Austerity: Interdepartmental Working

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 2nd March 2015

T4. Mr Brady asked the Minister of Education whether he agrees that there is a need for his Department to work with the other Departments to fight austerity. (AQT 2194/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

There is a need. Like many around the Executive table who have approached the recent Stormont House Agreement and the Budget, I think that we are doing our best to mitigate the worst aspects of austerity. We are doing it, however, in the context of a much-reduced resource and capital budget, but decisions that were made at the Executive are ensuring that the quality of life of many of our people and, indeed, young people in our schools is greatly improved rather than those decisions being made by someone else.

Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. What are his views on the current strike action in the teachers' unions?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Teachers' unions and other public-sector workers have decided to move forward towards ballots for strike action, which they are perfectly entitled to do. I do not think that any of the teachers' unions have announced the outworkings of those ballots yet. We will wait to see the decision of their membership. I assure the unions, their membership and the general public that I am doing everything within my power to obtain as much investment for education as possible. The Member will note that, as part of the final Budget settlement, the Executive agreed to an additional £64 million for education.

It is worth noting — I made the point recently at a teachers' trade union conference — that, between the draft Budget and the final Budget, the Executive increased investment in public services. If, as some wish, the Tories take over here directly and we have direct rule, any change between the draft Budget and the final Budget, and any funds that became available, would not be invested in public services. They would be sent directly back to the Treasury. As a result of my interventions and those of the Executive and others, we ensured that there is an additional £64 million in education. If others had their way, that £64 million would have gone straight back to the Treasury.