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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 3:45 pm, 19th January 2016

If the Member had been listening, he would have realised that we said that many challenges have to be faced, but we will face up to those and we will move on. I was glad to hear the Finance Minister in his opening remarks today announce that not only is there the commitment of £5 million in this Budget for the skills agenda but that it is his intention to make available another £20 million at the June monitoring round.

One of the areas of concern has not only been the reskilling of our people but the upskilling of our 18- to 24-year-olds. If we fail to invest in them, we will be in danger of losing them to other parts of the UK or further afield. If we want to see continual growth and stability in our economy, we must continue to invest in our youth, who are tomorrow's workforce.

Investing in our skills is also a key element of the rebuilding and rebalancing of our economy. In order to exert the best value from the devolution of corporation tax, we must ensure that Northern Ireland has within its shores a skilled and talented pool of people who are ready to take advantage of employment opportunities as they arise, whether that is within the local business sector, through indigenous business growth or through foreign direct investment.

While the Department for Employment and Learning has a number of ongoing strategies, I believe that there will be a job of work to do within the new Department for the Economy to ensure that what is funded actually provides for and meets the needs of our employers and foreign direct investors. Far too often, in Committee, we hear from employers who are especially looking for electricians, plumbers and welders, yet the training experience that potential employees have received has failed to meet the criteria that those employers are after. As we move into the future within the constraints that exist, it will be more important than ever that what is funded actually meets the required needs of employers. That is the most important issue for the funding of reskilling and upskilling going forward. What is delivered must need the needs that employers have and require.

Despite all the challenges that we face and the hurdles that are sometimes put in the way, I believe that the extra £20 million that will come to the Department for the Economy in the June monitoring round is a good news story that will be welcomed by the further and higher education sectors. Mind you, I am not so sure that the SDLP will get a clap on the back for refusing to support the Budget and this extra money for the reskilling and upskilling of our people. There will also be road infrastructure programmes, one in my constituency and one in the neighbouring constituency, and, again, the SDLP appear to be denying the money for those programmes. I am not so sure that they will get a clap on the back for doing that either.

It has been clearly started that it is one-year Budget. I believe that it is good Budget and one that is worthy of support by the House.