I thank Mr Byrne for his question. My Department has taken the lead on behalf of the Executive in developing a draft cross-departmental strategy to tackle the issues facing those young people who are not in education, employment or training. Pathways to Success is out for consultation, the closing date for which is 30 June. During the previous mandate, that draft strategy was discussed by the Executive, and it was the subject of a major cross-party review by the previous Committee for Employment and Learning. The development of the strategy involved seven Departments in addition to mine. Responses to the consultation will help to inform the development of a final strategy, including a cross-departmental delivery mechanism.
Following further engagement with the Committee for Employment and Learning, I intend to bring the strategy to the Executive at the earliest opportunity. At that stage, I expect further engagement with Executive colleagues about forward planning for its implementation, and I will report back on the outcomes of the consultation.
It is through that process that I expect Departments to commit to playing a full role in tackling this important issue. The issue will not be resolved overnight, but I am committed to moving this important work forward in and across the Executive.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Does the Minister agree that we have thousands of young people in that category in Northern Ireland and it is vital that we have direct intervention to make sure that we give some meaning to their lives? Is it intended to use the Youth Service in some way? We have excellent youth clubs that have great experience in dealing with such people.
Mr Byrne talks about using the Youth Service. That falls under the Department of Education, which is a matter for my colleague John O’Dowd. This, again, highlights the importance of cross-departmental co-operation on this issue. Although my Department is happy to lead on this, it is something that all Departments that have something to bring to the table engage on. Clearly, the Department of Education is a major stakeholder in this regard.
It is critical to ensure that young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential; both for them as individuals and for the economy. If people are denied the opportunity to develop their talents to the full, it is not just the people themselves who suffer; we all do. We talk about employment being at about 7·2%, which may finally be below the UK average. At the same time, we should be conscious that in the18- to 24-year-old cohort, unemployment is around 20%, which should be very troubling for all of us.
I listened intently to what the Minister said. He referred to the Minister of Education. The Minister is only a short time in his post, and I wish him well in it, but he has already given a strong hint that there are problems in relation to the fragmentation of our education system. Does he not accept that it is now time that we looked at having a single education system, and will he work strenuously to that end and ensure that our children and adults in further education do not suffer as a result of the fragmentation of the education system in Northern Ireland?
I thank Lord Morrow for his question and good wishes. We have a system across Government where issues cut across the departmental divides or, indeed, sometimes fall through the cracks. Until we reform the departmental structure, it is important that Ministers work together closely. Under this new mandate, I have been impressed by the increased willingness of Ministers to work collaboratively around issues, including myself and John O’Dowd on educational matters. I am not sure whether I can pronounce too much on a single education system; that is probably outside my direct departmental responsibilities, but clearly there is a wider debate on that in society.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Will the Minister give an undertaking to work closely with the Enterprise Minister and Rural Development Minister to address the rural broadband deficit, which is a major obstacle for many students or potential students in relation to employment, education or training? Does the Minister accept that poor rural transport infrastructure acts as another barrier for rural people wishing to access those opportunities?
I thank Mr Lynch for his question. Strictly speaking, matters relating to broadband would be for the Enterprise Minister, and transport a matter for the Department for Regional Development. Clearly, again, the point highlights the importance of joined-up working between Departments and Ministers. From the training and employment perspective, I am happy to make representations if those issues are becoming barriers to people accessing their training requirements, whether that is going to college or remote access from home to supplement what they are doing.