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I remind Members that the first three items of business this morning are statements and will follow the normal format. Therefore, after each statement is made, Members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the relevant Minister.
I have received notice from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on the draft Programme for Government and investment strategy for Northern Ireland. Before I call Dr Paisley, I remind Members that the First Minister will deliver the first half of the statement and the deputy First Minister the second half. They will then answer questions alternately, with the First Minister answering the first question.
This is another momentous day for the Executive. The deputy First Minister and I are today announcing the Executive’s first draft Programme for Government and draft investment strategy. Immediately after this statement, the Minister of Finance and Personnel will announce the Executive’s draft Budget to the Assembly.
It is worth pausing for a moment to remind ourselves of the sea change that has taken place since 8 May 2007.
The Government of Northern Ireland are now in the hands of local politicians. Those politicians were elected by the people here to be their representatives; they were born and bred here, and they know and understand the concerns of our people. They have a long-term interest in the Province and its people — our constituents. Our destiny is now in our own hands. We have a tremendous opportunity to shape our future, and we are determined to seize that chance with both hands.
However, we cannot fulfil our potential without engaging with all the people of Northern Ireland. We want to work with the business people who generate wealth and who want to provide more highly skilled and better-paid jobs. We must engage with the young people who are looking for jobs and homes and a stake in a better future. We must consider the young parents hoping for a better future for their children, just as they should. What parent does not have high hopes for his or her children? We must engage with older people, to whom we owe so much and who often suffer in their retirement as a result of ill health and poverty. We want to bring comfort and security to them — that is the only decent way for people who are in their twilight years to live. Farming families are important: they struggle with falling incomes and rising costs. We are all conscious of the difficulties that the farming community faces. We must also acknowledge the newcomers to our Province and the growing ethnic minority communities who are already making a positive contribution to our economy and who are full of hope for the future. However, let us not forget the victims in our community who have suffered — and who are still suffering — as a result of the legacy of the past. They, too, need to be engaged with and cared for.
As an Executive, we are determined to make a difference by building a better future for all, and we will focus our energies on achieving that. We shall not be satisfied unless we produce results that far supersede all that has happened over recent decades in Northern Ireland. We want to deliver those results through our Programme for Government and our investment strategy.
The Executive agreed a draft Programme for Government and a draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland on 23 October. Later this morning, the Minister of Finance and Personnel will reveal the draft Budget, which was agreed at the same Executive meeting. This process marks a significant milestone for the Government of Northern Ireland. We are now laying the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy before the Assembly for scrutiny and future approval once the Assembly Committees have examined them.
Through the launch of those documents, we are announcing the start of a consultation process that will last until 4 January 2008. It is fewer than six months since 8 May 2007, when devolution was restored. On that day I said:
“Today, at long last, we are starting upon the road — I emphasise starting — which I believe will take us to lasting peace in our Province.”
At the time, we recognised that it would be a long and sometimes difficult journey, and one on which we must not falter if we are to build a Northern Ireland in which everyone can live in the sort of peaceful society that we all desire.
In May, many doubted the Executive’s ability to work together and to reach agreement on our priorities, key targets and spending plans for the next three years.
The achievement of the early publication of these three draft documents — just over two weeks after the Chancellor announced the outcome of the comprehensive spending review and the precise spending allocations for Northern Ireland — is no mean achievement. That has required considerable effort on our part, and today’s publication of this suite of documents is clear evidence that this Executive can and will work together in the interests of all our people.
I turn to our approach to the Programme for Government. The publication of these documents together will no doubt emphasise the close linkages among them. Taken together, they set out the Executive’s long-term vision and direction; they also explain how our priorities and goals will be resourced and delivered.
The draft Programme for Government represents a very different approach to that which was adopted by the last Executive. We have facilitated the creation of a more focused set of priorities and a smaller number of key goals. The Executive feel that it is important to be clear about our priorities and what we are trying to achieve.
I commend all Executive Ministers for the committed and co-operative approach that they have adopted in agreeing our priorities and key goals. I believe that we have produced a draft Programme for Government that addresses the real challenges that face Northern Ireland today. We believe that the Programme for Government offers a clear framework at a strategic level for us to develop our policies and programmes over the next three years.
Although the Programme for Government offers a clear steer, it is, of course, not set in stone. We will have the opportunity each year to review the Programme for Government and to make any changes that we may consider necessary. We hope that any such changes will be marginal, but that flexibility exists, should we need to deploy it.
The Programme for Government also indicates our longer-term aspirations and intentions in some areas. However, the immediate focus relates to 2008-11, which are the years that are covered by the comprehensive spending review. In simple terms, we know how much we will have to spend over those years, and we can, therefore, set detailed goals, targets and outcomes for what we intend to achieve over that period.
As Members will hear later from the Minister of Finance and Personnel, this has been a difficult budgetary settlement, and hard decisions have been made. We simply do not have the funding to do all that we would wish to do.
In developing our draft Programme for Government, we have also been conscious of the need for the Executive to look outward and to seek the help of our friends in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. We cannot prosper without constructive links outside Northern Ireland. We will be working to foster and promote our North/South and east-west linkages to take forward mutually beneficial and practical co-operation with the British and Irish Governments.
We will continue to work with the European Commission Task Force that was created by the European President to consider how our region can participate more effectively in any new initiatives. We are also planning an investment conference for spring 2008, which will provide an opportunity for us to position ourselves as a competitive business location for US companies in information and communication technology, and in the financial and business services sector. On the wider world stage, we are also looking forward to the World Expo 2010 — we will make the most of that opportunity and participate fully in it.
The document that we are publishing today is strategic and high level. We are also publishing a series of public service agreements as an annex to the draft Programme for Government, and the deputy First Minister will say more about that shortly.
The overarching aim of the Programme for Government is to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law, and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come. The Executive face many challenges in achieving this overarching aim. Therefore, we have decided to focus on five key priorities, which are interconnected and cannot be pursued in isolation.
Our approach to delivering our priorities will be underpinned by two cross-cutting key themes. First, all our policies and programmes must work towards building a better future; they must demonstrate fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity. Secondly, the need to build a sustainable future will also be a key requirement for our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.
Growing a dynamic economy will be our top priority during the lifetime of this Programme for Government. Sustainable economic growth and increased prosperity will provide the opportunities and the means through which we can enhance quality of life, reduce poverty and disadvantage, increase health and well-being, and build stronger and more sustainable and empowered communities.
To underpin our commitment to developing the economy, we have set ourselves a goal of halving the private-sector productivity gap with the UK average — excluding the greater south-east — by 2015. It is an ambitious target. However, we believe that we must have high aspirations if we are to make the kind of progress that we desire to.
As an Executive, we recognise the characteristics of a successful economy: a highly skilled and flexible workforce; and employment growth. To that end, we will work to increase the employment rate from 70% to 75% by 2020. We will introduce measures that are designed to address the structural weakness in our economy, and that will help to develop a dynamic business culture in Northern Ireland. We will create an environment that will support 45 new businesses and 600 existing companies to become exporters for the first time by 2011.
We will seek to secure inward investment commitments, promising more than 6,500 new jobs by 2011 and ensuring that at least 75% of those jobs will provide salaries above the local private-sector average.
We aim to increase the number of tourists visiting Northern Ireland and by 2011 to increase tourism revenue from £370 million to £520 million each year.
We want to support business and create a culture in which enterprise can flourish. We will work with the business sector to deliver widespread access for businesses to the next-generation broadband network by 2011.
I have mentioned the importance of a well-skilled workforce. We aim to ensure that by 2011, some 70% of school leavers will achieve five or more GCSE passes at grade A* to C. By 2015, we aim to ensure that 80% of the working-age population is qualified to at least GCSE level or equivalent. We will increase the number of adult learners achieving a qualification in literacy, numeracy, and information and communication technology by 2015. In particular, we will seek to develop the science base that is vital to the economy. By 2015, we will increase by 25% the numbers of students, especially from disadvantaged communities, at graduate and postgraduate level, studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. By 2010, we will increase the number of PhD research students at local universities by 300, and we will introduce a new programme to increase the commercialisation of university and college research by the same date.
We will take steps to address problems of economic inactivity and to promote greater employment opportunities in rural areas and in disadvantaged communities. We will invest £45 million by 2013 to improve the competitiveness of the rural sector.
If we are to create the conditions for economic growth and deliver real improvements in health and well-being, we must continue to advance social transformation and the inclusion of all. We want everyone in Northern Ireland to be given the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from, a better future. Promoting tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being is, therefore, our next priority. Too many people, particularly the most vulnerable, live in communities that continue to experience high levels of poverty, disadvantage and exclusion. Those communities face higher levels of poor health and low educational achievement and, as a result, they fail to enjoy the benefits of progress. Therefore, a key goal for the Executive will be to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010, and to eradicate it by 2020.
By 2011, some 30% of school leavers who are entitled to free school meals will obtain five or more GCSE passes at grade A* to C. By 2011, we will increase to 125,000 the number of children and young people who participate in sport and physical recreation. By 2012, we will reduce by 50% the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads.
At the other end of the age spectrum, I am delighted to announce, as part of the draft Programme for Government, the extension of free public transport during 2008 for everyone aged 60 and over.
I must say that I have an interest in that.
We aim to support the most vulnerable, to create strong, vibrant, sustainable communities and to build community capacity and leadership. We will continue our efforts to address divisions in our society and to eradicate sectarianism, racism and intolerance. We will regenerate our urban and rural areas and will invest over £500 million in regenerating disadvantaged communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities by 2012.
We are also announcing a £10 million package to combat rural social exclusion and poverty. We will seek to remove the barriers to employment and independent living for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. In 2008, we will introduce a new employment and support allowance to enable those unemployed due to ill-health or disability to return to work. By 2010, we will also put in place a careers advice service to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
We will seek to address the health of the population by reducing treatment times and improving treatment outcomes, as well as taking steps to improve physical and mental health. We will work towards reducing mortality from strokes and bowel cancer by 15% by 2013, and by 2009, we will introduce a screening programme to improve survival rates from bowel cancer. We will help people with chronic illnesses to live more active lives and will reduce unplanned hospital admissions for such patients by 50% by 2013.
Our rich and varied natural heritage is a key asset for the people of Northern Ireland, and, as our next priority, we will seek to protect and enhance our environmental and natural resources for future generations. We recognise the links between a healthy environment, a thriving economy and high quality of life. Therefore, we are determined to take action to protect our natural and built heritage.
I am sure that many Members will be delighted to learn that we are now committed to delivering a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011 to ensure that it supports economic and social development and environmental sustainability.
The Executive recognise clearly the potential impact of climate change. We will deliver a new sewer project for central Belfast by 2010. We are also determined to play our part in protecting the environment by reducing our carbon footprint by 25% by 2025. We will seek to promote greater use of renewables by ensuring that 12% of Northern Ireland’s electricity is generated from indigenous renewable sources by 2012. Finally, we will enable up to 4,700 farmers to comply with the nitrates directive of 2009.
We must also invest to build our infrastructure. Through making this a priority, we will invest to build a modern, efficient, twenty-first century infrastructure, which will help to deliver economic and social development. This priority will ensure that businesses can compete more effectively and will help to attract investment and skilled workers. It promotes inclusion and access to services, and raises the quality of life for everyone. The deputy First Minister will say more about this priority in detail when he presents the investment strategy to the House.
Our final priority is to deliver modern, high-quality and efficient public services, demonstrating our commitment to world-class public services that meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. We will take forward key reform programmes in areas such as water, planning, health and education, and establish a library authority and an education and skills authority by 2009.
To ensure that we have the most appropriate structures in place, we will review the overall number of Departments by 2011. We will also modernise the structure and powers of local government by 2011 and seek to modernise the infrastructure and processes of the Civil Service. I am pleased to be able to tell the farming community that we will reduce by 25% the administrative burden on farmers and agrifood businesses by 2013. Our aim in doing that will be to bring the Government closer to the people, revitalise public services and achieve greater efficiencies. We will introduce a single telephone contact point for public services by 2009 and streamline 70% of Departments and agency websites by the same date.
The draft Programme for Government represents a blueprint for Ulster’s future. We are building the foundation for a vibrant and successful future for the people of Northern Ireland. The deputy First Minister will continue by outlining the fifth priority and presenting the draft investment strategy. I strongly commend the draft Programme for Government to everyone in the House, and I intend to live to see it through.
A Cheann Comhairle, with your permission, I welcome the presence of a sizeable delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians and politicians to Parliament Buildings. Some of them are in the Gallery listening to Members’ deliberations, and I am sure that I speak for all Members when I say that we wish them well during their stay.
The First Minister has highlighted the progress that the Executive have made in agreeing their first draft Programme for Government and given Members an indication of what we plan to achieve under four of the five priorities. I want to echo the First Minister’s comments about the seismic shift that we have seen since 8 May. This place is truly under new management. Who would have believed how far we have come in so short a time? The draft Programme for Government marks a real difference from what has gone before. Its presentation and content are different from that published by the previous Executive. We have tried to clearly set out the Executive’s key priorities along with the high-level goals that the Executive are working to achieve.
The First Minister referred to his speech of 8 May. Similarly, I commented on that day that we would:
“strive towards a society moving from division and disharmony to one which celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all our people.”
Those sentiments are captured and expressed in the draft Programme for Government. There is much hard work to be done if the Programme for Government is to be delivered, but its publication after less than six months in Government shows that we are determined and able to apply ourselves to that task.
The First Minister mentioned that we are today publishing for consultation the draft Programme for Government, the draft Budget and the draft investment strategy. Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a 10-week period of consultation that will conclude on 4 January 2008. I know that many Members would like a longer time for consultation, but it is important that the Budget in particular be agreed in sufficient time to enable detailed spending plans to be drawn up and put in place by 1 April. There is, therefore, an imperative to finalise and agree the documents as early as possible in January so that the Executive’s plans can be put in place and we can ensure that the business of Government runs smoothly into the next financial year.
As the First Minister has already explained, the documents will be subject to revision as necessary as our policies develop and as we respond to changing needs. However, we must be clear about the goals that we are working to deliver, agree them and move forward collectively towards their achievement. The close linkages between the three documents mean that we have decided to undertake the consultation process in a co-ordinated fashion.
The consultation will be led by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, but will also involve the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Strategic Investment Board (SIB), which will be responsible for the Budget and the investment strategy respectively.
The documents will need to be agreed by the Assembly in due course. The Assembly Committees will have an important role to play in putting forward their views for consideration, and will form an integral part of the consultation process. We will be asking the OFMDFM Committee to play a co-ordinating role in liaising with the other Committees and gathering their views. We will also be seeking a take-note debate in the Assembly at an appropriate point in the consultation.
Separately, we will consult key stakeholders and social partners, as well as members of the public. We look forward to active engagement with key interest groups throughout the consultation period. Once the consultation process has concluded and we have had an opportunity to consider the comments received, we will present a final Programme for Government, Budget and investment strategy to the Assembly — we hope to do that before the end of January.
The First Minister has provided the Assembly with an indication of some of the contents of the draft Programme for Government, and I do not intend to repeat what he has said. However, I want to emphasis that these are the Executive’s agreed priorities, and they provide the basis on which we plan to move forward in the future.
The First Minister has also referred briefly to the draft public service agreements that we are publishing today as a separate annex. Those 23 public service agreements, or PSAs, confirm the key actions that the Executive plan to take in support of our priorities alongside the outcomes and targets that we are seeking to achieve. Again, they seek only to capture the high-level targets and key cross-cutting issues and challenges. They will provide the framework through which the Executive as a whole will monitor progress, delivery of priorities and key objectives.
I will now provide some detail on the infrastructure priority, which the First Minister referred to earlier. Investing to build our infrastructure will be an important priority through which we will invest to build a modern, twenty-first-century infrastructure. All Members of the Assembly will know of the significant challenges we face in this area: schools that have gone on beyond their useful life; children who are still being taught in temporary classrooms or schools in dire need of refurbishment and modernisation; communities in need of new healthcare facilities; young families looking for social and affordable housing; a business community that needs better roads and modern information and communication links; and the legacy of a long history of neglect and underinvestment in our basic water and sewerage infrastructure, which we are all living with. All of those issues are fundamental for the health and well-being of everyone.
Members will know that we have inherited those huge challenges from direct rule. However, an as Executive, we are rising to meet those challenges. We are grappling with all of those issues and are determined to address them and to give our people the modern services and facilities that they need.
We will support infrastructure development, which will, over time, address the major deficiencies in key areas such as roads, public transport, water and sewerage infrastructure, and social and affordable housing. We will prioritise more balanced regional development, ensure compliance with EU directives, and address the backlog of maintenance in the health and education estates.
This will be delivered through the draft investment strategy that we are announcing today. The investment strategy will put in place a modern infrastructure that will provide a platform for us to achieve our key economic, social and environmental priorities, which will enable businesses to grow, tackle social and economic inequalities, and improve the quality of life for everyone.
Recognising that Government procurement can play an active and effective role in tackling socio-economic disadvantage, we have ensured that we will seek opportunities to promote social inclusion and equality of opportunity in the procurement of infrastructure programmes. That will impact through employment plans, by building opportunities for apprenticeships into major delivery contracts, and through a tendering process that prioritises the most economically advantageous option in this context.
Similarly, the quality of our environment is important, and our investment strategy will ensure that we protect and enhance it.
Those will be important considerations as we invest £5·6 billion into infrastructure over the next three years and at least £18 billion over the next 10 years. In those first three years, 25% more will be invested than in the preceding three years, which represents a further step change that the Executive is leading.
Strategic Investment Board Ltd — a wholly-owned company of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister — has taken the lead in working with Departments to prepare the draft investment strategy for the Executive’s consideration. That document was agreed by the Executive at its meeting on 23 October.
The first three years’ figures in the strategy are consistent with those in the Budget, which the Minister of Finance and Personnel will announce shortly. The figures for later years fall outside the current Budget period but have been formulated within a financial framework that has been agreed with the Department of Finance and Personnel.
However, in order to provide a comprehensive picture of anticipated future investment, the investment strategy reflects the impact of additional sources of funding that lie outside of what is, by convention, included in the Executive’s normal public-expenditure Budget. That is clear in the published document, and all sources of funding are included in the figures that I am announcing today.
The draft investment strategy demonstrates our approach to infrastructure investment and clearly links the major £18 billion programme of investment to the key priorities that are set out in the draft Programme for Government. That is a significant funding envelope, which will enable us to embark on what is, by any standards, an ambitious programme of infrastructure development.
Although £18 billion is a considerable sum of money, it is not enough to fully meet the needs that we wish to address. The Executive, with the crucial advice of the Assembly, must come to a view on the optimum investment package that can be achieved using the available resources. However, it is also essential for the Executive to explore additional funding sources that would enable us to deliver a more ambitious programme of capital investment.
I cannot do justice to the full scope of what the Executive are setting out to accomplish for all of our communities through these investment programmes. Members will carefully study the draft investment strategy and, through the Committees, will formulate the Assembly’s views.
I will mention several areas in more detail to illustrate how we aim to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society, beginning with an overview of how funding will be allocated up to 2018.
We intend to invest £3·8 billion in the strategic road network and in public transport. Key transport corridors will be upgraded to connect towns and cities to regional getaways, the Belfast metropolitan area and the Southern road network. The development of a modern rapid-transport system for greater Belfast will begin, and rail services will be improved by the introduction of new services and rolling stock.
We will invest £3 billion in the water, waste water and waste management infrastructures, which will produce high quality water and waste water systems that will be capable of meeting EU requirements. We will work in partnership with district councils so that by 2011 we will deliver a new waste management infrastructure that will recognise our EU regulatory obligations and make use of more sustainable technologies.
There will be £3·5 billion invested in schools and youth services and a further £632 million in further education and libraries. Schools are at the heart of communities, and our aim is to substantially modernise the schools’ estate, enable schools to link better with the further education sector and allow them to become better aligned with the needs of the population and the skills that will be required in the future. Between 2008 and 2011, we will progress major works in more than 100 schools.
The universities will be supported in order to help them increase their research and teaching capabilities.
There will be investment of £3·5 billion in health and social care. The Executive recognise the increase and changes in the need and demand for health and social services that we can expect over the next 20 years. Therefore, we will make substantial investments across the key sectors of primary and community care and acute and local hospitals.
We will develop a regional network of primary- and community-care facilities to bring services to the heart of the community; an acute hospital network that can deliver the best health outcomes; local hospitals that will form a crucial bridge between acute hospitals and primary and community care.
We plan to designate £1·4 billion for social and affordable housing, together with more than £600 million for regeneration and £500 million for culture, arts and sport. High quality and well managed housing is a cornerstone of sustainable communities. Throughout the lifetime of the investment strategy, we will invest in socially rented and affordable housing to address the needs of communities across the region. Our programme of investment in social housing will enable us to work towards our ambitious target of completing up to 10,000 new social housing units over the next five years.
We will continue with major public-sector-led regeneration initiatives that will have a positive impact on social and economic issues. We will also invest in the Ilex regeneration plan for Ebrington and Fort George and in the Crumlin Road jail and Girdwood sites.
Investment in arts and culture infrastructure will enable us to keep pace with the artistic and cultural expectations of a modern society. We will have invested £100 million in our sports facilities by 2011, thereby ensuring a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We are also supporting the potential of our inland waterways, where development is an area of practical North/South co-operation.
Although that represents a significant and ambitious programme of investment by any standards, it still does not represent adequate resources to meet all needs. Therefore, we have decided to create a capital realisation task force. The first stage of the task force’s work will be complete in December 2007, when it will report on immediate additional disposals that could impact on the capital affordability envelope for the CSR years by increasing the available resources.
We hope that the task force’s recommendations can be taken into account when finalising the investment strategy in January 2008. The Executive have agreed that social housing and schools will be priority areas for consideration, if additional funds are identified as part of that work.
As I explained, the documents published today will be subject to consultation before being finalised in the new year. I ask all those who read the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy to look for the positives in them; to set aside narrow sectional interests and naysaying; to pursue the general good, to understand the difficult choices that we have had to make about priorities; to be optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, and to join us in this great enterprise of shaping our future. In short, I ask everyone to bend their energies to helping us to build the better future that we all want.
The Executive consider that our approach and plans mark a radical change from direct rule and from the previous Executive. The style of our plans is very different; we have adopted a more strategic and outcome-focused approach. We have also adopted a more integrated and complementary approach with the Programme for Government at its centre.
In the documents, readers will find more details of our goals, targets and spending plans than we have been able to cover today, and which will demonstrate the course that we are on. The plans provide a framework within which we will work. The Executive must lead the development of our policies and the delivery of our plans, so that we can demonstrate in practice the difference that we can make.
A Cheann Comhairle, the First Minister acknowledged that we cannot fulfil our potential without engaging all of the people.
I wish to reinforce that point.
We must strive to connect with all people, particularly those members of society who are marginalised and disadvantaged and those who are new members of society. It is absolutely right that Government should be close to the people and should operate in their interests.
We want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and we want to make a difference for everyone. As an Executive, we are committed to the promotion of inclusion and a shared future built on equality and respect for diversity, in which sectarianism, racism and other forms of intolerance are a thing of the past. We want people to feel confident and secure in their identity and in their place in society. We must build a future in which people are cherished for their rich diversity and many talents, and in which we all share in economic growth and prosperity. We want a future that is fit for our children and our children’s children. We believe that, by working together, and harnessing the talents of all sectors — public, private, voluntary and community — we can build a better future for all.
Those are the challenges that we have set ourselves, and those are our commitments to those who elected us to represent them. We are determined to fulfil those commitments. We owe nothing less to the people who elected us to this House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Programme for Government has just been introduced to Members, and questions are about to be taken on it. However, a significant number of pages appear to be missing from the documents that have been circulated. The documents are exceptionally thin, and those sections to which the First Minister and the deputy First Minister referred in respect of a shared future and good relations appear to be absent — certainly from the copy that I have. Is there a chance that those pages have been left at the printers, and will it be possible to have them circulated later?
I understand the point that Mrs Long is making. However, that is certainly not an appropriate point of order.
Before I call the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, I inform Members that more than 40 Members wish to ask questions. That is understandable, considering the business of the House this morning. I remind Members that if their questions are short, that will enable their colleagues to also ask questions.
That is timely advice, Mr Speaker. As Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, I welcome the publication, for consultation, of the draft Programme for Government 2008-11, and the draft investment strategy. I also welcome the clear indication of the First Minister, confirming the status of the document — that it is a draft Programme of Government, for consultation, which may be subject to change.
Given the importance of the proposals, I have some concern that, taking into account the Christmas holidays, the consultation period will effectively last for a shorter period than normal. It is a pity that the proposals could not have been published earlier to ensure that there is a full 12-week consultation period.
I inform the First Minister and the deputy First Minister that, yesterday, my Committee — in the historic location of Magee College, Londonderry — received an informative and thought-provoking presentation from representatives of Save the Children on the level of child poverty. That presentation was part of the Committee’s inquiry into that matter.
I welcome the commitment in the Programme for Government that it will be a priority of the Executive to tackle the levels of poverty in Northern Ireland in general, and, in particular, the intention to halve child poverty by 2010, and end it by 2020. What are the specific actions that have been included in the draft Programme for Government to achieve those aims?
In respect of the co-ordinating role of my Committee, which was outlined by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, I can advise the House that early indications suggest that my Committee will welcome the opportunity to fulfil that role and work with other Committees.
I ask the Member to take his seat. I know that he is speaking as Chairperson of a Committee, and I have always said that I will try to give Chairpersons some latitude. However, this morning, as is appropriate, other Members wish to speak in their capacity as Committee Chairpersons. Therefore, I ask them to be as brief as other Members in asking their questions.
Given the criticisms of the first investment strategy, will the First Minister and deputy First Minister indicate how the fundamental issues that are connected to the ability of the public sector to deliver the proposed investment strategy in full have been addressed? Full delivery of the strategy is essential in order to prevent the year-on-year high levels of capital underspend that have been a regular feature.
Speaking not in my capacity as a Committee Chairman but as a Member, I ask the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to describe the progress that has been made in securing an adequate financial deal from the Treasury for Northern Ireland. Both parties have placed importance on such a deal being a prerequisite for the re-establishment of devolution in Northern Ireland. Bearing in mind that the people were promised the mother and father of a financial deal to go with the mother and father of a political deal, when can Members expect to receive details of the package?
I am surprised that the honourable gentleman thinks that a 10-week consultation period is not long enough. The Executive has to make a move. With every week that passes, poverty and difficulties in the Health Service remain. The time has come for us to put on our running shoes. The Assembly has been criticised for doing nothing: now we are being criticised for moving too fast. As far as I am concerned, we could not move fast enough on those issues.
Does the Member not have any words of comfort for people? We have said that we will overhaul the planning system fundamentally. What does he have to say about that? He has forgotten about it. From today, all large-scale investment planning proposals will be decided within six months, provided that a pre-application consultation has taken place. The Member does not have any words of comfort about that. He has forgotten all about the poor old people such as me who want a free bus ride, and he has forgotten all about the rapid transit system and many other things that we have mentioned. Does he not have any words of comfort at all, or is he here just to make a cheap political point?
Securing high-value inward investment is a key objective for the Executive. The draft Programme for Government includes the key goal of securing commitments on inward investment, promising over 6,500 new jobs by 2011. We want at least 75% of those jobs to provide salaries that are higher than the local private-sector average.
Given the events of the past six months, it is clear that there is tremendous international interest in the political developments that have occurred here. Many Ministers have already visited the United States, particularly during the Smithsonian festival. It was obvious from that visit, and from all the visits that have taken place, that the Irish-American, Scots-Irish and Ulster-Scots business communities are phenomenally interested in everything that happens here. We hope that the build-up has commenced to what will probably be the most important economic investment conference that has ever been seen in the North, which will take place in May next year. We hope that further delegations will arrive to tee up the agenda for that conference to ensure that it will produce results and real jobs — particularly for young people — rather than aspirations or fine words.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the statement from OFMDFM and the publication of the draft Programme for Government. I welcome the commitment from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Executive to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Can the Minister advise how the Programme for Government will address the needs of children and young people? Which specific programmes for children and young people have been included?
I thank the honourable lady for her question. Northern Ireland’s children are our future, and it is right that we support them and help them to realise their potential. We are determined that our children will receive the support and help that they need through the PSA framework. The Executive have outlined clear commitments to eradicating child poverty, improving educational outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged, and ensuring that all our children are cared for, live in safety and are protected from abuse.
I thank the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for the statement, and the Executive for the draft Programme for Government. As Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee I welcome both the commitments to enterprise and innovation and the interventions designed to ensure that Northern Ireland has a competitive economy. The commitments are welcome, but they are not new, as they are exactly what we had in the Committee on the Preparation for Government and the Programme for Government Committee. The saccharine jargon does not differ much from what went before, including during direct rule. Most of the same phrases are there in statements by the former Secretary of State Peter Hain. The deputy First Minister said that the Executive had inherited challenges from direct rule — [Interruption.]
It has also inherited some policies from direct rule.
The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment looks forward to using the consultation period for both the draft Programme for Government and the Budget to contribute ideas that might amplify the plans to create a more articulate and effective outlook. The deputy First Minister said that he did not want naysaying, but both the deputy First Minister and the First Minister have naysaid the achievements of the previous Executive. The previous Executive put in place the basis for the investment strategy for Northern Ireland and the Strategic Investment Board, against opposition from Sinn Féin and the DUP. Now, those are the centrepieces of their draft Programme for Government. [Interruption.]
Order, order. I remind Members that the business conducted in the House today may give rise to strong emotions among some Members. [Laughter.] However, when Members are speaking on the Floor they should not be interrupted, but should be allowed to speak.
As I said, we have made it clear that we plan to do things differently, and that this Executive are adopting a more strategic approach to the Programme for Government, the Budget and the investment strategy over the course of 10 years. People should accept that this is a good day for everyone. After only five months in office, the Executive have set out their Budget, Programme for Government and investment strategy, which is a remarkable achievement. I pay tribute to all of my ministerial colleagues, including those from the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP, for the good work that they have contributed towards bringing us to this position.
The Programme for Government and the investment strategy offer: a good future for everyone, North, South, east and west; thousands of new jobs; new schools and hospitals; new roads; better public transport; better support for farmers and rural communities; and better support for business. The Executive are determined to make a difference. We will not be satisfied unless we produce results that far supersede everything that has happened in the past.
I thank the Ministers for their statement. The deputy First Minister has urged the House to look for the positives in the Programme for Government and the investment strategy. I have tried to do that, but there is little to be positive about in those fairly thin documents.
I remember when the previous Programme for Government was presented to the House. I criticised it for its failure to take community relations seriously, but at least it contained a reference to — and a commitment on — that issue. This draft Programme for Government contains nothing on that matter except a passing reference by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. Is a weak statement about promoting tolerance not completely inadequate when one considers the community-relations problems that we face? Why is there no objective to implement the shared future action plan alongside the racial equality action plan, if the Executive are serious about making a difference in solving the problems that we face?
The honourable Member either needs a new pair of glasses or a new earpiece. I remind him about the inward-investment commitments, which promise to create over 6,500 jobs by 2011. Is that not positive? Is the commitment to halve the private-sector productivity gap with the UK by 2015 not new and concrete? There are commitments to increase the number of tourists who visit Northern Ireland each year to 2·5 million, and tourism revenue to £520 million; to reduce child poverty by 50%; to ensure that every child leaves school with a level of literacy and numeracy that will, at least, equip them for work and life; and to make record investment of £5·6 billion in infrastructure during the next three years. I could continue. I deeply regret that the honourable gentleman has neither listened to nor read the commitments that have been made. [Interruption.]
I congratulate the First Minister and the deputy First Minister on the draft Programme for Government, which was unanimously agreed by all parties in the Executive. I welcome the centrality of economic development in the draft Programme for Government, which was glaringly missing from the previous programme. That fact has not been lost on anyone in the House or beyond; except, perhaps, Mr Durkan. It is essential that economic prosperity benefits everyone in Northern Ireland. What priority have the Executive given to the promotion of economic growth in all areas of Northern Ireland?
I thank the Member for his question. The Executive have recognised that, during recent years, investment in business and industry has tended to focus on the greater Belfast area. A key aim of the Programme for Government and the investment strategy is to promote and facilitate economic growth and social progress everywhere. In particular, the Executive are determined that investment in networks and roads infrastructure will increase the attractiveness of the wider region as a destination for business investment and will enhance the competitiveness of businesses that are based outside the greater Belfast area.
Like other Members, I am somewhat surprised at the negativity of some Members. Recently, the Executive have been criticised for not taking decisions.
Today, we have taken £18 billion-worth of decisions that will address the needs of our society, and our people, over the course of the next 10 years. That is rapid progress.
Go raibh maith agat. I, too, thank the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for their statements. Will the First Minister confirm that the Executive’s collective decision to mainstream the equality agenda, Section 75 duties, and the equality impact assessment process into all strategic-level Executive functions — including the draft Programme for Government and the draft Budget — is now a demonstration that the delivery of equality and social justice can, and should be, the central premise for governmental spending?
I thank the lady for what she has said. The equality impact assessment of the draft Programme for Government, and accompanying PSAs, is in accordance with our statutory duties, which we will carry out to the full.
He has been banished to the Back Benches for being bad.
I see that he is in the Chamber. Since he is such a naysayer and a begrudger, I ask him to take note of that item in the document. Will the First Minister and deputy First Minister tell us, in more detail, the exact extent of the draft Programme for Government that they intend to implement? The programme will be greatly welcomed by the community.
I agree that it is an excellent announcement that should be welcomed by all right-thinking people. Reducing the age at which people can avail of free transport from 65 to 60 means that women who reach retirement age will no longer find themselves being penalised unnecessarily. This is only one of a series of measures to improve public transport. We will also be introducing concessionary fares on rural services and increasing public transport provision for rural areas and rural communities.
The deputy First Minister and the First Minister started off by asking that we should, perhaps, have some words of comfort. Those of you who are familiar with the television programme ‘Yes Prime Minister’ will be aware that Sir Humphrey used the famous phrase: “a courageous speech, Minister.”
A question that is closer to hand — and perhaps in line with the points raised about the planning process — is that talk is cheap but it takes money to buy land. What we are hearing are aspirations. Will the First Minister, with his laudable aims to increase economic participation from 70% to 75%, tell me exactly how many people that represents? How will that figure compare with the figure of 140,000 that PricewaterhouseCoopers said that we needed to reach over the next 10 years? How does the First Minister intend to achieve that figure if, as stated in his document, he is only going to create 6,500 jobs?
This is not an Official Unionist document, which would be published and then be forgotten. The ‘Draft Programme for Government 2008-2011’ will not be forgotten, for we will carry out the measures set out in the document. The Member should look carefully at the overarching aim, which is to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law. That is where we hang our colours in today’s debate. If the honourable gentleman does not like what is done, the process will move on and he will be left behind.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I have two questions. First, what measures or procedures will be put in place to deliver, monitor and oversee the sustainable development strategy and ensure that it is delivered on a cross-departmental basis?
I welcome the commitment today to delivering an effective Planning Service by 2011. There was mention of the delivery of draft and full area plans by 2011. However, how will those plans be delivered, given that the Planning Appeals Commission, which is involved in public inquiries into those plans, is under severe pressure as it stands? In fact, this morning I was told that an individual appellant can wait as long as three years for a decision. I would like clarification of how the expectations that were created today will be met and delivered on.
Sustainable development is built on three pillars: economic growth, social progress and environmental protection. As our Programme for Government states, sustainability will be a key cross-cutting theme that will underpin our approach to delivering our priorities. Building a sustainable future will be a key requirement for all our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes. We believe that sustainable development is not simply about resources; it is about changing the culture and doing things differently.
As regards planning, we all know and understand that workload pressures have been building for some time. Over the past five years, the overall trend in the volume of appeal cases has turned sharply upwards. Figures show that appeal intake in 2006-07 has increased by over 600% since 2002-03. There are a number of reasons for that. There are increasing demands in relation to major planning applications and non-determination appeals, which are cases taken to the Planning Appeals Commission because the Planning Service and DOE have failed to reach a decision within the permitted time.
The commission is also required to take on the public inquiry work associated with the DOE’s development plan programme, as well as a range of other non-planning-related appellate functions that have been assigned to it over the years. Planning Policy Statement 14 (PPS 14), which was announced last year and which introduced a presumption against development in the countryside, has also contributed to the surge in appeal applications.
We recognise that the planning system is a key mechanism for delivering sustainable development and for enabling the delivery of jobs, homes, better transport and lively communities. We are committed to securing the additional resources to tackle the backlog. In recognition of the backlog, we supported a case made by the Planning Appeals Commission for additional resources and submitted a bid. I accept that this issue represents a real challenge, and it is a challenge to which we must rise.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the statement by the First Minister and deputy First Minister. This draft Programme for Government is a positive development and an improvement on the first Programme for Government in so far as we have prioritised goals that have attached timetables. All Members, not just those in the Executive, have a responsibility to match that programme with delivery, and people are entitled to judge us on our performance.
My question is about the priority entitled ‘Invest to build our infrastructure’ and procurement policy. Will the First Minister and deputy First Minister assure the House that local companies will not find themselves in difficulty or at a disadvantage when competing to provide services to the Executive as part of the delivery of the programme?
I can give the honourable Member the assurance that local companies will have every opportunity to participate, in all fairness, in that development. I would like to see the people of Northern Ireland engaged in such work. As the Member knows well, laws have to be observed with regard to procurement, but I give him assurance on that matter today.
I very much regret that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is absent from the Chamber. It shows little respect for the draft Programme for Government.
I welcome the statement on the draft Programme for Government and the investment strategy for Northern Ireland.
I am reminded of the words of Franklin D Roosevelt:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
What reassurance can the deputy First Minister offer that issues such as the prevention of illness and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle will now be addressed in a much more holistic manner through a Programme for Government that is fully meshed and dovetails with the Budget priorities to ensure the best possible outcomes for our people?
In formulating the Programme for Government, we identified health as a major issue. Huge challenges face us as we move forward. I have no doubt that the ambitious targets that we have set ourselves can be reached, given the will of the Assembly and the ability of the Executive to deliver. We are moving forward with a joined-up approach, which will see all Departments — not least the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety — recognise the huge responsibilities that we have to improve the health and well-being of all our people.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I congratulate not only the First Minister and the deputy First Minister but the whole Executive on introducing a draft Programme for Government for consultation with the general public. Although some Members are looking through the programme for words about a shared future, etc, the best way to advance a shared future is through the example shown by the Executive in bringing forward a draft Programme for Government for the future, instead of some fluffy document that inevitably ends up in the employment of serving and former members of the Alliance Party.
In their statement, the First Minister and deputy First Minister said that the restraints on fiscal policy meant that the Programme for Government has not been as adventurous as it could have been. What restraints has a lack of fiscal independence placed on the Programme for Government?
I am sure that the honourable gentleman will be in the Chamber when the Minister of Finance and Personnel makes his statement, which will bring even more comfort to him.
Continual pressure will be exerted on the Westminster authorities to do what is right for the people of this Province.
As the Member is well aware, there are certain military installations that are not going to be used in the future. I have demanded and will continue to demand that the money from the sale of those properties is not taken out of the country.
In welcoming the announcement of the Programme for Government, I am somewhat amused at the emergence of Pontius Pilate politics from Members who had previously lectured us about collective responsibility and governance. Now it seems to suit their political agenda to wash their hands of any responsibility, bearing in mind that their Ministers did not table any amendments in the Executive. I would appreciate it if the deputy First Minister would indicate the thinking behind the choice of the strategic priorities that are set out in the Programme for Government.
We have aimed to produce a Programme for Government that addresses the big challenges facing us all. Our overarching aim is to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in which everyone can enjoy a better quality of life, now and in the future. In support of that aim, five emerging strategic priorities have been identified: growing a dynamic and innovative economy; promoting tolerance, inclusion and health and well-being; protecting and enhancing our environment and natural resources; investing to build our infrastructure; and delivering modern high-quality and efficient public services.
Growing the economy will be our top priority over the period of this Programme for Government. However, the priorities are all interconnected, and we recognise that they cannot be achieved in isolation. For example, we cannot grow the economy in isolation from determined efforts to transform our society and enhance our environment. Those priorities will be supported by our key goals and public service agreements, which will help to ensure that the Executive can focus on the key issues and outcomes to which we are all committed.
I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister for bringing forward the draft consultation. Will they give the House an assurance that, following the consultation period, if any specific proposals come forward that Committees believe should be included in the priorities, the Executive will give them due consideration and include them?
I thank the Ministers for their statement. The programme contains much detail, and it will require analysis, scrutiny and public consultation. The SDLP will be heavily involved in that. The content is significant, and our party has no objection to our good ideas being built into the programme — as indeed they are.
The First Minister described the announcement as “momentous”. We will know that it is momentous when it is delivered — that is the challenge for OFMDFM. The programme contains ambitious plans, and we want to see them happen. Rather than seeing today’s announcement as momentous, the Assembly will breathe a heavy sigh of relief that, at last, real business and work is coming before it. It has been an arid time here.
The overarching aim of the programme is for a peaceful, fair and prosperous society, and nothing is more important than that. The deputy First Minister referred to truly new management and to setting aside sectional interest. Those are also good sentiments. However, much of the content of debates in the Chamber, and the manner in which those have been debated, has been contradictory.
Much of that divisive content has come from the two parties that are represented in OFMDFM. What contribution will those parties make to ensure that the matters brought forward, and the manner in which those are debated, make a genuine commitment to a shared society?
It never ceases to amaze me how out of touch some members of the SDLP are with the mood of public opinion. It is quite clear that the parties that lead the Executive enjoy overwhelming support from the community, as was clearly identified in the outcome of the Assembly elections. [Interruption.]
People are delighted at the progress that has been made over the course of the last four or five months. After today’s announcement, people will be even more delighted that we have taken, in the course of our deliberations today, huge decisions that affect their lives. Those decisions are taken for the betterment of our people, not to worsen the conditions under which people live. The time has come for some Members to waken up and smell the coffee. They must waken up and recognise that people are really pleased and delighted at the efforts that are being made to move forward to put in place a real future, not only for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children.
We are determined to make a real difference. We will not be satisfied unless we produce results that far supersede all that has happened over recent decades in Northern Ireland. Our goals and key announcements are ambitious, and rightly so. They show how we have listened to our people, and how we will drive forward the type of change that is long overdue in our society. I trust that when the Committees deal with the issues, and we take our consultation from all outside authorities, we will be able to speed the Programme for Government on its way as quickly as possible.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for their statement, and I welcome the many positives that it includes. How does the draft investment strategy address regional imbalance, particularly west of the Bann?
We sought to identify balanced regional development as a key element in the cross-cutting strategic objective of the draft investment strategy. In seeking to prioritise more balanced regional development, there will be a particular focus on cross-border links and on developing infrastructure in the border areas.
The development and upgrade of transport links along the Dublin/Belfast corridor will ensure that it forms a major axis for economic development on the island. In the north-west and Donegal, we will tackle regional disparities by further improving road links, enhancing the capacity and resilience of energy support networks, strengthening telecommunications infrastructure and developing the City of Derry Airport.
I also highlight the investment in health care: there will be a developing network of health and care centres across the region and new hospital facilities in the south-west. Schools will also receive a boost, which will benefit communities across the region.
The list goes on. We have taken important steps in the right direction. During the public consultation that is being launched today, I look forward to hearing about what more should be done with the resources that we have available.
Before asking my question, I want to reassure Members that I have read all 17 pages of the document. I noticed that when Lord Morrow referred to a “hefty document”, he was holding a 25-page speech, not the 17-page document.
In the document, I cannot find any substantive reference to many issues, such as a shared future, good relations, community relations, post-primary transfer, sustainable schools policy, free personal care or the environmental protection agency — amongst others. How long do the First Minister and deputy First Minister intend to dine out on the feel-good factor created on 8 May 2007? When will they back it up with substantive action to deliver on a shared future and make that hope a reality?
I am sure that the honourable lady enjoys dining out herself.
She should read from page 3 of the document:
“our approach to delivering our priorities will be underpinned by the two cross-cutting key themes:
A better future: fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity will be watchwords for all our policies and programmes.
This places an overarching responsibility on the Executive to proactively change the existing patterns of social disadvantage by using increased prosperity and economic growth to tackle ongoing priority.”
I am sorry that the lady does not read more carefully before making such statements.
I too welcome the Programme for Government, particularly its commitment to supporting businesses and helping the entire business and enterprise culture to flourish. How do the Executive propose to support local businesses across Northern Ireland, particularly the small to medium-sized enterprises west of the Bann, which are the life and soul of the rural economy?
The Executive are totally committed to supporting local businesses. There is a long history of business ingenuity and leadership. We are determined to create the conditions that will unlock potential and to assist local businesses to succeed in an ever more competitive global market. That commitment is reflected in the priority that we have attached to developing the skills base and investing in infrastructure
The Programme for Government also includes specific commitments to supporting local businesses to enter the export market and increasing expenditure on research and development. As one of the elected representatives from west of the Bann, and the Speaker is another, I assure the Member that, as we move forward, the Executive are committed to ensuring that everyone gets a fair share.
I also welcome the draft Programme for Government. Given the commitments in the programme to reform the planning process, can the Assembly be assured that, as part of that reform, private developers will be forced to tackle the social housing problem that this Government face?
Yes; I can say that in the Programme for Government, we have made an undertaking that there will be 10,000 homes built in order to address the very grave situation that we have. We all acknowledge its gravity, and we have a good foundation on which to build.
It is good to have the Executive’s priorities set out, and they appear to be framed by an overall aim of building a fair and prosperous society. The message is coming through loud and clear that there is to be massive investment in infrastructure in Belfast and in Northern Ireland Railways. I am sure that there are possible justifications for that, but given the neglect of infrastructure in the west, particularly in Fermanagh and Tyrone, where we rely on the roads network, is the west in that frame? There is to be a move to second-generation broadband by 2011, but parts of the west, despite claims to the contrary, still do not have first-generation broadband. May I have a commitment that that infrastructural problem will also be addressed?
We refer to that issue and the need to ensure that broadband is accessible to everyone. There are plans to do that specifically in the Programme for Government. On the situation west of the Bann, we all accept that, over the course of the years, many elected representatives have commented on the state of the roads in different counties. No doubt, when the Minister for Regional Development makes his contribution to that debate, he will outline his plans to ensure that all areas get their fair share.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I want, first of all, to put on record our appreciation that OFMDFM recognises that the environment is an important asset and that it is to be protected and enhanced through the investment strategy. Will the First Minister assure the House that that will remain a key priority for the Executive?
I refer the honourable Member to the statement. We will strengthen the protection of key areas. That will apply to all parts of the report; everything will be strengthened in the way that it should be, with fair play for everyone in the community.
It is a very positive development that all Executive Ministers have agreed that overarching aim. It sets out the type of future that we all want to see here, and I am proud that, as an Executive, we have agreed on the aim of building a peaceful, fair and prosperous society, with respect for the rule of law. That represents huge progress for all of us. I want the Assembly to understand that every one of the priorities and key goals in the Programme for Government will contribute to the achievement of that aim. That is how it will guide the Executive’s work.
The draft programme rests on protecting all sections of the community, especially those who, in the past, have not done so well. No one will be left out; everyone who has a right to be included under our propositions will be included. We could not say that we want a fair and just society in which the rule of law is acknowledged, but then not bring that to everyone. Therefore, we are pledged to bring that society to all those who rightfully should benefit from certain aspects of life that they do not currently have.
I also welcome the announcement of the draft Programme for Government. I noticed that the First Minister and deputy First Minister talk about investment in schools. Direct rule Ministers, and, indeed, the previous Executive — which Mr Durkan seems to think did such an excellent job in investing in schools — delayed the schools building programme. That has meant that work on some school buildings that was announced five years ago has not even started. Given that, will the deputy First Minister tell us what plans have been included in the draft Programme for Government to ensure that finance, but, more importantly, procurement are such that the new building programme will not face the same delays?
Secondly, will the deputy First Minister tell the House whether the final Programme for Government will include a clear date for the implementation of the new transfer arrangements from primary to post-primary school? That matter is causing grave concern among teachers and parents.
All those who have been involved in the education world in recent years understand some of the difficulties that the Member outlined. However, it is fair to say that committing £3·5 billion to our schools and youth services clearly represents a massive investment in schools. The reason for that investment is that schools are at the heart of our communities. Our aim is to modernise substantially the schools estate in order to align better the links between further education, the needs of the population, and the skills that we will require in the future. Therefore, we will proceed with major works on over 100 schools between 2008 and 2011.
Transfer mechanisms are a matter for the Department of Education in consultation with the Committee for Education and all the different interest groups. We all know and understand that the transfer system is a vexed issue; however, it is not beyond us. Here we are, after four or five months in Government, having completed a massive amount of work to bring the draft Programme for Government to the Assembly today. If we can do that, I think that we can do nearly anything.
The deputy First Minister has stated that he believes in working together to harness all the talents that exist in our society. Does that apply to all Members of the House? Will he guarantee that we will all be represented and that he will not merely continue to work ever more closely only with his Rt Hon friend the First Minister to achieve a more inclusive House?
Will the Executive confirm that children and young people remain a priority for the Government? If so, how have they evidenced that in the draft Budget? What overall level of investment are the Executive making in early intervention and prevention services for children and young people?
The Executive’s overarching aim in the draft Programme for Government is, as I have already said, to build a peaceful, just and prosperous society in which everyone, including our children, can enjoy a better quality of life, now and in years to come. We recognise that action is required to ensure that all our children receive the support that they need to achieve their full potential, become more independent, and grow into well-adjusted adults who can take their place in the community.
The needs of children are taken into account in our Programme for Government. In the PSA framework, the Executive have outlined clear commitments to eradicate child poverty, improve educational outcomes — particularly for the most disadvantaged children, and to ensure that all our children are cared for, live in safety, and are protected from abuse.
I join other Members on this side of the House in welcoming this morning’s statements. In response to the remarks of the Alliance Party Member for East Belfast: yes; there is a feel-good factor, certainly on this side of the Chamber. That comes from enjoying the confidence of the electorate, as is evidenced by the growth of our party.
I particularly welcome the underpinning of the political process through investment in the economy. That is essential, particularly in preparing the way for more jobs, including the provision of skills training. With that in mind, how will the investment strategy benefit the Northern Ireland tourism sector’s drive for more visitors to the Province, which will increase the potential for job creation and prosperity?
I thank my honourable friend for his words. We will provide investment to enhance tourism infrastructure and will work with key partners to continue to advance the implementation of our tourism signature projects. We will also invest in our rural areas, which offer real opportunities for growth in job creation and tourism.
I welcome the Programme for Government. Do the plans for the rapid-transport system for the greater Belfast area include any proposals to reopen the Lisburn to Antrim railway line and to build a new railway station at Belfast International Airport to enhance our tourism industry?
A key objective of the proposed overhaul of the planning system will be to examine how we can speed up the decision-making process and create more certainty. That is essential if we are to be successful in promoting business investment. Moreover, we are giving a commitment that, from today, decisions will be made on all large-scale investment planning proposals within six months, provided that a pre-application consultation has taken place. That is the current position.
The Programme for Government of the previous Executive, despite all their faults, ran to 144 pages. The current Programme for Government runs to 17 pages. Either the Executive believe that all the problems that face Northern Ireland have been solved, or they are condemning Northern Ireland to three wasted years. The Executive made great play of the fact that they have had only since May to prepare that document. Did the Northern Ireland Office not fund the appointment of special advisers since January, specifically for the purpose of preparing the Programme for Government? Will the Northern Ireland Office be getting that money back?
That is a ridiculous question.
In formulating this Programme for Government, the Executive have adopted a strategic and joined-up approach, which will be welcomed overwhelmingly by everyone in our society.
Like others, I welcome this draft document, and we do take hope from it. However, I emphasise that we do not have to buy the hype contained in the document. As regards hope, there are 36,000 families on the waiting list for houses in Northern Ireland. The document makes reference to investment, but will the First Minister and deputy First Minister assure me, and the people who are waiting for houses, that the finance for those houses will be made available to the Minister for Social Development?
It is all very well to be critical, but the Member’s party, after all, was associated with the last Executive, and they did not do very much. Their record was despicable, and those in glass houses should not throw stones.
We have made it a point that our Programme for Government and investment strategy are bound to be good news for the people of Northern Ireland. We are going to tackle the issues: North, South, east and west. There will be thousands of new jobs, new schools, new hospitals, new roads, better public transport, better support for our farmers and rural communities, and better support for business. What more does the Member want? We are determined to produce the goods, and I look forward to the day when he will be able to enjoy the plum pudding on his plate.
We recognise the need to support victims and survivors as we seek to move forward and build a better future for all our people. That is clearly reflected in the PSA framework and in our commitment to develop a new and comprehensive strategy and approach to victims and survivors. More details will be made available in due course.
The Government are committed to making a real difference to the lives of victims and survivors, and we made a public statement on 8 October concerning the appointment of a new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors. The post has been re-advertised, and we hope that we can announce the appointment before Christmas. Re-advertising the post against the background of a fully-functioning Executive will bring forward a greater number of candidates. We will bring forward detailed proposals shortly that will represent a comprehensive approach to victims and survivors. In doing so, we will be focusing on three important areas: services and practical help for victims; dealing with the legacy of the past; and building a better future.