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Budget 2016-17

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:30 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin 4:30 pm, 19th January 2016

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome this opportunity to speak. I know that my colleague Alex Maskey was hoping that the Minister's former role as Minister for Social Development would mean that he would look favourably on those requests. Given that he is a former Chair of the Education Committee, I hope that he will look favourably on Education requests.

Mike Nesbitt said that there is a need for greater context. I agree with that point, in that we really cannot ignore the devastating impact that Westminster-driven austerity continues to have on our local budgets. It would be remiss of us not to mention that here today. The relentless attack on the block grant has ensured that we, collectively, as an Executive and as an Assembly, are unable to deliver the level of public services that we would ideally like to.

There can be no doubt that Westminster promises nothing but more austerity in the years to come. Nowhere is that sharper than in the big Departments of Health and Education. There are going to be very challenging times ahead for those Departments, which manage such massive budgets and large estates. When we look at the process of area planning and our schools estate, we see massive challenges ahead. That is where innovation, creativity and a desire to lead will have to come to the fore. As has been stressed, it takes political leadership. It takes those on board to be on board, and, if you are opposed, you should stand outside and be opposed. We must not be opposed to ideas simply for political capital, such as we see happening with the investing in the teacher workforce scheme. That scheme is designed to give employment to 500 newly graduated teachers, who are the teachers who find it the hardest to find employment. It has been said that there are 500, 600 or 700 appointments a year for those beyond the three-year period, but teachers, in the first three years after coming out, find it very difficult indeed to get employment.

There are also big decisions to be made around school transport. Here is a budget that has spent millions of pounds. We are going to have to tackle it. I have no doubt that the next Education Minister will address that and it is something that the House —