Before we proceed, I shall outline how I intend to facilitate the debate on the draft Programme for Government. The Business Committee has agreed that this should not be a time-limited debate, therefore all Members who wish to speak may do so. The debate will provide an opportunity for Back- Bench Members and Committee Chairpersons to speak. Ministers may speak in their ministerial capacity, but they will be called towards the end of the debate, before the winding-up speech, to give them an opportunity to respond to issues raised by Members. I call the First Minister, the Rev — sorry — the Rt Hon Mr David Trimble. I must remember to put on my glasses.
I beg to move
That this Assembly takes note of the draft Programme for Government.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for that rapid promotion.
Exactly one year ago today, the Assembly had its first opportunity to debate the Executive’s first draft Programme for Government. I said then that the debate was a milestone. It was the first time in three decades that an Assembly of Members elected by the people of Northern Ireland had been able to debate a programme of policies that affected the vital interests of their constituents.
This time last year, we were able to demonstrate to the world that the different parties that make up the Executive could work together constructively to agree a Programme for Government that could make a positive difference to the lives of everyone.
It is sometimes easy to forget the significance of our milestones. However, last year’s Programme for Government was the most tangible sign that all the major parties in the Assembly — and I do mean all — wanted devolved government to work.
One year on, we can see that the devolved Government is delivering open and accountable government for the people of Northern Ireland. Despite the difficulties of the past few weeks and months, we have shown that we can make a difference, and that we are responsive to our community’s needs.
The first draft programme, which was announced last March, contained some 200 pledges, of which 37 had already been fully implemented by the time the second draft programme was published in September. Rapid progress continues to be made. For example, the Administration have worked to agree and implement a new student support package, funding new university places and providing financial help to encourage many more young people who would not previously have been able to continue into higher education to do so. In the first Programme for Government, a commitment of 850 additional higher education places was given. In today’s draft programme, we are proposing action that will lead to a total enrolment of 35,500 full-time students in higher education. That will be an increase of over 2,500 from 1999-2000.
We are also well on the way to fulfilling the pledge to provide a free year of pre-school education for every child whose parents wish it. The draft Programme for Government reiterates that pledge, which is on target for delivery by the end of the financial year 2002-03. Free public transport has been introduced for older people. We will now seek to improve opportunities for the mobility of others who are socially excluded and in greatest need.
The devolved Administration have also been aware of the pressing need to improve health care. By next March, spending on health and personal social services will have been increased by no less than £400 million. That will be an increase of 23% in the first two years of devolved government. Furthermore, the draft Budget that was recently presented to the Assembly proposes additional increases of £186 million in the next financial year for health and personal social services. That constitutes a further rise of 8·5%. Over the three years, that represents an accumulated increase of over £500 million. That is a tremendous financial increase, and we must ensure that that money is well used.
The pace of improvement of the health sector must not slacken. To ensure that it does not, we have reviewed the organisation of acute hospital services. Crucially, the Administration are carrying out an examination of needs and levels of effectiveness in the health sector to consider how needs can be met, effectiveness maximised and to ensure that we get the best value from the money that has been provided. Clearly, much still needs to be achieved, as waiting lists are still longer than those in other UK regions — despite higher per capita spending and a younger population.
The Programme for Government also sets out the Executive’s commitment to protect and conserve our environment. That commitment was demonstrated last year by the allocation of additional resources for air-quality management, biodiversity, conservation, water pollution control and waste management. We have already made good progress in tackling the results of previous underfunding in those areas and remain committed to a sustainable approach to government.
We have also agreed to invest more to develop the infrastructure that supports the economy. The draft programme includes important proposals in that area. We will proceed with plans for two new major gas pipelines: one from Belfast to the north-west and the other from south Antrim to Dublin, with the potential to give three quarters of the population access to the national North Sea gas network.
We have also allocated £40 million to improving the route from Larne, through Belfast, to the border. That major investment will strengthen the competitiveness of Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint and help to facilitate external trade.
A key challenge for the Executive will be to build on the economic success of the past few years. The draft Programme for Government recommits us to the goal of securing a competitive and sustainable economy. The events of 11 September and their aftermath present a real challenge. Their impact on a global economy that was, in many respects, slowing, is still uncertain as regards severity and duration. Some of that impact has already been felt in the local economy. There have been job losses following the axing of the British Airways route from London to Belfast. There are also possible redundancies at Bombardier Shorts. Other firms are also affected, particularly in the service and tourism sectors.
However, on the positive side, there is evidence that Northern Ireland should be able to weather an economic downturn. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland is within what is widely regarded as the most buoyant of the major national economies.
The sometimes painful national reforms of the last two decades have resulted in a competitive national economy, strong public finances, and low inflation. Northern Ireland shares in those advantages. At the same time, the relative importance of our public sector and the buoyancy of our local labour market should stand us in good stead. That view is supported by most UK regional economic forecasters. According to their forecasts, which we fervently hope are to be accurate, Northern Ireland rates among the top half of UK regions in respect of regional growth prospects.
Our draft Programme for Government commits us to taking new action to promote enterprise and innovation. By 2005 we hope to secure 6,000 new business starts under the business start programme, and by 2004 we hope to stimulate a 25% increase in private sector investment in research and development. We will also take action to promote exports and encourage inward investment, particularly in high value-added sectors.
Those are some of our achievements over the past year. We have made progress, perhaps not as much as we hoped to, since we addressed the Assembly this time last year. However, some parties were slow to honour their responsibilities in the agreement, and that has come at some cost. I hope that the distractions of recent weeks will detain us no longer. The full implementation of the agreement must be pursued vigorously by those with direct responsibility and without further large-scale commitment of ministerial time. The people of Northern Ireland have every right to expect that their elected representatives will be fully and exclusively engaged in the task of making Northern Ireland a better place to live, a place at ease with itself, with a successful economy and first-class public services.
The important point is that we should continue to move forward. Northern Ireland needs and deserves peace and political stability to allow us all to work collectively and responsibly to identify and address the challenges that we face. Clearly, the public desires a successful, local Administration. It is incumbent on everyone who accepts a ministerial office to respect that desire and to work together to develop and deliver effective public services that meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
Despite distractions, work has continued in recent months to revise the Programme for Government, as we are required to do annually under the agreement. Six weeks ago we presented a revised draft to the Assembly for scrutiny. The programme commits us to a vision of a peaceful, cohesive, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, and the draft sets out how we intend to achieve that. It has been developed collectively, with detailed and constructive contributions from all Departments, including those headed by Ministers who do not currently attend Executive meetings. Consequently, it reflects the contribution of all of those who participate and share in this Administration.
The Deputy First Minister will highlight further key developments that have been made since the publication of the first Programme for Government and will set out how we plan to deliver our commitments, but first I will reiterate the importance of a locally accountable Administration to develop policies and programmes that address people’s needs. Our great strength as an Administration is that we are locally elected and accountable to that electorate.
However, that privileged position brings with it a responsibility to govern openly, to produce a Programme for Government and subject it to the scrutiny of the Assembly and society. The new openness in government lets people see and comment on our plans and proposals.
In our first Programme for Government we committed ourselves to building an accessible, accountable and responsible Administration, and the Executive remain firmly committed to those principles. We have also revisited and improved our public service agreements. They should be contracts between the Departments — which make up the Executive —, the Assembly and the public. They will set out the outcomes that Departments will work to achieve, with the resources voted by the Assembly. Public service agreements are therefore an integral part of the Programme for Government. Our commitments to precise targets enables the Assembly and the public to see precisely where we have succeeded and where there is still work to be done.
The Programme for Government will be supported by new service delivery agreements for every Department for 2002 and 2003. These will link the higher level targets in the public service agreements with actions, targets and budgets for improving service delivery. The service delivery agreements will focus on meeting customer needs and will be provided to the Assembly Committees for consideration in draft form before their publication next year.
Additionally, the Executive plan to enhance openness and accountability by publishing after the end of each financial year a report on the progress of the commitments made in the Programme for Government and in the public service agreements. That will inform the Assembly and the public of how much progress the Executive have made on their commitments.
I look forward to Members’ contributions to the debate. Their views will help to influence the final shape of the programme, which will be submitted to the Assembly for approval in a few weeks’ time.
The First Minister emphasised the importance of the Programme for Government and that the responsibility for its implementation lies with the Executive. Now that we have witnessed defining progress in decommissioning and in the solidarity and effectiveness of the pro-agreement parties, we can look forward to a period when we can focus, in an uninterrupted way, on developing and delivering policies to address the needs of the people.
In spite of difficulties in recent months, considerable progress was made on the Programme for Government by our predecessors, Sir Reg Empey and Séamus Mallon. That gave us a good basis for today’s debate and for further work until the programme’s final adoption on 10 December.
I will add to the First Minister’s assessment of the progress that the Executive have made and our plans for building on that progress as set out in the Programme for Government. I will detail how the Executive plan to develop their work and the partnerships that they hope to build with the Assembly, the Civic Forum and the public.
The Executive’s relationship with the Assembly is fundamental. The Assembly has a key role in scrutinising and approving the Programme for Government. Today’s debate plays an important part in that scrutiny process, and I look forward to listening to Members’ points and to the Committee submissions. The work of Committees is an important part of the scrutiny process, and the Executive are grateful to the Committees for the time that they take to consider and respond to the proposals contained in the draft Programme for Government. The Executive have received initial responses from some Committees and look forward to receiving the rest in the days ahead.
The Executive are ready to listen to, and consider, the Assembly’s ideas and suggestions. The Executive are ready to respond to the issues raised today or when the Programme for Government is finalised, which, as the First Minister indicated, will be in early December. The Assembly’s views will help to determine the final document. The Good Friday Agreement requires the Executive to propose and implement Programmes for Government, and it requires the Assembly to approve such programmes and their accompanying Budgets. The Executive particularly want to hear the Assembly’s views on the priorities and sub-priorities identified and on the actions that the Executive plan to take in support of those priorities.
The Executive highlighted, among other issues, the need for an appropriate approach to services for older people. We also want to hear the Assembly’s views on the equality aspects of the draft Programme for Government and the public service agreements.
The Programme for Government and the Budget are linked. The Programme for Government informs and influences the Executive’s decisions on budgetary allocations. We must work with the resources that are available to deliver our policies and our programmes. The Programme for Government and the Budget are therefore developed in tandem, and the Executive presented both documents to the Assembly in draft form in the same week. The Executive will do this again when next month they present to the House the revised Programme for Government and revised Budget. I hope that my retention of the Finance and Personnel portfolio for a short period will facilitate coherence between the Budget and the Programme for Government processes. I will be in trouble if that is not the case.
Joint public consultation covering both documents has been initiated. That has included the broad circulation of copies of the documents and newspaper adverts to encourage people to make their views known. The process also involves a series of consultation seminars at which Ministers and officials from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Department of Finance and Personnel are available to present details of the contents of the documents and to seek views on them.
The Assembly has already debated the draft Budget. Committees have given their views on it to the Committee for Finance and Personnel. However, today’s debate and the comments provided on the draft Programme for Government will also influence the Executive’s final Budget proposals.
The First Minister highlighted the role of the Programme for Government in identifying the priorities and programmes that reflect the needs of people here. A locally elected, accountable Administration is a real strength. We must build on the progress that has already been made, as outlined by the First Minister, if we are to realise our vision and make a positive difference. In this draft programme we continue to identify and develop approaches that respond to local need, and that work will continue in the Executive.
We are engaging others in the process by consulting openly in several key policy areas in a way that should ensure that we gain a full understanding of the views of local people before taking decisions that will fundamentally affect them.
With regard to health, a consultation process is under way on the report of the acute hospitals review group. Decisions are expected to be taken next year on the way forward. On education, consultation is in progress on the review of post-primary education, and proposals will be made next autumn.
With regard to agriculture, the vision group has published a comprehensive report on the future of the agrifood sector, with wide ranging recommendations on the structure and future direction of the sector. Again, the Executive are seeking views on that.
We plan to launch a comprehensive review of public administration by the spring, which will recognise the need for different structures under devolution and enable resources to be used in the best way to serve the public.
Earlier this year, the Executive agreed to initiate a programme of needs and effectiveness evaluations on the spending programmes. Evaluations are being carried out for health, education, housing, training and vocational education and financial assistance to industry. These five areas account for 70% of planned public spending in Northern Ireland. The evaluations are major pieces of work, involving this Department, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the relevant spending Departments. Their findings will be used to support our arguments to the Treasury about the Barnett formula. They should also help to provide us with a better understanding of how effective these major areas of spending are in supporting the priorities that the Executive set out in the Programme for Government.
The focus of the evaluation so far has been on identifying the levels of need for public spending here compared with levels for comparable services in England. The evaluations should be completed next spring so the results will be available in time to influence next year’s work on the Programme for Government and the Budget.
We are developing new approaches in other areas to meet local needs. The Executive are reviewing current rating policy and consulting on the role of the commissioner for children. We will shortly be making proposals on promoting sustainable development and producing new strategies for the regeneration of the most disadvantaged urban and rural areas. The key difference under devolution is that local politicians are taking the decisions on the issues that matter after full consultation with local people. The draft programme comprehensively sets out the plans of the Executive for the future government of Northern Ireland. Our challenge is to set aside politicking and focus on good and stable government.
The first challenge in the delivery of good and stable government is to ensure that the institutions provided for in the Belfast Agreement are given the opportunity to work effectively. We have seen their value. For example, the benefits of the structures for improving east/west and North/South co-operation were demonstrated during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks earlier in the year. Those structures helped us to control the situation.
There have been recent meetings of the joint ministerial councils on health and Europe. North/South implementation bodies have been set up to launch the crucial tourism company. We can now move to ensure that the North/South Ministerial Council delivers all the functions that were envisaged for it.
We must develop and focus our presence in Europe and North America and ensure that our interests are represented and protected and that our policies have communicated effectively. Good government should be provided in partnership with others. A top-down approach is not desirable.
During the Depression of the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said:
"These unhappy times call for the building of plans that….build from the bottom up".
I hope that we are leaving behind the unhappy times, but I agree with the rest of that sentiment. We must ensure that our plans build from the bottom up, not simply from the top down. That means that we must work in partnership with others.
We can turn our political structures, our permanent coalition Government, to our advantage. Those structures can provide stable policies that will encourage other stakeholders and players to recognise the Programme for Government, with its public service agreements and the service delivery agreements, as reliable long-term documents in which they can have confidence. Our form of coalition Government can become a guarantee of stability and allow others, whether investors or voluntary groups, to plan with some certainty of the continuity and steady development of Government policy. They can enjoy such confidence because they have been involved in policy development.
The Executive position report on the Programme for Government and Budget was presented to the Assembly in June, within days of Ministers receiving it. The draft Programme for Government and the public service agreements have also been with the Assembly for consideration. It is a transparent process that is open to all.
Furthermore, there can be confidence in the future because we have proved, in a short period, that four parties, responsible for as many as 11 Departments, can produce an agreed programme that can be developed as a planning tool to help us to agree, to set priorities and to work together.
I have already outlined the Assembly’s important role as a key partner. However, we must ensure that other partners, actual and potential, play their part too. We must work more closely with local government and the wider public sector, sharing our vision and aspirations, and ensuring that their programmes and services support and complement the Programme for Government. We must also work with our social partners in business, the trade unions and the voluntary sector, playing our part where it is our job to do so, but also ensuring that others have an opportunity to influence and contribute to the development of policies and the delivery of services. The Civic Forum will have an important role to play in that.
The establishment of local strategy partnerships at council level provides a unique opportunity for a new approach that will ensure that the partnership ethos becomes a key element of local and regional administration in the delivery of the Programme for Government.
The draft Programme for Government has been prepared by the Executive, and they stand ready to take responsibility for its delivery and for the important Budget decisions that will be taken to support it. We look to Assembly Members to help to finalise the document and to guide its annual development. I return to the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, who said:
"The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today."
I hope that we can put aside the doubts of today and move forward to realise the vision for tomorrow that is set out in the Programme for Government.
With the agreement, we have changed the form of government here. In the Assembly and elsewhere, we can change the face of government in ways that are radical but practicable, innovative but stable, and both responsible and responsive.
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, at its meeting on 9 November, agreed the contents of my contribution.
When the Committee responded to the Executive’s position report in July 2001, one of its main recommendations was that a new sub-priority should be established under the "Securing a Competitive Economy" heading, outlining an action plan for the short-term recovery of the rural economy. What has been included in the draft Programme for Government, in sub-priority 8, is a commitment to develop an action plan for the agrifood industry only. That goes part of the way towards what the Committee believes is necessary. There are other references, within the sub-priority, to the fair provision of public services, to conservation of the built heritage and natural resources and to the improvement of the management and co-ordination of local economic development initiatives in rural areas.
The Committee welcomes those intentions but remains convinced that a rural economy action plan, incorporating specific actions by specific Departments and agencies, would be the best way in which to ensure that good intentions are translated into tangible results. For example, LEDU — or, rather, the new Invest Northern Ireland agency — could make a specific commitment and set targets for rural areas. The Committee believes that such an action plan would be consistent with, and would complement, the longer-term objective of rural proofing, which will consider all significant new policies and actions being proposed by Northern Ireland Departments.
Seven months on from the target date for the establishment of the ministerially led group for rural proofing, the group has not met. Indeed, to our knowledge, it has not been formed. The four months spent fighting foot-and-mouth disease accounts for much of that delay, but rural proofing was heralded as being of vital importance to giving rural areas a fair deal. It must begin to work — and be seen to work — and make a difference to the life of rural people.
The Committee is due to meet the Minister at the end of this week, and I am sure that we will question her on implementation. Until then, Committee members can rely only on the working definition of rural proofing provided by the Department this year:
"A process to ensure that Government policies are examined carefully and objectively to determine whether or not there is a bias against rural dwellers, and in particular to make public services accessible on a fair basis to people wherever they live in Northern Ireland."
It is not described as clearly in the draft Programme for Government that we are debating today. The draft refers to rural proofing as a way of ensuring
"that the rural dimension is routinely considered as part of the making and implementation of policy."
Pending the receipt of further information from the Minister, the Committee suggests that the Programme for Government reference be strengthened from "routine consideration" to something that reflects the intention to have an active examination of policies and describes better the objectives of that examination.
Rural proofing must also be demonstrably effective. It is by definition, a negative procedure, attempting to ensure that policies are not harmful to rural interests. Would it not be better to have a positive procedure, running in tandem with rural proofing? For example, there could be a plan of positive actions to benefit those rural interests.
The Chairperson of the Agriculture Committee, Dr Paisley, drew attention last week to the plight of the fishing industry and of the communities depending on that industry; I must do so again. In July, the Committee felt that there should be a specific mention of the sea fisheries fleet and those who rely on it in any economic priorities. That position is unchanged.
Sub-priority 8 refers to participation at European level to ensure the recovery of Irish Sea cod stocks. The draft public service agreement (PSA) for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development also refers to the viability of the industry, relating it to the recovery of cod stocks and the value of fish landings. There is no reference to fisheries, however, in the policy analysis in sub-priority 8, and the Committee believes that that omission must be corrected before the final version is published.
There are other omissions from sub-priority 8 of the draft Programme for Government. Although strategic development of the agrifood industry is covered, the Committee considers that previous references to modernising and diversifying the structures of farming should be reinstated. That would allow for consideration of an early retirement scheme for farmers, should that be shown to be a viable possibility. People should be given the choice as to whether they want to use such a scheme.
In sub-priority 9 of ‘Securing a Competitive Economy’, there are references to farming about which the Committee has concerns. The third paragraph begins with the welcome recognition that farmers are "custodians of our countryside". People should not forget that. However, the paragraph also refers to a plan
"to introduce regulations covering the storage of silage, slurry and agricultural fuel oils on farms as well as regulations that will require work to be undertaken to prevent or deal with pollution."
We understand that the Department of the Environment recently issued proposals to introduce those regulations. The Ulster Farmers’ Union recognises the need to reduce the number of pollution incidents attributable to agriculture, but it is unhappy about the way in which the Department of the Environment proposes to do that. One of its concerns is the prohibitive cost for farmers.
The Committee notes that there is to be a farm waste management scheme, one of the small-scale schemes being carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development with Executive programme funds. It is doubtful, however, that that scheme will assist all those affected by the new regulations. The Committee therefore calls for close co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of the Environment to allow for sensitive and proportionate action, with adequate financial support for farmers, rather than draconian measures that farmers cannot afford to implement.
In attempting to concentrate on outputs, as recommended by the Executive’s position report, the Committee has tried to judge progress against the current PSA. We found that the level of detail in it was insufficient to enable the Committee to assess the outputs fully. We are told that the new PSAs will contain even less detail and that service delivery agreements will record the detailed actions. In that context, the Committee accepts that the new draft PSA probably reflects the main targets, although objective 2 includes targets at a much more operational level than objective 1. The Committee is more likely to obtain a better picture of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s performance by measuring progress against the service delivery agreement targets. We look forward to receiving the draft agreement in the near future.
The Committee feels strongly about those points. The Deputy First Minister this morning quoted President Roosevelt. I shall repeat a proverb: any man can make money, but it takes a wise man to spend it.
I want to compliment the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on their introduction of the Programme for Government this morning. It is the vade mecum of political life in Northern Ireland, touching on every aspect of how we live, sustain and enjoy ourselves and, eventually, on how we die — in the comfort and company of our families, thanks to care in the community.
The report also suggests that there is increasing co- operation between the parties in the coalition. Despite much of what we see in daily headlines, that coalition has brought together the Programme for Government. We are on the threshold of a new, more settled political situation.
The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister this morning showed the clarity with which they intend to proceed and the openness with which they intend to be assessed on their delivery of a complex and detailed programme. I am glad to hear them reiterate their commitment to full consultation with the community at all levels — elected, sectoral, almost individual. Only in that way can we understand the feelings and needs of the community and bring it along with us.
The essential element of any programme of good government is that we have peace in the community and international peace, though that is slightly beyond our remit. We have peace here, compared to what we had several years ago, but we do not have peace everywhere. Violence is more localised than before. We must try to address the underlying sense of injustice, be it social or economic, that propels such intercommunal violence. At the same time, we must isolate the remnant paramilitaries who exploit that sense of grievance.
We do not have total autonomy in how we raise funding, so we cannot fund all the areas that we would like. There are two aggravating points relating to UK taxation that I must mention at the start. Those points have the constant attention of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the other relevant Departments. First, there is the ongoing impact of excessive fuel duties, which are particularly devastating to family industries and economic life along the border. Then, there is the aggregates tax, which, it is estimated, will cost around 3,500 jobs, if, as threatened, it is fully put into operation from April 2002. I give full support to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance and Personnel in their endeavours to ensure that there is a revision of that tax.
The impact of the increase in supply and use of drugs in our community is a major social problem that must be tackled. It must be provided for in the greatest possible way. Unfortunately, at this stage, it is beyond the devolved powers of the Administration and remains in the reserved powers area. Not only do drugs have a detrimental effect on people, they have an ongoing effect on the life of the community and general social and economic well-being. Drug use is often promoted by paramilitaries, and, along with the smuggling connected with the aggregates tax and fuel duties, creates an additional lawlessness that we must address urgently, if we are to establish the society that is envisaged in the Programme for Government and which we desire.
I have no departmental axe to grind, and no departmental axe to wield. I want to refer to some departmental aspects of the Programme for Government, which also dictates the Budget. Mr Savage referred to the concerns of the agricultural community. I have a great fear for the future of that community, in the broadest sense of the word. The BSE crisis, the foot-and-mouth disease crisis and the exchange rate difficulties have taken up the headlines and disguised the underlying dramatic fall in farmers’ income. That will have an impact on the structure of farming.
We must consider how we see farming evolving as our basic industry. We talk about revitalisation, and we can do a certain amount through diversification, value- added programmes and schemes and creating additional outside jobs in the rural community. Although I have not yet read the full details, I welcome the additional £100 million announced this morning for revitalisation. We must also consider the basic structure of farming. We must allow the older farmer and the non-viable farmer to leave the industry in an honourable, voluntary and secure fashion. At the other end of the age spectrum, we must make it easier for young men and women to enter a viable farming industry. One of the criteria should be that it must be viable. Nonetheless, we must give farmers assistance. That could mean additional funding, by way of soft loans or interest-free loans, or ensuring that they have the technical knowledge of modern farming to compete in world markets and specialise in what they do. That is the only way in which we can survive.
I am a strong supporter of the land management scheme proposal. It treats farming as a holistic industry that provides not only a livelihood but a rural social fabric. It enhances and safeguards the environmental assets of which we are so proud. All those matters should be managed as one idea, and the proposal for land management should be given a new impetus. It is already being applied in France and has been proposed in Scotland. We must move faster to assess its value for Northern Ireland.
Two of the fishing ports are in South Down. The structure of the fishing industry must be examined. The £5 million decommissioning fund was introduced this year. Its purpose is to diminish the industry on the back of the conservation of stocks. I submit that the Northern Ireland fishing industry has contributed more than its fair share towards the conservation of stocks in the Irish seas. It is difficult for our fishermen, tied up in port as they were from January to February last year, to watch other fleets fishing the common fishing grounds, especially in the Irish Sea. Restrictions are based on scientific information that often proves to be wrong, which calls its validity into question. A critical mass must be maintained, not only for the farming of the sea but for the onshore added values that sustain the communities of the Down coastline and further afield.
The issue of flood plains is another farming and environmental matter that has not been given adequate attention. We are still building on areas that are liable to flood. There must be assessment and new ideas on that issue. We need an interdepartmental approach to helping rural communities. Certain communities in Northern Ireland cannot be helped by single-departmental approaches. Cross-departmental teams must work with them. Those communities are important; they are socially deprived and, in theory, they are priorities for support. That support is not being delivered.
I accept with joy the news that we are to create up to 35,500 new places in tertiary education. I hope that many of those will be in the new technologies that are so important to industry in Northern Ireland.
The Programme for Government is a broad canvas. Just a few brush-strokes can be put to it in the time available. However, there are some general issues. One of those is infrastructural commitment. In the past 50 or 60 years, many areas suffered from gross underinvestment. There are many reasons for that. Some are palatable and others are not, but I will not go into them now. There is no point in pursuing a grand design unless we have an infrastructure that reaches out to areas that were not provided for in the past. So much depends on that, including inward investment, farming, tourism and the general well-being of rural areas. I ask that the regional development plan be considered in that context. There are many areas that do not have a proper share of the cake, although I know that there are restrictions. I hope that the regional development plan will be audited financially and politically in order to ensure equity.
Leaving the need for inward industrial investment and expansion aside, health is our single greatest problem. We read about it every day and there have been debates in the Chamber about how to improve the situation. However, all we see is an increase in the number of people on waiting lists and decreasing facilities for care in the community. That is not about levels of income, or enjoyed leisure time; it is about pain and human suffering, and we must concentrate on that.
We have limited finances. The allocations to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety have been substantial, as have the subsequent add-ons over the past 18 months. Indeed, the February 2001 allocations were approximately £18 million. However, we need to examine how that money is spent. We should audit the systems, under which considerable sums are not being properly applied and do not reach the point of delivery of alleviation of pain and suffering. That is what our Health Service should concentrate on.
At the weekend, I talked to some prominent cancer specialists. We have a deplorable history of provision when it comes to cancer. We fall behind the whole of Western Europe and North America. Our techniques and our standards of diagnosis and treatment are woefully low. We have all had experience of cancer among our families, friends and acquaintances. There was to be a cancer centre of excellence four years ago, but there has been no progress. The machines used to treat cancer break down every day. A machine was ordered some months ago, but now it has been discovered that two machines are required. Procrastination, bureaucracy and red tape prevent us from moving forward. Correcting that state of affairs must be a high priority.
We are running into difficult times with regard to inward investment. The tragedy of 11 September has put tourism on the back foot. However, it would be appropriate if grant aid to industry were structured in such a way that communities that did not previously benefit, or suffered from a lack of investment, could be given an advantage by receiving structured grants to encourage them to set up and develop jobs locally.
There is a finite amount of money to spend, and all of our ambitions are restricted by that. I hope that the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will accelerate the re-negotiation of the Barnett formula to give us additional funding.
Ministers from every Department indicated in their statements that over the past 30 or 40 years a disproportionately small amount of money was invested in our infrastructure, the Health Service and education by comparison with the rest of the UK. A hidden injustice has been done.
Not only do we need a restructuring of the funding devolved for the current year from the Treasury at Whitehall; we urgently need a clawback of money from past years so that we can rectify underfunding and underrenewal and revitalise our basic services. If that does not happen, it will be an enormous uphill struggle to maintain our current provision, let alone catch up with modern provision. It is to be hoped that this matter will be treated urgently otherwise we will be unable to provide adequate, modern services for the environment and for people.
I compliment the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and other Ministers on their presentation of the Programme for Government and the resultant funding. As a parting shot, this is a coalition programme, and it is the responsibility of all the Ministers severally and jointly. In future, I do not want to hear Ministers blaming other Departments by innuendo or inference. They are in it together. They must deliver together, and I hope that that will be the way in which this community will work.
I will speak first as the Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment and then comment as a constituency representative. I trust that Members have noted the important paragraph entitled ‘Promoting sustainable living’, on page 8 of the draft Programme for Government. It states:
"We want to achieve effective protection of the environment and the prudent use of natural resources, and high and stable levels of economic growth. We need therefore to consider the environmental impact of all key policies. We will seek to do so in an increasingly integrated way, that will embed the principles of sustainable development in the rural and urban economy."
The Committee for the Environment will note the designation of sustainable development as a key theme to cut across the five priority areas.
Those are fine words. However, the draft Programme for Government falls short of reflecting the Executive’s commitments in their priorities and sub-priorities. Sustainable development is not the old environmental agenda dressed up in new language. It is about going back to the most basic assumptions about the workings of the economy. Sustainable development is about learning to live once again within ecological and social limits. All of the challenges will require innovation in policy-making and new mechanisms for cross- departmental implementation.
The final paragraph on page 39 states:
"As we take forward our work to develop a competitive economy we are conscious also of the need to develop sustainably [sic] as a region. We will work to protect and enhance our natural and built environment, following the fundamental principles of sustainable development including the "precautionary principle", the "polluter pays" principle and will promote the conservation of biodiversity."
Those are laudable phrases, but what do they mean? In regard to the Department of the Environment, little information is to be found on the conservation and protection of the built heritage. That is due to the meagre finances that are made available to ensure that our built heritage is protected. That paragraph indicates that the Executive will continue to view the environment primarily as a constraint, rather than an opportunity to enter and develop new economic activities.
Last October the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told a conference that the global market for environmental goods and services is currently estimated at $335 billion — comparable to the world’s market for pharmaceuticals — with a forecast that it will grow to $640 billion by 2010. Progressive European, particularly Scandinavian, economies now recognise that the embedding of environmental protection and eco-efficiency in their approach to production and consumption is integral to their competitiveness, given the emergence of multibillion dollar markets for environmentally sound products.
Let us look at some of the recommendations in the draft Programme for Government. On the sub-priority of energy on page 41, the reference to renewable energy sources should be expanded to highlight the importance of research and development and the development of the local renewable energy sector. In considering energy in the context of sustainable development, the question of domestic consumption must be addressed. We also need to embed energy efficiency in our thinking on the overall efficiency of the economy, including opportunities to develop and export new technology.
On the sub-priority of planning, the current text fails to adequately acknowledge and address the major interest and concern about the lack of accountability, transparency and grass-roots access to affordable or free technical and legal assistance to engage effectively with the planning authorities, notably the Planning Appeals Commission.
Under the sub-priority of the promotion of entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity, there is a need to include more concrete commitments, involving our economic development agencies, to explore research and development for the promotion of new markets for recycled products and new approaches to production and ecological design. That is essential to implement the important shift in our approach to resource use, as set out in the Northern Ireland waste management strategy, to which I will return.
I note that the specific support actions listed under the sub-priority relating to the environment are restricted mainly to traditional pollution abatement and environment protection measures. In other words, they are all "end-of- pipe" solutions.
My Committee views the ‘Working Together’ section as an area where the Executive have a prime opportunity to "walk the talk" and to stimulate practical support for sustainable development in Northern Ireland. The Executive should demonstrate leadership by giving commitments to improve their own environmental performance and develop environmentally sustainable Government procurement policies across the Departments. That single action could dramatically impact on markets for recycled and recovered materials.
The development of such markets is one of the crucial foundation stones for the success of the Northern Ireland waste management strategy. Public procurement policy can play an important part in stimulating and supporting developing markets for recycled products. Resource efficiency can also play a role in the drive to reduce departmental costs. That is a laudable desire and would free moneys for the development of new services.
The Northern Ireland waste management strategy commits all Departments to set targets towards the recovery of a minimum of 40% of total office waste, with at least 25% of that recovery coming from recycling or composting in 2000-01. The strategy specifically states:
"In leading by example, Departments will also agree targets for other waste streams."
It is time to include these commitments in the Programme for Government so that those in authority can take a credible position on promoting a sustainable society among other stakeholders. Lead, therefore, by example. According to figures released by the Environment and Heritage Service, public administration, health and social services and education account for 33% of the commercial and industrial waste generated in the Province each year.
The draft Programme for Government states that we need to consider the environmental impact of all key policies. That should be strengthened by a time-bound commitment to develop a methodology and implementation plan for sustainability impact assessments for all Government policies and objectives. Executive programme funds should be used to bring that about.
A commitment to, and understanding of, sustainable development is not measured by the rigour of environmental policies alone, but by an ability fully to integrate environmental considerations and opportunities across all Departments and policy objectives.
The Committee for the Environment had invited the UK Sustainable Development Commission to a lunchtime seminar in Parliament Buildings on 20 November. Unfortunately, the seminar has been postponed by the commission until March 2002. That will allow Members to be brought up to speed on sustainable development by leading experts in the field.
I have many points that I wish to raise, but other members of the Committee will address some of the environmental issues. As a constituency Member I will now raise some other matters.
The draft Programme for Government on page five states:
"We also want to improve the quality of treatment and health and social care available to those who need it. We are committed to looking at ways of improving standards of care and maximising the effectiveness of our health and social services."
Everyone is horrified at the state of our health and the Health Service. People are lying on trolleys in hospitals; people are lying at home; our elderly are forsaken. They believed that they would be cared for by the Health Service, having worked and paid for it all the days of their lives. Now we find that home helps’ hours are to be cut, and many of our elderly are left on waiting lists for home helps. We have 90-year- olds waiting for home helps to help them out of bed, to dress them or to light a fire. Is such a service appropriate in any age, never mind in the year 2001? We hear fancy terms like "care in the community", but where is that care? The Department decided to put people out of hospital into the community and promised them care packages.
I support care in the community, but it is not being provided. Care in the community was an easy way for the Department to get people out of hospital, to get them off its hands and then to forget about them. This was done in the hope that someone else, especially family members, would look after the elderly in their later days.
It is a tragedy that some sick and elderly people in the community might die before they receive care. They cannot even get a scan or the basic attention that they ought to receive in any vibrant Health Service. I do not believe that we will get an appropriate Health Service simply by throwing money at it. There must be a proper approach. Many in the Department do not have a clue about how to deal with the present crisis, let alone prepare for the winter months.
In my constituency of Mid Ulster, there is a great difference between the spending of the different education sectors. For example, in Mid Ulster or the district of Magherafelt, there is massive spending on maintained schools. I have no objection to that. However, because there are limited resources, what has happened to the controlled schools? Children from the Protestant community go to state-provided, controlled- sector buildings that are dilapidated, depressing and deteriorating. What do they see in the maintained schools in the same towns? They see new buildings and millions of pounds being spent. Surely, if money is limited, as we are told, the resources ought to be spread across the community. The delivery of resources to only one section of the community drives a coach and horses through all the phrases about community that are contained in the document that is being presented today.
Finally, I want to speak about the farming community. I come from a rural area, where farming is still a major industry. We do not have any of the multinational companies found in many other regions. Perhaps that will spare us from the effects of the multinationals pulling out, if the present economic trends continue.
I note that the events of 11 September are being blamed in this debate for all of our ills. For example, it was suggested that British Airways pulled out of Antrim as a result of the events of 11 September. Nothing could be further from the truth. British Airways intended to pull out long before 11 September. It is our national carrier, but it has turned its back on the people of Northern Ireland. It ought to be condemned for that decision. Let us not blame all failures on the tragic events of 11 September.
We face economic difficulties, none more severe than those affecting the farming community. Farmers are told, "Diversify, diversify, diversify." However, little or nothing has been done to ensure that they can diversify. The farming sector has faced BSE, foot-and-mouth disease and many other problems. However, we have no details of a retirement scheme for those farmers who wish to retire, nor of young entrants’ schemes. We talk about ensuring that young people enter the farming industry. Young people with a vision for the future of farming should be encouraged to stay in the rural community. However, the burden of diversification is placed solely upon the farmers.
Imaginative action is needed from the Department to ensure that the countryside is not left derelict, that those farmers who are able to diversify can do so, and that those farmers who put food on the table can continue to do so for the betterment of our people.
A LeasCheann Comhairle. I will speak now, because I have other meetings to attend this evening. I will speak first as Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee.
Last week the Deputy Chairperson, James Leslie, spoke in the Budget debate. The Programme for Government and the Budget are the most important items to come before the Assembly. Each is dependent on the success of the other. To have a view on one, you must be aware of the other issues involved. On behalf of the Finance and Personnel Committee, I call on the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to take on board the views and concerns of Committees before the Programme for Government is finalised.
I congratulate Mark Durkan, who is currently absent from the Chamber, on his appointments as Deputy First Minister and as leader of his party. The Committee found him to be an effective and popular Minister in its dealings with him. I am sure that he will prove to be just as effective in his new roles.
The Committee for Finance and Personnel welcomed the opportunity to comment on the Programme for Government and the Budget that will fund it. The Committee first did so after the Executive position report was issued in June. The Committee issued a report on its findings. Since then, the Committee has reported on each departmental Committee’s response to the Executive programme funds. The Committee found that some bids had little to recommend them as regards cross-cutting initiatives and, as such, the rationale for the funds. That raises questions about the funds’ effectiveness. There must be new ideas and cross- departmental roles and programmes in order to maximise those funds in the future.
The Committee’s latest report on the draft Budget will be finalised by the Committee today and published this week. I recommend that the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Executive read all of these reports and deal with the recommendations in them before finalising their own commitments.
Today we are looking at the Assembly’s priorities and how far they will meet the public’s needs. The challenge in the Programme for Government was first set out in the Belfast Agreement, but it remains relevant today: to create a peaceful, cohesive, inclusive and prosperous society that will be stable and fair to all. The Programme for Government and the Budget can put in place the means to achieve that goal. We must decide whether the Programme for Government, and the priorities in it, will produce that society. The decisions made in the coming days will determine how we spend the many billions of pounds that the programmes will need. It is vital that those decisions impact on how the Budget is spent in the next year and the years to come.
There is a chance today to call for effective programmes that can make a real and positive difference. The Committee for Finance and Personnel looked at the key priorities set out by the Executive for the Department of Finance and Personnel in the Programme for Government. Committee members examined, and were generally content with, the thrust of the five key priorities.
I warmly welcome the Executive’s work in setting out the strategic framework for each Department and the priorities that can be set. The public service here has been working in individual departmental boxes for far too long. Little effort has been made to co-ordinate and deliver cross-cutting services. We need to develop that in the future so that there are cross-cutting themes. The public has suffered from the boxing-in of the past. Each Department dealt with its own work and did not examine how effective cross-cutting roles could be achieved. Spending plans must reflect the change in priorities, and will be informed by an objective analysis of those priorities.
Questions were asked about the sub-priorities. I wrote to the Minister of Finance and Personnel and to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about those matters. Issues addressed included the work to reform the public administration in areas of public procurement. Members were concerned that the reforms should give value for money. Financing the programmes is the most important issue, and the Committee considered Section 7, sub-priority 4 of the draft Programme for Government, which deals with new ways of financing public services. It states:
"Additional sources of finance will be secured, including partnerships with the private sector".
We all know that money is very tight and that it is not available for the programmes that we would want, but we must ensure that the correct priorities are in place. How we obtain additional sources of finance is important, and that will determine our success in meeting the public’s needs. Members will recall the Committee’s recent examination of the use of public-private partnerships to finance public services. One of the key findings of the report, which was published in July, was that public-private partnerships were not always the best answer and should not be seen as the saviour of all public services. Alternatives are public money and other sources of finance such as bonds.
On page 63 of the draft Programme for Government the Executive appear confident that additional sources of finance, including partnerships, will be secured — not just that they "may" be secured, but that they "will" be. How will that money — hundreds of millions of pounds — be made available? I have asked the Department of Finance and Personnel to confirm the sources and extent of the additional finance. Public- private partnerships may help in some situations, but they are not a panacea for all ills. The events of 11 September reinforced that opinion. The world economy suffered, and it is no longer in its healthy position of six months ago. As a result of the downturn in the economy the private sector may not be willing to invest in our relatively small market, nor is the British Treasury likely to be so liberal. Obviously, the war chest has been opened and its contents spent. We may have missed opportunities for a peace dividend in our new situation.
The Executive also say in the draft programme that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that the contribution made by rates towards public expenditure will be at an appropriate level. My Committee has commented in the past on the use of rates to finance public service. The Deputy First Minister, as Minister of Finance and Personnel, is well aware of our views, but it is perhaps premature to expect a significant contribution prior to the review of the rating system.
We must discuss with the Treasury underinvestment and the role of the Barnett formula in determining changes to the block grant. It is often pointed out that public spending per head is higher here than in England, Scotland and Wales, but we must compare like with like. We must ensure that there is an increase in direct payments, for example towards health and the infrastructure. Direct payments have been made in England, Scotland and Wales, and our allocation has not been fair. We need to look at the block grant as an add-on, and we may have missed out on it. Mr McGrady pointed out the need to rectify the lack of money spent in the last few years. We must ensure that we get the money that we should have had in the past.
From the evidence that was revealed in a debate last week in the House of Lords, it does not appear that the Barnett formula will be reviewed quickly. In responding to the debate, the Government spokesperson, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that the formula had stood the test and was as relevant now as it was in 1978. It had been updated in different spending reviews, but that was of no benefit to us. The Barnett formula does not meet our need.
My Committee supports the general thrust of the draft Programme for Government —
Mr Molloy, this is perhaps a good time to interrupt. The sitting is by leave suspended and will resume at 2.00 pm.
The sitting was suspended at 12.30 pm.
On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —
I wish to acknowledge the references that Members made to environmental issues. Mr McGrady referred to flood claims and to building in areas that are liable to flooding. I take that point on board; my officials are aware of that issue and will watch out for it, especially after the debacle in England a couple of years ago.
Dr McCrea referred to sustainable development. What we do today should be valuable for tomorrow; what we do for today’s children should be valuable for tomorrow’s children. He referred to the fact that finances were not available for built heritage. I am aware of our financial constraints, which make it difficult for us to maintain built heritage. He also noted that new technology was required for energy efficiency. He mentioned that there was not enough transparency and speed in planning. I was pleased to hear Dr McCrea advocate transparency, because we recently had a difference of opinion about transparency in other matters. Planning is a difficult issue. People are often dissatisfied with it — if someone is successful, it is fine; if someone is unsuccessful, it is not.
Several Members mentioned markets for recycled products. It will be difficult to create such markets because the size of Northern Ireland means that it cannot compete in large markets. However, the cross- border bodies may provide us with the opportunity to open markets on an all-Ireland basis. The waste management strategy is a big issue and will be a learning process. However, councils’ waste management strategy plans are at an advanced stage. Those strategies constitute the Department of the Environment’s aim. It is neither intended to be a wasted effort nor an effort in waste. Members said that the draft Programme for Government contained a lot of rhetoric. However, a lot of us are filled with rhetoric, not merely one or two of us.
I welcome the challenge. The environment was the poor relation under direct rule, and, unfortunately, I inherited massive backlogs in the planning system and in environmental legislation, as well as a depleted road safety organisation. The situation that I inherited shocked me. My first priority was to obtain more resources for the Department of the Environment, and I was pleased to secure an extra 26% for the Department’s budget. That was the second largest increase achieved by a Minister. However, we must remember that that came from a small base. The staffing of the Planning Service has increased from 450 to 500 and continues to rise. Staff at the Environment and Heritage Service will number more than 320 in 2002, compared with 260 in 2000. The number of road safety education officers has almost doubled from 11 to 21.
Resources are only a means to an end. Although the Department of the Environment does not build roads, hospitals or schools, which one can see and touch, it delivers a range of services that touch on the interests of every citizen in Northern Ireland. Since I have been Minister, the Planning Service has dealt with an ever increasing number of applications. There were 20,000 per year when I took office; that number now runs at around 24,000. This year, the Planning Service is preparing 11 development plans. For the first time, the Planning Service is on course to achieve full plan coverage for Northern Ireland by 2005. That includes the Belfast metropolitan area plan. Planning is controversial. We could scour the world and not find a planning system that does not attract criticism. That is because, in the small minority of controversial cases, someone is always disappointed with the decision, and the disappointed often make the most noise.
If the environment does not work, nothing will work. Northern Ireland’s clean, green image is central to what makes it a desirable location for visitors and business. We are blessed with good air, river quality and an appealing and varied landscape. However, we must be vigilant in protecting those assets and improve them where necessary. In particular, the amount of river pollution incidents, which do so much damage to fish stocks, habitats, leisure and tourism, has disappointed me. To meet that threat — and others — I have accelerated plans for local air quality management; increased the monitoring of rivers; introduced enhanced powers to prevent and remedy pollution; and brought forward plans to improve the protection and monitoring of our most important environmental sites. In addition, steady progress is being made towards bringing Northern Ireland’s environmental legislation into line with EU requirements — a huge task that was seriously neglected under direct rule.
Perhaps the greatest environmental challenge is that posed by the radical changes needed in waste management. Put simply, to protect our environment, we must reduce, reuse and recycle. We must ask ourselves what right we have to pollute, litter, waste and destroy our biggest asset — the planet itself. There is not much point building houses if we have no planet to live on. What is the economic sense of putting valuable materials into holes in the ground? I am pleased to have helped to put the flesh on the bones of the waste management strategy. District councils, under guidance from the Department of the Environment, are now well advanced in the preparation of waste management plans.
I pay tribute to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland and the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency. I was pleased to oversee a £57 million contract that will transform all our MOT centres into state-of-the-art, high- tech arenas. I also welcome the value for money and care for the environment achieved in the delivery of cheaper motor tax for smaller cars. It is a rare pleasure in government to be able to return money to people’s pockets.
The issue closest to my heart is road safety — a big issue. The hard-hitting publicity campaigns that I have introduced on drink-driving, speed and seat belts are changing public attitudes. The doubling of the number of road safety education officers creates a brighter prospect for road users. While one death is too many — we have had 123 deaths this year so far — this year has, thankfully, seen some improvement on the previous year. We are finalising a road safety plan that should allow us to continue the downward trend in deaths and serious injuries.
Devolution has been a success — it has certainly been better than direct rule. However, the fact that Ministers are drawn from Northern Ireland’s elected representatives does not mean that they have magic wands. The successes that I spoke of required a massive amount of hard work by my staff. The same applies to all Ministers and Departments. We must recognise that our devolution system reflects our historic and current divisions. The system contains all sorts of checks and balances, and, as a result, it is not built for speed.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the environmental aspects of the Programme for Government. We do work hard and the Department of the Environment exists to serve people. It is more of a service agency than a providing agency. I am pleased to be part of that.
I echo the words of Mr Foster: there is no magic wand in the current devolution system. However, expectations are higher than they were under direct rule, and there is a need to satisfy those expectations.
Last year, the first phase of the Programme for Government was said to be ambitious. It now seems to be overambitious. A member of our research staff gave me six pages of unfulfilled commitments. Many of those could be expected to be achieved only by the end of the year, but there were many commitments in last year’s Programme for Government that had completion dates in June, August, September, October, autumn and summer: they have disappeared from sight.
The Executive must explain not only their Programme for Government next year, but how they are achieving what was set out in the Programme for Government this year. The introduction to this year’s programme says:
"Since March, we have made good progress under each of the five priorities we identified."
That is at variance with the figures that we have, which suggest that there is much lacking in many areas. I set that in the context of the words of the First Minister on 5 March in proposing the adoption of the Programme for Government:
"However, those who were consulted in the Assembly recognised that the Programme for Government was a realistic, organised and costed programme based on the reality that budgets are finite." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 9, p.391]
If the programme was realistic, organised and costed, and the Executive have apparently failed to deliver, our ambitions have not been proven, but neither have theirs. Something must be at fault if nothing has been achieved. Members trust that the Executive are not only writing a programme for next year, but are devoting energy to achieving the targets that they set for this year.
There appears to be some woolly thinking about the future programme. This time last year, it was said that public service agreements would make sense of the Programme for Government and apply it within Departments. I refer Ministers to section 5.10 on pages 48 and 49, which is predominantly about agriculture. Thirteen aspirations that are set out in the early paragraphs are reduced to six specific bullet points, only four of which appear in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s public service agreement. How can there be coherence when woolly ideas become a limited number of bullet points and do not appear in the relevant Department’s plans? The talk was of joined-up government, but the Executive are failing to meet their own standards.
The Department of the Environment’s public service agreement on page 96 of the programme refers specifically to best value for district councils. The Minister can be assured that I am not attempting to recreate last Thursday’s row over the Department’s best value proposals and the Committee’s concerns. However, there is a reference to section 7.5 of the Programme for Government, which does not comment on best value for district councils. It seems that the Department’s agreement is not endorsed by the Executive. It does not appear to flow from the Programme for Government to the Department, which seems to be creating items that have not been thought of by the Executive. Where is the coherence? Where is the joined-up government?
The current plans lack credibility. There was an admission in the Budget debate that health and social services needs, considered by many to be main priorities, cannot be met by the budget that has been allocated to that Department. What is the point of a Programme for Government that will create difficulties when it is not achieved, especially if it has already been admitted that it cannot be achieved? If the Executive cannot allay public concerns about health and social services and cannot deal with concerns about acute hospital services, community care, childcare and psychiatric services, what is the point of the programme?
Last year, Members were concerned about community relations and tackling divisions. The Executive took no notice of Members this time last year or during the debate in March 2001. I welcome the fact that, since then, they have addressed some of those concerns. Some references have been strengthened. If the Executive are going to put in place a cross-departmental strategy during 2002, has that plan started with the cross- departmental working group that my Colleague Mr Kieran McCarthy proposed in the House some time ago? Can the Executive be sure that they will deliver a strategy that they have not begun to think about? The Executive have not given us the impression that they move so fast that only a short time is needed between early consideration of an issue and having a strategy in place to deal with it.
Ministers will have to explain the meaning of the formulation in paragraph 2.4 on page 12:
"Of particular importance is the need to support the capacity of local communities to deal with the matters of dispute and division including the proliferation of sectarian graffiti, unauthorised flag flying, the erection of memorials and other issues that can lead to community tensions".
It seems that when they refer to the "capacity of communities", it is an excuse for public authorities to do nothing about offensive graffiti, murals, paramilitary flags until the local hard men allow it. I would like to hear Ministers say that they will allow 95% of the community to tackle the problem, in conjunction with public agencies, rather than waiting until the local hard men allow them to do so.
Integrated education is another issue that falls into the important category of promoting sharing. Page 32 states:
"integrated and Irish-medium education have grown in response to the wishes of parents."
Provision of integrated education has certainly grown. However, a few weeks ago, the Minister told me that there was an excess of demand for places in integrated schools in comparison with other schools. Clearly, provision of such education has not grown in response to the wishes of parents. Had it done so, there would be sufficient capacity to satisfy the desire of parents. It is time to tidy up the language a little. No doubt, by the time that Mrs Eileen Bell has further explored that point, Ministers will be able to assure me that my fears that their language does not convey what they wish are utterly unfounded, and that they will move forward when they revise the programme.
Last year, I said that the test would be how well the Programme for Government dealt with the specific problems of Northern Ireland and its divided society — which are not those of other regions of the United Kingdom — in order to promote sharing over separation. There have been some small steps forward in this year’s draft, compared to last year’s. However, the Executive have much to do to convince us that they are tackling those problems.
I agree with the remarks of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, particularly Mr Durkan’s observation that we have reached a defining moment in the operation of the Assembly. We have spent a great deal of time concentrating on the political nature of our intertwining and interlocking relationships and on the establishment of what we hope will be good government. It is time to concentrate on proving to the people that we can deliver good government. That is what the programme should be about. For three years, we have promised change. I do not deny that huge political change has occurred. However, our duty is to now ensure that that change filters down to the streets, so that people can not only see, but touch, feel, hear and smell change for the better in our society.
The first overall objective must be the eradication of poverty from Northern Ireland. It is an indictment of our society that one child in three lives in poverty. We must tackle that problem and reduce the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
The second priority is to tackle divisions in society — an issue referred to by Mr Ford. We must make real change and tackle the disease of sectarianism that stalks our streets at its root. We cannot afford to ignore it. However, we need help from churches and schools. Integrated education is an important instrument, as Mr Ford said, but we also need help from other groups that work in the cross-community field, for example, the youth organisations and community groups and leaders who do such wonderful work. Furthermore, we must recognise and reward them for that work, in the form of solid financial backing. It is all right to commend workers for their efforts to end strife in the community, but grand words are not enough — they need money and support. There is superb funding available in the European peace and reconciliation programme to help community groups with that type of work, but we as a Government, as an Assembly, must do much more to support the tremendous work that is being done on the street.
The terrible state of the Health Service is plain to see, and we have heard that many times in the Assembly. We have heard how waiting lists have grown in the past two years. The Executive seriously need to get their heads and their money around that. We need support for our hospitals. Patients are dissatisfied; nurses are seriously concerned about their own health because of the pressure that they are under and worry about their professionalism being compromised because of lack of funding and resources. The situation must be addressed immediately, and funding must be made available for that purpose.
Free nursing care for the elderly was to be in the programme, but funding has been withdrawn. I would appreciate an explanation and possibly a commitment to reinstate it.
Does the Member agree that some of the crises in the health sector are due to a lack of funding over the past 30 years? That is a test for the Executive. The Health Committee requested that Ministers look at their own budgets and that the Executive consider additional money for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
I am not necessarily in the business of blame, but it is necessary to find money. It does not matter where the money comes from, but it must come fast.
Cancer services is another area of vital importance. I can recall a serious incident from personal experience. My father died of cancer two years ago. A month after he died, we received a letter from his consultant asking him to come for an appointment. What does that say about the Health Service? A consultant who never saw my father asked a dead man to come for an appointment and was not even aware that he had died.
I am glad that we are starting to get to grips with what I can only describe as a Dickensian education system, which puts children, teachers and parents through the trauma of the 11-plus. I must admit to the House that I am going through that trauma at present, along with my son, his teachers and our family. Leaving my son to do his first 11-plus exam last Friday was possibly worse than facing the wrath from certain quarters of the Assembly when I changed designation. We cannot put children through the 11-plus any longer, and it is good that there is now a commitment to change. I am sorry that it is not happening faster. Two years is too long.
I want to pinpoint two transport issues — trains and road safety. I was glad to hear the Minister of the Environment talk about his plans for road safety. That is well and good, but it is not enough. The Minister quoted the figures — 120 or more have already died this year on the roads. Much more must be done, in a totally concerted effort. We need traffic-calming systems, home safety zones and reductions in speed limits. Is there not something called a governor that can cap the speed that a car can do? Lorries have them at a limit of 50 miles per hour. Why cannot cars be governed — I am talking about those driven by young men who persistently break speed limits — so that they cannot be driven over a certain speed? Creative thinking is needed, and it is vital that we do something.
Our train service is a shame and a disgrace. Good commitments have been made, and money is coming in, but we are impatient. We want to get on a train and sit in a clean carriage in comfort. We want to be told where we can get off, why the train has stopped or even that it will not be delayed any longer. We need a first-class service in everything here — I am not just talking about trains.
The importance of the social economy is being examined by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Sir Reg Empey. It is essential that we build on the important work that is done in that area — the voluntary sector — and adopt the same business-like approach. I also underline the importance of social responsibility in business. Groups such as Business in the Community must be commended for the work that they do to encourage businesses to get involved in the community and realise that the bottom line is not always profit; it can also be about people and contributing to the community.
Another issue related to the economy is energy, and renewable energy is something in which I take a keen interest. It was mentioned earlier and covers energy sources such as wind — offshore or onshore — solar, biomass and agriculture. We passed a motion at our annual conference that we should aim at drawing 30% of our energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. That is a long way off. If we are to get there, we must start providing incentives for pilot and demonstration projects. We must encourage the use of renewable energy, because, as we well know, fossil fuel energy will not last forever: renewable energy will.
My final point on the economy is one that is obviously close to my heart — the euro. There are 50 days to go, and we act as though we are in an isolation box and will not be affected by the single currency. It is good that there are euro preparation forums up and down the country telling businesses what to do, but if I were to walk into the Canteen here with euros in my pocket, would the staff say, "Sorry, I cannot take those"? The public and businesses want to know what they are to do when someone from Dublin arrives and says that he wants to spend euros? We must get to grips with what will happen.
I want to compliment the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Executive for progress on the post of children’s commissioner. It has been said that the commissioner will be in place by next April. Let us hope so; it is important. The finance for the post is important. The establishment of the post of children’s commissioner is not about handing over responsibility for children to one office and removing it from our jurisdiction. That must not be the case.
As I said earlier, one child in every three in Northern Ireland is born into poverty. Per capita spending on children’s services in Northern Ireland is £143; that is £74 less than in England. More children live in poverty here, yet we are spending less money on children’s services. That must be recognised, and something must be done about it. This issue is connected to the Department for Regional Development’s publication, ‘Shaping our Future’. Play strategies are important, but I do not see them anywhere. Local councils and other bodies need play strategies, not just playgrounds and street corners. The important issue is child care and the way in which we interact with children — [Interruption].
Order. The Member is keen to promote family-friendly hours. By my calculation, if all the other Members whose names are currently on the speaking list speak for only the length of time that Ms Morrice has been on her feet, we shall not leave the House before 10.00 pm. Can the Member bring her remarks to a close?
Twelve months down the line, when we examine what has been achieved by the Programme for Government, we will want to see results. We should be able to go to every man, woman and child in the street and ask what devolved government has done for them, and they should have a positive response.
I welcome this second draft Programme for Government. I would like to focus on public service agreements.
There are some general issues concerning public service agreements. If used properly, they are a useful innovation in governance. However, there is a danger that if the goalposts are shifted, they could become less meaningful. That may be happening in the Department for Employment and Learning. In the draft Programme for Government of February 2001, a target of attaining 550 Investors in People awards was set for March 2002. However, the current draft Programme for Government does not refer to such a target. The Department’s business plan for 2000-01 implies that the March 2002 target has been reduced from 550 to 535. Unfortunately, that change and the shifting of the goalposts in respect of public service agreements is not explicit in the current draft Programme for Government. That may seem like a quibble on my part, and, although a decrease in Investors in People awards by 15 will hardly revolutionise the Northern Ireland economy or society, the principle of transparency in respect of public service agreements applies. I hope that other public service agreements that have been altered in an attempt to make them more attainable are not scattered throughout the draft programme.
There are many welcome references to the Department for Employment and Learning. In the First Minister’s introduction, he rightly heralded the major increase in the number of study places in further and higher education. The Committee welcomes that increase. On page 17 of the draft programme it is recognised that there are some non-transferred areas of policy that have an impact on the vital cross-cutting issue of employability — for example, the United Kingdom Government’s proposals for the integrated child credit and employment tax credits.
The horrendous problem of poor performance in respect of basic adult literacy and numeracy is highlighted on pages 30 to 31 elsewhere in the draft. As Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning, I must ask whether the resources allocated to tackling these problems are adequate.
I want now to broaden my comments, no longer speaking as the Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning. Mr Ford mentioned community relations, and few issues are more pressing for the Executive and the Assembly. I am pleased that the Executive aim to complete a review of community relations policy next year, which is indicated on page 13 of the draft.
As was revealed in the recent deliberations of the Committee of the Centre on a community relations strategy, £100 million of public money has been spent over the last 10 years in an attempt to improve community relations. That prompts me to ask what actual improvements were achieved by the £10 million per annum being spent on something that is clearly desirable. I hope that in the concluding deliberations of the review the right vision for a community relations policy will be borne in mind.
Of the Arab-Israeli problem, Amos Oz wrote that "rivers of coffee will not solve problems of land". The same is true here. Worthy initiatives in which children are taken to Portrush, or sent to France or the United States, may have a certain degree of benefit. However, it is unclear whether those schemes tackle the roots of poor community relations. Our conflict is not simply driven by a lack of knowledge of the "other" community, although it might be determined in part by that.
Does the Member agree that the difficulty with community relations in this society has been that providing cucumber sandwiches and tea has been seen as the way forward? Does he agree that what we need before we have community relations is a community development base on which to build? Furthermore, does he agree that we need to implement conflict resolution policies and that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should consider all of those matters and produce a report on the subject?
I thank the Member for his mini-speech. He has raised many points that are worthy of attention. The wrong vision for community relations would be one driven by a socially engineered attempt to assimilate differences. It should be about the toleration and management of difference, and some of the points made by Mr Hutchinson would help to advance those.
On page 15 of the document, the Executive undertake to consult by next year on the question of physical punishment of children in the home. Cruelty to children is possibly the worst form of cruelty. However, at this point, Northern Ireland is likely, in view of the general attitude here, to be closer to the approach that the Government in England and Wales have taken than the recent policy development in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament seems determined to introduce a politically correct ban on smacking.
Finally I will comment on the modernisation of public administration, the removal of unnecessary and duplicate layers of bureaucracy and finding new sources of funding. Those issues are covered from page 62 onwards of the draft Programme for Government. Ideally, we could do with a bonfire of the quangos, although that would have to be well considered.
Page 64 of the draft Programme for Government states that we should
"ensure that the rates" — that is, the regional rates —
"provide an appropriate level of contribution towards funding for public expenditure and that there is an equitable distribution of the rate burden on households and businesses."
That is a noble aspiration, but it would prove difficult to achieve.
Keeping an up-to-date valuation for the rates is an issue that must be considered. In previous debates many Members expressed the feeling that there was an inequity on the commercial rating side. For instance, the perceived low level of rates paid by some of the newest and, presumably, highly profitable shopping centres are not relative to the levels paid by traditional shops on arterial routes such as those in the city of Belfast. There should be a low rate of tax but a wide base from which that tax is collected, and the two are related.
Do any of the rates exemptions need to be re-examined? Being in the teeth of a possible economic recession, this is probably not the right time to collect the possible £50 million to £60 million per annum of rates from the industrial sector — which is currently exempt. However, the Executive should perhaps think of what may be possible in two or three years’ time, when it is hoped that we will be moving into a cyclical upswing. Blanket rate exemptions have been a blunt instrument for improving industrial competitiveness. That applies to all firms, be they immense, multinational branch plants or small, entrepreneurial, rapidly growing companies. That incentive to industrial development was introduced several decades ago under conditions that are less applicable today.
I welcome the second draft Programme for Government; it is a significant achievement. Regional government is something to be cherished. Mistakes will continue to be made — that is only human — but at least they will now be made by local politicians.
I will confine myself to commenting in my role as Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Arts and Leisure. As will be clear to any observer, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has a significant contribution to make to each of the Executive’s priorities. In that regard, the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure welcomes the fact that the revised draft Programme for Government highlights — in much greater detail than before — the role that the Department will play in the delivery of those policies. Almost all of the priorities refer in some way to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s activities.
The Committee revised the presentation and content of the document, and, in particular, it included a section setting out the actions completed since the first Programme for Government. However, the Committee feels that it would have been helpful to have also included a brief summary of progress on some actions and of those that may have slipped.
The Committee welcomes the recognition given to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s responsibilities by the inclusion in ‘Growing as a Community’ of a new sub-priority relating to cultural and linguistic diversity and maximising the benefits of culture, arts and leisure activities. We are concerned, however, that the draft Budget proposals for 2002-03 do not appear to support that important commitment through the allocation of additional resources to address clearly identified pressures in those areas.
The chapter ‘Working for a Healthier People’ in the draft Programme for Government has obvious implications for the work of the Department, and the Sports Council in particular, in promoting the benefits of sport and physical activity. Comments in the debate on the Budget left me feeling that we would be foolish to suggest large cuts in the funding for Departments such as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. While that might result in immediate help to the health budget, in the longer term there would be disastrous consequences for the prevention of ill health. All modern research shows that one pound spent on prevention is worth hundreds of pounds to the future health budget. I draw Members’ attention to a document produced by the Sports Council entitled ‘The Value of Sport’, which highlights the contribution that increased participation in physical activities can make to the health of our community and, consequently, to the health budget.
The Committee welcomes the reworking of the sub- priorities in the chapter entitled ‘Investing in Education and Skills’ in the Programme for Government. It notes that 50% of the sub-priorities now include a focus for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. They recognise the Department’s broad partnership role in promoting a culture of tolerance, developing creative potential and providing lifelong learning opportunities. I am glad to see the commitment to begin implementation of the unlocking creativity strategy.
We must recognise that the Department faces significant infrastructural challenges in respect of sub-priority 6, ‘We will preserve our cultural and information resources and make them available to the widest possible audience’. The Committee is glad that the draft document makes specific reference to the rich cultural and information resources in our museums, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and our 126 public libraries.
We are, however, concerned that while some additional moneys have been made available for the electronic library project and for PRONI, funding for the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) continues to be based on an annual battle for inadequate baseline allocations. I have raised this critical issue before. It is resulting in the continuing neglect of the fabric of our museums and the accumulation of an operating deficit of some £2 million this year in MAGNI.
The Committee has agreed that if the draft Programme for Government sets out a commitment to developing electronic access to archives, libraries and museums, the draft Budget proposals must ensure that these valuable resources do not continue to suffer from the effects of pre-devolution cuts and years of underfunding.
Chapter 5, ‘Securing a Competitive Economy’, has implications for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in respect of creative industries. The commitment to a programme of research on the potential development of creative industries and the production of a related action plan is noted. However, significant work has already been done in that area — for example, the unlocking creativity strategy, the future search process and the recent production of the Arts Council’s five-year arts plan.
The Committee hopes that the additional research required will be completed quickly and that the production of the action plan will be undertaken without undue delay, to avoid putting at risk the goodwill and support of the creative sector. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure also has an important role to play in increasing Northern Ireland’s attractiveness to visitors. The Committee welcomes the recognition given to its activities by sub-priority 6.
The Committee is particularly pleased that sub-priority 9 reflects the recommendations made in its report on inland fisheries — which, incidentally, was unanimously accepted by the Assembly — on agricultural and industrial water pollution incidents and the need to protect wild salmon stocks.
Chapter 6 deals with the development of North/South, east-west and international relations. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has an important contribution to make. The Committee notes that six of the seven sub-priorities relate directly to the Department’s area of responsibility. In particular — and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough — the Committee hopes that the broad support indicated under sub-priority 5 for Imagine Belfast’s bid to be named European Capital of Culture 2008 will be reflected in the final Budget proposals and Executive programme fund allocations for next year.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I will be as brief as possible, given that so many Members are waiting to speak.
The development of an agreed Programme for Government and Budget by the Executive represents an important milestone in the peace process and the process of conflict resolution. Ultimately, the success of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement will be judged by the changes delivered to those living in disadvantaged communities across the North, and in other parts of Ireland. This programme will address the social and economic needs of our people, as opposed to the conflict that has been addressed for the past 30 years. The Programme for Government is very important in that context.
The programme is not a socialist document, nor a radical agenda for change, but it points to a better future. It is not a static document, like the Good Friday Agreement, but a transitional programme for the future. One cannot be blinded to the programme’s shortcomings, which stem from how the Budget is determined and allocated. Even the architect of the formula for determining the Budget allocation, Joel Barnett, has criticised its use because it does not reflect need and, in our case, has never done so. The present system is untenable, and its replacement must be a priority for the Executive in the days and months ahead. The Budget and the limitations of the Programme for Government are a direct consequence of our being chained to the Barnett formula and the British Exchequer.
I share the concerns of others about the inadequate financial support of the Exchequer, which has inevitably set limits on what we, and our partners in Government, would have liked to do. The Irish Government should also provide additional funding because they, as well as the British Government, have a responsibility to this part of Ireland. We must also be responsible for gathering taxes, and determining how they are spent. That is another important element of the notion of sovereignty. Economic sovereignty must be a key goal for the immediate future.
It is also critical that the Executive have the power to target resources and investment to those areas and people at the greatest disadvantage. There is a great deal of inequality and poverty in our society, and both must be eradicated. That means that the Assembly — and it is notable that not too many of those Members who protest are here — must be able to channel investment to specific areas. Unless measures are put in place that actively encourage investors and investment into areas that have suffered disinvestment, discrimination and disadvantage, people will justifiably ask where the benefit and the peace dividend are.
In the weeks ahead, therefore, there will be an opportunity to discuss the programme, to identify its merits and, perhaps, to advocate change. We need an open and constructive debate on all those matters. Above all, the Programme for Government reflects the widespread desire for change throughout society on this island. We must make that change a reality. That means building a society based on justice and equality, where we are all committed to good, honest and transparent government that defends, protects and assertively advocates political, civic, social, economic and cultural rights for all as we move into this new era.
Health is mentioned time and time again. It is perhaps one of the most critical areas in our society. We all know from personal experience and from the experience of Committees that health is, to use a cliché, on a life-support machine. One of the key priorities of the document ‘Well Into 2000’ was to ensure that the policies of all Departments contribute fully to improving people’s health, well-being and quality of life. That document recognised that health and well-being are not the sole responsibility of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Many of the factors that have the greatest impact on health lie outside the control of the Department. In attempting to reach a consensus, each Department, especially the revolving Departments, has the onerous responsibility of ensuring that people’s health and well-being — the bedrock — are prioritised, and that mechanisms are in place to ensure that the health of the community is protected, guided and guarded.
The Ministerial Group on Public Health (MGPH), chaired by Tony Worthington, drew its membership from across Departments such as Education and Environment and was charged with the development of an interdepartmental public health programme. That group is now in abeyance. We ought to bring it together again. Structures and mechanisms should be put in place to monitor and health-proof the policies and strategies of Departments and their agencies to ensure that they contribute to the health and well-being of the population. There is a collective responsibility on the Executive to ensure that.
It is important that it should not be simply a paper exercise whereby recommendations for policy alteration by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety can later be ignored. Any Department not complying with the audit requirements or adopting its recommendations must seek a resolution of the issue with the full Executive in collective mode.
Several options could achieve that integrated approach. One is the reconstruction of the MGPH. A priority, however, should be the establishment of an audit unit in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and mechanisms to deal with interdepartmental co-operation on health in the Six Counties. Once functioning effectively, interdepartmental public health could become an area for cross-border co-operation within the remit of the Council of Ministers.
Does the Minister agree — and this is not a political point — the expansion of North/South co-operation could aid economic development? I refer, for instance, to the fuel crisis. It could give significant benefits in savings and service delivery. Will the Minister make a statement on the actions, measures, targets and commitments in the Programme for Government that build on the contribution that North/South co-operation can make to our economic and social well-being?
Does the Minister agree that concerted action is needed to eliminate the unequal distribution of resources and investment west of the Bann? That area was shamefully neglected over the last 30 years. Will he make a statement on specific actions, measures and commitments in the programme aimed at directing investors to areas such as my constituency of Mid Ulster?
I recognise the restrictions on a more ambitious Programme for Government that are created by the insufficient block grant from the British Exchequer. However, there is a collective commitment to press the British Government for a fairer allocation of funds, and it is the collective responsibility of the Executive to address that forcefully with the British Exchequer.
Due to the financial restrictions that are placed on the Executive by the block grant, there are clear limits on our ambition to make a difference. If we are to address the legacy of underfunding and poor comparison with our neighbours, a substantial increase in the money that is available to the Executive is urgently needed. I ask the Executive, and the Minister, to address that as urgently and as comprehensively as they can.
I welcome today’s democratic debate, and I hope that our Ministers will continue to listen to constructive criticism from Members.
Section 4.7, sub-priority 5, of the draft Programme for Government recognises that there are financial, cultural and geographical barriers that discourage many people from taking up education and training opportunities. Those are fine words, but my constituents and I will judge them on outcomes. Once again, I remind Members that my constituency has no further education campus. The technical college in Larne was closed and demolished, and the sale of the excess land has not been completed. The people of Larne do not have a permanent focus for further education. If educational opportunities are to be improved, that difficulty must be overcome. Consultants for the CORE group of district councils have highlighted the unacceptably high proportion of the population in Larne and Carrickfergus who have NVQ level 4 qualifications or lower. I have no doubt that that is a result of the lack of further education opportunities in my constituency.
There has been little expenditure by the Educational Guidance Service for Adults in East Antrim, despite the absence of a further education college. If we are to improve education and training opportunities, the Programme for Government must provide practical outcomes. The Programme for Government acknowledges that 24% of adults fail to reach the basic international standards for numeracy and literacy. That happens in East Antrim, as it does in other constituencies. At present, the system fails to provide educational opportunities in my constituency. I would like to see clear action to follow the fine words and improvements in opportunities for basic and intermediate level education in East Antrim. Such action would target social need and would be an important factor in improving the economic competitiveness of Northern Ireland plc. Many people included in the 24% figure may be in work, and others may be seeking employment in a diminishing pool. I hope that the number of people with poor numeracy and literacy levels will decrease. We must improve the quality of our workforce to remain competitive internationally.
I welcome the Programme for Government’s commitment to revising the school support programme, improving performance in low-achieving schools and revising the literacy and numeracy strategies and the Northern Ireland curriculum. Parts of the educational system that fail our children must be addressed. Education must motivate children; it must be appropriate. Children must be switched on to it. Many children pass through our schools and do not get as much as they should from the system.
Section 4.3, sub-priority 1, outlines the commitment to provide, by March 2003, one year of pre-school education for every child whose parents wish it. Again, I am pleased with the commitment to increase provision from 85%, but that must not be simply a grand statement from Government; it must be realised practically. I have highlighted the difficulties that small pre-school playgroups face because of the Department of Education’s current policy. If a plan such as that highlighted in the Programme for Government is to work, creating opportunities for everyone in Northern Ireland, the current criteria must be reassessed. Geographical distances must be practical for the childminders, grannies and granddads who look after children, but who may not have a car.
It is inappropriate to require that there must be eight children in the immediate pre-school year for playgroups to qualify for funding, irrespective of the recent report by the Education and Training Inspectorate and irrespective of the long-term sustainability of a particular group. I know of playgroups with high quality assessments and numbers that are sustainable in the long-term that were about to be dropped because they did not have eight children. Fortunately, because of the closure of another group, the playgroup that I was involved with was able to continue. However, the questions about the process affect the rural community in particular. Why should the criteria cut people in such areas off from that opportunity? It is not always possible for children to travel from outlying villages into towns to get to pre-school playgroups. If we are to offer the service to everyone, we must follow the Scottish example — that system offers flexibility in areas where parents have little choice.
Paragraph 3.6 addresses the modernisation and improvement of hospitals and primary care services. Why have Health Service quangos and bureaucracy not been tackled before? There are no public representatives on the health boards and trusts as of right. The members are all appointees — it is a quangoland. I do not understand why a review must be delayed until an overall review of public administration begins. I see the benefit to be gained from removing a layer of bureaucracy as soon as possible, and I see even more benefit in shortening lines of communication and increasing transparency.
When money is put into the system, we should be able to see what the output is, who is delivering the service and how effectively they do it. At present, no one has a clue about what happens to the money that goes into the system. I have limited experience in the world of private business — I do not claim to be a business guru — but I know that basic business principles require short chains of command and clear lines of responsibility. People should know what happens to the money, who is making mistakes, how to correct them, and whether value for money is being achieved. None of those questions can be answered by the current system. We will not save huge amounts of money only by reforming the boards. The benefits to the citizens of Northern Ireland of transparency, accountability and an understanding of how effectively the system works will be huge. I hope that that will proceed as soon as possible.
Other areas of the Health Service, such as occupational therapy, are failing badly. We are talking about providing effective care and treatment of patients, but I have been shocked to learn from recent constituency enquiries that priority-assessment occupational therapy cases were referred in May. What sort of priority is that? The idea of a two-week priority system, which is in the detail of the Programme for Government, is a million miles from what is happening. We are not delivering what should be delivered. From my knowledge of the current structure of the board, I can see that we are witnessing an outworking of the inequality in the funding of the community care sector in different parts of Northern Ireland. That board structure must be reformed. Irrespective of how many hospitals there are in an area, people should be entitled to the same level of community care as people elsewhere. My constituents did not decide what form of hospital service would exist in their area; central Government determined that. Likewise, the community care service in my area should be equal to the service in other areas. I was recently informed of a shortage of basic wheelchairs, even though statements are made about the availability of electrically operated wheelchairs. Those who need a basic wheelchair ought to get it without delay.
Has there been any assessment of the value for money of each part of the system? The current convoluted system does not allow such assessment. There are too many chains of command and bureaucracy, little power bases and empires. We are not getting the value for money that allows us to do more for patients. There must be reform.
There is a poor standard of community care in my area. I have been advised that services could be cut next year because there is less money than before, despite the fact that my area has the lowest level of per capita funding. There is something badly wrong with that. We must deliver timely and effective care and treatment for all patients and not just talk about it.
Those are the challenges that face Ministers, Committees, and Members. I assure the House that I will continue to harass and embarrass when necessary to get value for money. In my work with the Committee for Employment and Learning and the Public Accounts Committee, I will do my bit to improve the quality of life for all our citizens, and I hope that we will be successful.
I apologise to Members for my absence at the beginning of the sitting. I had to attend a Committee that otherwise would have been inquorate. I may have to leave after my contribution, and I also apologise if my remarks duplicate anything that has been said.
I have read the draft Programme for Government with interest. The additional commitments are welcome, particularly on disability, education and equality. I welcome the commitment to improved co-ordination between Departments, agencies and local government. That is an important aspect of policy and programme development and will provide vital links and partnerships between the statutory, voluntary, and private sectors and local communities.
The pledge to implement improvements to the delivery of social security services for people with disabilities and the elderly is a step towards promoting social inclusion for the most vulnerable people. It is commendable that there is a commitment to tackling inequalities in healthcare that recognises the particular problems faced by those with a disability, a mental health difficulty, or a chronic or terminal illness. That will enable such people to achieve a reasonable standard of living and integration in society.
We must give recognition, support and funding to hidden and rare diseases. Carers play a vital role and deserve a level of support that reflects their invaluable work. Without them, the pressures on an already overburdened system would be impossible to cope with. Carers are often left with the sole responsibility for the care of an ill or disabled person, and they can become isolated and suffer from low self-esteem and low self- confidence. Caring should be recognised as a profession and not taken for granted as a family responsibility. Carers often give up their careers — or put them on hold — in order to care for a sick relative or friend in need. There must be a cross-departmental initiative to address some of the issues relating to carers. Such people deserve our respect, recognition and support for their invaluable contribution to society.
The right to choose is also vital. People with disabilities and their carers should have as many choices available to them as possible. They must be allowed to take control of their life and achieve a level of independence commensurate with their condition. Every individual is a part of the community and has the right to develop a social network within that community. I welcome the commitment to equality and choice for people with disabilities and their families or carers. Choice in matters such as direct payments, day-centres, respite care and employment is vital to decisions about what is best for an individual’s needs. We must ensure that people with disabilities, and their carers or families, have a good quality of life. In order to achieve that, people with disabilities and their families should have as many options as possible available to them. That allows them to take control of their life rather than having others decide what is best for them.
The joint initiative by the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education to provide disabled access in schools and colleges of further education illustrates the positive effects of interdepartmental co-operation on such issues. I welcome the improved access to public services, but it is not simply a question of physical access to a building through the front door. The key issue is access to all the facilities and services inside that building.
The review of school funding is an important measure that will ensure equality of opportunity between school types and will better target social and educational need. I welcome the holistic approach to education, with the assurance of a continued increase in pre-school provision and out-of-school learning opportunities. The review of the 11-plus, local management of schools funding and the curriculum will promote a broader-based approach to our children’s education and will include their social and educational needs. To ensure a high standard of education for all pupils, we must consider the state of the schools estate. Too many schools depend on sub- standard mobile accommodation, which has a detrimental effect on pupils and staff.
The problem of underachievement — especially among socially disadvantaged children — must still be tackled. That issue has been given a high level of priority, but we must work pro-actively to maintain the support programmes for underachieving schools. I welcome the pledge to continue with the reading recovery programme and the support for small primary schools.
Teachers are one of our most precious resources. They are an intrinsic part of the education system, and they are entitled to equality. Our teaching force is of the highest quality. I have said previously that entrants to higher education institutions for teachers in Northern Ireland require 21 points at A level, while the English equivalent is only 13 points. The teaching force is highly trained and motivated, and the slavish duplication of English solutions to English problems merely exacerbates the problems faced by Northern Ireland teachers. The Department of Education argues that it must maintain parity with teachers’ pay in England and Wales. Teachers in Northern Ireland should have financial parity and be given the equivalent resources on a pro rata basis. Surely the point of devolution is to allow us to use our wit and intelligence to spend the resources better, without sacrificing the parity-at-least principle espoused by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland.
In pursuit of providing a safe learning environment, attempts to eliminate bullying and disruptive behaviour continue to be high on the agenda. We need a policy to deal with the issue fairly and ensure that schools have guidelines for dealing with problems as they arise, if we are to safeguard the rights of all our children.
The progress on the appointment of a commissioner for children and on the children’s fund is laudable. It reflects the general opinion that it is important to involve children in decisions that affect them, if we are to promote social inclusion. It also shows children that their opinions and beliefs are respected and will be taken into consideration in the planning of Government policy and legislation, thus giving them parity of esteem. We need a strong, visionary children’s strategy, alongside the work of the commissioner for children.
I am concerned about the lack of care places for children, especially those under 16 years of age who have had to leave home because of family breakdowns. Many of those vulnerable children end up living rough on the streets or they become involved in antisocial activities. The lack of suitable accommodation contributes to the cycle of poverty and social exclusion.
The Promoting Social Inclusion report has opened up the debate on travellers. The report itself has several flaws, the main one being a lack of true statistical data. The working group also neglected to include representatives of local government who have delivered traveller services for many years and who have a wealth of experience in travellers' issues.
The Programme for Government has committed the Assembly to introducing a single equality Bill by 2002. The initial consultation was conducted recently. Issues such as race relations — taking account of the Equality Commission’s proposals for changes to Northern Ireland’s existing race relations legislation — sex discrimination, equal pay and recommendations by the disability rights task force should be included in the Bill. That will put Northern Ireland ahead of Great Britain in equality legislation, and, although there cannot be total harmonisation of all issues, there is scope to look at features unique to each kind of discrimination.
The commitments made in the Programme for Government demonstrate the Executive’s willingness to promote a socially inclusive society in Northern Ireland and to reflect that inclusion in future policy-making.
The Committee of the Centre sent its initial views on the Programme for Government to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in July, and the Committee’s detailed response to that office’s element in the draft programme was sent on 10 October. In July, the Committee agreed that the priorities set out in the Programme for Government were relevant and should not be changed.
The sub-priorities most relevant to the Committee of the Centre are: promoting equality of opportunity and human rights; improving community relations and tackling the divisions in our society; addressing the needs of victims; protecting children’s rights, meeting children’s needs and including children’s voices; tackling social need and social inclusion; developing effective links in Europe; and developing effective representation in, and relations with, North America. Members will be aware of the importance that the Committee attaches to those areas.
The Committee is about to undertake an inquiry into our EU policy, and it hopes to give some direction to the Assembly’s current EU policy. There appears to be a great deal of confusion about which Departments have EU responsibilities, and because of that we may be losing out. The Committee is determined to get to the bottom of those issues and, where possible, to assist in the development of a more strategic EU policy.
The Committee of the Centre is committed to ensuring that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister delivers on its promise to vulnerable groups such as children and victims. Chapter 7 of the draft Programme for Government, ‘Working Together’, is not categorised as one of the five priority areas. The sub- priorities most relevant to the Committee in that area are modernising government, making government more accessible, and the reform of public administration. The Committee has already registered its concerns about the ability of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to deliver on its Programme for Government targets, particularly those relating to the children’s commissioner. Funding has not been set aside for the children’s commissioner — a post due to be established in June 2002. The argument coming from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about the children’s commissioner is that it is unable to say what the appropriate level of funding should be. Nevertheless, we have not sought to have funding at this stage, and only marker bids have been put down. There is serious concern in the Committee about that issue.
The reform of public administration was promised three years ago. When the Assembly was set up, the people of Northern Ireland were promised that quangos would get the chop and that there would be a major reform of public administration. We were supposed to examine local authorities and consider whether we really needed 26 local councils, with 26 chief executives and all the related personnel.
Yesterday, the Minister of the Environment told Mr Shannon that some of the things that he was asking for were premature. Perhaps the Minister was premature when he announced at his party conference one and a half years ago that there would be a review of public administration. We have not had a description of what the review should be about, and no finance has been put in place for it. It will take a lot of money to conduct the review. Such matters must be considered.
The implementation date for the cross-departmental community relations strategy is given as the end of 2002. That date has already slipped considerably from the original target for implementation, which was given as "by 2002". The Committee asked whether that should not be taken forward more quickly, given the ongoing tensions and difficulties in many communities. The junior Ministers have stated that every effort will be made to complete the work as soon as possible. We remain to be convinced. We will wait and see.
The date for the implementation of the victims’ strategy is shown as the end of 2001. The Committee asked how likely that was, given that consultation on the strategy closed only on 9 November. The junior Ministers told the Committee that they still hoped to have it in place by the end of the year. The Committee hopes that that will be the case, because the expectations of victims’ groups have been raised by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The Committee is concerned about the implications for victims if the cross-departmental strategy is delayed.
In a letter to the junior Ministers on 10 October, the Committee commented on the lack of specific or measurable targets for several areas within the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The Committee was also concerned about how performance would be monitored against targets. In reply, the junior Ministers advised that the draft public service agreements were strategic documents and that the service delivery agreements would set out how the objectives and targets would be achieved. We were told in February that the annual service delivery agreements would be published for all Departments and agencies, setting out the levels of service that the public could expect. Where are they? When will the Committees see them? Is the Assembly expected to sign off the Programme for Government without seeing those key documents?
I am sure that Members will be surprised to learn of the junior Ministers’ response to the Committee’s question about measurable targets. They advised that, given the nature of the work of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, it might not be possible to have quantifiable, time-bounded targets in every case. Members will have their own view on that approach to planning. One of the objectives set out in the draft Programme for Government for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister includes a commitment to improving public services. Perhaps that approach to planning helps to explain why even the most fundamental aspects of the review of public administration have not been sorted out.
I hope that OFMDFM does not apply the same approach to other aspects of public service that affect its own planning. The Committee sent its detailed response on the draft Programme for Government to OFMDFM on 10 October. On 5 November, the junior Ministers wrote to the Committee about today’s debate. On 6 November, the junior Ministers responded to the Committee’s detailed letter. On 7 November, a few hours before the weekly Committee meeting, the Committee was sent an invitation to a seminar on the Programme for Government to be run jointly by OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel on 14 November in Armagh. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister may consider that submitting a response to the Committee four working days before such an important debate is sufficient. I do not. Perhaps OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel consider that five working days’ notice is sufficient for Committee members. I do not. If this is indicative of OFMDFM’s approach to organisation and planning, that will do little to increase the Committee’s confidence in the ability of that office to meet its objectives and to deliver its targets.
I will discuss briefly a few other matters in the Programme for Government, as a constituency representative rather than as Committee Chairperson.
The first is a health issue, which several Members have covered. Sub-priority 4 states:
"We will modernise and improve hospital and primary care services to ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients".
Many Members tell the public that things have improved dramatically since devolution, and that if it were not for devolution, things would be much worse. I will raise a few issues about what has happened in regard to health since devolution.
Hospital wards have been closed in my area. Old people have been removed from hospital wards as a result of cutbacks, and some have been put in homes. Others have been put out of homes to accommodate those who were put out of hospital wards. That has not improved our Health Service.
We have a new casualty unit that was paid for by property that was sold off in Lisburn, and the Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee objected to that. It is common for people to wait for four to five hours for treatment in that casualty unit. That is not satisfactory and the situation has not improved since devolution.
Constituents have contacted me recently to say that their parents in nursing homes have been asked to come up with £15 per week to supplement the service, because the homes do not have enough finance. One individual who came to me is on social security, living on the minimum wage, and cannot afford £15. She is concerned that her mother could be dumped on the street because she has not got £15 to pay the nursing home. The Health Service has not improved in that regard.
The Programme for Government refers to reducing waiting lists, and has attempted to do that by directing additional resources towards the Health Service. What has happened? The latest reports show that waiting lists have increased. I spoke to the Province’s leading cancer surgeon who said that he was having tremendous difficulty in carrying out operations because there were not enough intensive care beds. He had to go to patients, after they were prepared for surgery, apologise, and tell them that their operations were being cancelled because no intensive care beds were available.
We have a growing list of patients who require heart treatment. What has happened since devolution? One of the Province’s leading heart surgeons has left the Province because of the incompetent way in which the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is run, and the fact that nursing staff are not available to treat and care for heart surgery patients. Heart surgeons in Northern Ireland cannot conduct their work to full capacity because nursing staff is inadequate to deliver on the ground. No nurses are available, because some people in management thought that it was a good idea to not accord nurses the grades that reflected their responsibilities in the belief that management would keep the grades down and still get the nursing staff. However, the nurses looked to other careers with the result that a crisis in nursing has arisen. Young people are looking elsewhere. The people of Northern Ireland have had a raw deal since devolution as regards healthcare.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development spoke on Sunday about the benefits of having a local Agriculture Minister. She expanded on how well the foot-and-mouth disease situation was handled. However, considerable credit for the handling of the foot-and- mouth disease crisis has to go to the Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland who advised the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development throughout that crisis. Northern Ireland benefits from having someone of his ability, who is recognised as an expert in his field, not only in the farming community but in the veterinary world and further afield.
I accept that that was a strategic decision taken on the basis of the advice that the Minister received from her Chief Veterinary Officer. She would have been foolish not to accept that advice. Similarly, a direct-rule Minister would have been foolish not to heed the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer. However, the political punch was required this time last year when the opportunity — [Interruption].
Order. I ask the Member, as I have done with other Members who have spoken for a similar length of time, if he would draw his remarks to a close. The number of Members that are due to speak means that we shall be sitting late this evening.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I shall be as brief as possible. I apologise that due to previous engagements I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate.
The draft Programme for Government is, in the round, a well-intentioned document. The constraints imposed on it are budgetary, and the House is aware of those constraints. There is no point in continually restating the obvious. Our challenge is to work together to create stronger cross-cutting initiatives and to prioritise effectively.
The draft Programme for Government can be described as modest in many areas. However, the fact that, in ways, the Executive have not worked together cohesively, or have not worked at all, points to the DUP’s failure to involve itself in the Executive. My party looks forward to the consolidation of the Executive, because our society needs fundamental change. As we now bed down the process, there is a responsibility to improve and build on the foundations, not least in improving the level of financial resources at our disposal.
Chapter 5 of the draft Programme for Government is, entitled ‘Securing a Competitive Economy’. The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment held an inquiry into ‘Strategy 2010’, at which many related issues arose. There should be greater emphasis in chapter 5 on the depth and extent of current economic problems. There is a need to outline the poor performance and the fundamentally flawed, heavily subsidised and uncompetitive nature of the Northern economy with its associated poverty and disadvantage. The failure of past policies and bodies and the detrimental effect of partition must also be highlighted. That is reflected by the large subvention that is required to keep the North’s economy afloat.
The difference between what is spent by the Government and what is raised in revenue is around 30% to 40% of GDP.
Sub-priorities in this chapter should also state that the Government are working to create higher, more sustainable rates of economic development involving a more equitable distribution of the fruits of greater economic growth, and to fundamentally restructure the economic base that is the legacy of decades of political and military conflict. That will involve a fundamental shift in economic resources from conflict-related to useful, social and productive economics.
In the chapter that deals with the need to create employment, there should be greater emphasis on the need for good wages and working conditions. There is a need to counter low pay and poor and exploitative working conditions and arrangements. The role of trade unions in the workplace must also be recognised explicitly. We do not want to be a low-wage economy with the erosion of workers’ rights.
Greater emphasis must be placed on the Government’s commitment to adequately deal with and eradicate long- term unemployment, to seriously tackle the unemployment differential that adversely affects young Catholic males, and to ensure that TSN and policy appraisal and fair treatment (PAFT) policies are implemented. There is a need to recognise the involvement of local communities in economic policy formulation, given that they should be the beneficiaries of economic policy. That would be in line with the opening sentence of chapter 5, which outlines the Executive’s aim of achieving a cohesive, inclusive and just society — an aspiration that receives no further mention.
There is also a need to emphasise that the creation of a more competitive economy must promote a more equal, just economy and society. People’s lives should be improved through economic development.
Only passing reference is made in the draft Programme for Government to the work of InterTradeIreland. That body’s work must be explicitly recognised, as must the benefits of an all-Ireland economy.
The new investment agency must be fully accountable, and must be an improvement on bodies such as the IDB and LEDU, which, it was widely accepted, failed. There must be a shift in industrial policy away from the failings of the past. In that regard, I look to the recent loss of the manufacturing base in my constituency of Upper Bann. Factories and companies that had been in business for a long time and that were accepted to be "good payers" have been affected. Companies such as Courtaulds, NACCO Materials Handling (NI) Ltd — which used to be Hyster (NI) Ltd — Interface Europe Ltd and Glendennings, a textile factory, face redundancies and closure. Inward investment policies and the granting of large amounts of public money to large companies must be closely scrutinised and monitored.
The draft Programme for Government does not place enough emphasis on energy. The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment is reaching the end of an energy inquiry. One of the big issues for a competitive economy is high energy costs, particularly those relating to electricity. Issues such as the creation of an all-Ireland energy strategy, the promotion of renewable energy, how to eradicate fuel poverty and how to ensure that there is fuel diversity need to be examined.
I am concerned by the Programme for Government’s general thrust in favour of privatisation, or, in more user- friendly terms, PFI and PPP. The Executive need to look seriously at the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s report on PPP and PFI, and especially at its agreed conclusion that the preferred option for financing public services is through public funding. Go raibh maith agat.
Many aspects of the Programme for Government are encouraging. However, the sole subject on which I wish to speak fills me with horror and dismay. Every Member who has spoken has mentioned it — the Health Service. I was disappointed by last year’s Programme for Government, so it will come as no surprise that I am equally disappointed by the latest document.
Once again the Executive have failed some of the most vulnerable in our society. They failed the ill, the elderly, people with learning difficulties, those with mental health problems — the list goes on. The health proposals are inadequate to address the problems that our system faces annually and the problems posed by diseases that are far too prevalent, especially during the winter months.
The draft Programme for Government does not promise to tackle the waiting lists. Instead it includes a commitment to contain waiting lists at current levels, by maintaining levels of nursing and other front-line staff. Nurses, doctors and ancillary staff are at breaking point and can take no more. Is that the message that the Executive want to send out to the people of Northern Ireland? I certainly hope not.
In his statement yesterday on the September monitoring round, Mr Durkan stated that
"In considering those issues, we came to the view that health, education and roads were among the services facing the most acute difficulties, and they would have to be given some priority." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 13, p.3].
I agree with those priorities; at least we are making slight progress. In his concluding remarks, the Minister said that
"we must face up to the hard choices that lie ahead and take the tough and unavoidable decisions that confront us". — [Official Report, Bound Volume 13, p.5].
"The Executive will not shirk this responsibility". — [Official Report, Bound Volume 13, p.5].
I hope that the Minister will adhere to that statement.
This morning, the First Minister spoke of the vast sums of money being pumped into the Health Service. Why are we still so far behind in many aspects of delivering a decent health provision to our community? We should be ashamed of the degrading treatment that so many patients receive. First, we had waiting lists for beds. We then had people waiting on trolleys, and then people waiting on chairs. What will be next? People waiting for bare floors? We see such images from war-torn Afghanistan on our television screens. That is inexcusable. The First Minister stated that millions of pounds will be allocated to the Health Service, but drastic action is needed, and it is needed now.
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said not so long ago that she did not want to be a Minister of a service that could only provide trolley- waits. I implore the Executive and health administrators to overcome the crisis without delay and to give the Minister the support that she needs. We need more staff throughout all areas of the Health Service.
The Royal Victoria Hospital’s anaesthetics department is currently undermanned by six, and shortages are occurring in all our hospitals. Is it any wonder that waiting lists for surgery and hospital beds stretch for months and years. That is an unacceptable situation for any right-thinking person.
The much-loved Jubilee Maternity Hospital was closed with the promise that a new cancer centre would be built, thus offering the people of Northern Ireland the kind of services that are taken for granted across the Western World. However, our cancer services lag woefully behind. The Executive must take immediate steps to provide that facility without delay.
Like many others, I am disappointed and unable to accept the decision to defer free nursing care for our elderly. The policy is iniquitous and plain wrong, yet it is also short-sighted and contradicts the decision taken unanimously in the House earlier this year.
We face the problem of bed-blocking in which elderly patients are kept in beds because the necessary care is unavailable should they be released from hospital. With proper nursing care, we could overcome that problem and free up many more acute beds, thus helping to contain and even reduce waiting lists.
Scotland and England have agreed to provide free nursing and personal care for the elderly. The elderly in Northern Ireland surely deserve the same rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has published ‘Enhancing the Rights of Older People’, a document that focuses on the human rights of the elderly. I appeal to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to read it and take on board all the human rights issues that affect elderly people.
While I am disappointed and angry at the minimal aims for the health sector in the draft Programme for Government, I have little faith in any Executive promise — I hope that I am proved wrong. As a result of the lack of sufficient funding and poor resource management, many of the aims of the last Programme for Government will be unfulfilled. Perhaps the Executive do not want to raise my hopes that change will occur in the Health Service or that healthcare will improve.
I am disappointed by the Executive’s performance on its commitments in the last Programme for Government and by the budget for health and the elderly. I am also disappointed that the current Programme for Government does not go nearly far enough towards tackling some of the major health issues in Northern Ireland. The Assembly and Executive must lead and deliver a decent Health Service now. According to Minister Durkan’s speech yesterday, health is our number-one priority. Let us provide that service without delay.
I speak first as Chairperson of the Education Committee, but I will make comments of my own on several important issues.
Unfortunately, due to unavoidable circumstances, the Education Committee has not had the opportunity to question the Minister of Education on the draft Programme for Government prior to this debate. The Committee looks forward to rectifying that situation when it meets on Thursday. I will highlight several relevant education issues. I am sorry that the Minister of Education is not in his place.
The importance of education to our children cannot and must not be underestimated. It is critical to improving self-confidence and social exclusion and to securing a competitive economy in Northern Ireland. I make no apology for reiterating that investment in education is an investment in this country’s future.
I welcome the statement in the draft Programme for Government that education and training at all levels have a central role, not only because of their social impact, but as major engines of the economy. Education, therefore, must remain a priority. We must focus on the provision of high-quality education for all. The ongoing major reviews of post-primary education, local management of schools (LMS) funding, and the curriculum will help to achieve that. Account must be taken of the results of the consultation exercises and the wide range of views that will undoubtedly be expressed. A consensus must be reached on the way forward. The necessary funding must also be found if we are to make progress.
The Education Committee believes that investment in early-years learning and early intervention initiatives will result in savings in the longer term. The Committee welcomes the programme’s objective of providing, by March 2003, one year of pre-school education for every child whose parents wish it. We are pleased that that is on course for achievement. However, we need to examine the provision itself and decide whether it is the most appropriate and effective means. It is not enough to just provide the places.
The emphasis placed on such initiatives as reading recovery projects and support to underachieving schools is necessary and welcome. However, at current levels some schools have a continual struggle to provide the core curriculum for their pupils. Those schools have had to make teachers redundant, either to stay within their budget or to reduce their deficits. That results in larger or composite classes. I appreciate that, because of limited resources, hard decisions must be made, but our priority must be to provide a core education and to ensure that schools can educate all pupils to an appropriate level.
The Education Committee was alarmed that the new targets for numeracy and literacy set in the Department of Education’s public service agreement earlier this year were lower than those outlined in the strategy for numeracy and literacy. While the Education Committee appreciated the Department’s claim that the targets needed to be achievable, we argued that they also had to stretch pupils and justify the resources being spent. I am concerned that the target for the percentage of 14-year-olds at or above the expected standard of literacy and numeracy for their age has been reduced in the draft Programme for Government from 75% to 72% in both English and maths.
According to the Department of Education, the targets have been revised in the light of trends emerging from the Key Stage 3 assessments in 2000. It appears that if we are not on course to achieve the targets, we simply reduce them. That is not good enough. Surely we have a fundamental responsibility to provide all children with an appropriate level of numeracy and literacy to enable them to make a real contribution to our society. Is that not the basic aim of education?
I have no doubt that the Education Committee will pursue that issue with the Minister and his Department. I am aware that numeracy and literacy strategies are currently under review, and my Committee will wish to consider closely the results to establish how well the programmes are working and to assess what improvements can be made.
I am pleased that a new target date of spring 2002 has been set for the launch of a comprehensive review of public administration. The Education Committee believes that it is necessary to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services and to maximise output. In view of the large amount that is currently spent on education administration, any review should assess the role of non-departmental public bodies and make that a top priority. I would welcome more detail on the proposed timescale for the completion of the review and the issues that it will cover.
The Programme for Government will be judged according to what is achieved and whether the public believes that it has made a difference to the services provided.
Although it is essential to ensure that the priorities are the right ones, it is equally important to have objectives and targets in place to enable us to monitor and measure progress, and to ensure that results are achieved.
I was pleased to note the commitment given by Sir Reg Empey and Mr Mallon, in their joint statement to the Assembly on 24 September, that quarterly reports would be available in order to help us monitor progress. Given that public service agreements now focus on high-level targets, it is essential that the draft service delivery agreements be made available to the Committees for consideration and consultation, so that they can be published without delay.
On a personal note, I welcome the fact that the Department for Regional Development will find additional funding to upgrade and maintain rural and minor roads. As a representative of a largely rural constituency, I consider that to be a priority.
I agree with the Members who expressed concern about the long delays in the Health Service. We need urgent action from the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to reduce the waiting lists for small, yet necessary, operations.
I also welcome the commitment to examine the effect of rating on properties in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister for Social Development to give due and urgent consideration to the measure that will abolish the payment of rates on community halls. Facilities such as Orange halls and Irish National Foresters’ halls provide an essential service to local communities and should not have to face the high charges and overheads that rates involve. Those halls contribute greatly to the local community, and such a measure would be comparatively cheap to implement and would have real meaning for people in Northern Ireland.
I implore the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to consider creating a good-causes fund that would be unconnected to lottery funding. I understand that such a fund exists in the Republic of Ireland, and central Government or local government administers it. It enables church bodies and groups that conscientiously object to gambling to avail themselves of much needed public funds. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
I apologise for not being here for the whole debate. I have followed it. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the draft Programme for Government. It is a comprehensive document, which provides many challenges in the fields of health, education, infrastructure, environment and the review of public administration. We also face the challenge of the global slow-down that has begun adversely to affect Northern Ireland’s foreign and direct investment, trade and tourism. Yesterday’s plane crash in New York, and the events of 11 September, might ensure that American tourists do not travel this year.
The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment considered the draft Programme for Government, but I shall not comment in my capacity as a member. The Committee feels that it would be appropriate to have a template for a three-year programme, to commence on 1 April 2002, with a corporate plan for the same period. An action plan and a summary to declare what has been achieved and what is still needed would also help, and it would make Committee business easier. Adopting either the Welsh or Scottish model might also be beneficial, as they both offer greater transparency.
It is important to note that, owing to the economic slow-down, other budgets, such as social services, will require more expenditure. That will have a significant effect on some regions. For example, in the north-west, industrial structures are more heavily committed to manufacturing. In the north-west, there is also a higher proportion of job-shedding industries, such as clothing. That should also be monitored.
The economic development strategy has not achieved its objective of closing the unemployment gap. That is at odds with the Government’s determination to secure equality of opportunity. Clearly, social and economic development, in the north-west in particular, was hindered by the troubles. Unemployment levels must be examined in conjunction with investment. The result of a lack of investment can be seen in the Noble index’s relative deprivation rates. Strabane and Derry are top of the list of areas suffering from multiple deprivation. Further examination of the index figures shows that lack of access to employment is the chief problem in Derry and the north-west, while access to skills is more relevant to Belfast and the east.
Studies have also shown that the placement of industry in high unemployment areas in the east does not necessarily ensure jobs for local people. Conversely, the location of jobs, or the infrastructural support for jobs, in the east does not promote jobs in the north-west. There is no trickle-down effect across the Sperrins. If we are to close the unemployment gap between Derry and the Northern Ireland average, a centre of excellence incorporating a high level of research and development must be created in the north-west to attract new investment and consolidate the existing industrial base.
Peace II offers us an opportunity to address the deep-seated problems that beset the economy in the north-west. That programme is distinctive because it focuses on the groups, sectors and areas that have been most affected by the troubles. When I spoke about the draft Budget last week, I noted that paragraph 5·7 welcomed the involvement of councils in inward development. I also noted that universities, further education colleges, councils and the private sector would secure investment in 20 knowledge-based industries each year. It did not say where those would be located, which is why I ask the Executive to give priority to sub-regions with high unemployment levels. An important element in the programme is the regional development strategy. Resources must be put into road, rail and sea access. The north-west has lagged behind for many years, and if its economy is to grow, Derry’s role as a second city must be acknowledged.
I welcome the commitment to energy — particularly the gas pipeline — which will ensure that the north-west does not become an economic black spot and can compete on a level playing field. It is important that Invest Northern Ireland has a strong presence in Derry, and I ask that a regional office be located in the city. It is also important that, under the draft programme, broadband technology be available if Derry and the north-west are to deliver effectively on the Executive’s aspiration for e-government. Decentralisation of Government offices is a priority for my council, and I ask the Executive to consider locating a Department in Derry.
Much has been said about health this afternoon, and, like everyone else, I know about the problems, so I do not intend to dwell on them. However, I acknowledge that the health sector has been given a £400 million increase, with a further £186 million increase, which is a rise of 8·5%. That must be welcomed, but waiting lists are rising, departments, such as cancer services, have inadequate resources, and there is bed blocking in acute hospitals because of insufficient money for community care. Those issues must be highlighted.
The Federation of Small Businesses issued a press release today asking the Minister, Bairbre de Brún, and the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to meet immediately with the Registered Homes Confederation. The average cost of maintaining an elderly person in an acute hospital is £1,500 per week, while the average cost of maintaining him in the independent sector is £400 per week.
The recent Department of Health review of the fee structure in residential and nursing homes established that they were underfunded by approximately £750 per week. As I said in the Budget debate last week, I regret that free nursing care in the nursing home sector will not be introduced from April 2002, as previously planned.
The chapter ‘Working for a Healthier People’ sets targets for health improvements in all walks of life, through emphasis on the dangers of smoking, excess alcohol and drugs. There must be more research into health promotion if we are ever to have a healthy lifestyle. That section also promotes the benefits of sport. Research into the value of sport in creating a healthier lifestyle would benefit the entire community. The Scottish Executive have carried out extensive research into the role of sport in regenerating deprived areas. Northern Ireland would benefit from similar research.
I welcome the review of public administration. It has been discussed ad infinitum in local government for many years. It will allow real decisions to be taken at local level.
There is much more in the fields of primary and secondary education, culture and arts. I do not begrudge Belfast’s application to be European City of Culture 2008. However, I hope that resources will be evenly distributed and that all areas of Northern Ireland will benefit from that application. I support the Programme for Government and commend all those involved in its delivery.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the draft Programme for Government. Members could be forgiven for thinking that today was "knock the Health Service" day. However, none of us will disagree with the Executive’s assessment of what must be done to make the vision of a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society a reality, or deny that we must overcome social, economic, environmental and political challenges if we are to make a difference.
The key challenge is to make peace work and to demand the financial peace dividend — the savings from dismantling the security infrastructure that the Deputy First Minister referred to yesterday, which ate up a considerable chunk of the Budget before devolution, to the detriment of health and education infrastructure. The devolved Administration are entitled to additional funding, independent of the block grant, to address pre-devolution underfunding.
The key challenge in the ‘Growing as a Community’ priority area is to develop a society in which all citizens can fully and freely participate. Given our history, that is a challenge, but one that we must deliver on if we are to meet the expectations of the community and build on the commitments that we made in March.
Section 2.4, sub-priority 2, deals with improving community relations. There must be recognition that sectarian and racial divisions in our communities are not just a historical, political legacy, but are rooted in poverty and class inequality and in the fear and insecurity that those generate. Youth unemployment in the North stands at 10% and is increasing. Community relations policies have not addressed that. There must be a radical rethink, independent of the review, of those policies. Could it be said that those policies have delivered best value, given the huge budget?
Section 2.5, sub-priority 3, deals with the needs of victims. Any action taken in relation to that priority must be done on a level playing field. That is not the case at present. The Programme for Government must ensure the development of policy-makers’ understanding of victims’ issues. Victims’ groups should be encouraged to develop their own role in reconciliation and healing. There must be a reconstitution of an interdepartmental working group that can reflect the breadth of experience of those in the community who have been affected by the conflict.
The analysis of victims’ needs must not be predicated solely on the Bloomfield report, which is not inclusive and which lends itself to the concept of a hierarchy of victims. Must I again raise the matter of the confusion in the community? Do we really need a Victims Liaison Unit and a Victims Unit, not to mention a plethora of other groups? The prevalent thinking in the Victims Liaison Unit must not be transferred to the Programme for Government. All victims, including victims of state violence, must receive equal recognition and service provision.
In the chapter ‘Working for a Healthier People’, it states:
"We will focus on….enabling those with……chronic illness or terminal illness to achieve the highest possible standard of living".
How can the Assembly meet that priority while the chronically sick and disabled are made to jump through hoops in an all-work test in order to access entitlement to incapacity benefit and are forced to endure a process of humiliation by medical interrogation for entitlement to disability living allowance? The sick and disabled cannot live independently without financial and social support. It is already difficult for the sick to get access to benefits to enable them to live and — in some instances — die with dignity, as they must complete complicated forms that amount to an A-level examination in illness. A more simplified means of medical assessment of the needs of the chronically sick and disabled should be a priority for the Minister for Social Development.
On page 45, sub-priority 5 of the chapter entitled ‘Securing a Competitive Economy’ states that
"We also recognise the important role of local councils in this area and will work with regional groupings…for inward investment."
Unemployment in the Foyle constituency stands at 13·5% — twice the average for the North. If that priority is to contribute to employment opportunities, the new single economic development agency must have a regional focus in the north-west and a regional presence in general. We should not have to campaign for a regional office. The Foyle constituency should be given that as its right.
On page 63, in the chapter ‘Working Together’, sub- priority 3 states that, with regard to the reform of public administration, the Executive
"recognise the need for different structures under devolution, taking account of new relationships between local and regional government".
That must be addressed through a progressive policy of decentralisation, in which strong regional offices would service business and develop cross-border initiatives.
In Chapter 2, ‘Growing as a Community’, of the Programme for Government, February 2001, it states that the Executive seek to increase training and employment support and that New Deal for disabled people will be extended to the whole of the North from April 2001. Have those targets been achieved? Have we discussed with organisations that represent the disabled whether those training and employment support schemes meet their needs? In particular, we must examine New Deal to see whether that is the appropriate programme for those with disabilities.
The Programme for Government commits the Executive to the appointment of additional chairpersons to the fair employment and industrial tribunals. We must identify whether that has been achieved. A major review of employment law in the North is necessary. Much of the current employment legislation is a legacy of the Thatcher Government and represents a fundamental attack on the rights of employees and trade unions.
There are also major differences in employment law between the South and the North. I welcome the idea of a pilot scheme to develop foundation degrees in the North, but I also want to validate the contribution of further education colleges to delivering higher education. We need to challenge publicly the fact that many students have to leave this country to continue their studies because the universities, especially Queen’s and the University of Ulster, do not give HNDs and HNCs proper recognition.
The Programme for Government commits the Executive to achieving 35,000 further and higher education places by the coming academic year. That must be carefully monitored to see whether that target is achievable. Current Department for Employment and Learning policy leaves it to the universities to decide where additional full-time places should be located. We want to see Derry developed as a major alternative site to Belfast for higher education.
The effectiveness and suitability of the New Deal as a scheme for tackling unemployment and the educational needs of the unemployed must be monitored carefully. The Executive should propose schemes that reflect the needs of the North. The Programme for Government commits the Executive to increasing further education and training provision for priority skills and to securing investment by 25 knowledge-based businesses. The universities and further education colleges must evaluate that strategy.
Finally, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Sports Council should contribute to the promotion of a healthier lifestyle in disadvantaged areas that have long-term unemployment. A regional office of the Sports Council in the north-west would address the level of ill health and poverty, which is generational. That constituency has the highest number of young people under 25, and we need to ensure that the next generation will adopt a health-and-fitness attitude to life. Go raibh míle maith agat.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the draft Programme of Government, although it is regrettable that not all the Ministers are present.
It is good to know that the Assembly is making a difference to the people of Northern Ireland, but the Committees should have more say on the programme before it reaches this stage. I compliment the Department of the Environment on the road safety television campaign. The advertisements were recognised as being in a world league at the recent conference organised by TISPOL, the European traffic police network, and the money was well spent.
As a former primary school principal, I welcomed the commitment in the last Budget to recruit more road safety officers. That has happened; their training has been completed, and I look forward to their deployment. It is to be hoped that there will be a reduction in the number of children involved in road accidents. I am sorry that the additional officers are not in post this year. I hope that the new target date for their employment will be achieved.
I note that the last target, relating to waste disposal, has not been met. I trust that the Department of the Environment will liaise with the councils in time to ensure that no more money will have to be returned to the central fund. As a member of the Committee for the Environment, I am concerned about some of the proposals coming from the Department, which does not seem to be fully aware of the increased burden being placed on local government. There are several proposals in the document for which consideration should have been given to a Northern Ireland strategy.
A Bill to regulate the keeping of wild animals and a response to the air quality strategy could have been included. I welcome the target for maintaining or improving river water quality, with no deterioration. I am most concerned to see what reduction can be made in the infestation of zebra mussels in the Erne system, and in the eutrophication of the Erne system and Lough Neagh. Those are serious problems.
On page 96, it is stated in 4.2 and 4.3 that the Department of the Environment is
"To develop a Best Value framework for improving transparency and accountability of district council services" — and —
In 4.4, it states that the Department is
"To deliver an audit programme".
That programme relates, among others, to the Local Government Staff Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee. Would it not have been possible to include those proposals in the reform of public administration, as set out in page 63? Such an inclusion would be natural, as sub-priority 3 states:
"We recognise the need for different structures under devolution, taking account of new relationships between local and regional government, as well as the full range of other bodies that function within the wider public sector."
That priority is to be supported by the launch of a comprehensive review of public administration by the spring of 2002.
As I said, I am a former primary school principal, and I therefore commend the following statement:
"We will also aim to ensure that all children leave school with the highest standards of literacy and numeracy which they can achieve."
That is contained in paragraph 4.3, sub-priority 1, on page 31. That issue should be placed first on the focus list and not treated as a sub-priority. Our children’s literacy and numeracy skills are vital. Children should not reach secondary school without basic skills. If they have not got those skills, they should not clog up the further education colleges and industry — those areas should not be clogged up with adults and potential workers unable to perform basic tasks. Pouring extra cash into adult literacy will not solve our problem. That would provide only temporary relief. It is clear that the problem lies in the primary sector. I am not blaming the teachers or the principals, because they are deprived of teaching time in school by increased bureaucracy. That is something that we must deal with.
Health has been well and truly covered in the debate today. On page 27, it is stated that we must
"ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients."
I look forward to that happening. I have a young constituent who two years ago was given a date of March 2002 for orthopaedic treatment. That is not good enough. On page 28, it says:
"We need to support those with chronic and mental illness, disability or terminal illness" — and —
"To meet the needs of the 21st Century, we plan to bring forward new mental health policies and legislation".
Those are great words, but after listening to a lobby session yesterday, I know that we not only need to voice them, we also need practical help and funding.
I emphasise the challenge outlined in the first three pages of the document. It says that the electorate here must see the benefits of the local Assembly filtering down through locally elected and accountable Members. It is not perfect, but our challenge as Members is to turn the vision in this document —our second one only— into reality by delivering the benefits to all.
Perhaps in the next draft document the front page could show part of the General Confession:
"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done".
I support the motion.
The Programme for Government offers great opportunities to make fundamental changes for the good of society. I hope that Departments and Ministers will not be timid but will grasp the full potential for implementing radical initiatives. It is a broad programme, and I will limit myself to commenting on health and the environment.
Many public health indicators show that we control some lifestyle factors that determine our health, such as alcohol, tobacco, obesity and poor diet. As we are in a healing process, politically speaking, and recovering from conflict — some of it self-inflicted —we can concentrate on doing what we must to improve public and private health industries.
We need financial resources for the Health Service. However, among the changes we could make would be to ensure that we have no duplication and better management of resources. I have been asking for an audit of health services for some time, because we need to know the cost of everything before we can take remedial action. I read with interest in the Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis for October 2001 that, while we have approximately the same spending per person on health as Scotland, its waiting list for 12 months or more per head of population is 1.3%; ours is 21.8%. The Scots are very lucky, and we could learn something from other places.
We must put a price tag on treatments, including those for illnesses caused by inappropriate lifestyles. We have a demand-led service, and hard decisions must be made. Indecision is the curse of the new cancer unit. However, without immediate action, more people will wait and will die waiting. They are waiting for diagnoses, for machines to be repaired, and for beds, treatment, more trained staff, doctors and nurses and support services. Another example of the crisis is that neurology services at the Royal Victoria Hospital have been cut severely. Because of a lack of staff, non-urgent theatre sessions have been cancelled, and there is a nine-month waiting list to get an MRI scan. Consultants are admitting their outpatients to acute beds to get them up the waiting list. Against this cutback in services, we run the risk of losing at least two registrars in neurology at the Royal because funding cannot be found for consultancy posts. Years of training will be lost. Those are just two examples of wasteful and counterproductive practice.
It is regrettable that we have not been able to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on care of the elderly. It is unfortunate that we are selective when deciding which conditions should be treated free at the point of delivery for elderly people. We must strengthen the family unit by respecting the dignity and independence of older people. That is no reflection on the dedicated people who battle against the odds to give the best possible care to their patients. Can you imagine how difficult and demoralising it is for staff who feel that no one is listening to their concerns? They are the ones who have to deal with patients and relatives when illness strikes. They have to deal with the disappointments when appointments are cancelled, with the grim reality of death and the grief and frustration that accompanies it.
We want healthy people, living in a sustainable environment. We are fortunate to have a relatively clean, green environment, which we must protect. To protect it, we need to concentrate on the principles of sustainable development. This has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I am glad that it has been identified as a key priority in the Programme for Government. I encourage the Department of the Environment and the Minister to be far more proactive and imaginative in an area that presents so many opportunities to improve our living conditions.
I was pleased to hear the Deputy First Minister indicate that the strategy for sustainable development has been taken on board. The principles that underpin it demonstrate the cross-cutting nature of those themes. These include the effective protection of the environment, social progress that recognises everyone’s needs, prudent use of natural resources and the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment. We urgently need to develop and implement the strategy. It will impact on all five areas of priority. Even before we have the strategy in place, I would like to see some of the principles of sustainable development implemented.
It is essential that the actions we take today do not jeopardise tomorrow’s environment. I want to see the precautionary principle applied rigorously in all situations, whether in relation to the erection of telecommunications masts or to the proposed MOX plant at Sellafield. I want our natural habitats, our built heritage and our natural resources to be carefully looked after and preserved for future generations, rather than squandered for short-term gains.
I want the Executive to show leadership on the issue of sustainable development and to ensure that it sets the standard for environmental performance by developing green purchasing policies that will stimulate and support developing markets for recycled produce. The amount of paper that is produced in this building alone should be a clear reminder of our wastefulness. I would be satisfied with a list of publications that would be available on request and in the library, particularly for some of the weightier tomes.
As chairperson of the all-party group on international development, I want to see greater development of Northern Ireland’s role in international affairs. Mention is made of presenting a positive international image of Northern Ireland. I want to see this aspect strengthened. As a community, we have gained immensely from international goodwill and have a reputation for generosity when responding to humanitarian crises around the world. I want the Assembly to take a lead role in harnessing the efforts of groups and individuals, and in highlighting the needs of developing countries.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The various Committee meetings that we have been trying to fit in around the plenary sitting have made it difficult to follow the debate. People will probably have expected us to attend the debate rather than be elsewhere. I spoke on the draft Budget last week, so to some extent I am reinforcing what I have already said. I note that quite a number of Ministers have not been sitting in on the debate.
As a member of the Education Committee, I reiterate earlier comments by the Chairperson of the Committee. Education is probably not as high a priority as health, but we still have to have priorities. It seems that the number one priority of a Department is its own survival. The Departments must look at that. For instance, the amount of administration in any of the Departments — the Department of Education or otherwise — is a contributory factor to their inability to carry out their core operations. The Executive must examine that rather than focus on what extra funding can be provided for the small, if important, functions that Members want or the new functions that have to be implemented.
The areas of education and health are closely related. In some areas, it is impossible to separate them. The health of the population and how the education system has treated them since childhood is there for all to see. Some Members mentioned that people’s lifestyles can affect the costs and budgets of the hospitals, healthcare and everything else in later life.
People are unable to take up further education or lifelong learning, and that is an indicator of the deficit in education for some people. Many wished to access the individual learning accounts (ILAs) recently, but that scheme has been set aside; it is an unfortunate situation. Many who need to move into lifelong learning do not do so because of the negative experiences they endured at various school levels. The Department of Education and the Minister must examine closely that deficit.
Current priorities in education are the local management of schools (LMS), the 11-plus, the Burns review and the curriculum review — all of which are important. However, the implementation of those proposals for the future direction of schools will depend on the available budget.
Sometimes students find themselves with a small voice, and often they have no voice with which to air their concerns. People refer to the Youth Service, for example, and the amount of effort or money that is put into implementing that. Although the economy is buoyant, some students experience great difficulty in repaying loans or dealing with spiralling debts.
The price of student accommodation and property remained at quite low levels a few years ago, but now the rates are astronomical. Students find that they cannot get proper accommodation. Some landlords are insensitive to living conditions that students have to endure. Students have to pay heating bills and maintain their lifestyles. They have to live in and around the city or area of their further education college or university.
It is increasingly difficult for students to live in an environment that is conducive to their continuing study, without burdening their parents. That is a serious issue in which I urge the Education Minister to get involved. Departments with responsibility for student accommodation, student lifestyle and the environment in which students live when they are not in the colleges must also get involved.
Not enough money has been invested in lifelong learning, and both Departments must examine that more closely. Equality of opportunity and TSN also impact on that. We must enable people to move from areas of deprivation. The system that allowed the haves and the have-nots to persist because education failed to advance the agenda in those areas must be abolished.
Free school meals entitlement can affect schools’ budgets in a big way — for some schools more than others. However, I know from my work in the Agriculture Committee that some areas were in serious difficulties as a result of the recent foot-and-mouth disease crisis. It was plain for all to see that people in those areas had suffered a loss of income and should have been entitled to claim free school meals but were not doing so.
People who were entitled to claim free school meals were not doing so in some small schools in the Glens of Antrim, for example, and that is an indication of the difficulties some people were facing. The Department must consider another method of financial help and try to remove the stigma associated with the entitlement to free school meals. The provision of decent meals to all pupils — not just those entitled to free school meals — is an important element of the school process, and the situation may become untenable if the take-up of free school meals is avoided because of the stigma attached. Some money needs to be spent on finding out the reasons for that view.
The Committee has also considered special needs in schools and has found that there is little money to meet that problem — in fact, the budgetary allocation hardly moves the scales at all. Money must be invested in special needs — perhaps not much money is needed but it necessitates a hands-on approach to learning in schools, rather than spending on books or other aspects which the Department thinks require funding. That is a big issue for parents, and it must be considered soon.
The problem of fees and costs for pupils moving into third-level education has not been addressed by the relevant Department. Those who wish to take a Masters degree in certain subjects, outside the Six Counties, must fund themselves. We need to accommodate at least some of those people and address their costs. If we do not, the rich will be educated, and those who are at the lower end of the spectrum will not.
Many points have been made about agriculture, and the vision group document has tried to grapple with those. It addresses some of these issues very well, and it might be worth taking a second look to see what can be implemented. There does not seem to be a budget to implement the recommendations of the vision document, and the funding, which should be allocated to agriculture in the next few years, will not be allocated. The vision document will then gather dust, and that should not and cannot be allowed to happen. It would be a serious omission to ignore the prioritised recommendations, and, as a matter of urgency, there must be a budget to implement those and to provide for a growing and competitive economy.
Considerable amounts of money have been directed at disease eradication and control. My difficulty is that year-on-year money is spent on that, but we need to successfully eradicate diseases. That would save our budget in the long term, because the resultant savings could be directed towards areas such as education or health programmes. Much of that money has been the subject of fraud recently, and the fraud is not necessarily confined to those areas to which the DUP often points.
The health issue is of interest to me, and the recent moves on waiting lists are welcome. Winter pressures also create waiting lists, and in my own area those lists have been alleviated.
Community care is also tied closely to waiting lists. The blockage of beds at hospitals in the Southern Board area and parts of the Western Board area has led to budget difficulties. Many in the Western Board area consider the implementation of the Hayes review to be the most important factor in the siting of hospitals there. It has massive implications for the future budget. The Minister should consider taking an early decision — perhaps before deciding on the overall implementation of Hayes — on the issue of hospitals in the west. It has been suggested that that will be the greatest contribution of the Hayes review. I urge the Minister to do that as quickly as possible.
Top-slicing and removing parts of the budget before it is drawn down is another question. We would be happy enough if it were drawn down to the Western Board area, but that has not happened. Last time, £3 million of the budget went to two different areas, for whatever reasons. The budget should be distributed equitably and top-slicing should be stopped, if that is the intended approach in the future.
There has been a considerable increase in the number of elderly patients, certainly in areas such as Fermanagh. There will be considerable extra spending this year on flu immunisation for the over 60s. That must be considered and accounted for. I support the points made about the sickness benefit system. One could almost imagine that that system operates without the Minister’s knowledge. People must go through a very severe system to get the money that they are entitled to. Many have obvious chronic illnesses, and it is not necessary to use Special Branch tactics against such claimants, who need money and support to live in their homes. That should be examined.
I support the point by Members from all parties that the administration of Government, local government and quangos must be looked at urgently. Administration is top-heavy: perhaps more so since the establishment of the Assembly. All other bodies are still operating. Go raibh maith agat.
Devolution has revealed, if anything, the problems that developed during direct rule, when many public services were grossly underfunded. One of the big challenges that lies ahead for the Assembly is to deal positively with those issues.
In recent months, the Committee has been carrying out an inquiry into energy matters in Northern Ireland. It is a very complex matter. Significantly, one of the first issues that the Committee dealt with was the development of the natural gas pipeline to the north-west. I welcome the First Minister’s statement this morning reiterating the Executive’s commitment to the development of the North/South pipeline and the one from Belfast to the north-west. The Committee has always been unanimous in its support for that project.
The First Minister also made reference to the terrible events of 11 September and how they will impact on the situation here. Northern Ireland is very much part of the global economy, and, even before 11 September, there were signs of a downward trend in industry, particularly in the IT sector. Unfortunately, that has been exacerbated by the events in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
The most recent report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation shows that in the matter of those who are registered as unemployed, Northern Ireland was eleventh out of 12 regions in the United Kingdom. We were beaten only by the north-east of England. Our rate of unemployment in September was 4·9%; the figure for the north-east was 5·3%; and the top of the league — the south-east — had an unemployment rate of 1·5%. There is no room for complacency.
I draw the Assembly’s attention to sub-priority 5 on working to attract inward investment. I quote:
"In support of this sub-priority we will: work with universities, further education colleges, local councils and the private sector to secure investments by 20 knowledge based businesses each year."
However, the target in the February 2001 Programme for Government was 25 knowledge-based businesses each year. In many ways that shows a great weakness on the part of the Executive. It is important that we hold our nerve in these very difficult times.
The Committee recognises that the attraction of inward investment involves ups and downs. The budget must be flexible. It is important to adhere to that flexibility, particularly with the new difficulties that have emerged in recent months.
In the present session, the Committee addressed the dilemma faced by quarry owners in Northern Ireland, and the development of the aggregates tax. In the Committee’s response to the document ‘Strategy 2010’ it recommended that the Assembly be given tax-varying powers. Bearing in mind the difficulties in various sectors, that issue should be addressed by the Executive.
I also draw the Assembly’s attention to sub-priority 4 on promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity. It states:
"We will: through the Business Start Programme, achieve 600 new business starts over the period to March 2005".
The Programme for Government of February 2001 refers to the creation of more sustainable businesses. While sustainability is implied, the Committee recommends that it be expressed with a firm commitment to ensuring that Northern Ireland’s poor record of business failure for start-ups is addressed. We also recognise the important role played by small businesses in the Northern Ireland economy. Given the present situation, their role will probably be even more important. Therefore, the Executive should take up that issue.
The Departments faced restructuring following the creation of Invest Northern Ireland (INI). It is an important initiative, and I hope that INI will be a more effective organisation than LEDU, the IDB and the Industrial Research Technology Unit (IRTU), which it has replaced. A new drive is needed to attract inward investment and to create employment opportunities in Northern Ireland in the new situation in which we find ourselves.
I welcome the fact that that is happening. However, I alert the Minister to the Committee’s strong feeling that INI should have a regional presence in the Province, similar to that of the LEDU offices. The Minister has taken that on board, but it is important to stress it again.
It is important that the Assembly creates joined-up government. I am pleased with the close co-operation between the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister for Employment and Learning, particularly in the development of the skills that are required. We had an excellent debate on that issue. However, when we discussed the Programme for Government with departmental officials, we questioned them about the delay in setting up a science park at the Titanic Quarter. I was astonished by the response of a senior official. He said:
"The planning process seems to be quite impossible."
If there is to be joined-up government, it is important that all Departments work in partnership to ensure that there is understanding and collaboration. I have raised the issue of planning delays several times in the House. I referred in particular to a planning application to develop a major business park in my constituency. I was informed today that at long last, subject to the approval of the Minister, planning permission should be granted in the near future.
The role of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and the strategy that it will pursue, was reflected in ‘Strategy 2010’. It is important that if the Assembly is to move forward, the Department takes on board the Committee’s lengthy and detailed inquiry into Strategy 2010.
The Chairperson is unavailable today, but, as Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development, I welcome the opportunity to debate the draft Programme for Government. I register the Committee for Regional Development’s gratitude to the officials from the Department for Regional Development for their co-operation and assistance during the Committee’s deliberations on the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget.
The Committee for Regional Development was gratified to see a strong commitment in the Programme for Government to improving our infrastructure. It states on page 39 that
"The provision of infrastructure and major public services such as public transport, roads, water and sewerage is essential for the well-being of the region."
I fully endorse that statement, and it should be a priority for the Government. Failure to address the deficiencies in the infrastructure and public transport has had, and will continue to have, serious repercussions across many aspects of society, and particularly to the economy. For example, 99% of all Northern Ireland goods are transported by road. A well maintained road network would help to reduce the time and cost of transporting freight, which, in turn, would help to improve business profitability and competitiveness. Other areas, such as tourism, the environment and health, would benefit from a properly funded and maintained infrastructure.
The Government are beginning to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have started to address the years of underfunding in our infrastructure. The Committee for Regional Development was heartened by the increase in the Department’s budget of £42 million, which represents an 8% increase on 2001-02. This will enable additional funding to be targeted at roads and public transport improvements, such as the purchase of new trains, which is long overdue.
The Committee for Regional Development also welcomed the announcement on 24 September, by the Acting First Minister, that an additional £40 million is to be made available for the trans-European Network route from Larne to Belfast and from Newry to Dundalk. It also referred to a significant contribution to be made available for the upgrading of the Westlink. These increases are indeed roundly to be welcomed. However, it is important to view this additional funding in its overall context. The impact of the additional expenditure will allow only a few small holes in the dyke to be repaired. There is a £100 million backlog of road maintenance work to be done, so there is clearly a long way to go before we have a modern, reliable, and safe road network.
It is also important not to forget the pressures that the water infrastructure has been under. The lack of major capital investment has manifested itself in a number of ways over the past few years. There have been several health scares, such as outbreaks of cryptosporidium. On top of this, an antiquated and crumbling sewerage system has shown its inability to cope with heavy periods of rainfall, resulting in flooding.
The Committee for Regional Development welcomes the provision of £48 million in the 2002-03 Budget for the purchase of new train sets. As with the road and water infrastructures, investment in the public transport system is in a catch-up situation because of years of underinvestment. New trains will undoubtedly make train travel more appealing, and the proposed Railway Safety Bill will ensure a high standard of rail travel safety. However, there is still much to be done if rail travel is to become a major form of commuter transport. Considerably more money will have to be invested not only in train sets, but in improving access and facilities.
A similar situation exists with the age and standard of Northern Ireland’s buses. Additional funding should be made available to reduce the average age of the bus fleet. I noted that in the Programme for Government in October 2000, although it was removed from the final version of the programme in February 2001, there was a commitment
"to assist Translink to replace its buses after 18 years of service and its coaches after 12 years service".
The Committee believes that consideration should be given to reinstating this commitment.
Achieving a shift in commuter attitudes to the buses can be realised only by major up-front investment to enable the provision of quality, efficient bus services. Getting commuters out of their cars and into trains and buses would alleviate congestion, particularly in the Belfast metropolitan area, and make a positive contribution to the economy and the environment.
A reliable, efficient bus network, particularly in rural areas where up to 30% of households do not have access to a car, would also make a positive contribution to promoting social inclusion, which is a key Government priority. There are genuine, growing concerns that rural bus services may be significantly reduced if private operators continue to target the more profitable routes, forcing Translink to reduce services on the less profitable rural routes. The Regional Development Committee will encourage the Government to give priority to public transport, to provide additional funding for improving Northern Ireland’s bus fleet, and to keep the average age of buses in line with those of GB.
The Committee, conscious of funding pressures right across the Northern Ireland block, believes that new approaches to funding should be considered. It welcomes the decision by the Department of Regional Development to set up a unit to look at new and innovative ways of funding. One specific measure that should be considered is leasing, rather than purchasing, new trains. The Committee is aware that leasing arrangements are in place in GB. If leasing were introduced, it would release funds for investment on other infrastructure improvements.
Regarding public service agreements, the Committee is content with the targets set by the Department of Regional Development. However, paragraph 1.6b of the PSA refers to resurfacing 350 lane kilometres in each of the next three years. The February 2001 Programme for Government referred to a target of resurfacing 500 kilometres in each of the next three years. The Committee sought clarification from the Department and was advised that, due to the assistance provided for roads in the draft Budget, the figure of 500 kilometres would be reinstated. I should be grateful if the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister could reassure the Committee on that point.
The Committee noted that the action section had been removed from the public sector agreement. It is the Committee’s understanding that this detailed information will be reproduced in the service delivery agreements that will be available later in the year.
The Committee will be unsure whether the removal of the action section has been an improvement until it has had an opportunity to examine the contents of the service delivery agreements. The old format allowed immediate examination of the Department’s work programme in relation to the overall targets. I suggest that the service delivery agreements be made available, in draft form at least, at the same time as the public service agreements.
Pages 42 and 107 of the Programme for Government state that a target of 60% of urban housing growth is to be provided within urban limits, without town cramming, by 2010. This does not reflect the wording of the regional development strategy document. However, the Department assured the Committee that the regional development strategy is the authoritative document. Therefore, the Committee would welcome the exact wording used in the regional development strategy being used in the Programme for Government. That would avoid confusion.
The Department for Regional Development has finalised its regional development strategy and is due to finalise its regional transportation strategy shortly. The regional development strategy would provide a planning framework for tackling the deficiencies in our infrastructure and helping the development of our economy and society. The regional transportation strategy aims to produce a transport system which reduces adverse economic impacts, improves safety, contributes to economic growth, promotes accessibility and social inclusion, and provides integrated transport.
Those key targets, if properly implemented, will address many of my concerns and the priorities outlined in the draft Programme for Government. However, both the regional development strategy and the regional transportation strategy will impact on other Departments and will require cross-departmental co-operation for their successful implementation. Adequate funding is crucial to their success. There must be speedy progress in determining alternative funding that is appropriate and available, so that there is no further deterioration in the roads and water infrastructure, and so that the proposals contained in the strategies and Programme for Government can be successfully implemented. That ends my contribution as Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee.
My Colleagues on the Health Committee have highlighted detailed problems. However, I must issue a dire warning.
Such is the crisis in the Health Service that the Executive must set up a task force to help the Department take strong and immediate action before the service implodes. The crisis should be a top priority, and must be addressed immediately.
I apologise for having missed many of the earlier contributions. I am aware that health has been a major subject in today’s debate on the draft Programme for Government.
Many important aspects of the Health Service in Northern Ireland are slowly disintegrating, at all levels — including primary care, hospital care, secondary care and care of the elderly.
"Old people in care homes can get £65 a week for nursing care costs and up to £90 a week for personal care costs."
"The Scots can afford this because Scotland gets from the Treasury about 22 % more money per head than England does for the health service…So the Scots can afford to employ more doctors and have more hospital beds, resulting in shorter waiting lists, than the rest of Britain."
The key point is that there is more spending on health in England and Wales than in Scotland. There are more beds in England and Wales and more doctors in those territories. Therefore, there is a greater number of people on waiting lists in Northern Ireland than in England, Wales or Scotland.
The five priorities set out in the Programme for Government are still relevant and should continue to directly influence public expenditure. Poverty and social disadvantage, including poor housing, are directly linked to ill health. Many of the actions detailed in the Programme for Government should already have been implemented. There is an ongoing crisis in the health service, and the main cause of that is gross underfunding. I in no way point the finger at the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. The crisis was imminent before she took over. However, now that the Assembly seems bedded down again, the Health Service in Northern Ireland should be its number one priority – and that includes the Minister, her Department, the Executive, and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
Paragraph 3·6, sub-priority 4 of the Programme for Government, page 27 states that
"We will modernise and improve hospital and primary care services to ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients. We will work to contain waiting lists at current levels."
However, I do not agree that our target should be to maintain waiting lists at the March 2002 level, as it is not possible to determine what that figure might be. In the Programme for Government of February 2001, the target was to reduce the waiting lists by a quarter by March 2004 — that is by 51,000 to 39,000 — with the immediate aim of a reduction to 41,000 by March 2002. However, the most recent waiting list figure is 54,000, and it continues to rise.
I am sure Members are aware of the issue of cancellation of out-patient clinics. In Northern Ireland, between nine and ten per cent of all waiting lists are cancelled. Therefore, thousands of people in Northern Ireland are grossly disadvantaged each day. Our Committee has written to the relevant trusts to find out why that happens. I am sure many of the reasons are perfectly genuine — nonetheless we are entitled to know them.
Many Members, including Carmel Hanna, have spoken about cancer. In this decade, cancer is expected to surpass heart disease as Northern Ireland’s leading cause of death — if it has not already done so. Statistics show that one in three will be diagnosed with cancer, and one in four or five will die from it. Thus cancer is a major clinical problem that will confront our society in the future.
Many Members referred to the City Hospital. The present chief medical officer, a person for whom I have great respect, produced the Campbell report in 1995, which stated that the City Hospital was to be the main cancer centre, with units located at various other hospitals. We now know that many people who go to Belvoir Park Hospital for treatment suffer because machines there break down. I know that the Minister has allotted money for new equipment recently, but the people responsible for building the new cancer centre, and patients across Northern Ireland, are frustrated. Prof Paddy Johnston, a world authority on cancer, and Prof Roy Spence, a senior cancer surgeon, are anxious to know whether the finance has been agreed, so that building can start as soon as possible, for it will take approximately three years. In fairness, the Minister and her people came before our Committee recently and we put those points to them, but they were already aware of them.
I would like some indication from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister — in the Executive programme funds, I think that it is the infrastructure fund for 2002-03 which has £51 million — that a large portion of that money could be used to build the new cancer centre at the City Hospital. I am sure that many people would think that reasonable.
Objective 2 in the document is to ensure the delivery of effective, high-quality health and social care, and it is hoped that plans for the modernisation and improvement of hospital services to make them more responsive to people’s needs will be published by December 2002. That is a long time to wait; there is a major crisis in our hospitals now.
We are familiar with the Hayes Report, and consultation on it finished at the end of October, but what I presume will be definitive proposals for the future of our hospitals will not be made until December 2002. Will they be put out for consultation then? We have waited for years for decisions to be made here. John McFall, a former direct rule Minister for Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland, produced a document in 1998, called ‘Putting it Right’, and he made specific proposals in respect of hospitals here for the years to come, but we cannot wait. The Assembly, the Health Minister, the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, as well as the Secretary of State, must be deeply concerned.
Monica McWilliams and I recently visited the intensive care unit and the accident and emergency unit in the Ulster Hospital, and I was very shaken by what I saw. We read every day about patients lying on trolleys, but there was the reality — in fact they had run out of trolleys, and people were on chairs. One sister was in tears because of her inability to cope. There are major problems with accident and emergency units in hospitals across Northern Ireland.
I received a letter from a senior orthopaedic surgeon in the Royal Victoria Hospital, which, as everyone knows, is the main trauma hospital for Northern Ireland — and it is important that we all are aware of that. He states that the Royal Victoria Hospital is the level-one trauma centre for Northern Ireland, but the truth is that it is capable of looking after severely injured patients only on alternate days.
The function of dealing with fractures was transferred from the City Hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital, along with all the trauma work which came with that, but the accident and emergency unit did not transfer as had been planned, so no resources to deal with that came with it. High-energy trauma work at the Royal Victoria Hospital has increased greatly, and the accident and emergency staff are on their knees. Staffing levels are still based on alternate take-in nights with the City Hospital, but for trauma, every night is take-in night. The situation is very serious. The good man is saying that it is time that this was made public. I received this letter only recently. Members of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee have received a copy of that letter. So there is no way we can wait until December 2002 and then have further consultations on that.
Carmel Hanna and probably others have made reference to neurology, but I missed part of the debate earlier. In relation to that topic, a letter was sent out to every GP in the North of Ireland by the medical director of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dr Ian Carson. He said that
"there are over 500 patients with non-urgent conditions awaiting operation and some of these, particularly chronic spinal disorders and peripheral nerve conditions have been on the waiting list for a lengthy period of time. Given that we are concentrating our surgical efforts on emergency and clinically more urgent cases there is little prospect of these elective patients being seen in the foreseeable future."
That is a serious situation.
I want to finish by speaking on primary care. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said a few years ago that the whole National Health Service in these islands should be based on primary care. It should be based on the patient, who is the only important person in the Health Service. The Health Service should operate from the ground up. That is how it was to be.
Over 90% of people who are ill in Northern Ireland go through primary care; by primary care I am referring to all the professional people who are involved in primary care. We have received serial documentation of that. One example was ‘Fit for the Future — A New Approach’. Again, under direct rule, the Minister John McFall brought out a document that was for this Assembly. That has been ignored, despite its massive consultation input.
Then we had further consultation. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety brought out a document last Christmas called ‘Building the Way Forward in Primary Care’. I have here a document that contains a summary of responses to that. All over that summary of responses is the word "respondents". It states that a majority of respondents felt this, some respondents felt the other, et cetera. However there is no mention of organisations such as the Royal College of Nursing, the GP committee of the British Medical Association, and our own Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee. All of those organisations, and especially our Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee through its appointment to this Assembly, are representing the people out there — the people who are the only important ones in the Health Service, the patients themselves. Generally those points have been ignored. There were 190 responses to that document; the document is merely a summary which lumps everyone together.
Decisions must be made. I tabled an amendment on behalf of our Committee around nine or ten months ago, regarding the fact that we wanted a seamless transition into primary care services. The Minister announced her intentions separately from this document of responses. She stated that she was going to go for primary care groupings which would be committees of the four boards. I do not want to get into the whole argument of non- fundholders versus fundholders, but that is a top- down proposition; it is not bottom-up. The people of Northern Ireland deserve the best Health Service that they can get, and work must start at primary care, working with babies, children, elderly people and everyone. If we get it wrong at primary care, we will get it wrong in secondary care, in hospitals and all the way through.
I continue to make this appeal. The Minister has chosen again 1 April for the transition into the new primary care services. I have no idea how she is going to do that, but I have made my point and I will leave it at that.
Earlier, Carmel Hanna mentioned an audit of the Health Service. That came before our Committee recently, and I will be speaking on behalf of our Committee to the Comptroller and Auditor General shortly. I will finish by asking that this Assembly, the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and the Ministers in all the Departments recognise that there is a crisis going on in the Health Service daily. Action is needed now, not two years from now.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the draft Programme for Government and to discuss issues that directly or indirectly affect my constituents.
I have watched most of the debate on the monitor in my office, and I noted criticism being levelled at various Benches across the House that were empty. Mrs Carson said that everyone was absent, and now Mrs Carson is absent. Most Members have used this debate to flag up issues that are of concern to them — rightly or wrongly, as the case may be — and they have followed the very extensive debate from their offices. If a Member is going to criticise other Members, she should do the House the courtesy of remaining here for everyone’s speech, not just her own.
I have followed several contributions, and I wish to comment on some of them, which were outstanding and gave fair criticism of the draft Programme for Government. Do not think that I am going to re-designate, but I refer to the speeches by the Member for South Belfast, Carmel Hanna, and the Member for South Down, Eddie McGrady. Both Members brought genuine criticism to the debate, with expertise in the matters that they addressed. I will focus on some of the issues they raised shortly.
The Executive should recognise that good government is not measured by the amount of promises that they make, but by the amount of promises that they keep. The draft programme, like the last document that was produced, makes a lot of promises. The public can pass a final judgement on whether those promises are kept or not.
"We have worked within the Executive and with others to start to deliver on the commitments we have made."
People would welcome their starting to deliver on over 200 of those promises. To date, 10 have been kept. The Executive have a long way to go to keep their promises, otherwise they will be condemned as being a Government by cliché — as making promises in politically correct phraseology but failing to deliver on them, when it is their duty to do so.
They say that they intend to make a difference: people do not see that difference yet. They have a vision: people say that the vision is blurred. They say that they have a programme: I do not think that a start has been made on the programme, so there is no prospect of a conclusion. Those in charge of implementing this draft Programme for Government need to bring legislation to the House. As many Members know, we do not deal with much primary legislation, yet according to the draft Programme for Government primary legislation is needed.
Mr Durkan said that the House has a duty to govern responsibly. It is fair criticism to say that it must make up for its lack of credibility. David Trimble said that an Administration founded as this one is founded lacks credibility. Having read the draft programme I do not know how they are going to do that, but they should tell us.
The draft programme refers to common themes, and the Executive say that they want to establish a coherent, modern Government. Many of the comments from across the House, SDLP, Ulster Unionists, and others — whether they are designated or not — show that the underlying strategy is not coherent. Indeed, there is much criticism of the lack of a coherent, modern Government. Those who have signed up to the draft Programme for Government should recognise that their remarks on the Administration’s lack of coherence and the legislation that flows from it will be challenged later.
Ms Hanna was correct when she said that an audit of the Health Service is essential. That is very important. It appears that the Health Service is becoming the black hole ministry. We have seen the major problems that exist in health funding. One simply has to pick up a newspaper and look at what has happened to the Royal Victoria Hospital. It is a shame and an indictment of the Government that a modern building in great demand should be padlocked and its new wing not used. That is a sad indictment of departmental policy and of the use of departmental resources. The fact that a promised new maternity unit for Northern Ireland has not yet materialised is also an indictment of the Government. That issue must be seriously addressed if the credibility gap is to be reduced.
Another indictment of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety appears in this evening’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’, in which the Department claims to be working for a healthier people. To achieve healthier people and a healthier community, it has to perform the operations that are required by those people. A parliamentary answer that my Colleague, Mr Shannon, received this morning from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has found its way onto the front pages of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’. According to that answer, more than 4,000 patients in Northern Ireland have been waiting for operations for more than two years. A further 8,000 people have been waiting for 12 months, of which 34 are heart patients. The extra £8 million allocated this morning by the Minister of Finance and Personnel will not go towards addressing the particular needs of the 12,000 people on a one-year or two-year waiting list. In fact, just over 49,000 people were waiting for a wide range of surgical procedures to be carried out by the Department.
If the Government and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety are working for a healthier nation and healthier people, they must address the serious situation in which money appears to be pumped into the Department at every opportunity. I would not deny it a penny, but if that money is not used accurately and effectively, not only the waiting lists, but their gestation period, will grow longer. The Government must face up to that important issue. If one Minister is not up to it, we all have a responsibility to insist that the job be done properly.
Many Members have mentioned the long waiting lists and the lack of resources. I am aware that Dr Hendron has already touched on those issues. However, the new Causeway Hospital in my own constituency faces many problems. That state-of-the-art hospital has insufficient resources. The Minister continues to waste money on other pet projects instead of ensuring that our first-class hospitals are properly funded and allowed to function.
I shall cite the example of the dermatology departments in the Antrim Area Hospital and the Causeway Hospital. I received a letter from a constituent who wanted to continue to receive dermatology treatment. However, the last dermatology appointment at the new Causeway Hospital has taken place and that service is now being withdrawn. The patient can either make the 160-mile round trip from the Causeway area to the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald, or can go private at the North West Independent Clinic, at a cost of between £80 and £85 for a few minutes’ consultation each visit. Everyone knows that many appointments are required for the treatment of dermatology and that it can take a long time.
Therefore, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, in failing to address the needs of, for instance, dermatology patients, is suggesting that patients opt either for private treatment or travel miles outside their local area for treatment, even though their local hospital could deal with the ailment if it were supplied with the resources. That is an indictment of the Department and the Minister for failing to recognise that those problems exist. The problems must be addressed more effectively than they have been to date.
I am a member of the Agriculture Committee. The Programme for Government contains many promises regarding agriculture, but Mr McGrady made some serious criticisms of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and I echo those points. They are important and go to the heart of the needs of the rural community.
Mr McGrady stated — and I agree — that there is no flagship programme. For instance, for a long time the Agriculture Committee has advocated the need for a farm retirement scheme. The only way to address rural poverty sustainably is to create a farm retirement scheme and a new entrants scheme. However, that has been put on the long finger by way of another inquiry, another investigation, another consultation report. If that issue is not addressed soon, Northern Ireland will not only have an ageing rural population with the lowest wages in Europe but one that will be unable to sustain the beautiful Northern Ireland countryside that everyone remarks on and cries their eyes out about.
The rural and farming community needs practical help. It needs a properly thought-out farm retirement scheme that will allow older generations to get off the land and allow new entrants — their children, other people interested in farming or those wishing to diversify — to take it over and drive that new agriculture industry forward. It is unfortunate that the Agriculture Minister and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development appear to be the pet poodle of EU bureaucracy, but they are not the farmers’ friend because they do not address that important need.
I know the criticisms. The whole Budget could be used up on farm retirement. However, farm retirement could be the one major issue that would make a difference to farmers’ lives in Northern Ireland, and it should be considered seriously. Unfortunately, it cannot be addressed by the resources identified in the Programme for Government because they have been directed elsewhere.
The Minister, in her comments about agriculture at the weekend, mistakes verbal attacks on the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development and its Chairperson for good policy. She should instead deal with the major policy issues that have been flagged up. The Department’s failure to deal with those crucial issues focuses the Minister on making verbal attacks on the Committee Chairperson.
The vision group’s report has been commended from many quarters. It is an interesting project which will also require serious resources. As Mr McGrady rightly identified, the Programme for Government does not appear to have the resources set aside, or even have them in mind, to put into action the proposals outlined by the vision group. I hope that the vision group’s report will not be shelved. However, according to the Programme for Government, it is likely that it will be shelved due to the lack of available funding.
The first Programme for Government promised to find a definition for rural proofing that would affect every Department and would allow all Departments to reflect seriously on the needs of the rural community. It is a scandal that the Programme for Government and the Administration have yet to find a meaningful definition, working title and working commitment towards rural proofing across every Department.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to many of the comments that have been made on the Programme for Government.
The programme is an earnest statement of our commitment to devolved government in Northern Ireland. It also highlights the concept that the people of Northern Ireland are best served by representatives from the Province who know the issues; who know the people’s needs; who are accountable to the people for delivering those needs; and who speak the people’s language. It is important that we all play a full role in agreeing and implementing the Programme for Government.
I met with the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure last week to discuss my Department’s commitments, and I am grateful for its input and views. A Programme for Government will only be meaningful and achievable if Departments, Committees and the Assembly all play their part in shaping the document and ensuring that it is fully implemented.
My Department is committed to delivering the community’s needs, and we punch above our weight, in contrast to Mr Paisley Jnr’s remarks about not delivering. In the first Programme for Government, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, with less than 1% of the available funding, accounted for 10% of the total 257 actions. It was signature to 28 actions, of which 14 were completed. Twelve are still ongoing, but they are on time because it is envisaged that they will run for more than one year. Two are incomplete — they are inland fisheries matters awaiting clearance from Brussels. This was no fluke. This year, of 164 actions in the Programme for Government, my Department accounts for 21. The extent of our remit demonstrates just how much the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure can contribute to improving the lot of everyone in the Province. Our remit is central to the aim of building a better life for all our people.
To give some examples, under the first Programme for Government we extended the interim safe sports grounds scheme to improve the infrastructure of sports facilities. Anyone who is involved in local football, Gaelic sports or rugby will see the tangible results of those improvements. In partnership with the Arts Council we developed tailored education and training programmes for individual artists to allow them to develop to their full potential. We offered support and expertise to the emerging creative industries, and took action to ensure the conservation of fish stocks. That is another example of work in partnership with the Committee, whose fishing inquiry played an important part in our work on inland fishing and fish stocks. We implemented a strategy for securing a programme of high-profile international and cultural events.
In the second Programme for Government we are taking several steps — some 21 actions of the 164 identified. These include making tangible improvements to our sporting facilities and working in support of the Belfast bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008, an issue which the Committee Chairperson, Mr ONeill, highlighted. Today’s presentation of Imagine Belfast will have given a flavour of the importance of the bid for Belfast and the Province. It must be submitted by March 2002 and, while the event is in 2008, the groundwork has to be done long before that. The Executive have allocated £0·5 million to support the preparation of that bid, and to stand any chance of success the culture and arts infrastructure needs to be improved. A strong bid is being prepared for the next round of Executive programme funds in April, aimed at improving the infrastructure in Belfast, including the Grand Opera House.
We will also work with the Sports Council to implement a code of ethics and good practice for children’s sport, which we all agree, is vital. In addition, we will complete the electronic libraries project for Northern Ireland. That is a key part of libraries investment — a large capital programme providing new technologies to deliver information, at the same time allowing us to develop a common electronic gateway, giving access to the resources of archives, libraries and museums.
Those are some of the issues that we want to address through this year’s Programme for Government. They give an idea of the range and importance of the Department’s work to substantially and tangibly improve the lives of the people of Northern Ireland. They are not simply feel-good factors that do not stand up to economic scrutiny. I will present some hard facts to the contrary. On the sporting front, £800,000 is spent every day in the Northern Irish sports industry. The wealth that is created is equivalent to 2% of the gross domestic product. Crucially, the Northern Irish sports industry supports 12,500 jobs.
One of the cornerstones of the Department’s initiatives in partnership with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education is the unlocking creativity strategy for the creative industries. That is a new, sunrise sector, but it currently employs 15,000 full-time people in around 3,500 businesses in Northern Ireland. It has a total turnover of £600,000 per annum. Overall employment in that sector has increased by 75% since 1995 and represents 3·5% of the Northern Irish economy. Our target is to raise it to 4% by 2004 — 4% is the average in Great Britain.
Members raised concerns about the lack of resources for culture, arts and leisure. Much of that is a product of historic underfunding. The Department has made some progress in addressing that legacy, but there is still a mountain to climb. Mr ONeill mentioned the current position of the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI). I share his concern. It is another example of historic underfunding. While we currently face significant deficits across the whole museum sector, I am determined that those problems will be addressed in a strategic way. The Department is engaged in a budget needs assessment of the museums, together with assessments in sports and the arts. Those assessments will identify both the extent of historic underfunding and the action that must be taken to address it. It applies across the board in several areas.
Mr Kennedy suggested a good causes fund for organisations that will not apply for National Lottery funding. A section of the community has moral objections to money emanating from gambling. I have noted what has been said. It is a matter for more than one Department. Additional funding would need to be made available and I will raise that issue. It is not a unique proposition — other countries have adopted that approach.
Mrs Nelis mentioned the possibility of opening a regional office of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland in the north-west. I do not want the health and well- being of those in the north-west to be in any way disadvantaged compared to the rest of the Province, but the work of the Sports Council throughout Northern Ireland should be acknowledged. It would be difficult to argue that the council’s good work would be enhanced if outposts were to be set up in other parts of Northern Ireland — in the north-west or anywhere else. I would be concerned about duplication and wasting precious resources.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is a small Department, but it has a major contribution to make to the delivery of the Programme for Government. I have fought hard for the funding that it needs. I will continue to do so, because I am aware, as Members and the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure are acutely aware, that this is a Department where small investments can create large outputs. Small inputs can lead to big outputs — the Department can make a difference.
I support the motion. I welcome the statements from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and wish them well in their joint endeavour to lead the Assembly and Executive in implementing an agreed Programme for Government.
People, whether they be students, patients, workers, old-age pensioners or unemployed, want to see devolved Government work effectively to improve the quality of their lives. Naturally, the public are eager to see real, meaningful benefits, and we have seen some examples in free transport for pensioners, more student support, some investment in public transport and more widespread provision of nursery education. All of those are welcome.
The Executive’s recent decision on the provision of a North/South gas pipeline and the extension of a gas pipeline across the north-west is welcome. Sadly, Tyrone and Fermanagh will still be gas-free zones.
There is disappointment at the provisions for healthcare, community care, the long-term unemployed and the limited investment in and support for the small business sector. Some want quicker and more effective progress.
The First and Deputy First Ministers outlined the way in which commitments have been delivered and progress made since the first draft Programme for Government a year ago. The second programme signals progress in that 27 of the 250 designated initiatives have been tackled or accomplished. The First and Deputy First Ministers have indicated their willingness to see a Programme for Government that delivers change and an improvement to the public services that affect us directly, such as health, education, job creation and employment.
Political stability and peace are essential if devolution is to work. The political functioning of the Assembly is crucial, and the smooth, collective operation of the Executive is vital. The recent progress on the appointment of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is welcome and has given a positive signal to the wider community. The public now look for practical and tangible benefits. Good government is the declared objective of the draft Programme for Government. How do we get that in a region which has had 30 years of direct rule? People want devolution to work and are desperate to benefit from the devolved Administration.
A major question among the public and their representatives, however, is how to get devolved government working effectively and smoothly. There is major concern, and residual doubt, about the capacity and willingness of the entire public administration machine in Northern Ireland to implement a programme of change.
Public service agreements and service delivery agreement initiatives have been highlighted and are welcome. There is, however, a culture of custom and practice in administration in Northern Ireland. How do we as politicians and Members of the Assembly help to get a more dynamic and objectives-led approach on policy implementation? The permanent Government must be reformed by a process of cultural and administrative change. Public service administration is largely cautious and slow to change, and that is even more the case in a region like Northern Ireland. We have had 30 years of direct rule, with virtually no political scrutiny or accountable analysis and evaluation.
The public service agreements and service delivery agreements embarked upon a year ago were a new policy initiative. Public service agreements need to evolve into more strategic high-level statements of outputs and outcomes, so that each Department is working with its allocated resources to deliver. The approach of public service agreements and service delivery agreements is welcome and potentially worthwhile, especially given that Northern Ireland is more dependent on the public sector as a percentage of the gross domestic product than is any other region of the UK. I welcome the Executive’s lead on that initiative. It is to be hoped that good benefits will be realised which will enable a better economic performance by this region. Northern Ireland must become more productive and generate more locally based economic activity.
During the draft Budget debate, I raised my concern about the fact that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s allocation for 2002–03 is roughly the same as that for the previous year. Since then, I have become aware that the Department cannot use all the funds that it was allocated for inward investment projects or to support locally based businesses in the current year.
I note that 600 business start-ups were signalled for the coming year. It is disappointing that the Department did not use all its budget last year because many entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses feel that they do not get adequate support and aid from the client executives who are designated to deal with their cases. I hope that Invest Northern Ireland will be more effective and less cumbersome in processing potential inward investment projects. I would like to see an effective public sector agreement for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment that delivers more economic activity.
Key targets were outlined in the public sector agreement for the Department for Employment and Learning. I welcome the increased quota of higher education places; it has risen from 800 extra places last year to over 2,500 extra places this year. In total, 35,500 full-time higher education students will attend courses in Northern Ireland. It is important to allow more young people to stay here and realise their dream of doing a degree here. I welcome the increased quota of further education places on vocational courses. I want the further education sector targeted so that students and communities see their colleges as the centres of community and local development. The targets for the individual learning accounts and the Jobskills and Welfare to Work programmes are welcome, as are the NVQ qualification targets for the students or trainees who enrol on those schemes. There should be a stronger commitment to increasing public finance investment in university-based research and development. There should be a qualitative assessment of all publicly funded research projects to give a better evaluation of that investment. Currently, only university-based research is annually assessed by the UK universities research assessment exercise.
Many Members have mentioned the crisis in the Health Service. The public is experiencing a big problem with ever-longer waiting lists for surgery and specialist treatment. There is grave concern in my constituency about the response rate of the Ambulance Service. Recently, it took five telephone calls from Gortin to Omagh before an ambulance arrived 45 minutes later; in the meantime a patient had died. There is something wrong when an ambulance cannot arrive within eight minutes.
There is a crisis in community care. Home care packages for home helps are inadequate. The review of acute hospital services was delayed, and one of the saddest features of the Health Service has been the consultation after consultation. There is a severe lack of concrete decision making. The concept of equality is being violated by the haphazard and disjointed delivery of patchy health care. There is neither equality nor equity in the system — be it determined by geography or patient category. Many who need hospital or community care feel grossly let down.
There has been a lack of capital investment in regional development for decades. The provision of good infrastructure is vital to the social and economic development of the region. Roads, rail, water and sewerage need major capital investment. I welcome the near 15% increase in this year’s allocation. Almost £100 million is needed to counter the severe backlog of roads’ maintenance work. That reflects an historical accumulation of neglect, particularly in the more rural and distant areas. The Executive recently allocated £40 million to the road from Larne to Newry, via Belfast, a designated trans-European network, for major upgrading. That, along with the upgrading of the Westlink, is welcome.
Northern Ireland’s other trans-European network roads — the two that stretch from Belfast to Derry along the northern route, north of Lough Neagh, and the two southern routes from Belfast to Enniskillen and Ballygawley to Derry — are badly in need of upgrading and investment, particularly the western sections of A5 and the A4. I encourage the junior Ministers to take our remarks on board, and I thank them for being present.
There are some efficient parts of the Programme for Government, but there are other deficient aspects, one of which is the section that deals with the fishing industry. Rev Dr Ian Paisley spoke about this issue in a debate last week. The allocation in the Budget is anything but adequate. For a long time, those involved in the Northern Ireland fishing industry have been made to feel like the farmers’ poor relations by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. If they have felt that way over the past few years, one can only guess how they felt when they found out that their industry had been given an increase of only 1·1%, when the Department’s overall budget was increased by 4·3%.
The Government and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have constantly failed fishermen — they have not recognised the industry’s needs. The Government’s bad management is strangling the fishing industry. The Department has earmarked just 1·1%, or £100,000, for the cod recovery programme. Many will remember the debate in the Chamber earlier this year. The Gallery was full of fishermen from the major ports. They wanted £750,000 for the cod recovery programme, but even after that debate and the hype, only £100,000 has been set aside. If the Department had bothered to ask the two fishing organisations, it would know that £750,000 is needed to develop the programme — not £100,000.
The programme has led to the closure of the waters off the coast of County Down. It sends our fishermen into other countries’ territories and leaves some of our white-fish fleet with nowhere to go for several months of the year. This is a big issue in the fishing industry that affects many people.
Some fishermen thought that they could turn to fishing for nephrops or prawns, but limits were then placed on that type of fishing too. The door was closed on their only other option. Scientists have pointed out that a 10% cut in nephrop fishing would result in only a 2% recovery of cod. So men and women lose their jobs, homes and communities for the sake of a paltry 2% increase in the numbers of cod in the Irish Sea. That is hard to understand when we see people on the cold quay of despair.
The scheme for decommissioning fishing boats is probably the only honest and tangible decommissioning scheme that has ever taken place. There is, at least, an inventory of the boats that are decommissioned. You can count which boats have been destroyed, and see them burning and being broken up so that you know that decommissioning has actually happened.
On 2 March 2001, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s officials advised that £8 million had been allocated for decommissioning. On 28 March, an announcement was made that £5 million was being allocated. Perhaps the missing £3 million went to the other decommissioning scheme — the other programme that nobody knows about. This is the type of ineptitude that characterises the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s dealings with the fishing industry. One moment, the Department tells the fishermen to invest in their boats, and even gives them grant assistance, and the next moment it tells them that there are restrictions on where they can go and what they can catch.
A lot of money is being allocated to the North/South implementation bodies. For example, £300,000 is being spent on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. One would think that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development could learn a thing or two from their Dáil counterparts. Fishermen from the Republic of Ireland do not have to pay a penny towards light dues, whereas fleets from Northern Ireland pay almost £85,000 per year. That is unfair.
The fishing industry is on its knees, and the Department can only allocate £100,000 for the cod recovery programme, which no one can guarantee will make a significant difference to fish stocks. Other factors, such as global warming, may influence the dwindling numbers of fish on the Irish coast. Cod prefer cold waters. However, the seas around the island are heating up, particularly the Irish Sea, and fish are going elsewhere. If this information were made available to the Department, focused decisions could be made.
More than a paltry sum of money is needed to help the industry, which is one of the oldest in the world. A firm commitment from the Minister and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is needed — not flannel, not "Yes, we will do that, but Europe comes first." Focused responses and results are needed. A substantial investment would keep the industry going for the next five, 10 or 20 years. We must look beyond the short-term future.
The Minister could talk to the Dáil and to such Administrations as the Dutch Government and the Spanish Government. Those Governments gave their fishing industries adequate compensation and investment to rebuild after the crisis resulting from the introduction of closures associated with the North Sea cod recovery plan.
The North Sea is our local pond. The Dutch and Spanish Governments, which are some distance away, have helped their fishing fleets through the crisis, while the Government next door are snubbing the problem. It is scandalous that every Assembly debate about the fishing industry centres on complaints that the Government are fobbing the industry off with a derisory sum of money.
The months-old demands and requests of fishing fleets have not changed. They request that they should receive a weekly subsidy for all vessels that are required to remain in ports. If the cod recovery plan stood at £750,000 rather than £100,000, that would help. A percentage of that financial assistance should be used to compensate fish vendors, the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority and producer organisations for their inevitable loss of income, should vessels be forced to tie up.
Financial assistance would allow trawler owners to maintain repayments of bank loans, insurance and equipment hire costs, as well as providing crew members with a weekly wage. Crew members cannot afford to sit around for three or four months; they need an income. Training schemes should be developed that could run when the fisheries are closed, and the Department should have in place a strategy. Those proposals must be implemented in order to address the long-term problems that have been caused by the neglect of the fishing industry.
It is essential that the fishing industry be brought in from the cold so that it can be a key contender in Europe. The fishing industry wants to play its part but is unable to do so. The Department seems painfully unaware of that, although the industry generates millions of pounds for the economy each year. Of the fish caught, some 70% is exported. If the Department considered that information, more money would be forthcoming from the Programme for Government.
If the Minister or the Department does not grapple with the fishing industry crisis, perhaps someone else could re-designate for the purpose of signing that piece of paper to ensure that the fishing industry receives its £750,000? If neither the Minister nor the Department can do it, let someone else do it. I would love to have one week to sign the papers needed to give fishermen the industry that they deserve. They need assistance. Once again the Programme for Government has failed to deliver. I record my concern and annoyance on behalf of the fishing industry.
Many important issues such as health, the environment and the fishing industry have been highlighted. I shall comment briefly on three areas of the Programme for Government. Progress has been made by the locally devolved Administration, and there has been consultation on the way forward. However, the Alliance Party feels that there are still shortcomings in the addressing of the deep divisions and inequality in Northern Ireland. The new beginning that everyone hoped for cannot be achieved until we begin to understand, tolerate and accept one another’s traditions, perceptions and beliefs. The Programme for Government must go much further if it is to help us even to like each other.
Integrated education has still not been given the opportunity to develop sufficiently to cope with the parents and children who want to be become part of that system. That is illustrated by the many children who cannot be admitted to integrated schools. The Programme for Government does not state clearly how it can live up to the recommendation that a more pro-active policy is likely to accelerate the growth of integrated education, which was made in the report, ‘Towards a Culture of Tolerance: Education for Diversity’.
Furthermore, the education and library boards’ policies are not consistent. The programme should have encouraged a strategy, for example, that could enable all education and library boards, organisations such as the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to develop an integrated section and a more realistic transformation process that would involve all interested groups, particularly those in the maintained sector — as yet no schools from there have been involved in that process. There should be more community audits of new schools to ensure that an integrated option is included. That would show people that integrated education is a viable and necessary part of education.
The incidents at Holy Cross Primary School, and their repercussions, show how bad relations have become between the communities in north Belfast. The review of community relations suggests that there should be more basic and relevant projects that have a direct impact on and in communities, so resources must be made available to set up projects to tackle the divisions and concerns of all sections of people and foster mutual understanding and respect for diversity. That must be done in a cohesive rather than an ad hoc manner by all sections of society to enable community groups, the Police Service and the social services to bring people together.
We must put an end to the sort of statement that was printed in ‘The Times’ today after the killing of the young 16-year old Protestant, Glen Branagh. There was a quote from one of his friends, I think. He declined to be identified, but he said:
"He was a good fellow. He just hated Fenians. We could do with hundreds more of his kind around here."
That is the sort of attitude that we must get rid of.
The cross-cutting strategy detailed in the Programme for Government must be implemented as quickly as possible. The Executive must show strong leadership and directly and completely address issues such as flag flying and racial and sectarian intimidation. Communities’ efforts to increase tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of their background, must be supported. The Mediation Network for Northern Ireland has said that community relations must no longer be seen as the indulgence of moderately minded people on the margins of society.
The debate about human rights in the Chamber some weeks ago illustrated clearly the many misconceptions and concerns about guaranteeing human rights for all. I wholeheartedly welcome the appointment of a children’s commissioner and would encourage the appointment of a victim’s commissioner. I pay tribute to the Human Rights Commission’s efforts to draw up an effective, relevant and equitable human rights Act. The ill-conceived ideas about human rights for all and the prejudices of some people who would restrict human rights for other citizens must be dealt with. Again, the Executive should encourage pluralism and equal treatment for society as a whole.
One of the main weaknesses of the Programme for Government is the continued assumption that we live in a two-community society and that diversity should still be regarded as the difference between Unionists and Nationalists, Catholics and Protestants. That might mean, for example, that the expanding ethnic community here would feel marginalised. It is for that reason that we put forward our paper on hate crimes legislation, which I am glad to say the Secretary of State appears to have taken up. However, there is no mention of it in the Executive’s programme. There is also a weakness in the language and the many definitions of terms such as "sectarianism", "community relations", "integrated education" and "equality". The Assembly must start to think in a pluralist and diverse fashion, so that all our citizens will feel included and looked after by the Executive.
The programme is a start, but it must expand its vision of a peaceful, cohesive society to include all communities in Northern Ireland rather than just the usual two. As Albert Einstein said:
"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".
The Committee for Social Development met the Minister for Social Development in early October to discuss the draft Programme for Government and the associated draft budgets. On 12 October, the Committee made a detailed submission to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The Committee was keenly interested in section 2 ‘Growing as a Community’ and section 7 ‘Working Together’.
The Committee was content to endorse the priorities and sub-priorities in those two sections, and it was broadly satisfied with the associated actions and commitments. However, we expressed reservations about the precise way in which social need is to be tackled and how the needs of those in poverty will be addressed in practice.
The Committee was deeply concerned to discover that the format and content of the public service agreements had been changed, apparently without consultation. We have still to be convinced that it was necessary to take such an early decision to make the targets in the public service agreements high-level. The Programme for Government is supposed to provide a more open and accountable programme.
Mr Mark Durkan acknowledged that part of the role of Statutory Committees is to scrutinise the work of Departments. The details in the original Programme for Government helped to inform us about the actions that Departments would take to deliver the programme, but we now find that it is impossible to compare performances year on year because the format has changed. We have heard that the service delivery agreements will show the details, but we are having the debate today without having seen those details — details that should influence the strategic objectives of the Assembly. We have been told that the Department would consult us about the service delivery agreements — but not until next month.
The Committee favours a bold "bottom-up" approach for calculating the Budget, based on the cost of funding particular priority programmes, rather than setting a broad-based agenda and then facing the dilemma of assigning resources to a range of programmes that is far too broad. Inevitably, the jam is spread too thinly, and we run the risk of underachieving.
The priorities in the Programme for Government are legitimate, but are they too ambitious? Are we in danger of promising much but delivering little? Should we not adopt a more radical approach, whereby we eradicate fuel poverty once and for all and then move on to the next issue on the list? Much is made of our collective determination to tackle social need and poverty. My Committee accepts the cross-cutting nature of those issues and the role that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, along with other Departments, has to play. The Department for Social Development is particularly well placed to make an effective contribution to the resolution of those issues, and it should be given a greater opportunity, and the funding, to do so.
It is the Committee’s view that, with some re-ordering of priorities by the Executive and the Department, the eradication of fuel poverty could be achieved more quickly. The Committee has urged the Minister for Social Development to extend the scope of the scheme in order to accelerate progress. We recognise the cost implications and the competition for funding, but the costs associated with warm homes schemes are indisputably one-off capital payments, rather than a recurring drain on public resources. It is also evident that the effects of poverty result in recurring demands on, for example, the health budget. The early eradication of fuel poverty would not only ease the recurring financial problems on the health budget, but would contribute positively to the health and well-being of people who are among the most marginalised in this society.
The Social Development Committee also welcomes the inclusion of a reference to "Supporting People", a new scheme for funding housing support from 2003. However, we have concerns about how that is likely to be financed, as there appears to be no reference to it in the draft Budget.
I want to make some concluding remarks specific to the Department for Social Development’s objectives. The Committee welcomes the performance targets for the Social Security Agency and the Child Support Agency. However, we have voiced concerns that the investment in systems, which was aimed at improving efficiency, has not yet produced the promised substantial savings in running costs. We intend to monitor that situation carefully.
We had a positive and constructive debate on housing yesterday. Without exception, Members from all parts of the House acknowledged the continuing importance that social housing plays and that it deserves to be properly funded. The Committee considers that housing is an area in which tangible targets can be introduced to good effect. We are disappointed that the draft Programme for Government now includes only three high-level targets, compared with six targets in last year’s programme.
The first target is as follows:
"By December 2004, reduce by 20,000 the numbers of fuel poor households".
That is fine in itself, but there are no interim targets that would enable the Committee to monitor progress. The second target relates to housing unfitness. The current Programme for Government has a target of reducing unfitness by providing grant aid to 7,500 homes in 2001-02. The draft programme contains an altogether different, immeasurable, wishy-washy target:
"Over the period 2002 to 2004 ensure that the housing occupied by tenants of the NIHE is kept at recommended standards of fitness."
I challenge anyone to tell me how the Social Development Committee, or anyone else, could say how, when and to what extent the Department had met that target.
The Social Development Committee recognises that many of the policies for tackling disadvantage and community development are under review. It will be necessary to await the outcomes of those reviews before establishing meaningful targets. However, the Committee would welcome stronger references to the relevance of, and scope for, improved efficiencies. We have suggested to the Department that the commitment to introducing a target aimed at avoiding the duplication of services and running costs for the provision of those services might usefully have been included.
Mr Nesbitt and I have listened with great interest to the debate, which has ranged widely over most of the issues covered in the draft Programme for Government.
Since the document was launched on 24 September, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, in conjunction with colleagues in the Department of Finance and Personnel, has been involved in consultation on the draft programme and the draft Budget with representatives of all sections of the community. It has been a thorough consultation, and it is through consultation that we will build on all the good work that has been done.
It is important that we consult on the programme and the Budget, and that we consult on them together, because, obviously, they are directly linked. Budget allocations support the programme’s policies and activities. We should not, as a prudent Administration, commit ourselves to actions that we cannot afford to resource.
It is a question of priorities, and we must explain the hard choices that must be made.
Promoting equality of opportunity cuts across the five priorities and all 11 Departments. That has been a core element of the discussions in the consultation. In the draft Programme, we have set out to produce a strategic forward-looking document that includes fewer, better focused and higher-level actions than before. We have also set out narratives that explain more fully the policies from which those actions come.
The debate and the responses to consultations on the draft Budget and the draft Programme for Government will lead to a better focused set of policies and actions that will address the key issues and challenges that we face as a community. It has already been stated that it is all about trying to make a difference. The benefit of having a locally elected Administration in charge of its own affairs is that we decide how to make the best use of the resources available in order to address the needs of the community.
Members have raised a wide range of points, because of the detail in the draft Programme. I will deal with as many as possible. However, in a debate involving 20 or more people, it is not possible to deal with every point, and I do not propose to do that.
If Members have made observations on judgements made or priorities set in the draft Programme for Government, I will take note of those observations and comments, and they will be input into the final draft. If Members have asked specific questions or raised specific points that must be addressed, I will try to do that as well as I can. However, if I miss a few or do not have the information available to answer some of them, Members will get a written reply.
I will comment on a point made by David Ford, the leader of the Alliance Party, who referred to difficulties such as sectarian flag-flying, graffiti and so on. In the draft Programme for Government, we have made clear our commitment to supporting local communities in addressing these matters. That does not mean, as David Ford has suggested, that we are simply standing about waiting for local communities to solve their own problems. David Ford and most Members know that simply removing flags and graffiti is not a long-term answer to the problem, unless there is local community agreement. The graffiti and flags are replaced, and therefore simply responding to every situation where graffiti — [Interruption].
Since the Minister is specifically referring to the point that I made, it seems that he is to some extent answering the concerns that I had by saying that he does not take them seriously. If the situation arises where nothing can be done by the community without the agreement of the hard men, the agreement of 95% will be overruled. The Minister has restated my point about that. It will create the fears that I expressed about community agreement, meaning that nothing will be done by the Executive.
I am not saying that nothing should be done until the hard men permit it — quite the reverse. I am saying that the only approach that can achieve a long-term solution to sectarian tension and related territorial activities is the creation of capacity in those communities to resolve the differences that lead to those symptomatic activities. The illnesses of society are not resolved by simply addressing the symptoms. We must do much more than that. We must cure the illness that gives rise to those problems. That is my point.
Mr Ford also said that integrated education was growing in response to demand. The criteria for primary schools in the integrated sector were revised in December 2000. The criteria for new post-primary schools have been revised from a year 8 intake of 80 pupils to an intake of 50. Those revisions followed discussions with interested parties; they were based on professional educational advice from the inspectorate and others, and they took account of the fact that the previous criteria acted as a barrier to the growth of both sectors. The change reflects the statutory duty of the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate integrated and Irish-medium education, and the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement to support the Irish language and integrated education as ways of embedding parity of esteem and reconciliation. The revised criteria represent a balance between the real facilitation of parental choice and the need to ensure that public funds are used to best effect. I will come back to that later, when I will refer to points made by Mr Beggs and Mr Kennedy about pre-school education. Similar considerations arose in that sector.
Mr Ford also asked about the commitments made in the first Programme for Government. Some 250 targets were set, or specific actions promised, in that first programme. Thirty-six of those were completed in the first six months. More have been completed since. Many of the others, which were more than one-year commitments, are under way. Mr ONeill made the important point that we could do with more information not just on actions completed, but on actions that were under way and whether they were near to completion.
Mr John Kelly said that expanding North/South co-operation would improve social and economic well- being in Northern Ireland, and I agree with him. Chapter 6 of the draft programme covers several areas in which mutual benefits should flow from enhanced co-operation in education, the competitiveness of the two economies, health promotion and tourism. Apart from the implementation bodies, there is a great deal of scope for beneficial North/South co-operation in the areas specified in the agreement for such co-operation, but without any structures other than the interaction of the two Administrations.
Mr Beggs and Mr Kennedy referred to the pledge that there should be one year’s free pre-school education for every child whose parents wish it. The pre-school education expansion programme is providing — and will provide — places all over Northern Ireland, not just in the conurbations and areas of high density population. We are conscious of the need to ensure that children in rural areas enjoy the same advantages as city children. There is a requirement that any pre-school playgroup that receives funding for free places must have a minimum peer group of eight children. That requirement is based on the professional advice of the inspectorate, and it reflects the need to ensure that funds derived from the taxpayer’s pocket are spent efficiently. A line must be drawn somewhere. A pre-school playgroup cannot be provided at every crossroads, where there may be only one or two children able to benefit from it.
Mr Beggs also referred to the low levels of adult literacy and numeracy in Carrickfergus and Larne. The Executive are taking action to improve those levels and regard such action as being at the heart of improving economic performance and competitiveness, and achieving the sort of personal and social development that they wish to see. The Department for Employment and Learning is developing a comprehensive strategy and action plan that will be the subject of extensive consultation towards the end of the year. That is an important issue because it is one for which no quick fix exists. Improving the literacy and numeracy of individuals is a complex issue, especially when those individuals are in work. It requires action at various levels of government. However, its importance in ensuring the economic, community and personal development that the Executive want to see means that it will continue to be a priority.
Ms Lewsley mentioned the flaws in the statistical data in the working group’s report on travellers and stated that there was no local government representation on the working group, despite the experience of local authorities in making provision for, and delivering services to, travellers. Consultation on the recommendations in the promoting social inclusion working group’s report on travellers has ended. Separate arrangements were made for focused consultation with travellers. Departments are considering responses with the aim of publishing a strategic response by March 2002. I accept Ms Lewsley’s point about local government involvement, but each council was sent the consultation document and given the opportunity to comment on it.
Ms Lewsley also referred to the single equality Bill. The Executive are fully committed to promoting equality of opportunity and to tackling discrimination, and we shall pursue that through strong legislation and effective policies. The Executive will bring forward legislation to harmonise existing anti-discrimination legislation as far as is practicable. We shall improve it wherever practicable and take into account developments in Great Britain and recent European Directives relating to gender, sexual orientation and age. The Executive have consulted on the scope and measures to be included in the legislation, and we shall seek views on the draft Bill early in the new year.
The Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre, Mr Poots, stated that the Executive had made only a marker bid with regard to the appointment of the children’s commissioner. That is how things are done. Until one gets an accurate fix on the amount of resources required to establish an office, one cannot make a firm bid. However, the Executive have made a marker bid, to which we shall return. The Minister of Finance and Personnel understands the procedure.
Mr Poots also made a point about the review of public administration. That matter rests with the whole Executive, not with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It is a complex issue on which differing views are honestly and validly held. Until the Executive resolve those views, the work cannot proceed. However, the Executive are working hard to finalise the draft criteria and methodology for the review of public administration. I am confident that those issues will be resolved soon and that, early in the new year, the Executive will make progress on the matter. Mr Poots and all his DUP Colleagues have left the Chamber, but it would be helpful if that party’s Ministers were to participate in the processes that lead to the resolution of those issues.
I am sure that all Members are suitably chastened by Mr Poots’s strictures, specifically on the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, more generally on the entire Executive and even more generally on the agreement and devolution. I reject the notion that the success of any Department is down, not to the Minister, but to the advisors, whereas all the failures of that Department may be laid at the door of the Minister. Mr Poots had in his sights the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Rodgers, who is at the moment fighting the case for Northern Ireland’s farmers in London. She has done that with singular success in recent times. The farming community would take issue with Mr Poots on that matter. Ministers will be dismayed by Mr Poots’s criticisms, but the Civil Service will be greatly cheered to hear that all successes are due to it and all failures are due to the Ministers.
Mr McCarthy referred to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s recent publication on the human rights of the aged. I can assure him that I have read that document thoroughly, that other Members of the Administration have done so and that we are as committed to the rights of elderly people as we are to the rights of any section of the community.
Carmel Hanna made an important point about the need for the Administration — and of Northern Ireland generally — to play a credible role in international development aid. I will recommend to my Colleagues that we reflect on, and perhaps take some initiative on that issue. I cannot commit the Executive at this time.
Joan Carson referred to the need for consultation with Committees. The Programme for Government was launched with the Executive’s position report on 18 June, the draft programme was presented to the Assembly on 24 September and the consultation is due to end on 20 November. We hope that the Committees have had sufficient time to make an input into the consultation exercise. The Committees’ comments are extremely important to the Administration in developing the Programme for Government. It would be difficult to extend the time for consultations, as there are time constraints involved in any procedure. We hope that we have got it right, or as near to right as we possibly can.
Jane Morrice referred to the relative passivity of our community about the problems that the introduction of the euro will cause. Northern Ireland is likely to see a higher level of euro cash use than other parts of the United Kingdom. When junior Minister Nesbitt and I met the Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, he was exercised about that point. He made the case that much of the west coast of Wales, especially around the major cross-channel ports, is heavily dependent on the tourist and commercial trade with Ireland, and will have to become a dual-currency zone. That is also the case around our border with our neighbours to the South. Much of south Down and south Armagh and parts of Tyrone, Derry and Fermanagh are dual-currency zones. It will be a little more difficult, but not that much more, for traders in that dual-currency zone to convert their Irish pound accounts into euro accounts. That unfortunate problem will resolve itself, and will reach a level of ease of movement similar to what people have today.
Ian Paisley Jnr alleged that only 10 of the 250 actions in the first Programme for Government had been completed. I must correct him: in fact, 36 actions were completed in the first six months. Many more have since been completed, and more are nearing completion. We are on target to build on that progress and to complete our commitments. That is not to say that there will be no slippage. We would have to be more than human if there were to be no slippage at all. It is unrealistic to expect 100% effectiveness and perfection from the Administration. However, where slippage occurs, we are determined to identify the reason for it, and we shall ensure that it will be dealt with and that any actions so delayed will be delivered as soon as possible. We shall report to the Assembly and the public at the end of each financial year on progress made on every Programme for Government commitment and action during that year. The first report will be published at the end of the current financial year.
Minister Nesbitt will deal with other points that were raised.
I apologise if you thought that you were only getting one address, Mr Speaker, and if you were about to leave. It is not quite like that — you will be here for a few more minutes.
Today’s debate was a further stage in the consultation process. It has proved to be valuable and important. Mr Haughey and I sat through most of the debate and listened to the contributions. Members raised issues of particular concern to them. In some cases, Members raised constituency matters, in addition to matters relating to their role as a Chairperson or vice-Chairperson of a Committee. Such debate helps to inform the deliberations that we shall undertake before the Programme for Government is finalised later in the calendar year.
Members and, indeed, some Ministers raised many important points. The Departments will fully consider those points when revising their sections of the draft Programme for Government. Assembly Committees have commented on the priorities, individual actions and policies specific to their remit. Again, we shall carefully consider those comments — and others — in the wider consultation process outside the Assembly. All those comments will feed into the final draft Programme for Government for this year.
Several comments were made, both today and from other sources, about the changes that have been made to the public service agreements (PSAs). Indeed, some Members queried those PSAs and asked why they contain less detail. That is because we are trying to be more publicly accountable, and, to do so, we must be rigorous and disciplined in what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to establish baselines that reflect the position from whence we came and the targets that we wish to achieve. It would be good if there were also a benchmark alongside that to establish good standards and practices that could be accepted as the benchmark to which we wish to move.
The PSAs will be more streamlined this year. The Treasury and others advised us to identify a small number of high-level outcomes and performance measures of targets that we wished to achieve. That could become a collective target, reflecting many aspects of a particular element in a Department’s administration. It is hoped that Departments will therefore be more clearly focused on their outcomes. The Executive presented the PSAs to the Assembly earlier this year. The Departments’ PSAs set out aims and objectives, together with targets and their associated budgets. The principle of PSAs received broad support from consultees on the wider matter of accountability to the public. There was constructive criticism, as there has been today, on how they might be adapted, modified or improved, but respondents were generally supportive.
We are committed to the further development of PSAs. It is a learning exercise, not just for accountable politics and administration, but for all of us to learn to improve the process by which we are accountable to the electorate for the delivery of services in Northern Ireland. We therefore accept the constructive criticism offered. We constantly seek the improvement of PSAs on those of the previous year, and it is hoped that that improvement will continue.
We are embarking on service delivery agreements (SDAs) that convey actions needed to deliver the target for the performance measure in PSAs. Last year, we saw actions in PSAs, but those were not performance measures. Actions are the means by which the performance or the desired outcome is delivered. We are trying to streamline that and clarify it. We will monitor progress on previously published PSAs and targets, to which Denis Haughey referred, and we welcome the views about PSAs voiced in the debate. The SDAs are more detailed, and they will come through to the respective Committees and then to the Assembly.
Health featured prominently in many contributions, such as those of Mr McGrady, Rev Dr McCrea, Mr J Kelly, Mr Poots, Mr McCarthy, and Ms Hanna. Dr Hendron used the words "a daily crisis". At a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council that I attended with the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Bairbre de Brún, the phrase used was
"not a winter crisis but a constant crisis".
That phrase was used throughout the United Kingdom.
When the National Health Service was set up in the late 1940s, those who set it up assumed that healthcare would become cheaper. All the ills would be cured, and fewer resources would therefore be needed from the public purse. The reverse has happened. People live longer, and more money is needed to keep them. Also, the diseases being treated and dealt with now are more costly, not only in relative but in real terms. More money is needed just for the service to stay still.
Against that background, many of the comments made about health are understandable. For example, waiting lists are at an all-time high. Fifty-four thousand people were waiting for in-patient treatment in June 2001. In the past year, waiting lists have risen by 9.5%. An additional £5 million was allocated non-recurrently for waiting lists last year, and, in the current financial year, a further £3 million was allocated. Last year’s £5 million was then rolled forward recurrently into this year’s allocation. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has made action on waiting lists a priority for her Department. Last September, the framework for action on waiting lists was issued. It set out a comprehensive programme of action aimed at improving the efficiency of all stages in the process, including GP hospital referral and in-patient treatment. We accept that the task is difficult, but work is being done.
Roy Beggs and Carmel Hanna also mentioned evaluations of needs and effectiveness, not just with respect to health. The Executive agreed to initiate a programme of needs and effectiveness evaluation on our spending programmes.
Needs are related to policy, and policy to effectiveness. They are interrelated, and, unless one knows one’s policy, one does not know the needs to address. Are we achieving our objectives? Of course, we are. Value for money was mentioned. We try to achieve our objective of effectiveness economically and efficiently.
All of those evaluations are being carried out on health, education, housing, training, vocational education and financial assistance to industry. The five areas in which we are conducting needs assessment exercises account for 70% of planned public spending in Northern Ireland. They are major pieces of work, involving not only the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but also the Department of Finance and Personnel and other relevant Departments. When the findings are produced, they will be used to support arguments such as those raised earlier about the Barnett formula. They should also help to give us a much better understanding of how effective the services that we provide are, and to prioritise, because, as Members said, money is limited. Nothing crystallises the mind more than knowing that you must live within a budget. That is a difficult thing to do, and that is where the Barnett formula fits in.
The focus of the evaluations has been mainly on identifying the levels of need for public spending. They should be completed in early spring next year. Consultation should then take place, and the evaluations will finally be resolved in September.
Mr J Kelly said that the ministerial group on public health should take a cross-departmental approach. That group is meeting; it is alive and well and meets regularly under the chairmanship of the Minister — or should that be chairpersonship? I am not sure how it should be phrased, Mr Speaker. Perhaps ‘Erskine May’ has the correct term.
Perhaps you can say it in Irish. I may be able to think it, but I am not sure that I can say it. Would you like me to give way so that you can say it in Irish? No? Could the Member say it in Irish? I see that I have called his bluff.
The group comprises senior representatives from all Departments, including the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and it has actively contributed to the Investing for Health strategy that, following consultation, is being finalised.
Jane Morrice and Kieran McCarthy raised the issue of free personal nursing care. Earlier this year, the Executive agreed in principle to the introduction, from April 2002, of free nursing care in nursing homes. Unfortunately, the draft Budget proposals do not provide sufficient resources for that. Therefore, the implementation of that important initiative has been deferred. However, the measure to facilitate free nursing care will be carried in a health and personal social services Bill. With that provision in statute, it should be possible to commence free nursing care when resources permit.
Eddie McGrady and Carmel Hanna raised the issue of radiotherapy services. The radiotherapy equipment at Belvoir Park Hospital is used to its full capacity. It is nearing the end of its useful life and, in the longer term, it will be replaced by new equipment at the new cancer centre on the Belfast City Hospital site.
Residential child care places are another important issue. Phase one of the Children Matter task force regional plan for the development of residential child care sets out a programme of 22 new capital developments that will provide 77 additional places and 70 replacement places by the end of March 2003. Two of those developments, providing 13 extra places, opened before the end of March 2001. There are other aspects to that development. Capital funds that amount to about £8 million and revenue of about £3 million are required for those developments. So far, £1 million capital for this year and £3 million for 2002-03 has been secured through Executive programme funds.
Dr Hendron suggested that Executive programme funds be used for the cancer centre at Belfast City Hospital. The next round of allocations from the Executive programme fund for infrastructure will be considered by the Executive next spring. All I can say at this stage is that the Executive will consider carefully any bids that are made for that fund and the other funds. I am conscious of health provision, and of what Members have said on that topic today. I have dealt with the subject of health quite extensively, because it kept reoccurring.
We have listened to many comments about agriculture from Mr McGrady, Mr Savage, and Rev Dr William McCrea. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development commissioned a desk study on the value and effectiveness in Northern Ireland of retirement schemes for farmers. She has commissioned further primary research into the economic, social and environmental aspects of early retirement and new entrants’ schemes. The results will be available in summer 2002.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee raised the issue of the priority of rural issues in the Programme for Government. Again, that was considered carefully. Our rural population and its economic future is important. We are still a rural community to a great extent, and many people here come from a rural community: "Scratch us all, and we come from the soil" is a phrase sometimes used in Northern Ireland. We are significantly different from England and the rest of the United Kingdom in the importance that we place on the gross domestic product (GDP) and the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland. There is a key need to develop policies to deal with that aspect of the rural economy. We must be more sensitive to rural needs in our attitudes to industrial development, education, training, the location of services, planning, and the environment. We must overcome the many problems that face the agricultural industry, but we must also ensure that there are new business and employment opportunities in the countryside and rural towns.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development advanced proposals for the implementation of rural proofing, to which the Executive remain fully committed. Rural proofing is essential. It is designed to ensure that the legitimate concerns and aspirations of people who live in our extensive rural areas are fully taken into account when drawing up proposals for policies across the full range of responsibilities.
Ms Rodgers’s proposals, which she plans to discuss with the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee later this week, will include the establishment of an inter-departmental steering group, under her chairmanship. The proposals will also include the creation of a rural proofing unit, the head of which has recently been appointed, within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I hope that we have given an indication of the importance of rural proofing, to which the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Executive are committed.
Some Members raised the issue of the Barnett formula. When Northern Ireland was set up in 1920, it was assumed that it would be self-financing, but that turned out not to be the case. Therefore, Northern Ireland received deficit funding for many years, from the 1920s to the 1940s, and did not catch up until the 1960s. It required about 30% per cent more spending per head than the rest of the United Kingdom. That was a measurement of spending only — not need. The last major needs assessment exercise was conducted in about 1979.
We face the problem of establishing what is needed for the services that must be provided in Northern Ireland, and, in that respect, we have concerns about the funding that we receive. The draft Programme for Government acknowledges those concerns. We are carefully considering the Barnett mechanism, because, with regard to the allocation of funding, we do not get the same funding pro rata as England and Wales. When an announcement is made in Great Britain, there is an expectation that somehow that will read across to Northern Ireland with the same spend. However, that is not the case, so there is a difficulty.
To secure more funding, we must not only convey the need, but convince Her Majesty’s Treasury that there is a need. That process will be ongoing over the coming months. We hope therefore to have reached a view later in the year about the appropriateness of the Barnett formula and to have a carefully argued case for funding to match the needs of the community in Northern Ireland.
Mr Ford and Mr Beggs asked whether we were making a difference. Mr Beggs asked where the money was going and if we were getting value for money. He said that he hoped that the process would progress quickly to demonstrating that we are getting value for money.
Mr Beggs also referred to the problems in the Health Service. The key difference is that all local politicians have a collective responsibility for decisions on policy and actions across a range of local services. The four parties in the Government are working with Committees to deliver better services in Northern Ireland. We have set out our priorities in the Programme for Government. We have set out the resources that are available for improving people’s health and education. We have set out the challenges.
We heard Mr McGimpsey, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, giving a full account of his funding, for his targets and what he aims to deliver in that important sector. That is an example of local people having responsibility for the spending and allocation of resources. We are trying to make a difference. I emphasise the word "trying". It is not easy, but, as I said earlier, it is a learning process in which we are all putting our hands to the plough.
Dr O’Hagan and Mr Molloy mentioned public-private partnerships. We are considering that again through various mechanisms. We are gathering views, internally and externally, and considering recommendations. A working group has been established by the Executive in accordance with their commitment in the Programme for Government to review the use of private finance to address Northern Ireland’s infrastructure deficit. The Committee for Finance and Personnel’s report provides useful, important information, and the final report of the working group is scheduled for completion in March 2002 for consideration by the Executive. It will be published and will be subject to public consultation. The final decision on the way forward for the policy will be taken by the Executive by September 2002.
Dr Birnie raised the issue of community division, which was also mentioned tangentially by others. The Executive considered that matter carefully, because of its sensitive nature, before deciding what measures to take to tackle the deep and painful divisions in our society. Our proposals reflect the actions in the first Programme for Government, such as the development by 2002 of a cross-departmental strategy for the promotion of community relations, leading to measurable improvements in community relations. It is easy to say that. It is easy to have measures. However, as some have said, it is the change in the attitude of mind of the individual that is really needed. There are other actions that can be taken to promote, for example, integrated education and the concept of citizenship among children and young people.
Dr Birnie said that it was important to permit difference rather than try to assimilate all differences into one. We subscribe to that theory and believe that there must be support for cultural and linguistic diversity. No society or state today is made up of a homogeneous group. The vast majority of democratic states comprise heterogeneous groupings in which people must learn to live, work and enjoy their time together and, at the same time, celebrate their differences.
Edwin Poots, Roy Beggs and Esmond Birnie mentioned the review of public administration. We are committed to ensuring greater accountability — the Assembly is only a beginning. All services must be more efficient and effective, and there must be a better structure for local and regional administration. We remain committed to undertaking that comprehensive review of public administration. It is an important matter, on which the Programme for Government must deliver, and it is one of the Executive’s key priorities. Those are complex issues, but we will deliver on them. The Executive are determined to get this right and have carefully considered all the issues. We hope we can reach conclusions, and we wish to launch the review by spring 2002.
Mr ONeill said that the budget allocation should reflect culture, arts and leisure responsibilities. We are conscious of the role that culture, arts and leisure play in supporting many priorities, and the needs of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s programme will be considered as part of the needs evaluation.
On behalf of Mr Haughey and myself, I commend the draft Programme for Government to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly takes note of the draft Programme for Government.
Adjourned at 7.17pm.