Delivering Social Change:  Signature Programmes

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

The next item of business is a motion from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on its report on Delivering Social Change signature programmes.  The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate.  The proposer will have 15 minutes to propose and 15 minutes to make a winding-up speech.  All other speakers will have five minutes.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the report of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on its event on the Delivering Social Change signature programmes (NIA 150/11-15); and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that meaningful and comprehensive engagement with practitioners and stakeholders is central to the development of any future signature programmes.

It is a pleasure as Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to move the motion, which follows on from an event that the Committee held with stakeholders in the Long Gallery a few weeks ago. 

Delivering Social Change is the Executive's framework to tackle poverty and social exclusion.  The signature programmes were set up to improve literacy and numeracy, to offer increased family support and to support job creation in local communities.

The motion that the Committee presents today follows a stakeholder event that was held in November on the Delivering Social Change signature programmes that were announced by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in October 2012. For the record, the programmes are as follows: improving literacy and numeracy, led by the Department of Education; nurture units, led by the Department for Social Development and the Department of Education; social-enterprise incubation hubs, led by the Department for Social Development and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; positive parenting, led by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; family-support hubs, led by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; and the community family-support programme, led by the Department for Employment and Learning.

There was a seventh programme, which was announced by junior Ministers in October 2013, with regard to £1·6 million of investment to enhance play and leisure opportunities for children and young people.  It is unfortunate that the Committee was not advised of that until after the event in November, as it would have provided an opportunity for discussion on that programme as well as the other six that were discussed at that event.  It is unfortunate, but perhaps typical, of the current communication channels between the Committee and the Department.

Although Delivering Social Change is an Executive-wide framework, with signature programmes being delivered by a number of different lead Departments, the £26 million budget for the programmes is allocated from a central ring-fenced Delivering Social Change fund, with governance arrangements and collaboration managed through the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

In September 2013, the Committee agreed to gather evidence from stakeholders on the signature programmes.  The Committee recognised the wide range of stakeholders involved and agreed to hold an event to gather evidence on their views and to provide a platform for discussion on potential enhancement of the programmes.  The Committee convened an event comprising relevant Departments, non-governmental organisations, members of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, and stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

I would like to thank senior officials from OFMDFM and a number of other Departments for coming along and providing updates on the progress of their relevant programmes.  I would also like to thank stakeholders for taking the time to come along and to provide very relevant and timely feedback on the progress of those programmes.  Of course, I thank the Committee staff for making it all happen.

The stakeholder event was held on 13 November.  Discussions covered these four key themes:  experience of delivery and implementation to date; challenges and opportunities of the programme delivery mechanisms; innovative ideas to support effective delivery of the programmes; and suggestions for potential future signature projects.

Committee members will agree that, at the event, we had considerable discussions on those key themes and input from our stakeholders.  As is so often the case, it is in talking to stakeholders that we hear the reality of people's experiences of dealing with complex and often intergenerational issues of poverty and social exclusion.

Although each signature project is distinct, with its own objectives, a number of issues were common across discussions on each individual programme.  Those common issues may have wider implications for the success of the Executive’s Delivering Social Change framework.  The Committee, therefore, wished to highlight those issues to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in order to support the Department in enhancing delivery and outcomes on those programmes.

The common issues included:  a reported lack of joined-up working; a reported lack of consultation; difficulties in measurement of outcomes; a need for long-term planning; the importance of identifying best practice and information-sharing; and a need for clarity of message and awareness-raising.

As an aside, with regard to the measurement of outcomes, it was only last week that the Committee heard from officials about gender equality and the fact that they intended to rip up a 10-year strategy because of the lack, largely speaking, of measurable targets.  The fact that the focus is on measurable targets there is to be welcomed.

The input from stakeholders allowed the Committee to make a number of recommendations to OFMDFM on the programmes, on the future of same and on additional programmes.  Again, I pay tribute to the people who participated in the event.  The Committee made a number of recommendations, and I will briefly go through those now.

One of the key issues identified was the perception of a silo mentality or a lack of joined-up working across Departments and agencies that had the potential to limit the effectiveness of the programmes.  The Committee welcomes the fact that one of the key aims of the framework is to achieve a level of joined-up working in tackling poverty and social exclusion.  The Committee highlights that effective policy design at the outset can include ways to tackle barriers to effective implementation.  With that in mind, the Committee recommended that lead Departments re-evaluate the policy design process for the signature programmes in advance of any future tranche of programmes. 

The Committee also recommended that lead Departments further consider the establishment of working groups or project teams which include key providers, stakeholders and other relevant Departments, where information can be shared and early resolution of issues can be sought.  That early engagement with other stakeholders can facilitate effective joined-up working.

Another key theme highlighted was the measurement of outcomes.  The Committee believes that the tools for monitoring and evaluating the programmes should have been clearly defined in advance of initiation of the various programmes.  A more comprehensive consultation with experienced practitioners and organisations in those fields would have assisted the Departments in identifying realistic, timely and measurable outcomes.

Stakeholders highlighted the necessity for, in particular, measuring the value added by the signature programmes, whereby evidence should be sought on how effective they had actually been in tackling societal issues, rather than perhaps duplicating services that are already in existence.

The Committee recommends that OFMDFM, as the overseeing Department, works closely with the lead Departments in defining measurable outcomes that can be used to determine the success of interventions, which can then be mainstreamed into Executive policy in the future.

On best practice and information-sharing, the Committee recommended in its report that lead Departments work with stakeholders to gather information on best practice and innovation in the domains of the programmes in order to develop an effective legacy for the sharing of information.  The Committee believes that the capture of such information will be vital in the enhancement of current services and the development of future services.  We heard clearly from stakeholders that it was not necessary to "reinvent the wheel" where there were existing examples of best practice.

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Another important issue raised during discussions was the need for clarity of message and awareness-raising.  Stakeholders told us that there was often a lack of understanding of what each programme was offering and that those providing and those using the services often had very different interpretations of the programmes and their intent.  For that reason, the Committee recommended that lead Departments consider how to raise awareness of their programmes.  Consistent and clear communication of the programme aims would contribute to greater clarity on the programmes and support greater take-up of the services offered.  Branding of the programmes with a clear identity would support delivery partners in highlighting the services offered and facilitate a greater level of signposting.  That branding was particularly important to programmes such as the family support hubs, which do not have a physical presence.

The Committee’s report highlights that a communications plan should have been an integral part of the implementation plan for the signature programmes and recommends that that element be included in any future plans for further programmes.

A strong theme emerging from the discussions with stakeholders was the need for long-term measures to tackle poverty and social exclusion rather than quick fixes and short-term projects.  The issues are complex, deep-rooted and often intergenerational in nature, and the Committee acknowledges that the outcomes from the programmes will be longitudinal and therefore may not be realised over a number of government terms.  The Committee recommended in its report that the Executive seek a cross-party commitment to the continuation of the Delivering Social Change framework for the next mandate in order to secure the longer-term focus on these complex issues.

The last common theme that I want to discuss is an issue about which stakeholders were most concerned and that was identified at all tables as a key issue:  consultation, or, perhaps better put, a lack of consultation.  That is the issue at the heart of the Committee motion.  At the event, stakeholders highlighted the importance of consultation with existing providers, experts and service users to ensure that resources are sufficiently targeted at those most in need.

In its report, the Committee recommended that OFMDFM seek to ensure that effective and timely consultation is undertaken.  That would include engagement with organisations, groups and individuals who are experienced in the respective fields of future programmes.  In chairing one of the discussions on the initiative on education, it was put to me by all stakeholders that, although the initiative would yield positive results, it would have been possible to yield even better and more lasting positive results had there been a different and more engaged form of pre-consultation on behalf of the devolved Government.

As the overseeing Department, OFMDFM should also seek to ensure that all lead Departments for delivery of the programmes can evidence a sufficient level of consultation.  The Committee believes that a greater degree of sustained engagement and joined-up working between Departments and stakeholders can potentially address some issues for the current programmes as they go forward.  The Committee also recommended that, in advance of any announcement of a future tranche of signature programmes, should that happen, comprehensive consultation be undertaken with practitioners in all the relevant fields.

I thank Members for their contribution at the event and in anticipation of their contributions to the debate today.  I am particularly pleased to see junior Minister Bell here to respond to the motion.  I thank stakeholders and departmental officials for their input at the event and hope that the issues raised will be addressed by Ministers and the Department so that the programmes and future programmes have every opportunity to succeed and meet the needs of those people and families facing poverty and social exclusion. 

As I await the response from the junior Minister, I am minded of the liaison between the Committee and the Department on the historical institutional abuse inquiry and the legislation, where there was exemplary cooperation between Department and Committee.  I hope that we can replicate that here.

Finally, the Committee undertook the event with a view to identifying how any future programmes could be as effective as possible.  The Committee has been very pleased with the positive and receptive responses to date from the relevant Departments on the issues that are specific to their programmes and, indeed, those from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  The Committee is heartened to note that its recommendations have all been welcomed, and, indeed, it is pleased to see that, in line with our recommendation, the Executive ministerial subcommittee recently agreed a communications strategy for Delivering Social Change.

Mr Speaker, I thank you for your time, and I look forward to Members' contributions today.  I will finish by commending the motion to the House.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

At the outset, I welcome the opportunity to take part in today's debate.  Poverty and social exclusion are words that we hear so often within these four walls.  I, for one, am very glad that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has, in the form of the Delivering Social Change programme, not just spoken about these issues but put in place initiatives and measures to help to tackle the problem.

Obviously, the six signature project programme that was launched in October 2012 is aimed at delivering improved numeracy and literacy throughout Northern Ireland through the provision of nurture units; development of social enterprise incubation hubs; positive parenting initiatives; the creation of family support hubs; and the community family support programme, all of which are delivered from Departments across the Executive.  The Committee's role is to scrutinise and ensure that progress has been made.  I feel that this report raises some valid points, but, at the same time, we must bear in mind that with such a wide portfolio, which stretches across the entire Executive cohort, there will always be hitches, issues that need to be addressed and lessons that can be learned.

The Committee was keen to engage public and stakeholders' opinions on the programmes so far.  Therefore, as the Committee Chairman outlined, on 13 November 2013, it hosted a feedback event for stakeholders.  I thank those who took the time to attend.  However, I believe that, in these consultation events, it is incumbent on us to drill further down and to go right to the very heart of those who have been helped by such initiatives.  That includes those who are obtaining one-to-one tuition and those who have obtained some experience, through the initiative in teaching, that has led to employment.  I think that, all too often, we focus on the statutory groups, and although I appreciate greatly and commend them for their input, such a consultation must go further.

During the event, stakeholders raised the issue of silo mentality and said that they felt that it was a problem.  I am not convinced of that argument on this particular occasion.  Given that these projects do, in fact, take a holistic view of making changes in people's lives, I believe that this is a true joined-up government approach to tackling issues that go right to the core of our society.  Unfortunately, we are not just there yet in having every Department buy in to joined-up government.  However, I believe that, through time and work such as this, it can become much easier and more achievable.

Further consultation with stakeholders is an important element in the report, and we cannot underestimate the power and value that stakeholders bring to the table.  I again go back to the fact that, in the past, there have been many conferences, seminars, pilot programmes and discussions but a lack of action.  Delivering Social Change is about tangible initiatives, such as the employment of 230 young teachers to help with one-to-one tuition and to improve numeracy and literacy and the creation of 20 new nurture units in school settings to help to address barriers to learning among children that arise from social, emotional or behavioural difficulties.  Through positive parenting programmes that provide guidance, training and information to up to 1,200 families, the parenting programme takes forward additional support to new and existing parents living in areas of deprivation.  These types of programmes and initiatives cannot be underestimated.  They are vital, and I believe that they can really change a society and address the trap that some find themselves in today. 

Measurement was also raised.  I believe that that is important, and I welcome the stakeholders' desire to see long-term measurement of the initiatives, bearing in mind that many children will not reap the benefits of the improved numeracy and literacy and nurture units until some years down the line.  I believe that the comments from some stakeholders who attended were unfairly negative, with a lack of viable solutions put forward.  One line that I am really surprised at is that children are fed up with numeracy and literacy.  If that is the thought of professional stakeholders, we have a long way to go in educating them.

In conclusion, I ask everyone around the House to focus on what is being delivered through the Delivering Social Change six signature projects and the £26 million that has been invested to deliver them.  The social change framework is how we, as an Executive, will help to tackle poverty and deprivation, and I support the call to note the comments of the report.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I thank the Chairperson of the Committee for tabling the motion and speaking to it this morning on behalf of the Committee, and I endorse, more or less, all his commentary.  I also thank Committee officials for putting a lot of work into making sure that the event was well attended and representative in its attendance.  It was a very successful example of how the Assembly, through the Committees, needs to engage with a wide range of stakeholders to make sure that we can follow through, in some substantive depth, the types of policies that we are referring to in the debate.

Delivering Social Change has been described by Mr Moutray and the Chair, and, for me, it is a flagship policy of the Executive, and, although it is relatively early days, it is about changing the way in which many of us work.  We all have long experience of talking about a silo mentality in how Departments and other agencies work, and that is true to a large extent.  We are talking about a real cultural shift in the way in which Departments will work together, and it is worth reminding ourselves that OFMDFM's role in Delivering Social Change is to drive forward the policy and make sure that it is doing so in conjunction and cooperation with all the relevant Departments.  There are six signature projects in the policy and, hopefully, as time goes on, we will add to that and learn from the experience of the early days.

It is important to say that this cultural change has to impact on the stakeholders.  I do not necessarily agree with Stephen Moutray that a lot of comments during the evening were negative.  There was some negativity, and that is fair enough.  Some members of stakeholder organisations were really concerned about duplication.  When we refer to the need for clarity of message and so on, that is important.  A number of organisations were one step behind the Department, because the Department is basically saying, "We will all have to muck in here and work together."  We may not always necessarily pool resources but we must make sure we are going in the same direction, pooling energies and putting whatever resources we have into this collectively.  However, that will also have to apply, in the longer term, to stakeholders themselves.  A justifiable criticism was raised on the day when people said that the project was opening up in premises very close to their current premises as a stakeholder organisation.  We need to be careful that, in joining up the Department's work with key stakeholders, we do not displace others.  At the end of the day, if we are just displacing people, that will not give us any added value.

The stakeholder event was very important.  It gave us some very important lessons from the ground even though some of them were negative.  Generally, most people who attended the event and the people who Members and the Committee engage with on ongoing basis would acknowledge the need for joined-up working, and that has to translate to the stakeholders themselves.  Many of them have been working for many years and sometimes in adverse conditions, and we have to recognise that they have been at the coalface for a long time.  We should not come in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to some projects when people are already working on them.  This is about OFMDFM working with Departments and stakeholders in a cooperative way and making sure we get the best of everybody's efforts.

One of the lessons from all this has to be about sharing best practice.  This means that we do not duplicate and that we work with one another.  Duplication was one of the key concerns raised with me at the event.  The issue of consultation has been addressed.  It is important that we get consultation exercises right, and while I do not think that we should have never-ending consultation, this process is relatively new and challenging, and it provides us with very good opportunities.  Consultation on this kind of work should be ongoing to ensure that we learn and tweak our processes as necessary.  The event was successful and important.  When Committees engage with stakeholders, just as the Social Development Committee engaged with fuel poverty organisations, we can learn an awful lot and then input to the Department.

I support the motion.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:30 pm, 17th February 2014

I apologise that, after I speak, I have to leave for a short while but I intend to return.  I welcome the debate and the report, but, most of all, I welcome the contribution of stakeholders.  As Mr Moutray said, the event demonstrated the "power and value" of the input of stakeholders into government practice and policy.  That is evidenced by the content of the report.

We also need to recognise that the report touches on the lives of six Departments.  Given the scale and range of stakeholders' views, we need to take what stakeholders said fully on board.  As Mr Maskey said, the people who were present at the event, which touched on the lives of six Departments, are at the coalface when it comes to deprivation, exclusion and disadvantage.  Contrary to what Mr Moutray said, the conclusion that we have to draw is that we should take those views fully and absolutely on board.

Let us be very clear.  The SDLP perspective is that, if there are good projects that require funding, through this scheme, which is in operation, or through the social investment fund, now that it appears to be in operation, they should get funding.  Bad projects should not get funding.  When projects are funded, that should be done on the basis of very best practice and process.  That is the standard against which we should judge.  If there are good projects in the six areas of the Delivering Social Change signature programmes, they should get funding.

We should not dilute or diminish anything that was said by the stakeholders.  Measured against any standard, what the stakeholders said was an indictment of the design and processes around Delivering Social Change.  They recognised, as we all do, that there are projects that require funding and should get it, but they were withering in their criticism of the design and processes of Delivering Social Change.  Evidence of that can be seen in the report's conclusions, which are informed by people's contributions at the event.  A common issue, although not particular to any one Department, is the perception of a silo mentality.  The report states:

"A widely held view among stakeholders was that there had been insufficient consultation with stakeholders and experienced practitioners".

That is not a partial or selected view but a widely held one.  The report also states:

"There were concerns from stakeholders that any future mainstreaming of specific interventions could be at risk as the evidence base to support this mainstreaming would be absent ... There was also frustration that evaluation of outcomes and measurement of success of the Signature Programmes ... may not present a true picture of how effective these Programmes have been".

In my view, the history of this part of the world, the politics of exclusion and the lack of participation by citizens in the life of the state were all meant to have been changed by the watershed moment of 1998 that introduced new standards of inclusion, democratic participation and consultation, as laid down in law under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  How is it that, 12 or 14 years later, when it comes to the design of this process, despite those standards of democratic participation, consultation and inclusion and after a very successful stakeholders' event, the scale and ambition of which was recognised by everybody, they drew that conclusion?  The reason is that there are Departments better placed than OFMDFM to do the work — that is the conclusion to draw.  Politically, that conclusion should be recognised by all those in government.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

For the best chance of introducing effective, enforceable and workable programmes, they must be based on evidence.  That especially includes front line experience via consultation with those who know best practice.  As the motion states, that is best done by:

"comprehensive engagement with practitioners and stakeholders".

If the correct people are consulted, we can be assured of the highest possibility of workable signature programmes.  I commend all those who attended our stakeholder event in Parliament Buildings recently.

With areas of high deprivation in my constituency, I would like specific concentration on projects that ensure educational attainment for children, with the literacy and numeracy of children being of special interest.  Good education gives individuals the best opportunity to attain employment and improve their quality of life.  The current scheme benefits 230 teachers on a fixed two-year contract and is improving the literacy and numeracy skills of primary and post-primary children.  It is good to hear that the programme is moving ahead, and we look forward to seeing the benefits in years to come.  I also welcome the nurture units in schools, which help to break down numerous barriers and aid the greatest achievement of each individual pupil.  This means that approximately 480 children will benefit, and 20 teachers and 20 classroom assistants will be employed.  I welcome the progress already made, not only in areas that I mentioned but across the board.  I look forward to further positive reports in the future.

In conclusion, we should make sure that consultation is very prominent.  I commend OFMDFM officials for all the work that they put in to make sure that the recent stakeholder event here in Parliament Buildings was so successful.

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I declare an interest as a member of the OFMDFM Committee.  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion today.  I stress the importance of continuing to pursue the delivery of positive social change.  The report supports the work carried out by OFMDFM, and it is enlightening on where some key policy and procedural changes may need to be made when planning future signature programmes.  The First Minister and deputy First Minister should be congratulated on paving the way for the signature projects.  Ministers with a remit in that area should also be praised for their work to date.  After years of conversations, talks and discussions, it was time for some positive action on many of the social problems facing local people.  The signature projects have begun to make a positive contribution to the multitude of social issues.

It is clear from the report that the DUP is at the forefront of delivering positive social change for many in Northern Ireland who need help and support.  Four of the current six DSC signature programmes are being led by DUP Ministers.  Many will have felt the huge benefits of the family support hubs, parenting support and the social enterprise incubation hubs.

I acknowledge that some say that consultation was patchy, but the signature projects did not come through a traditional form of consultation; they were based on hard evidence and engagement with professionals who understand the complex issues.  We heard about the OFMDFM Committee consultation event on 13 November that gathered evidence from stakeholders on the signature projects.  That gave recognition to a wide range of stakeholders involved and provided an opportunity to gather evidence on the views of stakeholders and a platform for discussion on the potential enhancement of signature programmes in the future.  The clear message from many stakeholders was that we should continue to drive from the centre an agenda of cross-effective departmental working that seeks to enhance a multiple objective approach.  For example, as we heard, the teacher scheme targets educational underachievement in maths and English, but it also addresses another problem of low employment among our newly qualified teachers.  The report is clear in stating that the signature programmes may not be an answer to all the problems but are a collection of cross-departmental actions that are indicative of the new approach of trying to source cross-departmental solutions to complex societal problems.

I think that we should be positive about the developments to date and continue to remember that, although consultation is an important element of future development, we must ensure that action and, indeed, positive development are our primary aims when it comes to tackling things.  We can consult, engage, talk and discuss, but, ultimately, it will be our actions in dealing with our socio-economic complexities that the people of Northern Ireland will be most concerned with and will judge us on.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister agreed that the scrutiny of the Delivering Social Change signature projects would be a strategic priority during 2013-14.  The six signature programmes were announced by the Ministers in October 2012.  They are the responsibility of several Departments but will be carried out under the management and governance of OFMDFM.  As part of the Committee's scrutiny, it arranged a stakeholder event on 13 November 2013 in Parliament Buildings.  As other Members said, the event was very successful and a number of recommendations were developed from it.  A seventh signature project was added recently, but, as the Committee had not been briefed on that programme, it was not included in the discussions.  The additional project seeks to address play and leisure opportunities for children and young people, and some £1·6 million has been allocated to it. 

At the stakeholder event, the Committee decided to focus on four key themes to do a stocktake of current delivery, to discover stakeholders' views on how delivery could be enhanced and to identify suggestions for the development of future signature projects.  Many common issues were identified, and the Committee forwarded a list of recommendations to OFMDFM to support it in enhancing the delivery of the programmes and their outcomes.  The problem areas have been referred to by other Members, which included joined-up working; consultation, which was a major concern; the measurement of outcomes; long-term plans; best practice and information sharing; clarity of message; and awareness raising.

It is no credit to OFMDFM that it has taken years to develop the projects and to see money being spent where it was intended.  Unfortunately, that is typical of how the office literally takes years to develop most projects and strategies, and there is a list of strategies that have not been finalised since the Programme for Government was introduced seven years ago.  That really is not good enough, and more effort is required to tackle and achieve the targets that have been set.  The £80 million in the social investment fund is probably a good example of a failure to deliver.  How many mandates will it take to complete the Programme for Government that was agreed as far back as 2007?

Finally, the recommendations show common sense, and the support and advice from stakeholders was much valued and appreciated.  Those people are involved in the various areas and at the point of delivery.  I trust that the several Departments involved will take the recommendations on board, which are intended to improve design and delivery.

Photo of Jimmy Spratt Jimmy Spratt DUP

At the outset, I thank the Chair of the Committee for presenting the report to the House, and the Committee staff, who put a lot of hard work into it.  I welcome the debate and the report that resulted from stakeholder engagement.  I think that we have to very much take into account what they had to say.  They raised some very valid points.  One of the issues raised by the stakeholders was that of duplication, which could probably be raised about most programmes.  They were worried about the duplication of the various schemes by work that was already being done, and it is important that we look at that.

It is obvious that Departments must work together to ensure the effective delivery of projects across the Province through the Delivering Social Change programme.  For example, the social enterprise incubation hubs are led by DETI and DSD, so it is absolutely essential that those Departments work together.  I was pleased to hear that Sandy Row in my constituency was selected as one of those hubs.  The programme is designed to regenerate buildings that have become derelict while encouraging social enterprise, which will have the knock-on effect of creating much-needed jobs for local people.  It will have a real and visible impact on that area, and it is a positive development that is much welcomed by the local community.

Similarly, the nurture units are led by DSD and the Department of Education.  It is great that, also in my constituency, Taughmonagh was chosen to have one of the units.  It is very positive that a number of teachers and classroom assistants have been recruited.  The nurture units have been operational since the start of the current school year.  In many primary schools in deprived areas, up to 50% of children have special educational needs.  The nurture units will benefit children who find learning difficult because of social, behavioural or emotional difficulties through the provision of individual learning plans agreed by parents and teachers.  It stands to reason that DSD and the Department of Education should work together to deliver these valuable projects.

As of 13 November last year, five of the six projects had been implemented.  I understand that much work has been completed since then on the incubation hubs, which is very much to be welcomed.  The programmes are time-limited, with an end date in 2016 to coincide with the end of the current Assembly mandate.  Many people have expressed concern that the projects will simply end at that point and possible future outcomes will be lost.  However, the Committee recommends in the report that the Executive seek cross-party support to continue the Delivering Social Change framework into the next mandate.  That would allow communities to build on what they have already achieved.

Many times in the past, short-term projects were delivered that, unfortunately, had only minimal impact.  However, the Department has clearly taken that on board and is seeking to make these projects sustainable in the long term.  For example, the social incubation hubs should be self-sustaining if local enterprises are established within them.  For other projects, there is the possibility of mainstream funding if they have tangible outcomes.

All the projects will have a positive impact on families and young people in deprived areas.  I commend colleagues in OFMDFM and, indeed, other Departments for the work that they have done, because these efforts will address many issues that lead to poverty and isolation.  I thank my colleague the junior Minister for being in the Chamber to respond to this important report.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 12:45 pm, 17th February 2014

The Committee for Education welcomed the announcement of the signature projects when they were launched in October 2012.  Of particular interest to members of the Committee were the literacy and numeracy and nurture unit projects.  The Committee strongly felt that literacy and numeracy were the foundations for learning and progression at school and that additional support for pupils was therefore timely.  Members also welcomed the Department of Education's subsequent decision to expand the number of graduate teacher places on that scheme.  The Committee also noted the growing body of research that emphasises the value of the intensive work undertaken in nurture units.  As with the other signature projects, the Committee felt that more support for that could really only be something to be valued and welcomed.

Although the Committee welcomed those interventions, members had some concerns about the continuity between those and other similar programmes.  Members also expressed concern on the eligibility criteria for participating schools and around the restrictions applied to unemployed graduate teachers.  As timescales and funds were limited, it was perhaps unsurprising that the design of the signature projects was somewhat less than perfect.  The Committee noted, for example, feedback from the Northern Ireland Nurture Group Network in which stakeholders complained about the absence of continuing funding for some existing nurture units and the lack of a buddying scheme for new nurture units established under the signature project.

Stakeholders also called for, in the longer term, central advice, support and guidance for all nurture units in Northern Ireland.  The Committee also noted suggestions from the Nurture Group Network for eligibility criteria that would be based on multiple deprivation measures rather than simply free school meal entitlement, which is something that I will return to in a moment or two.

Additionally, in terms of the literacy and numeracy project, some members commented that the academic criteria served to exclude some struggling children who had made recent improvements, particularly in attainment.  Those schools needed the support and had demonstrated the capacity to make good use of the project in that regard, yet they found themselves outside the programme, which was regrettable.  There were also issues associated with the literacy and numeracy programme for recently unemployed teaching graduates.

In my comments as a Member in the moments that are left to me, I turn, in particular, to the point that was raised by the Northern Ireland Nurture Group Network, which does commendable work in Londonderry, Coleraine and many other parts of Northern Ireland.  However, a concern has been raised, and it was included in the report:

"Area-based approach does not allow for inclusivity of all pupils in need, e.g. not only children entitled to free-school meals, not all children in need of a nurture unit have access to school with one."

That goes to the heart of what is being deliberated on and of what I referred to in the House today in regard to possible changes to the common funding formula.  We need to ensure that in any project, whether it is a signature project or any departmental approach to addressing a need, we have not created another element of children who are excluded and cannot access a particular project.

I welcome the fact that, albeit belatedly, the Department of Education came to embrace the issue of nurture.  I welcome that and congratulate my colleague in DSD, Nelson McCausland, on the work that he and his Department have done.  OFMDFM has subsequently picked up that need and, through the nurture provision in the signature project, is recognising that there is an intervention that can be made through the use of nurture that can be advantageous and beneficial to children in our communities.

I generally welcome the tenor of the comments in the report, and I look forward to the Department's response.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I welcome this opportunity to respond to today's motion and acknowledge the OFMDFM Committee's report on the implementation of the Delivering Social Change signature programmes.  We welcome the Committee's engagement with the key stakeholders, and we have read with interest the report and the recommendations from the event last November.  The Executive are fully committed to the Delivering Social Change framework, which represents a new level of joined-up working across government to achieve real and long-lasting social benefits for those in our society who need them most.

Delivering Social Change is a new way of doing business.  We are moving away from the lengthy action plans that list existing activities and focusing instead on a small number of projects that can really make a difference.  We know that Delivering Social Change is not something that the Executive can deliver on their own.  We appreciate that it will require partnership working with the wider public sector, with our community and with the voluntary and community sector.  In recognition of that, we have been committed to engaging with stakeholders from the outset to seek their views on how best to tackle the complex social issues that face all of us in our society.

Indeed, it was following consultation with stakeholders in 2012 that the 'Delivering Social Change Children and Young Persons Early Action' document was developed.  It outlined five key priority areas that Delivering Social Change should focus on in the coming years, including early years and early interventions; literacy and numeracy; transitions; integrated delivery; and joined-up planning and commissioning.  Very much in line with the identified key priorities, the initial six signature programmes, announced in October 2012, focus on early interventions to tackle issues before they develop into problems and to give children a good start in life.  Let me be clear that our engagement with stakeholders has not stopped following those initial events.  We have continued to engage with stakeholders on an ongoing and regular basis.

In June last year, junior Minister McCann and I hosted a two-day conference that was attended by over 200 delegates from the third sector, the public sector and the wider community.  Since then, Jennifer and I, as well as senior officials, have attended a wide range of events organised by stakeholders to further raise the awareness of Delivering Social Change and the difference that it is making.  They included events organised by Belfast City Council, Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI), the Centre for Effective Services (CES), the Department for Employment and Learning, the National Children's Bureau (NCB) and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), to name but a few.  Nearly 900 stakeholders attended the events, and that demonstrates our commitment to engaging with stakeholders and our determination to further raise awareness of the difference that Delivering Social Change is making.

As well as continuing to participate in events organised by our stakeholders, we are actively arranging engagement events with interested parties for specific elements of Delivering Social Change.  For example, we are seeking the views of stakeholders — including the vital views of children and young people themselves — on our Delivering Social Change children and young people's strategy.  We are working with the Departments on the best way in which to assess the effectiveness of Delivering Social Change programmes and have already provided guidance to them for the six initial signature programmes.  We are investigating the establishment of oversight groups to include representatives of the third sector and end users. That will be an invaluable mechanism for evaluating the programmes and informing future policy in those areas.

I am pleased to report that the signature programmes are progressing well.  Twenty new nurture units have been rolled out across Northern Ireland to help address the barriers to learning among children arising from social, emotional or behavioural difficulties.  The units play a key role in improving the lives and educational attainment of our most vulnerable children by targeting the support where it is most needed.  Over 200 teachers are now in post in primary and post-primary schools providing additional teaching support to the children and young people who are most at risk of underachieving in English and maths at the critical stages of their education.

The early support is critical when families need it most and when it can have the greatest impact.  In recognition of that, a suite of parenting support programmes have been developed.  They provide the additional, high-quality intervention support to new and existing parents.  In addition, 16 existing family support hubs now benefit from continued support.  Work is ongoing to establish the 10 new hubs.  The hubs will provide assistance in a friendly, local environment and will help families to overcome the challenges that could otherwise be overwhelming and unmanageable.

From January to June last year, an intervention supporting parents and helping young people who are not in education, employment or training was successfully piloted with 44 families in east and west Belfast, Cookstown, Strabane and Newtownabbey.  Positive outcomes from the pilot included family members moving into employment; young people returning to school to complete their GCSEs; family members participating in structured training programmes; and improved school attendance.  An upscaled version of the pilot was launched in November last year targeting 720 families in disadvantaged areas.

Before I move on, I will turn to some of the comments that were made.  I welcome much of the Chair's positive comment.  I noticed that some claims were made about the gender equality strategy.  Of course, the strategy runs from 2006 to 2016.  We either attempt to implement the changes now for the remaining 18 months or we refocus now to effect the change that is required.  I do not think that it is helpful for the Chair, in noting issues that are to be addressed, to slip in a criticism while ignoring the work that is already under way to resolve the most critical issues.  I will also correct for the record the Chair's comments and say that the family support hubs have a physical presence and all 10 will be in place by summer 2014.

Members raised the issue of consultation, and it is important that consultation is meaningful.  We have extended the children's consultation.  We are already under way, and we are assured that the sector's passion, dedication and commitment will come through strongly.

The Chair raised the need to link funding and delivery.  Delivering Social Change has sought to link Departments to ensure that the signature programmes integrate with their existing mainstream programmes.  Next week, officials will bring together a range of other matters with a view to progress in their own Departments.

Mr Attwood discussed OFMDFM being the lead and a silo.  Of course, it is always important to look at the facts that lie behind statements.  All six signature programmes are led by a Department with a policy and operation locus in the field and not, Mr Attwood, by OFMDFM.  In delivering, Departments work together with us in OFMDFM.  However, they also work out with other Departments, agencies and third sector bodies to start breaking down what have been historical silos. 

Mr Cree mentioned delay.  The additional teachers were announced in October 2012 and were mostly in place by September 2013.

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I want to address a number of contributions made by Members when you were out of the Chamber.  It is only fair that I respond to them.

Looking forward, we recognise that Delivering Social Change is not only about delivery and immediate actions; there is also a need for longer-term planning.  Many of the issues and problems that societies face are multifaceted and require a genuinely joined-up approach in and outside government.  As we are aware, signature programmes alone will not eradicate issues such as poor health, low educational attainment or chronic unemployment.  We need to look, in the longer term, at how services can be mainstreamed.

The signature programmes were intended to have an impact in their own right and act as a catalyst for change and for encouraging and driving change in mainstream services.  We do not have unlimited money, so it is crucial that we get the evaluation of the Delivering Social Change programme right.  We must identify what works and what measures have greatest impact and focus our efforts there.

An important aspect of the evaluation process will be the dissemination of the learning from the Delivering Social Change programmes.  We wholly agree with the Committee's recommendation that the Executive should seek a cross-party commitment to the continuation of the Delivering Social Change framework for the next mandate.  In fact, a Delivering Social Change policy project board was established in recognition of the fact that reducing intergenerational poverty can be achieved only by all Ministers working together with a longer-term view to the next Programme for Government period and beyond.

It is intended that the ongoing work to create a collaborative and longer-term social policy framework, aligned with our economic strategy, will be a major contributor to tackling poverty and social exclusion effectively.  We believe that, through the Delivering Social Change framework, we can and will make a difference, but we accept that we cannot do it alone.  It is only by working together, breaking down the old silos and creating the new partnerships that we can hope to effectively support the most vulnerable members of our society.

I hope that the House will be reassured that many of the recommendations contained in the OFMDFM Committee's report are consistent with the approach that we are taking already.  We will continue to develop further in order to achieve the aims and objectives of  Delivering Social Change.

I am sure that the House will agree that the work related to the Delivering Social Change framework illustrates a level of commitment by Ministers and Departments to work together in partnership with our key statutory, community and voluntary sector partners.  That is what we are about.  If this House is to be real and meaningful, we have to ensure that outcomes are maximised and there are improvements in the lives of everyone and, most particularly, our children and young people.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I, too, welcome the debate and the publication of the Committee's report.  It is a good example of how Committees have a significant role to play in the Assembly.  We have had a positive engagement with stakeholders and have had a positive debate today.  It has uncovered the complexities of dealing with poverty and social exclusion.  As junior Minister Bell has said, it is important that Departments work together but also that the Assembly and its Committees work together.  The number of contributions shows how many MLAs are interested in working together to tackle the issue, so it is important that the policy and framework are put in place to allow that to be achieved as effectively as possible.

We must not underestimate the scale of the problem that we face.  According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, relative child poverty is forecast to increase by 8·3% to 29·7%, and absolute child poverty is predicted to increase to 32·9% in Northern Ireland by 2020.  This means that official targets are unlikely to be met.  Under the Child Poverty Act 2010, the targets for relative and absolute child poverty were 10% and 5% respectively by 2020.  The challenge is huge.  We have to be serious about this, and we have to work together.

I will set out, as the Chair did in his opening remarks, what Delivering Social Change is.  It is the Executive's delivery framework to coordinate efforts across Departments to take forward work on priority social policy areas.  The framework seeks to coordinate actions between Departments to deliver a sustained reduction in poverty and associated issues across all ages; to improve the health, well-being and life opportunities of children and young people; and to break long-term cycles of multigenerational problems.  Delivering Social Change is also intended to complement much larger social and economic policy and programmes operating against poverty.

I turn to the structures that are in place.  The framework is being led by OFMDFM junior Ministers through the Executive ministerial subcommittees on children and young people and on poverty and social inclusion.  All Executive Ministers are members of those two subcommittees, and, once a year, the First Minister and deputy First Minister co-chair a joint meeting of the Executive ministerial subcommittees.  The subcommittees are also being supported by Delivering Social Change programme boards, which are also co-chaired by the junior Ministers, with key Departments represented by key officials in our Civil Service.  There is also a Delivering Social Change fund, which is a consolidated and integrated fund that subsumes the childcare fund, the social investment fund and current and future signature projects.  According to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, the fund is:

"to respond quickly, and in a flexible manner, to urgent social needs as they arise and address the specific needs of some of our most in need individuals and families."

We have heard in detail about some of the specific signature projects.  They are focused on improving literacy and numeracy, nurture units, social enterprise hubs, positive parenting, family support hubs, the community family support programme and a play and leisure programme.

I turn to Members' contributions.  All Members recognised that this is an attempt to tackle some of the most serious issues in our community.  Alex Maskey recognised that it needed to represent a cultural shift to change the way in which government responds to these issues.  Alex Attwood was slightly more critical in saying that it was an indictment of policy design and the silo mentality in our government.  He recognised, however, the positive power and value that the input of stakeholders can have into the formulation of government policy.  Brenda Hale said that this was an example of action and positive social change rather than just strategic thought, and Jimmy Spratt went into detail about the extent of the problem with regard to special educational needs.  It is also positive that the Chairperson of the Education Committee, Mervyn Storey, contributed, which demonstrates that it is positive that we debate this issue on the Floor.  I regret that this type of report is not, at times, as forthcoming from the Department.  As Members, we have shown that we can deal with these issues in a responsible and joined-up manner, and I would welcome further opportunities to get into more detail on the issues.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way — unlike the Minister.  The point that I was going to make to the Minister is that, although Departments have responsibility, does the governance and management responsibility not fall to OFMDFM?

If there are failures in joined-up government, consultation or the measurement of outcomes, is that not a commentary on issues of governance and management?  Is that not a comment on OFMDFM?

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 1:15 pm, 17th February 2014

I take the Member's point.  I cannot speak on behalf of the junior Minister about why he failed to give way, but I am sure that he will do that himself.  I was about to turn to the junior Minister's contribution, in which he cited a number of examples of delivery, such as the 20 new nurture units that deal with the social, emotional and behavioural needs of children and young people.  That is a positive policy introduction.  He mentioned the 200 teachers who are working on literacy and numeracy, parenting support, family hubs and the community family programme.  I take on board that he said that evaluation will occur, but, a year later, we are entitled to expect responsibility to be taken, and we need to see the outcomes. 

The junior Minister was complimentary of the community family programme, which is a Department for Employment and Learning programme that the Minister for Employment and Learning is taking the lead on.  He said that there are positive outcomes, with family members moving into employment, returning to education or taking up training opportunities.  Those are the types of outcomes and examples that we want to hear about.  Hopefully, the junior Minister will also take responsibility for governance in securing outcomes in other departmental areas. 

The junior Minister also commented on the new level of joined-up working that the signature projects were to represent.  He said that it would bring real benefits and move away from lengthy action plans.  From my point of view, there is still some concern about whether moving away from lengthy action plans is wholly positive and well intentioned in respect of securing outcomes, or just about making life a bit more difficult for those of us on the Committee or Members of the Assembly to be able to see in detail where the actions are and follow them to assess the outcomes that they do or do not achieve.  We can give people the benefit of the doubt and see what other details come forward.

The junior Minister also mentioned the importance of consultation and the extension of the consultation on the Delivering Social Change for Children and Young People strategy.  What he said was slightly lacking in detail, because there was an outcry from the Committee and the sector about the wholly inadequate time that was to be available for the consultation on this hugely significant strategy.  It was to run from 20 January to approximately 21 February, but, thankfully, it has been extended to 31 March. 

As chair of the all-party group on children and young people, I am sponsoring an event on Wednesday for children in Northern Ireland and will have a round-table discussion on the issue.  All Members are more than welcome to attend the event, which was organised at very short notice because of the short notice of the consultation.  I think that such events are positive.  The report on the event that the OFMDFM Committee hosted shows that there is a wealth of expertise and experience in the children and young people's sector and the community and voluntary sector.  As the junior Minister said, the Department must work in partnership with them to ensure that we achieve improved outcomes for our children and young people and for everyone in greatest social need. 

The report makes specific recommendations, and the Chair went into those in good detail.  A year after the introduction of the signature projects, the report found that there was still a lack of a joined-up approach in government and that improvements in consultation were needed.  I cited a very recent example that is still there.  A greater focus on outcome measurement is needed.  The Chair rightly referred to the gender equality strategy and the shortcomings that we have seen in the lack of outcome measurement on that strategy.  The Committee was encouraged by officials' recent work on the gender equality strategy, and I think that there are officials in the Department who are genuinely committed to improving an area in which there has been a lack of delivery in recent years.  However, there is a need for long-term planning to identify best practice, and for clear messages and awareness raising. 

I had the privilege of chairing a round-table discussion about the positive parenting programme.  Some of the feedback that I gathered was that there is a lot going on to tackle poverty and social exclusion in our community, but there is real need to get clear messages out, to coordinate people and to raise awareness of the projects that are available there.  As Mr Attwood said, there is a responsibility on OFMDFM to show leadership in that type of coordinating effort.

I will make a few short comments as an Alliance Party Member of the House.  In our most recent Assembly manifesto, we stated that there was a need for a statutory duty to cooperate among all Departments.  The debate today has shown that there is a real need to consider that type of statutory duty.  Significant progress has been made in recognising the need for a fundamental shift in how Departments work together, but I think that statutory duty to cooperate would develop that further.

I was interested to read an answer from the Agriculture Minister recently, who also recognised that that could be a positive addition to government here in Northern Ireland.  She said:

"The introduction of a statutory duty on public authorities here will help underpin the existing collaboration that takes place and encourage further joined-up working and where possible, the sharing of resources across government too."

That sharing of resources is another passion of mine as well, from an Alliance Party MLA point of view, as is the need for children's budgeting.  I noted with encouragement that OFMDFM is undertaking a children's budgeting pilot.  That type of children's budgeting across all Departments would help us as MLAs and would help the public identify how much money is being spent on our children and young people on those types of issues, how well it is being spent and what outcomes we are achieving.  I think it is possible to deliver that, and I look forward to hearing more detail about the children's budgeting pilot that OFMDFM is taking forward.

In conclusion, this is no doubt a complex area of policy that we are striving to improve in the Assembly and Executive.  It is vital to achieving equality and tackling need across our community here in Northern Ireland.  I hope that the Department takes its responsibility seriously in that regard and that, as a result of today, it sees the positive role that the Committee can play in engaging in the areas of policy that it is working on.  I look forward to developing that relationship further with it to achieve better outcomes for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly notes the report of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on its event on the Delivering Social Change signature programmes (NIA 150/11-15); and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that meaningful and comprehensive engagement with practitioners and stakeholders is central to the development of any future signature programmes.