDB figures. I want to see this expanding to Ballymoney and Ballycastle and, indeed, the development of the entire constituency.
I am also concerned about the loss of the service between Ballycastle and Campbeltown. That service is essential for tourism and for infrastructure, yet it appears to be on hold. I hope that the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry can co-operate to ensure that this service is reintroduced.
Mr Attwood mentioned the development of the Causeway Centre, and I welcome some of the points he made on that. I am pleased that Gerry Loughran has said that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will now be taking a lead on behalf of the Department. Ian Henderson, the former Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, is now the project manager responsible for the development of a new Causeway Centre which will be bigger and better than ever before, and I welcome that.
My Colleague, Mr Sammy Wilson, mentioned the loss of finances to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Everyone across the Province must be concerned at the loss of £13·7 million there. In North Antrim central heating projects will be set back by three years. That causes me great concern, as it must do to other Members.
Many Members have attacked the Minister for Regional Development on how he intends to use these Estimates. There have been some welcome developments in his Department. More than £600,000 has been allocated for minor road works in my constituency, and there is going to be a massive road safety development costing over £150,000 on the Frosses Road, which will be very welcome. A new dual carriageway is also to be developed between Woodgreen and Ballee. That is excellent news for the entire area. We all look forward to seeing more money put in to the Province’s roads.
Health has many problems, including the loss of occupational therapists, and there does not appear to be money available to ensure that more occupational therapists are employed.
We are here either to administer Whitehall policy or to be innovators. The current Estimates give us little room for innovation or creativity. We must prove that devolution is more than just an expensive administration process.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. This has been a very constructive and worthwhile debate, and, while many Members may feel it is a fait accompli, the concerns Members have raised are reflected across the Six Counties. I know that the Minister — and it is great to have a local Minister — will take note of these concerns.
I want to raise the issue of the £13·7 million reduction in the Housing Executive Budget, £10 million of which was a planned reduction from the previous year and £3·7 million of which was due to the loss of rental income on house sales. The impact of that will be a 28% reduction in adaptations. Members have raised this matter before, and those who sit in councils know that there is already a lengthy waiting list for adaptations. That reduction and the insufficient budget will further compound that problem, because the demand for adaptations always outstrips the budget for them. More particularly, it will put a stop to the installation of oil heating, which a lot of elderly people have been waiting for for years.
Many of the schemes that the Housing Executive had planned are going to be moved back until after Christmas, and the kitchen schemes have been abandoned. No kitchens at all are to be installed as part of the Housing Executive’s planned cyclical maintenance. That is very serious.
The reason I am flagging these issues today, a Chathaoirligh, is that we are talking about next year’s budget. We are already saying that this is what we want to happen next year. Next year’s budget is crucial because a lot of what the Housing Executive is going to do after Christmas will gobble up next year’s budget.
I want to make the case — and I think this will be supported by every Member in the Assembly; at least, we should agree it in principle — for allowing the Housing Executive to keep its surplus capital receipts to enable it address the serious underfunding in its budget, an underfunding that has been going on for years. Perhaps that could be agreed in principle over the next couple of years.
The Good Friday Agreement made special consideration for Irish language provision. I want to raise the issue of accommodation for Irish language teacher training. It may be included in the budget; I am not sure if it is. I want to remind the Minister that there is a very big demand for Irish language teacher training. However, there are only six available places in St Mary’s College, Belfast, for teacher training through the medium of Irish, and that is hopelessly inadequate.
I also want to raise the serious situation of student grants. I know that the Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, Mr Farren, is currently undertaking a review of student finances, and we hope that the review will recommend the restoration of student grants.
The replacement of student grants by loans has the potential to create a two-tier system in higher and further education. It is ironic — and I am sure that this is not lost on Members — that one hears the Labour Government currently enquiring into class discrimination in education admissions. However, if this Government continues, and if we do not address this issue in our budget allocation over the next few years, we will have exactly the same situation here.
I am glad to see that the Scottish Parliament has recommended in the Cubie Report that there should be a full restoration of student grants and the removal of tuition fees, because our future wealth is in our students and young people.
Last, but not least — and I think the Minister is acutely aware of this — is the amount allocated to the IDB for grants. In Derry City and the Foyle area, which I represent, IDB’s grant aid allocation to their client companies fell by 15% last year. I have serious concerns which are shared by the Public Accounts Committee. I come from a city that has the highest long-term endemic unemployment. We have lost 3,000 jobs over the last three years. We may not be able to do very much about the allocation to the IDB this year, but I would like to see this concern addressed. Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I wish to discuss a range of issues, some of which will be relevant to everyone, and some of which will use local illustration. I am a Member of the Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee, and I want to turn first to that Department. In the Estimates £21·5 million is allocated for student fees. Can the Minister tell us what provision, or options, are available for increasing departmental funding so that student arrangements, which have already been introduced to Scotland, England and Wales, can be reciprocated here? Are additional funds available? Are there reserve funds? That is a major issue which we must address soon.
With regard to capital expenditure, I, like many other Members, regret that there has not been an opportunity for detailed discussions of the Estimates. We do not know what lies behind many of the figures — for example, the capital expenditure reserved for further education colleges. It has not been possible so far to get to the bottom of what is envisaged here. How is this money to be spent?
My constituency, East Antrim, is one of the few in Northern Ireland without a further education college. The college servicing the constituency is in North Belfast. It is not convenient to the centres of population in East Antrim. Some of the £16·5 million should be used to support the planned redevelopment of a Larne campus building, which is currently closed. Again, there is an equality issue here. It is about equality of access for the people of East Antrim — particularly those in part-time education — who have to travel considerable distances.
Turning to wider educational issues, we are all aware of deficiencies in many school buildings. Millbrook Primary School — a state school not far from where I live — has been closed, not on educational grounds, but on health and safety grounds. That has resulted in the local community being scattered and disrupted, despite the fact that there is a need — and the local area plan highlights the fact that there is an estimated future need — for a school in the vicinity.
There is a great deal of concern that Irish medium schools with as few as 12 pupils are being considered while existing schools with 40 or 50 pupils are being closed, and the requirement of 100 plus has been set out for new builds in other areas. Again, where is the equality?
Turning to the roads and transport budget, I notice that £16 million has been set aside for rail services and approximately £20 million for road passenger services. These figures are only about half the levels of Government funding provided in England, Wales and Scotland for public transport. The Transport Research Institute in Edinburgh recently revealed that in 1998 Translink received 5·3p per passenger mile, while Scotrail received 22·1p per passenger mile, and Liverpool 41·5p. We are not funding our public transport.
During this period £1·42 per head of population was spent on Translink and the bus services in Northern Ireland, compared to £3·10 per head in Great Britain, excluding the London area.
There is inequality in the funds being put in to public transport. There is a need for re-investment in this area.
As was mentioned earlier, there is growing car ownership and growing congestion, whether on the M1, the M2 at Mallusk, on the A2 into Carrickfergus or the route into my own constituency in Larne. How is this going to be addressed? Improvement of public transport is one way of doing so, along with further investment in roads and rail. In order to encourage people to use public transport we must invest in it. We must improve the service and develop it to a level where people will choose to use it because it provides a better and faster service than the car.
A recent report by the transport watchdog of the General Consumer Council revealed that only 12% of Translink passengers at present have the option of travelling by car. Many people using public transport have no other option, so it is important that we invest in this area.
This is also an environmental issue that will affect the health of everybody in Belfast, whether in north, south, east or west Belfast. There is a great deal of congestion in the centre of Belfast, and the pollution is being released into the atmosphere. Everyone in Belfast, including children, is breathing that in. We have also an obligation to reduce pollution on a global level. Everyone recognises that public transport is a more energy-efficient means of transport for conveying people from A to B, and funding for this area must be increased in the future.
After reading the Estimates it is unclear whether EU funding has been allocated to any of the public transport services in the next financial year; perhaps the Minister will clarify that. I have had previous reports about this which gave me cause for concern. In particular, I am thinking about the Larne to Belfast railway line in my constituency. It is supposedly part of the trans-European network which transports people from Belfast to Glasgow, London or Dublin. I am not aware of funding from Europe having been allocated to upgrade this rail service, despite the fact that previous European money has been used for the Belfast to Dublin route and even the Bangor line. I urge that European funding should be made available for the rail services in East Antrim.
In relation to the Water Service, I welcome the increase in funding — it will receive £171 million during the next financial year. I recently attended a public meeting of the Friends of Larne Lough at which a celebrated environmental expert expressed major concerns about the environment and the pollution going into the lough, largely as a result of sewage, inadequate treatment, out-of-date treatment works and continuing expansion of new housing with no regard to the public infrastructure that has been provided to deal with the sewage problem which that has created. This pollution has arisen despite the fact that Larne Lough is an area of special scientific interest. I am flagging up the fact that it is an area that will require a great deal of expenditure in the future. It will be costly, but if we are to protect our environment, we will have to consider additional funding.
I hope that in the future we will be able to enjoy real scrutiny of the Estimates and have a better understanding of what has been presented. Decisions will not be easy because difficult cuts will have to be agreed. It will not be a case of everybody just wishing for additional expenditure. But that is what responsible representation and responsible, accountable democracy is about. I hope that we will all be up to making those difficult decisions which will be presented to us.
Like other Members, I am particularly concerned about the 3·5% cut in the housing allocation. As inflation is running at about 2·5%, we are talking about a 6% cut. It must be borne in mind that people in a Housing Executive house cannot afford to buy a house. When we talk about targeting social need, they are the people who need to be targeted.
Much has been made about house sales capital. Sooner or later that particular well will run dry and we shall have to make alternative provision. Owner occupancy is already 70% and it is unlikely to go much higher. We will have to make contingency plans for the future.
Mr S Wilson mentioned housing adaptations which presently cost £22 million per annum. If proper legislation were introduced, ensuring that all social housing would be built to the highest standard, we could do away with the need for many of these adaptations. Indeed, when multi-element repairs are being carried out and houses are being rewired, it would be just as easy to make the power points and light switches accessible for disabled people at no additional cost. I am concerned that many of these houses are between 35 and 40 years old, and because of this cut, there will be no new kitchens or bathrooms in the incoming year.
I turn to the Department for Regional Development’s budget. As has been stated by Mr Beggs, who is also from East Antrim, two trans-European network routes run through the area — the railway link from Larne through to Dublin and Cork and the road network from Larne to Rosslare. I wonder what European funding is available for these particular routes, given that in the South of Ireland similar routes receive 85% European funding. Is there any potential for that here?
In the Department for Regional Development’s budget, £20 million has been set aside for road passenger services, and £16 million for rail passenger services. That concerns me, although I appreciate the need for public transport and the need for a good public transport infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company has been allowed to build up reserves of £40 million, when it should have been spending money on these projects all along. I am concerned about the financial management of such money.
This is the product of a comprehensive spending review announced to the Assembly 18 months ago by the former Minister, Paul Murphy. I believe that we should have our own comprehensive spending review and that we should start to look at the priorities for the people of Northern Ireland and how to deliver them, as opposed to discussing what someone from England thinks they ought to be.
With regard to the budget of the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, the Larne campus, as Mr Beggs has said, has been closed. To get a new campus, we have been told, ground will have to be sold to raise the finance.
In the area where I live, we are talking about trying to educate and retrain, to motivate people for today’s ever-increasing technological world, and without the provision of an institute—
The absence of an institute where that can be done is disadvantaging the people of East Antrim. I would also like to mention the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. I was glad to hear the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety talk about the increased level of co-operation that was taking place. Hopefully, the research that the Department in Dublin has carried out will reduce some of the costs that are currently being incurred here on research into illnesses such as cancer.
In that Department there is also a public safety element, and when we hear about joined-up government, we should be considering that in terms of public safety. If the Department for Regional Development has to spend £10,000 straightening a particular part of a road, we must ask ourselves if it is better to do that, or treat God knows how many people who are going to have an accident there? When we talk about how much it is going to cost to put seat belts into school buses we must ask ourselves how much is it going to cost if we do not?
In terms of the whole aspect of public safety, I believe that each Department has a responsibility. If we are able, through this joined-up governmental process within our Executive, to make decisions when Departments interlink, that will save money in the long-term and be for the overall good of our people.
I would like to touch on two small points. The first is tourism, and we welcome the fact that there is going to be a 5·7% increase in the Culture, Arts and Leisure budget, particularly as this is one of the areas where there is potential for growth. In areas that I represent, such as Glenarm and Carnlough, where there are not many employment opportunities, I hope that this will bring some wealth to the local economy. The second point is that I notice the Department for Regional Development refunds approximately £7 million on fuel duty to Translink. I am not quite clear about that, but I think it is a very serious issue and one that has to be looked at. Our road haulage industry is going down the pan. Unfortunately, we depend greatly on our road haulage industry and on our ports for our survival and economic prosperity. Something must be done to ensure that our road haulage operators can operate on a level playing field with those in the Irish Republic. That is what we have to aim for.
I would like to finish by saying that it is a pleasure to stand here and speak in an attempt to serve the people I represent in the presence of a locally elected Minister of Finance and Personnel. Indeed, I notice that the Minister for Social Development is also here. These are the people who are going to be delivering the goods to us — we hope. I thank them for their presence, I thank the Minister of Finance and Personnel for his attentiveness, and I hope that we will be able to paddle our own canoe from now on.
A number of Members said that there is not enough money in this budget. Of course, there never can be enough money in the budget, no matter how large it is. I am sure that Members could make demands of the Minister which would spend all that money. Nevertheless, there is some validity in that point, and a lot of it is down to the Barnett formula that sets the budget for Northern Ireland. As I understand it, that is basically a mere formula calculated solely on population and not taking other situations into account which could increase the budget.
The result is evident, and people often point out how well the Irish Republic is doing in comparison with Northern Ireland. In terms of business growth, the Irish Republic is not doing that much better than Northern Ireland. Growth in Northern Ireland is sitting at around 6·5% whereas in the Irish Republic it is around 8·5%. The key difference arises when it comes to public spending in that the growth that has taken place in the Irish Republic has allowed public spending to increase significantly. I suspect that the growth that has taken place in Northern Ireland has led to a reduction in the subvention that has normally come from the United Kingdom budget.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
There have been historical problems with our budget and historical reasons for our not having enough money to spend. The Minister of Education could do with £500 million to build new schools and the road and rail infrastructures are in a very bad condition. This is not just because of the actual budgets that have been allocated to us over the years. Much of the problem stems from the fact that the budgets have been dipped into by the Government to pay for security and compensation measures. The blame for that has to lie, more than anything else of course, with the people who carried out the terrorist acts, namely the paramilitary organisations. They must carry the can for the fact that so many schools are crumbling down around us and so many roads have bends on them where people lose their lives.
The Republican agenda is, of course, still being followed to the detriment of public spending in Northern Ireland. For example, the North/South bodies now set up are eating into budgets which could otherwise be better spent. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is costing £431,000. The Food Safety Promotion Board, which the Minister told us this morning is advisory and therefore a talking shop, is costing £1 million. Waterways Inland is costing £1·3 million. The North/South Language Body is costing £2,303,000.
When we turn the page we find that funding for the libraries has been cut. Investment in those inland fisheries and waterways unaffected by the cross-border aspect has been cut. The Youth Council’s budget has been cut. These cuts have taken place to finance North/South bodies, which we do not need.
I want to touch on how the budget cuts will affect some of the Departments, particularly the Department of the Environment. First of all, I should like to welcome the fact that the Minister of Finance and Personnel has allowed extra money raised in the Department of the Environment to be spent in it. Many more planning applications have been made. More money has come into the Planning Service. However, it has a backlog of over 4,000 cases. People may say that planning is a fairly trivial matter compared to health or education issues, but it affects these issues directly. If the planning system becomes clogged up, it delays virtually every other aspect. If one wishes to carry out development, and the planning for it does not go ahead within a reasonable period, it can often cost a great deal more money for the Department of Education and the Department of Health to carry on with those parts of their remits.
I also express concern at the funding available for the Environment and Heritage Service. That service currently needs 23 new professional officers to carry out its work. For a number of years now, it has not been operating properly. We hear many people expressing concern about the environment. In Northern Ireland we do not have enough money to employ the environmental officers needed to ensure that the environment is properly managed and maintained.
If one turns to the Department for Regional Development one sees more problems. In total, its budget amounts to around £400 million. It was recently announced that £180 million was needed to improve railway services alone. People from that Department recently told our council that they would need £200 million per annum just to maintain the current road infrastructure.Clearly they are not going to get that. An example is the case at the Spelga Dam, where the road collapsed. Basic maintenance was not carried out, with the result that it cost more than £1 million to repair that road, when a much smaller amount of money would have repaired it in the first instance.
Roads are breaking up, but the money is not available to carry out proper drainage and resource work, resulting in significant amounts of extra money being poured in to carry out necessary improvements. When towns get clogged up and bypasses are needed or when there are accident black spots, the money is not available for those roads either.
I am also concerned about the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, which has decided to cut its budget on the promotion of skills and abilities of those in work. One of the most important benefits that we could have in Northern Ireland is for people who are currently in work to receive further training and education. It is a major selling point in encouraging inward investment if we can say to investors that we have a Government who are prepared to help and invest in staff to bring them on, and a Government who are willing to educate staff to be better able to carry out their jobs, allowing their work to be done efficiently.
One glaring aspect of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is that it costs more to administer agriculture in Northern Ireland than is actually made by farmers throughout Northern Ireland. Something must be done when we have a Department that is spending more money than the people whom it is supposed to represent are making. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has to start delivering to the farming community of Northern Ireland. Many new measures have been introduced and implemented by that Department, yet the beef ban has not been lifted. Many conditions have been imposed on farmers in Northern Ireland, who are part of the United Kingdom, but which are not imposed on farmers in other parts of the European Union. This creates a problem as farmers are working at a loss. The Department is introducing and implementing these pieces of legislation at a high cost to the taxpayer, but they will deliver no tangible benefit to the taxpayer in the long run. That must also be addressed.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Is mian liom labhairt ar na meastúcháin le haghaidh seirbhísí agus caiteachais na Roinne Cultúir, Ealaíon agus Fóillíochta agus Roinn an Oideachais don bhliain 2000-01. Go bunúsach, is mian liom béim a leagan ar an mhaoiniú breise atá de dhíth ar—agus idir—an dá Roinn; sa dóigh is gur féidir cláir thábhachtacha a chur i gcrích agus déileáil le hachair thosaíochta go héifeachtach.
Ciallaíonn drochstaid cuid mhór d’fhoirgnimh ár gcuid scoltach go bhfuil gá le hathchóiriú raidiceach, mór-infheistiú airgid, agus ollphlean um thógáil scoltach leis na fadhbanna a bhaineas le droch-chóir a shárú. Tuigim gur achar é seo ina bhfuil suim faoi leith ag an Aire Máirtín Mac Aonghusa agus fáiltím roimh a fhócas ar an achar seo.
Tá gá le héalú ó bhotháin shoghluaiste mar sheomraí ranga.
Tá tábhacht na réamhscolaíochta luachmhar againn uilig agus tacaímid le leathnú an chur ar fáil de áiteacha maoinithe sa réamhscolaíocht d’iomlán ár gcuid páistí. Beidh tuilleadh maoinithe de dhíth—níl aon imeacht air seo.
Lena chois sin, beidh mór-infheistiú airgid de dhíth le Comhairle úr na Gaelscolaíochta a mhaoiniú mar is cóir agus chomh maith leis sin le freastal ar na riachtanais atá ag fás leo san oideachas lánGhaeilge—mar a leagadh amach chomh beacht sin i reachtaíocht Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta.
Beidh riachtanas do thraenáil fhóirsteanach do mhúinteoirí agus dá bhfoirne cúnta fosta.
Cuireann athrú na gcritéar reatha do aitheantas agus do mhaoiniú na nGaelscoltacha agus do na haonaid taobh istigh de scoltacha an Bhéarla béim ar an riachtanas le caiteachas breise san earnáil seo atá ag borradh léi.
Tá an iomad achar eile ar fhreagracht na Roinne Oideachais a chuireann brú ar an bhuiséad reatha.
Orthu seo tá dálaí seirbhíse, agus struchtúr agus riarachán thuarastal na múinteoirí; níos mó saoire ag múinteoirí gluaiseacht ar fud na hÉireann; tabhairt faoi fhadhb na ndaltaí nach mbaineann amach na spriocanna a leagtar amach dóibh sa chóras oideachais; agus airgead úr a fháil le díol as saináiseanna den scoth le riar ar riachtanais an oideachais speisialta.
Treoraíonn na pointí seo uilig an t-Aire chuige go gcaithfidh sé aithbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar mheastúcháin na Roinne Oideachais. Go raibh maith agat.
I want to talk about the 2000-01 Estimates for services and expenditure by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and by the Department of Education. Essentially I wish to emphasise the need for increased funding for and across both Departments, so that crucial programmes can be delivered and that priority areas can be addressed effectively. Dr Birnie referred to
"a bigger cake, if not a bigger slice of the cake".
I appreciate that an already significant amount of money goes into the Department of Education. However, and this has been mentioned, the poor condition of many of our school buildings demands a radical overhaul. It demands a building plan, a major school capital investment programme, to overcome the many problems associated with inadequate and outdated accommodation. I know that this is an area in which our Minister for Education has a special interest, and I welcome this. We must move beyond the proliferation of mobile huts as classrooms.
We all value the importance of pre-school education and support the objective of extending the availability of funded pre-school places to all our children. Naturally, this will require additional funding, and there is no escaping this reality.
Major financial investment will be required to properly resource the new council for Irish medium education and to meet its growing needs, as outlined in part by Mrs Nelis and as legislated for so precisely in the Good Friday Agreement. The need for suitable training for teachers and their support staff, and the revision of the existing criteria for recognition and funding of Irish medium schools as well as units within English medium schools highlight the need for additional spending in this burgeoning sector. To refer to Sammy Wilson’s unenlightened comments earlier, what is taking place is that actuality is being given to the Good Friday Agreement. Nothing is being sneaked in by the back or the front doors.
There are many other areas within the remit and responsibility of the Department of Education which place pressure on the current budget. These include the need to review the conditions of service and the structure and administration of teacher salaries; greater freedom for mobility of teachers throughout Ireland; the tackling of educational underachievement; and the need to find new money for better specialist facilities to ensure that the needs of pupils with special educational needs are met. One specific example is autistic children who need very specialised units and for whom provision at present is nowhere near adequate.
In my opinion, all of this should steer and guide the Minister in the future when he is reviewing the Estimate figures for the Department of Education, and as a member of the Statutory Committee for Education, I look forward to being properly consulted in advance.
Specifically in relation to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I believe that a greater share of the budget than the allocated amount of £64,320,000 needs to be made available. I concur with Mr Close’s remarks regarding the very positive potential of this Department. Mr Close quoted the example of sport, and that is very relevant. This is a fledgling Department which needs all the support it can muster to help unify our community.
To all intents and purposes, the overall arts allocation is inadequate having effectively remained static for a number of years now. There has been a marginal increase but I am calling for more. Community arts have suffered most as a consequence. This situation has persisted over recent years, and the reorientation of public money in this direction is required.
The business of promoting the Irish language and of contributing substantially toward the work of the North/South Language Body also present a challenge with major resource implications as we give what I call actuality to the Good Friday Agreement.
In conclusion, I wish to refer to the need to invest in road maintenance. The people west of the Bann need a re-balancing. I concur with Mr McCarthy and Mr McHugh, among others, who emphasised this earlier. Geoff Allister of Roads Service has said that where £30m is provided, £80m is required. That type of investment is urgently needed west of the Bann, with reference to secondary as well as primary roads. Go raibh maith agat.
Despite the efforts of the Minister and of Members around the Chamber, this debate is a charade. The Minister has laid the Estimates before us. We are all making our points, be they local or general, but at the end of the day we have no choice but to accept the Estimates and pass the Appropriation Bill by the accelerated procedure. Until the Assembly has a proper Programme of Government before it, there is no point in discussing a budget statement. We badly need to see the Executive’s Programme of Government. What we have at the moment — and I am not insulting the Minister, because he has no choice at this time, and I say "at this time" advisedly — is a slavish read-across from the English Government. It is a programme prepared by the UK Government, who are now responsible solely for setting spending priorities in England.
In this context, we need to start using the size of the Assembly to its greatest effect and to make a real difference. In this developing, enlarging and deepening Europe, it is clear that, as someone once said, the nation state is now too big for the small things and too small for the big things. Our priorities should be those that we set, in light of policies set largely by Brussels, in areas like agriculture. The Assembly will be judged on its ability to get the small things right. That will be the test for Ministers and those who hold power here.
The first thing that we should look at, and which has been largely ignored as we all produce our wish lists — the Minister should not worry, I have a wish-list too — is the economy of Northern Ireland. Clearly we are not competitive compared to our competitors, or as we sometimes regard them, our colleagues, in Scotland, Wales or the Republic. There are many factors in this, such as the consequences of the troubles, which we should not make cheap political points about but must acknowledge, and over-dependence on a small number of declining industries. The problem with our inward investment strategy in recent years is that it has been largely targeted on dependency on grants rather than having some kind of tax break arrangement. Under-investment in our transport infrastructure has created problems for the economy. There is a major lack of skills in our workforce, particularly in the information economy, despite the high standard of education in the Province.
There are two particular factors affecting us in contrast to the Republic. First, we have no say in fiscal policies such as business taxation. Secondly, we are not just excluded from the Euro zone, but we are right up against the Euro zone. Members only have to look at the way certain businesses, such as petrol suppliers, are being affected all over Northern Ireland to see the problems that is creating.
We still have one of the largest public sectors, as a share of gross domestic product, in Europe. It is coming down, but it is still unnaturally high. I am not arguing for less public spending because it is quite clear that we need to preserve the level of public spending on essential services. Rather, we require more growth in the private sector.
There has been a lot of common ground in this debate. I do not intend to rehash all of it. Members around the Chamber have brought up the issue of finance for third level education. As the parent of one student and one potential student, I declare an interest. Our Scottish colleagues have shown, thanks to my political friends in the Liberal Democrats, that it is possible to change the way student finances are organised in a part of the United Kingdom. If we mean anything by what we say in the Assembly, we will be looking to Ministers to produce changes there.
We have had quite a lot of talk about the transport infrastructure and, as somebody who has been complaining about public transport, and especially railways, in his constituency for nine to ten years, I am delighted that we are talking about this and not just about pot holes in the Glenelly Valley or the state of the A26 or the Toome bypass. Work is clearly needed in all sections of transport, but it is needed more in public rather than in private transport and roads at this stage.
There is also the major issue of the Health Service, which is probably the number one concern for most people, especially when the annual winter crisis comes round and people react as if they did not expect it. People are clearly not happy with the quality of care. There is a major problem with the times of waiting lists and, while most of the debate has focused on the question of acute hospitals, there are many other parts of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s remit that also need to be looked at. Community care and preventive medicine are both integral parts of the quality of care we provide, and yet they are underfunded, significantly more so in many ways than the acute hospitals. It is all too easy to react to the needs of an acute hospital and forget the other basic underlying services which are just as essential, but much less politically sexy.
To go back to my past life as a social worker, there is absolutely no doubt that both psychiatric services and family and childcare services have not been funded at a level they should have been, and this is a major problem which needs to be addressed. We must ensure that those services are brought up to a reasonable level. Over a period of years we should be seeking to see that the proportion of spending on health and social services, as a share of GDP, rises to something rather closer to the European average, rather than lagging well below it. Those funds have to be found from somewhere, and the Minister will not be surprised to know that we should be seeking to do that by tax-varying powers. What we must ensure is that we do not just look to the regional rate or to devolving certain functions to district councils without giving them the money they need. They must not be used as a cheap way of providing essential services. We have to look to something which gets some sort of progressive and transparent taxation, and the rates, whether they be district or regional, are neither progressive nor transparent.
Tax-varying powers are going to be crucial for the future of the Assembly, as they are going to be crucial for the future of the Scottish Parliament. Even in the short to medium term, before we can address that issue, other issues could be addressed which could help to make some of the savings we need. We have a huge problem with administrative costs and bureaucracy, particularly in the Health Service with its four boards and seventeen, eighteen or nineteen trusts and massive duplication. I can never remember the number of trusts because the amalgamations seem to come and go at times. That all needs to be looked at. We also need to look at shared integrated services. There are too many cases — and education is the most obvious — where there is a duplication of services because people apparently will not travel from one area to another. We need to overcome that communal separation, which would benefit both the community and the finances.
I trust this is the last year in which we will have a budget statement without a complete Programme of Government before us. I would like to see a programme which will address the needs of Northern Ireland and begin to make a difference. We can then have a real debate on priorities and not this sham charade we have gone through today, with a series of wish-lists which do not address the real problem. That is the test which will be applied in years to come to the Ministers of this place, both collectively and individually.
There are still seven Members who wish to speak in this Supply debate, which requires a cross-community vote. Then we have to take the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill, which also requires a cross-community vote. Standing Orders require that we finish at 6.00 pm, so I appeal to Members still to speak to keep their remarks as concise as they can so that we complete as much business as possible. We must also be fair to the Minister who wishes to reply. Clearly he will not be able to do so briefly, given the number and range of matters that have been raised.
I was hoping that this debate would go on until lunchtime tomorrow so that I could have read from Hansard and said everything that should have been said.
Every Member has recognised the Minister’s position and what he has inherited. However, I have taken figures from the publication. If we look at the provisions sought by the various Departments we find that percentage adjustments read as follows: Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, 0·7% higher; Department for Social Development, 2% higher; Department of the Environment, 2·4% higher, Department of Health and Social Services, 7·7% higher; Department of Education, 8·7% higher; Department for Regional Development, 10·9% higher; Department of Higher and Further Education, 12% higher; and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, 6·3% higher.
However, it is possibly because I come from the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee background that I notice those figures. I have every right to be concerned about the 38·4% reduction in the provisions sought for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Minister will understand my concern because I note that his Department also has a minus figure of almost 6%, but that is certainly a lot less than the 38·4% reduction for agriculture.
I cannot resist asking whether the 38·4% reduction is a reflection of the British Government’s attitude to the agriculture economy in general. I believe that that is our feeling. We fought through the years, and we saw the farmers’ situation. We continually realised their difficulties. We knew what the British Government was doing. However, when you see the figures of the planned reductions in front of you, the Assembly could not get up and going soon enough. As has been mentioned earlier, that is the beauty of having our own Ministers.
Does the Minister agree that the failure of the British Government to draw down all agri-monetary compensation funding from Europe acts as a deterrent to the financial viability of the agriculture industry here? Will the continuance of such a policy affect his plans for the future and will it make life more difficult for him if the British Government continue to fail to draw down that money for us?
Can the Minister assure the Assembly that his future budgets will reflect the importance of agriculture in industry and in the overall economy of Northern Ireland.
Go raibh maith agat. I too welcome the publication of these Estimates and the tabling of the motion. However, I have a number of concerns about the funding for the Department for Social Development. Economic empowerment is crucial to the process of urban regeneration and to the social and physical well-being of our communities. The elimination of poverty and the stigma of dependency must be a key priority of the Assembly, and in order to create a better future for all our citizens we need to fund areas to tackle poverty properly.
We have the right to expect the state to provide good quality housing. I am concerned, therefore, that the Housing Executive’s budget was recently slashed by £13·7 million, meaning that essential maintenance to Housing Executive properties will have to be cancelled this year. If we are to bring down housing waiting lists, reduce the number of people waiting for disabled adaptations, and reduce levels of unfitness — particularly in rural counties such as Fermanagh and Tyrone — the Housing Executive must be properly resourced. There is still a long way to go in terms of the high levels of dereliction and unfitness in many parts of the Six Counties.
If we have the resources needed to provide quality homes for all then we can effectively tackle the problems faced by other Departments, particularly the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Need, and not financial restraints, should determine new build programmes, and we must be innovative in dealing with issues such as homelessness and long waiting lists, particularly in areas of Belfast and Derry.
Another area of concern is the community and voluntary sector, which is currently under severe pressure due to the gap in European funding. Given that this sector is one of the largest employers in the Six Counties and has done exemplary work in terms of community development, it is disgraceful that we have not legislated for this gap. The implications of many community organisations having to close their doors, possibly permanently, are impossible to imagine. Government Departments have not considered the absence of the cross-border and cross-community aspects of community development and how their demise will be dealt with.
We need to be thinking of special initiatives for deprived areas and ways of eliminating social exclusion, not creating additional pressures on this sector. There is a dire need for funding for both rural and urban parts of the Six Counties and the border counties in order to create social, economic and physical regeneration.
We must share the wealth to create parity and avoid concentrating resources in one or two parts of the North. Initiatives like Laganside have done much to enhance that part of Belfast but at what expense to the rest of Belfast or the other counties?
I am greatly concerned too that there may be a channelling of European money towards subsidising businesses, not because I disagree with giving financial backing to small businesses but because of the dependency on this funding by the voluntary sector. The bulk of funding for this sector is EU money, and there is a definite lack of will to adequately fund the sector from Government coffers. We need to address this immediately. The contribution made by this sector is immeasurable and totally under-valued, and its lifespan has not yet come to a natural end. We must ensure that provision is made to put the mainstream funding necessary into this sector immediately and for some years to come.
The minute increase in the Department for Social Development budget is not enough. We must target social need in all aspects of society and, given that this Department takes care of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society, it is imperative that we put enough resources into it to eliminate poverty and restore self-confidence, dignity and justice to our local communities. Go raibh maith agat.
I would like to discuss two issues. The first one relates to the Housing Executive’s budget being cut. What worries me, as a representative for Strangford, is that with £13·7m being taken off the budget it is the rural economy that will suffer. There is money set aside for regeneration in Belfast but in the areas I represent the money is not there.
I want to know why the schemes are falling behind. Some have been on the list for five or six years. There are people waiting for heating schemes which, we were told, were going to be implemented in the next year and which we now find could be a year or two away. We have these problems right across the borough. Why is there this discrimination? Why is there unfair play with regard to my constituency when Belfast gets all the money it needs? The allocation of funds must be fair.
On the subject of funding, what about the funding required for occupational therapists to enable them to provide the services required. The finance must be available so that they can make visits and carry out the schemes. We seem to be falling behind on such issues. Has there been an allocation in the budget for this? £4·3 billion seems a lot of money — it is a lot of money — but when you see the areas where there is a need they have to be identified and the need dealt with.
Another area which has not been covered is fishing. The Minister, in his address to the Assembly, had one sentence on fishing. I am sure this does not reflect his interest in this particular part of the economy. I must express concern if it does. In Northern Ireland as a whole, there are perhaps 2,500 jobs directly related to fishing and an income from landings of perhaps £100 million. This is not small fry by any means, even though some people only ever see a fish when it is in batter and comes out of a chip shop. People in my constituency and across Northern Ireland want to know what funding is set aside for fishermen. The depth of feeling and concern in the fishing industry continues to grow in the face of Government unwillingness to properly address the issue. We can see from the budget exactly what is happening.
Many people depend entirely on the sea for their income. Portavogie, Ardglass, Kilkeel, Annalong and places along the north coast need fishing to survive. These places have no other option. The legislation emanating from Europe has been a deciding factor. I want to know what has been set aside to help the fishermen. I suspect very little.
No Member has mentioned the fishing industry today, but we have to realise the integral part that it contributes to Northern Ireland’s economy. The local fisheries division based at Stormont has not proved itself to be friends of the fishermen. Indeed, its officials proved themselves to — dare I say it — have an arrogant and, perhaps, pompous attitude towards the fishermen. They do not listen to what happens on the ground, and they do not hear what the men are saying. They have also been overenthusiastic in pursuing EU directives, again to the detriment of the fishing industry. Contrast this against the very lax attitude in Spain when it comes to enforcing fishing rules and regulations. It is unfair that our fishermen should be pursued with such zeal, unlike other parts of Europe. That is unfair.
I also draw attention to the £70 million that will be spent by the Northern Ireland Office to provide a helicopter, an aeroplane and five Royal Navy vessels to ensure that the new legislation is maintained. Would it not be better to spend that £70 million on the fishing industry? Would it not be better to ensure that there is money for all those boats and jobs in order to boost the economy, rather than trying to crucify the fishermen, who, by the way, are agreeing to and following the rules and regulations? There is room for further regeneration and processing in the fishing industry.
What funding has been set aside in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for the specific task of helping the fishing industry, providing the jobs and giving the people the opportunities? I suspect there has been none, but I would like to know. It is of great concern that both Westminster and Europe have disregarded a strategy and do not seem to have any policy in relation to it. For instance, the number of boats in Portavogie has reduced from 95 to 55. Some of the boats in Northern Ireland’s fishing industry, specifically those in Portavogie, are between 25 and 32 years old. What money has the Department set aside to upgrade the fishing boats? What money has the Department set aside to try to help the industry to get out of the doldrums it is in and look to the next 10, 15 or 20 years?
The Minister mentioned the money that comes through from Europe. What moneys has he set aside for the slipways, for the ice houses, for the upgrading of the facilities, for the dredging of the harbours, and for the provision of the new harbour walls? What money has been set aside for that? What is the fishing industry getting out of this deal? I suspect it is getting very little. The people that we represent would like to know exactly what is on the plate for them. We would like to know that as well. We want to see opportunities for young men and women to come into the fishing industry. But that has not been the case, because young men are leaving the fishing industry. They do not see a future in it, and they do not see the potential in it. Unless their fathers were to hand the boats over to them, in most cases they would not bother pursuing a job in the fishing industry. What facilities and opportunities have been made available for young people to go into the fishing industry? I would like to know the position on that.
In the short-term in relation to the European rules and regulations, an effective compensation system is required, similar to the one in Spain — one that takes people out of the industry for a short time and compensates them for that period. That is the sort of scheme we should have in Northern Ireland so that our people are not disenfranchised, just as they are not in Spain and elsewhere.
It is time that the Department woke up to what is happening and went to Europe with some semblance of desire to locate the necessary funding to alleviate the current crisis in fishing. In short, our fisheries representatives have caved in to Europe on every occasion and do not seem to be truly prepared to fight their corner and, indeed, our corner as well. I would love to be able to return to my constituency and to give people the assurances that the fishing industry is all right, that the is help there and that there is finance, so that the fishermen could feel that regeneration would be taking place in Portavogie and all the other harbours in Northern Ireland. But I suspect that is not the case.
Many fishermen feel that they are discriminated against. They are asking over and over again "What moneys are available to keep our fishing industry going? What moneys are available to provide new jobs? What moneys are available for regeneration and for further processing?" I would like the Minister to answer those questions.
With reference to Ian Paisley Jnr’s remarks about the education and rehabilitation of prisoners, may I remind him that it was the inflammatory rhetoric of his party that led many young Loyalists into prison. It is a bit rich for him to be talking in such derogatory terms about prisoners from any locality.
Sammy Wilson mentioned the Minister of Education giving money the day before suspension but made no mention of the DUP or of Nigel Dodds throwing £40 million at the Larne bypass. Nigel, who wants to make a "Mickey Marley’s roundabout" of the Executive, was quite happy to give £40 million to the Larne area. A cheann Comhairle.
Sue Ramsey and I and other colleagues were meeting with the health authorities on an ongoing basis before and during suspension, but particularly during suspension. We have met with medical practitioners from all disciplines in the field. The consensus from those people is that the Health Service is sick. They are looking for a radical, root-and-branch reform of the Health Service. It was interesting that, coming from all backgrounds, they were looking for local solutions as distinct from British solutions. They were not just looking for local solutions for this part of the island of Ireland, but they were wondering how we could develop the health services in other parts of the island putting, perhaps, less stress on the finances required overall. The question of local accountability for health services came up again and again. They were particularly concerned with capital funding for equipment such as x-ray machines, scanners and such like, that we do not hear too much about.
In one case a machine was taken from the Throne Hospital, where it had been since 1963, and brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital. This gives us some insight into the real depth of deprivation within the Health Service. I know that the Minister has a limited budget and cannot do everything, but perhaps those are matters that could and should be critically addressed.
Reference has been made to tuition fees. It is my view, and the view of my party, that education is as much a part of the infrastructure as roads, electricity, rail and all the other elements that go to make up that infrastructure. Students should be the beneficiaries of our educational system and not the victims of it. Looking at education, and looking at all the difficulties that students face, education should be free, for all children. They are the people who are going to make up the society of the future and, if education is as essential as all other parts of our infrastructure, we should be looking at these issues in a very critical and serious way. We should not be attempting to penny-pinch with education.
Roads, a Cheann Comhairle, are of great concern to people west of the Bann — I say that as a representative of a constituency there. The current condition of the roads is a problem for people travelling. If you take the north-west corridor for example, and you get as far as Toome, what happens then? Then from Toome you try to get through Dungiven, or further up through the other villages and towns — it is a bottleneck by and large.
Compare that to roads structures in the Twenty-six Counties and the way in which they have been developed. The north-west is a vital corridor, and not because the Minister or John Hume comes from Derry. It is a vital corridor for tourism and the whole infrastructure of this part of the island, and it is something that we should look at seriously.
It impinges on all aspects and facets of our lives, particularly tourism, which we are trying to develop. If we are to encourage people to come to Larne and travel on, let us look at the road structures from Larne to the north-west, and how one manages to get through them. If there is a question of discretion, a Cheann Comhairle, then the Minister might look at those areas most in need of the updating and refurbishment of their roads.
The IDB situation, and the question of accountability within it, leaves much to be desired. For example, Desmond and Sons closed a shirt factory in Magherafelt with the loss of some 80 jobs. A total of 1,500 jobs have been lost in textiles in the south Derry/Magherafelt District Council area over the last three years.
The factory was sold by Desmond and Sons to a man who wishes to use it as a bingo hall. It had contained machinery and all the elements needed for another entrepreneur to take over and provide employment. However, Desmond and Sons sold it, and it will now be used as a bingo hall. When I questioned the background to this, I discovered that the IDB had actually invested £3·8 million in this factory, and when I asked what had happened to the £3·8 million, I was told that it had gone past its sell-by date. In other words, it cannot claw back the £3·8 million, because the sell-by date has gone. Desmond and Sons therefore not only has the £3·8 million, but also the profits from a factory that it sold for a bingo hall. When one questions the company about that, one does not receive any satisfactory explanation for it.
There is also the question of the IDB’s lack of enthusiasm for providing industrial development land within the Magherafelt District Council area. No matter how often we talk to its officials, we find that there is some reason relating to finance why they cannot do it. Then we find that £3·8 million has gone down the tubes.
Water and sewerage are also questions, a Cheann Comhairle, critical to the rural population. It is amazing that, in the year 2000, there are people in rural communities without running water or sewerage. They depend on a septic tank — and these are clusters of houses. Where that situation exists with no proper sewerage system it leads, of course to other environmental problems. I could go on and give the Minister a headache — if he so wished — about the problems besetting this community after 30, 40, or perhaps even 50 years of neglect. They must be addressed urgently. David Ford has gone, but he did not do too badly for a man who called this a sham — he spoke for about ten minutes. But he was right to call this a sham. He is right to say that the whole system in this part of the island requires money far and beyond that contained in the Estimates. I know that is not the Minister’s fault, but it is not there at the moment. It is something we should be looking at extremely seriously.
I am sure Mr Durkan will leave the Assembly today wondering just what he has to do. He has brought forward a package of some £4·3 billion, and yet everyone tells him it is not quite enough. That is right, Mr Durkan, it is not quite enough. Bring forward £10 billion and we will spend it for you. We will give you the programme all right.
I should, however, like first of all to deal with some remarks Mr Kelly made against my Colleague Ian Paisley Jnr.
He chose to make them when my Colleague was not here. He said that it was rhetoric for Members of the DUP to say that some people had to be put behind bars to necessitate their rehabilitation. I say to Mr Kelly that it was rhetoric and action from his cohorts that put people in their grave, and that they have no opportunity of being rehabilitated — they have been permanently removed from society. Perhaps he will keep that in mind when he makes his utterances in the House. They have a very hollow ring and they will not —
No, I am not giving way. Those remarks will not find much credence or respect from this side of the House.
There are a number of points that I want to make. I was interested to hear Mr Poots say that money that was generated in planning was spent in that same area. Why can it not be the same for money from the sale of Housing Executive houses? We are told that money is not spent from that budget, or if it is, it is certainly not used to replace properties. We now have a frightening situation in which virtually no public housing is available because no new houses are being built, which will lead in a very short time to another crisis in housing. Many people are desperate for housing. I am sure that Members have examples of constituents coming to them, telling them that they have been waiting for housing for two to four years. I had an example of that only last week. It is very difficult to reassure people that one day they will be housed when I know that in my constituency, and in the area in which they are looking for a house, no houses are being built. Indeed, no new houses have been planned for the next five-year programme. This issue has to be addressed.
As for the roads infrastructure in rural communities, I smile when I hear those who represent urban constituencies talk about a poor service from public transport. We have no railways in my constituency. There are no trains. If some of my constituents want to see a bus they have to rush out to their gate to see one going past every two or three weeks. That is the sort of service that we receive from public transport. Therefore, I feel that we do have something to gripe about when we say that public transport is totally inadequate. That matter has to be given very serious consideration.
Instead of hospitals being upgraded and new ones built, a rural dweller will find to his dismay that existing ones are being closed. That is another penalty for the rural dweller.
Children who want to go to a rural primary school find that their schools too are under the chop. Small Protestant schools in particular are being continually run down and closed. That is another penalty for being a rural dweller.
Agriculture has gone through one of the worst crises in its history, but we are told that the way out is for farmers to be more innovative. They must diversify and change. Farmers are quite prepared to diversify, to be innovative and to change, but alas, they are not being given the opportunity.
Many farmers find that they have to sell off plots of land as building sites in order to maintain a living. Yet, when they seek planning permission, do they get any comfort, support or encouragement? Alas, they do not. Many are told that they are living in green belt areas and that the policy in such areas is being stringently adhered to. Any time farmers take the opportunity to lift themselves out of their difficulties they are told that they cannot do it because of planning legislation.
The rural dweller will not fare any better in the future than he has in the past. I would like to see expenditure being targeted to areas where there are needs crying out. We have listed some of them and there are others. The textile industry has been mentioned. It is going through another crisis. Experts tell us that much of our textile industry will disappear within a three year period. What package has been drawn up to alleviate that or to ensure that it does not happen? What package will ensure that our factories, which bring much needed work to areas, do not become desolate, rundown factory shelves?
For 30 years the rural community has suffered from underfunding — at times I believe that has been deliberate — to encourage people out of the rural areas and into towns and villages. That is quite iniquitous. It cannot, and will not, be tolerated. Those who have been brought up in the countryside and have earned their living there, and in rural communities, should be encouraged and given every incentive to ensure that they can stay there. Do we want our rural areas to become a wasteland? Do we want to see no more rural schools, or more hospitals closed, even in what we deem to be medium to large size towns? Do we want to find that the whole thing has been centralised, with people being pushed and orientated in a direction in which they have no desire to go? I feel that in the future the Minister should apply himself to these issues so as to ensure that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip, particularly the rural dwellers who, to date, have been left to the side as if they do not matter.
Go raibh maith agat. I initially welcome the increase in the budget allocation which the Minister of Finance, Mr Mark Durkan, indicated he would give to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. We need to be aware that there has traditionally been an underspend on health and social services, which has been recognised lately by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
In previous years British Ministers have underfunded the Department of Health and the result of this is long hospital waiting lists, including those for occupational therapy and care in the community, as well as the underfunding of initiatives such as the Children Order.
Even though the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety commands a major part of the overall budget, a large percentage is eaten up by the acute sector. As was pointed out earlier, in recent years everyone accepted that the Eastern Health and Social Services Board has been underfunded. Some people say that it has been underfunded to the tune of £15 million.
Within the Eastern Health and Social Services Board area it is accepted that the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust has been traditionally underfunded. Due to the lack of money made available in previous years to the Department, especially in the area of children’s services, let us be in no doubt that these services have been, and continue to be, in a state of crisis.
During presentations to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, all the health boards expressed concern that they are failing to meet their statutory and moral duty under the Children Order owing to the lack of resources and finance.
Residential care is another major concern, as other Members pointed out. The Chairperson of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee stated that it will carry out a hearing into children’s services. I am sure that, once again, the main themes of this hearing will be lack of money and resources, especially under the Children Order.
I am sure Mr Durkan is fed up hearing that this morning, but I wish to point out that it is up to local people to undo the years of underfunding by British Ministers. It is crucial that everyone’s entitlement to a quality Health Service be recognised. Health is the cornerstone of our lives and those of our children.
I am concerned that any additional money that can be given by the Minister to the Minister of Health may be ring-fenced as in previous years. This must be done properly, since we have seen money supposedly ring-fenced for children’s services being used to pay off debts, balance the books and put a nice smile on bad management in the trusts and boards.
I ask the Minister to direct his attention to the financial crisis currently affecting all aspects of children’s lives.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I shall be very brief. The IDB was mentioned earlier, and the report from the Public Accounts Committee in Westminster certainly drew attention to some of the difficulties experienced with the money it spent. That affected my constituency in West Belfast, where IDB spending per job ran to the tune of £50,000. Owing to the accelerated passage and nature of this Bill, I should like to set it on record that the IDB will have to work more closely with local organisations, enterprises or partnerships towards ensuring that job creation is improved or enhanced. In other words, the IDB must work with the strategies which local communities, it is to be hoped, spearhead and drive.
Even in the context of TSN, the IDB’s report talks not of trying to locate industry in areas of need or disadvantage, but rather in or around them. My understanding is that almost the entire Six County area is taken as an area of disadvantage. In the future, for the IDB to get best value while of course relating to TSN, there must be more area-specific targeting of employment opportunities and working with communities and other enterprises — either through local partnerships or elected representatives — to ensure that job creation is better focused. In my constituency, a substantial amount of money has been directed at organisations like Mackie, which collapsed, or to consolidate jobs at Bass Ireland or even the Ford Motor Company. However, it is my understanding that there has been a net loss of jobs in west Belfast in the past year or so. I ask the Minister of Finance and Personnel to ensure best value in the future from the IDB on social need targets. We want the IDB to work better with communities than in the past. We take the question of disadvantaged areas seriously and therefore ask IDB to try to be more specific in locating job opportunities in the future.
Having sat through this debate I have some sympathy for you, Mr Speaker — perhaps more than before.
I was listening, however. I do not mean this to be the Frazier Crane idea of listening, but I was doing so, and those points I do not have time to answer fully and properly will be followed up by my Department and me, or by the respective departmental Ministers. I take Mrs Nelis’s point that many of the remarks were made not so much because people were trying to change the Estimates — rather they were laying down markers for future budgetary considerations.
Today has clearly been useful. The debate has been constructive and responsible. The Estimates are complex and difficult, but I have been impressed by the uniformly high quality of the contributions from all the Assembly parties taking part.
The public can take heart from the fact that their representatives have demonstrated today that they can work effectively to ensure that key public services are sustained and scrutinised. During the course of the debate Members have raised a considerable number of issues, concerns and ideas, and, as I indicated in my opening remarks, I will try to deal with as many of these as possible in the time available. Where this is not possible we will try to provide a written response.
First, I would like to deal with some of the issues of general concern that were raised by Members. Mr Molloy, as Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Personnel, raised the important issue of the process and timetable for the 2000 spending review. This was also of concern to other Members, including Dr Birnie. Nearly all the Committee Chairpersons who contributed were raising questions, not just in relation to their concerns about the lack of opportunity that they had in this process at Committee level, but they also wanted to know when the Committees were going to find time to have their say in relation to the 2000 spending review. I fully intend to do all that is reasonably possible to ensure that the Assembly and its Committees can properly fulfil their important responsibilities in the spending review. Clearly it would be desirable for the Assembly to have defined financial procedures, and I am fully committed to assisting the Assembly in the consideration and development of such procedures and will certainly work with all relevant Committees and persons in the Assembly to that end.
As we face the 2000 spending review the broad outline of the timetable is as follows. From the end of June into July the United Kingdom spending review will conclude, and Northern Ireland’s allocations for the next three years will then be known. From July to October there will be the consideration of Northern Ireland spending priorities, aligned with the work that will be taking place on developing the Programme for Government. In October we need to be looking at the formal presentation of the budget for consideration by the Assembly, with the 2001-02 budgets being settled in early December. Obviously within that broad timetable we will need to ensure an appropriate opportunity for consultation, examination and discussion.
Mr P Doherty raised the need to secure the maximum resources to meet the needs of public services, and he was not the only Member who spoke in the debate to highlight this issue. It was mentioned all the way through, right up until Mr Morrow’s contribution. We are all concerned about this matter. The Executive will do all in its power to ensure that we receive a fair share of public expenditure, and we will also look carefully at the scope for raising additional resources by our own efforts. However, to be frank, there will never be enough resources to do all that we will wish to do, and that is why we have to pursue efficiency and the elimination of waste with all possible rigour. We will also have to prioritise our spending so that the most important actions and needy areas are addressed first. Hard decisions will be needed, and that is why an agreed Programme for Government is crucial to the process, a fact that Mr Ford identified in his contribution.
Turning to some more specific issues raised by Members, Mr Neeson raised questions on public transport, as did many others. He expressed concern, particularly in relation to railways, and asked what more could be done. Mr A Maginness, among others, followed this up. I fully agree with those sentiments. An efficient and effective transport system is vital to the Northern Ireland economy and to public life. Significant new investment is needed to improve public transport and the roads infrastructure, but consideration of the proper level of investment necessary must await the outcome of the railways taskforce report which is due in the summer.
Mr Neeson and Dr Hendron also referred to the uncertainty regarding the future of hospital services and the particular problem with waiting lists. The future of hospital services is a key issue and one that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
It is important that we do all we can to ensure safe and effective hospital services for all our people. I am aware that Northern Ireland has a particular waiting list problem. This is one of a range of pressures faced by the Department of Health and Social Services. I understand that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is working to develop ways of tackling this problem.
Mr Neeson and Mr Hay raised issues in relation to the urgency of a decision on the natural gas pipeline. As Mr Hay indicated, it is no secret that I am keen to see the natural gas industry extended beyond the Greater Belfast area. The Executive however recognise that gas pipeline projects are a matter for the private sector to take forward. At present the Director General of Gas for Northern Ireland is assessing applications for licences to take gas to the north, north-west and the south-east areas. We await the final outcome with interest. It is for consideration what, if any, subsidy these schemes may require and their priority in the Executive’s spending plans including the transitional programme.
A question was also raised in relation to Harland & Wolff. As we indicated last week, there has been encouraging news for Harland & Wolff and its employees. Officials at the IDB are maintaining close contact with the company on the details of the project and we will obviously be following progress closely.
Ms McWilliams raised a number of issues in relation to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety including the question of a transfer of responsibilities in the juvenile justice area and also the lack of care packages for people over the age of 65. She also expressed concerns in relation to GP fundholding. She also reminded me of a question that she had raised last week.
First, devolution has not brought about any changes in the responsibilities in the juvenile justice area. If there is any aspect of the system which is of particular concern I suggest that Ms McWilliams or Mr Attwood, who also raised this point, set out their concerns more fully in writing.
On the level of care packages it is more properly a matter for the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to respond on the detailed allocation of funding in her Department, and the particular priority that she would attribute to a particular sector. I will ask her to respond directly on this matter.
The GP fundholding scheme will continue in Northern Ireland until at least April 2001. The ending of fundholding is linked with decisions on the development of primary care centre health and social services. These will be matters for the new Administration to consider.
Finally, as Ms McWilliams pointed out, I did not cover the DHSS Vote C in my opening remarks —but I will do so now. The provision sought for this Vote does show a substantial increase over the provision voted in 1999/2000. In that year significant additional receipts in respect of arrears of employers’ contributions regarding compensation payments were received. This meant that the actual amount required in 1999/2000 was a lesser amount than normal. However, in 2001 these receipts will not be available and a higher level of provision is therefore required. I will explain this matter in more detail in writing to Ms McWilliams.
Ms McWilliams also raised the issue of student loans — as did many other Members, including Mr Ford and Mrs Nelis. In particular, Ms McWilliams raised questions about a £14 million provision being set aside to cover cancelled loans due to long-term deferment or death, and borrowers defaulting on their payments. In response to those questions, where a financial scheme is driven by loans there inevitably will be an element of bad debt that cannot be recovered. In terms of the broader questions relating to the whole issue of student loans and student finance in general, as Members are aware, a review of student finance in Northern Ireland commenced in March and is due to be completed by the end of the summer. The review will cover full-time and part-time students in further and higher education and in addition to tuition fees will include different forms of support, such as loans, allowances, access funds and discretionary awards. This will take account of recent developments in Scotland, England and Wales.
Ms McWilliams also asked about the significant drop in the provision for urban development and regeneration that was apparent in the Estimates.
This programme is a matter for the Minister for Social Development. However, I understand that the drop from £87m to £61m is attributable to a reduction in the EU peace programme. This is an initial allocation and will be looked at again in-year, when requirements are clear and the necessary public expenditure cover is made available.
Mr Sammy Wilson and Mary Nelis, among others, asked whether consideration would be given to increasing the housing allocation in the 2000 spending review to cope with problems caused by reductions in the current housing budget. Mr Shannon, among others, identified some of the particular problems. In 2000-01, the Housing Executive will have gross resources of £528 million. In 1999-2000, it received an additional £7·5 million as part of the Chancellor’s initiative to help improve some of the worst Housing Executive estates. That was a one-off. Together with a reduction of £3·5 million in rental income this year as a result of the successful home sales scheme, this accounts for most of the shortfall Members have identified. The success of the sales programme also means that the Housing Executive has fewer houses to maintain. I look forward to considering the housing requirements of the Minister for Social Development in the Executive Committee during the 2000 spending review.
Sammy Wilson also raised the system of allocating funds within the schools capital budget. Within the total resources available, the capital programme is determined on the basis of educational need. This determination takes account of projects in the top three categories of the schools’ planning list. It is informed by consultation with the education and library boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and other school interests about priorities, together with advisors and the Education and Training Inspectorate about the relative educational and building needs of the schools concerned. In addition, projects must be sufficiently advanced in planning to be considered for the programme.
The make-up of the 2000-01 programme is as follows: controlled schools, nine schemes, £28 million; maintained schools, six schemes, £23 million; voluntary grammar schools, two schemes, £19·4 million; grant-maintained schools, one scheme, £1·1 million. Although this year’s capital new starts programme, at £72 million, is the largest to date, it was simply not possible to meet all the demands. A number of high priority schemes could not be included. Unsuccessful projects will be considered again next year. It is for the Minister of Education to comment on operational decisions should Members require further clarification on individual schools.
Mr Sammy Wilson raised the issue of accommodating the Education Minister in Castle Buildings. My Department has overall responsibility for providing Departments and their Ministers with accommodation, using a central accommodation budget. I can therefore assure the Member that any costs associated with the Minister’s request will fall on that central budget and will not affect the main spending programmes of the Department of Education. That money comes out of the Department of Finance and Personnel’s budget.
Many Members touched on wider accommodation issues with respect to the location of Civil Service jobs. As is obvious from previous questions, I am conscious of Members’ interest in this matter. As I have said before, it is my intention to bring forward proposals for a review of accommodation needs as soon as possible, taking account of a number of relevant policy considerations, including the location of Civil Service jobs, new TSN and the broader equality agenda.
George Savage commented on the rural economy, the promotion of agriculture and the low incidence of BSE, and many others took up these points including Mr McHugh, Mr Paisley Jnr and Mr Bradley. I recognise the importance of the agriculture industry and the rural economy generally. In December 1999 Ms Rodgers announced an exercise aimed at developing a strategic vision for the future of the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland. This lay dormant for part of the period of suspension. The terms of reference for this exercise comprise identifying the problems and opportunities in the rural economy over the next decade, taking account of wider national, EU and global issues and, informed by this, developing a vision for the agri-food industry to enable the industry to map out a strategy to meet that vision. On the low incidence BSE status, the Minister has said from the outset that the case for Northern Ireland to be considered as a BSE low incidence region is very strong. I can confirm that she is giving this a very high priority and has been in close contact with the UK Agriculture Minister, who is very supportive.
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials are continuing to work closely with the other UK Agriculture Departments on a plan that explains how Northern Ireland could operate as a low incidence region. It is hoped that this plan will be submitted formally to the commission very soon. Simultaneously, the plan will be issued for wide public consultation throughout the UK.
Mr Savage was also the first of many Members to raise questions about developing new markets in Europe for the textile industry and to ask about what other measures could be put forward to support this vulnerable sector. Obviously the recent announcements of job losses in the industry are deeply regrettable. It should also be remembered that we still have some very strong and competitive companies. The future of the industry depends on the implementation of change and a focus on innovative management, product differentiation and export growth. As I indicated last week, both the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, along with the IDB, and the Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, along with the Training and Employment Agency, are looking at precisely this area.
I was asked first by Mr Campbell and then by several other Members, including Dr O’Hagan, about EU social fund grants to community groups. Negotiations with the European Commission over the development of new structural fund programmes are proceeding with all speed, and we aim to ensure that the gap between the old and the new programmes is minimised. The new programme will be shaped to target Northern Ireland’s needs for the years 2000-04, and groups presently receiving funding will have to submit an application and compete with any new ideas and proposals which are put forward.
Many questions were raised about the IDB. Both Mr P Doherty and Mr McHugh raised points about the IDB being held accountable for investment in underprivileged areas. Subject to the requirements of potential investors, IDB does encourage companies to look at locations across Northern Ireland and at new TSN areas in particular. However, the final decision on whether to locate rests with the investor. IDB is also working closely with all the councils to improve the quality of information available for inward investors and to promote all areas of Northern Ireland. Changes in the general political and security climate should, I hope, lead to improvements in this area.
Mr Close also raised some points on agriculture and rural development and, in particular, identified what appeared to be a significant drop in the budget for that Department’s programme. That point was also taken up by Mr Bradley. As I have already said, I recognise the difficulties which the farming industry has been facing.
Although the provision sought for 2000-01 is 38·4% lower than the final net provision for 1999-00, this disguises an increase in expenditure overall because of the treatment of receipts from the Intervention Board. On domestic policy, lines one and two of the Estimate, the reduced provision sought in 2000-01 arises because of additional resources allocated during 1999-00 to meet payments made under agri-environment schemes and for hill livestock compensation allowances. The Estimate does not yet reflect the additional resources announced by the Prime Minister at the agriculture summit on 30 March, which are worth some £16 million.
Mr Close, Mr Attwood and Mr O’Connor raised the issue of tourism. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s budget for the 2000-01 financial year is £15·8 million. As the Members have stated, tourism continues to play an important role in the economic development of Northern Ireland. During 1999, an estimated 1·641 million visitors came here, contributing £255 million to the local economy. Spending by holiday visitors and domestic holiday makers accounts for approximately 1·8% of Northern Ireland’s GDP and is estimated to sustain around 14,750 jobs. Given a peaceful scenario, tourism has the potential to reach levels similar to those of our neighbours in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland and to sustain an additional 20,000 jobs.
In a point not dissimilar to the one raised about superannuation in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s budget, Mr Close queried why net spending on teachers’ superannuation has risen to £76 million, compared to £67 million last year. These payments reflect the working of the scheme, and that can vary year to year. Members should note that the expenditure is counted as annually managed expenditure, which means that the funds are automatically made available to Northern Ireland and do not impact on other spending. Naturally, the other side of that coin is that the savings on that budget cannot be used elsewhere.
Dr Hendron raised several issues in relation to aspects of health and social services. The provision for 2000-01 includes £169 million above the planned amount for 1999-00. As I said last week, that represents cash growth of over 9%. On residential childcare, an additional £1·5 million is being made available to health and social services boards in 2000-01 to make improvements in this area.
Of the additional resources announced by the Chancellor, a further £5 million is being made available to support the provision of more residential places, and to continue with the implementation of the Children Order 1995.
The development of cancer services is a key area for health and social services. This year an additional £8 million of recurrent money has been allocated, which will enable further improvements to be made in cancer services.
Mr Leslie highlighted the need for close liaison with Scotland in some areas, and flagged up the greater role that the private finance initiative could play in public service projects. He also emphasised the need for careful scrutiny of administrative costs. I fully agree with him. The debate today has highlighted the many demands that are being placed on our public services, and clearly we will not be able to achieve all that we desire without significant contributions from the private sector. PFI and PPP schemes provide a realistic and achievable way of securing this. Through my Department I will be pressing other Departments to be innovative and imaginative in this area, and I will also be looking to do all that we can to reduce the burden of administrative costs.
Mr Alban Maginness raised the issue that not enough money was being invested in the Water Service. This is clearly a matter for the Minister for Regional Development. However, I understand that the Water Service has a water resource strategy which is reviewed periodically to maintain the balance between increasing demand and the supplies of water available. Long-term proposals arising out of this strategy enable the provision of new sources to be planned and allow the efficient management of existing demand and supplies. The latest periodic review has just commenced and is due to report in 2001.
James Leslie and Patricia Lewsley questioned the number of bodies involved in administering education. Other Members subsequently took this point up and asked about the number of intermediary bodies involved in the administration of other programmes as well, not least in the areas of health and social services. This is an important concern and will obviously have to be dealt with within the Programme for Government and the overall allocation of public expenditure. I am sure that the respective Departments will welcome the support and involvement of the departmental Committees.
Several Members also raised issues to do with pressures on the running costs of the Department of the Environment. Dr McCrea, in particular, said that these were having a detrimental effect on road safety education, the planning service and the incorporation of EU directives into Northern Ireland legislation. I am aware of the pressures referred to, and I am pleased that Dr McCrea and other Members have recognised the efforts made by my Department to help the Department of the Environment to resolve the matter. Discussions with the Department are continuing in an effort to find further flexibility, though I am sure that Members will appreciate that this is only one of many areas where we face pressure on running costs.
Dr O’Hagan asked at least five questions. I will try to answer them briefly. She asked how much money had been set aside for the Civic Forum. Some £300,000 has been set aside in 2001 for the Civic Forum. She asked if the principle of additionality would be guaranteed in EU funding. Both the European grant and matching funding elements of the new Peace II programme will be directly additional to the Northern Ireland block, as was the case with the first peace programme money. I was also asked whether I would ensure that the Department would enshrine the principle of North/South co-operation in accordance with all relevant agreements? I will, of course, make every effort to ensure that the principle of North/South co-operation is enshrined in the Department of Finance and Personnel’s contribution to the development and management of the peace programmes and other European programmes. I give a similar commitment to operating in terms of openness and transparency.
Dr O’Hagan’s final question was about whether EU funds would be routed through councils rather than district partnerships, as at present. The peace programme and the structural funds are obviously subjects of further, developing discussion. Indeed, there is a meeting of the interim monitoring committee this week, and we will be looking at precisely how best to build on the success of those models that developed during the life of the first peace programme. We want to try to harness the capacities that exist at both council and partnership level to ensure that we make the most of the Peace II programme, and to ensure that we actually sustain those models beyond the life of the Peace II programme.
I am not one of those people who praises partnerships, says that they were great and then allows them to become a biodegradable carrier bag that dissolves at the end of the peace programme. We need to look very carefully at how we develop the work of both councils and partnerships, and take up many of the comments that were made about the need to make sure that people at local level do not just contribute to community development, but actually contribute to economic development as well.
Mr McCarthy had asked about plans to replace the Strangford ferry, and, in particular, raised questions about the estimates. It is obviously a matter for the Minister for Regional Development. However, I understand that provision has been made in the current 2001-02 financial years for replacement of the Strangford ferry.
We were also asked about the Ballycastle/Campbeltown ferry service by Ian Paisley Jnr. The latest position is that, in April, a new carrier expressed interest in operating the service for the 2000 summer season, and approached Moyle District Council for assistance to run the shore-based activities at Ballycastle. The Council has made a business case to the Department for Regional Development for financial support and this is currently being considered.
We were also asked by Mr McCrea and Mr Paisley Jnr when the money is going to come to the farmers. Obviously, several schemes are involved, each of which has a specific timetable for the submission of claims and the resultant payment to the claimant. These are covered by citizen’s charter targets and every effort is made to meet these.
I referred earlier to the fact that my Department had allowed the Department of the Environment to use some of its receipts to relieve some of its serious service pressures. Some Members have subsequently raised the point in relation to the Housing Executive asking why, similarly, it should not keep its receipts. All receipts need to be looked at in relation to the most pressing needs across the block, and not linked automatically to any particular area, even the Department in which they arise. I think that Members would agree that that is only fair, because not all Departments have receipts available to them. It could skew the allocation of resources if we said that all receipts automatically fell within the programme area of the Department in which they arose. That said, I note the problems in housing that many Members have articulated today.
Mr Beggs raised concern about student awards and, in particular, asked whether additional funds could be allocated to that programme. I have already referred to the review that the Minister began earlier this year. Opportunities will arise in the monitoring rounds for the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment to flag up any pressures arising in the current financial year. In relation to future years, this will be addressed in the 2000 spending review and will take account of the current review of student finance in Northern Ireland.
Mr Beggs and Mr O’Connor both asked about the case of EU funds to support trans-European networks. Negotiation on the new EU programmes is still in progress, and it is too early to know precisely what projects will be funded. I fully support the case for the development of trans-European networks, but there will be many conflicting demands on the new EU programmes. It might not be possible to support all the areas we wish.
Road maintenance funding was also raised by several Members, including Alban Maginness and Seamus Close. The maintenance of road and footway services and their underlying structure is vital to Northern Ireland’s social and economic well-being. I understand it is the top priority of the Roads Service of the Department for Regional Development. The Main Estimates include some £39 million for expenditure on structural maintenance.
In the forthcoming spending review the Executive Committee will be looking very carefully at the priority which needs to be given to roads and public transport in the future.
Towards the end, Edwin Poots asked about the Barnett formula for determining Northern Ireland public expenditure allocations. That is not unrelated to some of the issues we will be dealing with in the 2000 spending review. The Barnett formula largely removes the need for detailed negotiation with the Treasury on spending needs, and is also applied to Scotland and Wales. To that extent it allows allocations to be scrutinised here. The Executive recognises the disadvantages of the mechanism, and we clearly have to look at these issues in the future.
In relation to many of the questions identified earlier about railways and the need for new rolling stock, as well as raising questions Danny O’Connor proposed that asset leasing should be used to help the Transport Holding Company to buy new stock. This is not always a cost-effective means of procuring assets in the public sector, as the Government is able to borrow at lower rates than the private sector. There is not any great advantage in that option, if any at all. There may be considerable advantages in the sort of PFI/PPP options that some Members mentioned and which are currently being considered by the railways task force.
Several Members referred to underfunding in programmes in respect of the budget for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. As Members have recognised, the budget reflects the Executive Committee’s decision to adopt the inherited public expenditure plans for 2000-01. There will be opportunities in the monitoring rounds for the Minister to flag-up any pressures that cannot be contained in the existing provision and in relation to future years. This will be addressed in the 2000 spending review.
Time is working against us, but I will make a couple more points. There was a suggestion from Mr Poots that EU receipts had not been spent to the best possible effect. As Minister of Finance, I attach a high priority to ensuring that EU receipts are spent to the best possible effect, with due regard to proper accountability and value for money. A wide range of projects has been funded under the current programme, and these projects have made a positive contribution to almost every aspect of Northern Ireland life. Like every programme it needs to be subject to continuing scrutiny and appraisal.
Some Members also raised questions about the payment of agri-monetary compensation. We are fully aware of the difficulties faced by the agriculture industry here, and the UK Government have already made — or are making — considerable sums of agri-monetary compensation available at considerable cost to the taxpayer. Payment of compensation cannot, however, be varied on a regional basis. In view of the many competing pressures on the public purse, compensation has been targeted on the hardest-pressed sectors — the various livestock sectors.
I will not have time to go through all the questions I wished to answer. However, I assure Members that the points they made about how unsatisfactory this process has been have been well registered. There is nobody who has more interest than I in ensuring that these areas are properly probed and examined at the level of the respective departmental Committees. When this happens there may be fewer questions of that nature for me to answer. There may be far more positive ideas for us to follow up, in terms of improvement, achieving greater efficiency and identifying other ways of resourcing these important programmes. As indicated, I take to heart the points that were made in relation to people’s wish to have a full and proper input into the considerations on the 2000 spending review.
Unsatisfactory as it has been to have had to go through accelerated passage, as you, Mr Speaker, pointed out a fair number of Members have participated in this debate. If you discount, for instance, the Ministers and yourself, Mr Speaker — not that I would normally want to discount you — we are certainly doing very well in comparison to other places in terms of the range and breadth of involvement in the Chamber. We should not lose sight of that. Members have done a good day’s work in this debate. It will give me and my ministerial Colleagues many more days work to do, and obviously it will be up to others to judge whether that turns out to be good work.
If it is to pass, the motion must have cross-community support. I shall call for Ayes and for Noes. If it is clear that on all sides of the House there are Ayes, nem con, we shall not have a Division, in order to save time. If, however, there are Noes, the House will divide.
Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.
That a sum not exceeding £4,296,588,000 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund to complete the sum necessary to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31 March 2001 for expenditure by Northern Ireland Departments.
Before moving to the next item of business I need to make a ruling. At the start of business today Dr Paisley raised the question of having a debate and was advised that it might be possible by leave of the Assembly. Under Initial Standing Orders 6(4), leave of the Assembly could be given, at that time, on the Floor of the House for a motion to be debated. However, this provision was not included in the new Standing Orders, which were agreed by the House. I therefore consider that it cannot be used in this case.
A private notice question can be put down on the day and considered. However, a private notice question, like any other question, must address a responsibility of a Minister or the Commission. I do not consider that the question of a visit by His Royal Highness Prince Charles is a matter over which any Minister has responsibility. Finally, even if a motion were put down for Standing Orders to be set aside to facilitate a debate, there would have to be a notice of motion on the Order Paper that had been passed by cross-community support. Since I am not at all clear that His Royal Highness has made any statement in this regard, and as one would be questioning his decision, albeit on advice, I consider that it might well be a debate that encroached on the Royal Prerogative. That would be entirely out of order for the Assembly, as for Westminster, and my ruling is that no such debate can take place.