I beg to move
That this Assembly takes note of the draft Programme for Government framework 2016-2021 as agreed by the Executive on 26 May 2016.
Thank you very much, Mr Principal Deputy — or Mrs Principal Deputy Speaker, I should say. I apologise.
As today is the first full plenary sitting of the new mandate, it is fitting that we should consider the draft Programme for Government framework, which was agreed by the Executive at their very first meeting. Today is a day of firsts, and it is a time of change. There are many new faces around the Chamber, and I take the opportunity to congratulate all the Members on their election. I look forward to working with everyone in a spirit of cooperation as, together, we take on the serious responsibilities, expectations and challenges that go with being a Member of the Assembly.
We now have a more streamlined structure, with nine Departments where there were previously 12, and provision for an official Opposition. It is time to move Northern Ireland forward with a completely new way of doing politics. It is time for a new, better and innovative approach. There will be no more working in silos; instead, our nine new Departments will work together to deliver the best possible outcomes for Northern Ireland.
Over the years we have faced many significant challenges. They have been wide-ranging and have encompassed many areas of life, including keeping pace with a rapidly changing global economy; improving the health of our citizens; giving our children the best possible start in life; and dealing, of course, with the hurt and pain caused by our past. If the solutions were easy, they would have been implemented long ago and we could all sit back and put our feet up, but the simple truth is that there are no easy solutions. That is why, when the parties to the Fresh Start Agreement met in autumn last year, we began to look at how we could do things better in the future, how we could make the breakthrough on the difficult issues, the solutions to which have eluded previous Administrations, and how we could meet the hopes and expectations of our people, who, too often, have felt let down by how our institutions have performed.
We agreed that a new approach should first identify desired societal outcomes and look at what should be done to achieve them. This outcomes-based approach is a widely recognised model that has been used with success in other jurisdictions, including parts of the United States, Finland and, nearer to home, Scotland. At its heart, an outcomes-based Programme for Government is designed, as the name suggests, to be focused on outcomes, not on inputs or processes. "Outcomes-focused" means being citizens-focused and evidence-based. It requires a collective approach, looking to draw in all the contributions in government and, importantly, beyond government to make the biggest and best difference possible. It makes a real statement of shared purpose at political, administrative and societal level.
Previous Programmes for Government tended to focus on the things over which the Executive could exercise control, and, for that reason, commitments were typically expressed in terms of amounts of money to be invested or the number of projects to be run; in other words, they were based on inputs and outputs that could be measured but with only limited scope to assess actual need and impact or, importantly, whether they were making any real difference.
The new Programme for Government (PFG) will be different, and represents a first for Northern Ireland. We have listened to the contributions from the Carnegie UK Trust and its round table on well-being. We have been sensitive to the needs articulated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. We listened to those who represent our younger and older generations when they asked us to address their needs. By choosing to focus on outcomes, we direct attention onto things that define whether we are progressing as a society. It points us towards actions that will reduce poverty, address inequality, boost the economy and enliven our cultural heartbeat.
The new programme has a relevance that stretches far beyond this new Assembly term. In addition to merely fulfilling our statutory obligations, we will in future be able to target those things that make real improvements to our quality of life. A key feature of the new programme is its dependence on collaborative working between organisations and groups across the public, voluntary and private sectors. It is also a programme in which individuals and communities can play an active part. The Executive will, therefore, work collectively to deliver this programme and to drive work across departmental and sectoral boundaries. Individual Ministers will play their part by overseeing their Departments' contribution and ensuring that it is part of a joined-up effort where the focus is on the outcome and not simply on their Department. As I said, no more working in silos.
I will now turn briefly to the draft Programme for Government framework itself. The Executive have identified 14 strategic outcomes which, if achieved, will bring about the societal well-being they want to see. To put it another way, it is what our lives feel like when, for example, good health, good education, good houses, good communities and good jobs are put together. These outcomes touch on every aspect of our government. Just to give some flavour, and quoting from a few of them, they envisage us prospering:
"through a strong, competitive regionally balanced economy", enjoying "long, healthy ... lives", and having:
"a safe community where we respect the law, and each other", where:
"we care for others and we help those in need ... We give our children ... the best start in life", and we create:
"a place where people want to live and work, to visit and invest."
I was elected on the basis of my five-point plan for Northern Ireland. It was about creating more and better jobs, having a better health system and investing £1 billion over the next five years. It was about raising standards in our education system and ensuring that no child is left behind. It was about making sure we have a good infrastructure, both physical and digital, across Northern Ireland, and it was about creating sustainable budgets for families. I believe the outcomes in the Programme for Government framework will deliver on this plan.
The 42 indicators in the Programme for Government framework will support the outcomes and are clear statements for change. Each indicator is accompanied by a measure, mostly derived from existing statistics, which will show how we are performing and where, if required, we need to take corrective action. These include things such as increasing healthy life expectancy, reducing education inequalities, improving the supply of suitable housing, increasing the proportion of people working in good jobs, reducing unemployment, reducing poverty, increasing environmental sustainability and increasing reconciliation. Again, those provide just a flavour.
In the next eight weeks, we will provide opportunities for people to have their say on the Programme for Government framework. A public consultation process has already started, and I encourage everyone to respond and make their voice heard. Work has already commenced in Departments to identify key stakeholders and partners and to put together the plans that will detail the specific programmes, projects, actions and legislative proposals needed to progress against the outcomes. The results of the initial consultation on the PFG framework will be analysed and reported to the Executive, together with any recommended changes, before the end of the summer. A further public consultation on the detailed actions will then be undertaken alongside the Budget during the autumn. The aim is to achieve Executive approval and Assembly endorsement of the full Programme for Government by the end of 2016.
There will, of course, be challenges along the way, not least in coordinating the Programme for Government with the Budget process, recognising that budgetary constraints will continue to be an issue. The programme will also need to be conjoined with a refreshed economic strategy, a new investment strategy and a social policy strategy that will clearly set out how we will tackle poverty. <BR/>The Programme for Government framework agreed by the Executive provides a basis for transformational change in the things that really matter. It has all the ingredients to tackle our most intractable problems and make life better for all. I have said that this Executive will be one of delivery. I look forward to the development of the Programme for Government over the remainder of the year and to seeing its delivery over the course of this mandate. Most of all, I look forward to our Executive and, indeed, this Assembly working together to make a difference to do the things we could not do before and to move Northern Ireland forward.
I commend the Programme for Government framework, and I ask the Assembly to support the motion.
My colleague Steve Aiken made clear in opening the previous debate that this is an historic day. It is the first time in 44 years that the voice of official Opposition has been heard in this Building and in this Chamber. In opening the debate on manufacturing, Mr Aiken gave you a view of how positive we intend to be in bringing forward alternative ideas and strategies. What Steve was doing was not highlighting a sector in crisis; rather, he was highlighting a very important sector that could do better, and he was providing ways and suggestions for how that could be brought about.
Now we come to the point where we are not proposing something but are reacting to something else: a Programme for Government framework from our Executive. I will make it clear that what I would like the Ulster Unionists to be is constructive in their opposition. That means scrutiny. Let me put this on record: scrutiny is not synonymous with criticism. Scrutiny means simply taking a detailed look at what is being proposed, which in this case is a framework Programme for Government. Who knows, perhaps the Executive will produce something that is so good, so perfect, so well-fashioned and brilliantly communicated that we cannot say a word against it. If that is the case, be assured that, where praise is due, we will not be shy in offering it. But equally, when we believe criticism is the right way to go, we will be critical.
So, what do we think of the Programme for Government framework? We were not involved in any of the workshops or processes that led to the publication of this document, so our reference point has to be found elsewhere. It is in another document: the so-called Fresh Start document. Paragraph 61, which I will now read into the official record, of that says:
"After the Assembly meets following an election and before the FM-DFM are selected and the d’Hondt process runs, representatives of the parties who are entitled to take up places in the Executive and who confirm their intention to do so will meet to resolve the draft Programme for Government."
That is the draft Programme for Government, not the draft Programme for Government framework.
Under "Next steps", which is also in paragraph 61, it says:
"A Programme for Government framework adopting a more outcomes-based approach will be developed. Initial workshops will take place during the autumn with a view to having the framework prepared by the end of April 2016."
How telling, Principal Deputy Speaker. It is clear the intention was always to have three iterations of the Programme for Government: first of all a framework; then a draft programme; then the solid-state Programme for Government. But it was also clear that this document — the framework — was to be prepared, finished and ready for parties thinking of entering government to start the work of a draft on 6 May, with the two weeks set aside for finishing that work and producing a draft Programme for Government, not this framework. This framework is document 1 of three. We are supposed to be at the second stage today. Perhaps in his concluding remarks the deputy First Minister can make clear why they did not follow the process that they spelt out in the Fresh Start document, which he and the First Minister think is the foundation for a different and better way of doing government here on the Stormont estate, because it is —
I am very glad that the Member has raised this issue, because it seems to be his one big issue that he keeps mentioning time and again. The Member has to accept, given that he was not involved in the workshop processes, that the process developed during those workshops. That meant that, when he came in after the election, we were at the stage where we came in. So, the process evolved from the Fresh Start Agreement. Then we got to the position we were in after the election, and then he found himself in a position, after one meeting, of deciding that he was not going to become involved in the Programme for Government discussions. That is what happened. There is no mystery about the issue. During those workshops, it was very clear that this would be the process that would be developed, and that is how it happened.
I thank the First Minister for that explanation. She has not explained why she thought that it would be possible to produce a draft Programme for Government before the First Minister and deputy First Minister were selected, but, as she says, we were not involved in the process.
We said that we would apply two tests, which would decide whether we were in or out of the Executive. Test one: was it a progressive Programme for Government? We found out at that first meeting that we would not be able to answer that because what was going to be produced at the end of the fortnight was this framework, not the draft Programme for Government. So, that was a fail. We also wanted to know whether Sinn Féin and the DUP really wanted the smaller parties around the table. It was quite clear that the answer to that was also no. So, we are very happy in our position, out of the Executive and taking up the position of official Opposition.
We have a framework going out to consultation, and we have 14 outcomes. I want to make a bet here. One of the outcomes is:
"We have high quality public services".
Another outcome is:
"We have more people working in better jobs".
"We enjoy long, healthy, active lives".
I bet that, at the end of the consultation, nobody is going to suggest that we should have low-quality public services, that we should have fewer people working in better jobs or that we should enjoy shorter, less healthy and inactive lives. This is simply motherhood and apple pie.
I hear First Minister Foster say that this mandate has to be about delivery. Through you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker, I remind First Minister Foster and First Minister McGuinness that that is exactly what First Minister Peter Robinson said about the 2011 mandate. In his words, 2007 to 2011 was about survival and about going full term as an Assembly and an Executive, but 2011 through to 2016 had to be about delivery. It is clear from what these two First Ministers are saying that the Executive did not deliver between 2011 and 2016. So, while I can welcome a focus on delivery, I have to say this: we have heard it before; we will not be fooled again.
I am delighted to speak in this debate on the Programme for Government framework — a document in which the Executive have outlined their priorities for moving Northern Ireland forward in the right direction. I believe that politics is about people. It is about doing what is best for people. It is about serving people and the communities that we come from. It is about using the tools at our disposal for the betterment of all the people. We in the Democratic Unionist Party are about the business of using those tools — the tools of government — to build a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. Others have elected to down tools. We heard some of that contribution earlier. Others have elected for the self-indulgence of opposition. In a democracy, I respect their right to do so, but I remind them that, at the end of the five years, there will not be one extra job nor one extra brick laid to develop the infrastructure of this country. There will not be one additional classroom assistant to their credit. It is the Government of Northern Ireland who are about the business of improving Northern Ireland.
As this is a maiden speech, some customaries have to be abided by. First, I would like to place on record my thanks for the work that Mr Jimmy Spratt undertook as an Assembly Member in this place. He served his country not only as a MLA but as a policeman. The person whom I directly succeed is of course Mr Michael McGimpsey. He and I served together on Belfast City Council for nine years. He was a formidable opponent, but I can honestly say that I do not think that I ever had a cross word with him or doubted his commitment to the people he represented.
I am very proud to come from the constituency of South Belfast. It is the cultural and academic heart of Northern Ireland. Many of the leading institutions in our academic world, such as Queen's University of course, and in our cultural world, such as the Lyric Theatre and Grand Opera House, are based in my constituency. In many ways, this is a stereotype of what South Belfast is: the truth is that many people there do not conform to that stereotype. Many of the communities that I have been sent here to represent have not enjoyed the benefits of the recent economic recovery and growth. I think of communities like Taughmonagh, Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and Annadale, where I was born. Those people need to see the benefits of government working on their behalf in an outcome-driven way as has been outlined by the First Minister today.
The Programme for Government contains no fewer than 42 indicators of success and 42 different measures. I am glad that they exist, that they are down in black and white and that we can be judged at the end of the five-year term on how we deliver on those measures. The content of the document has been mentioned. I actually think that it is a good idea not to have a document such as this cast, like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, in stone and unchangeable. Many of the key stakeholders in the process whom I have spoken to have welcomed the fact that the Government are actually listening, are prepared to take their views onboard and will, hopefully, reflect the changes that they want to see in the final draft of the Programme for Government when it is produced. That is what sensible Governments do: they listen to experts in the field and key stakeholders and then draw their plans together. I think, therefore, that some of the language that has been used around the Programme for Government framework is unnecessarily negative.
I believe that, under the leadership of the Executive, we have a unique chance to build a better Northern Ireland, making it the very best part of the very best country in the world to live in. Some of the measures that have been set down have special resonance in my constituency. In particular, I think of the need to tackle health inequalities. One could get on a bus at the City Hall and get off in Sandy Row, where a person's average life expectancy is 10 years less than that of a person who lives at Finaghy crossroads. This is 2016, and that situation is entirely unacceptable to me as an elected representative for the people of South Belfast. The fact that there is a commitment in this document to tackling those issues is something that I think will be welcomed by my constituents.
I think of education. I am very privileged and fortunate to have passed the 11-plus and gone through Wellington College, Belfast. South Belfast has some of the finest schools in Northern Ireland. We must recognise the fact that too many young people from the working-class Protestant background that I come from have been failed by the system and left behind. I do not believe that that means that we should tear down that which works best.
I do not believe that we should destroy the grammar schools, but I do believe — I welcome the fact that it is in here — that there needs to be a concentrated focus on ending educational inequality. It cannot be right in this day and age that so many of our young people leave school without even the most basic educational attainment.
I am glad to support the motion. I am in politics to work for the people who sent me here, to secure the best outcomes for the constituency that I was born and reared in and to do my best, with all colleagues here, for the people of South Belfast.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I will speak primarily as the Chair of the Economy Committee and then on an individual basis.
The Economy Committee was briefed last Wednesday by the Department's permanent secretary, and, of course, the Programme for Government was one of the key topics raised. There has not been sufficient time for the Committee to take a collective view on this or on the process for the draft Programme for Government, so I am not in a position to comment on the Committee's position, but, as Chair, I can outline the approach that the Committee will take. There is huge responsibility on the Committee to ensure that the Economy Department's commitments and contributions to the Programme for Government reflect the pivotal nature of the role that the Department has to play in the step change that is necessary to build the levels of prosperity and economy that are required to give all the people whom we represent the lives that we would wish for them.
The Committee has already asked the Department to set out how the actions for which it is responsible in the draft framework, either directly, indirectly or in partnership with others, will contribute to the strategic vision that the programme represents. The Committee looks forward to engaging closely with the Economy Minister and his Department to ensure that the levers and drivers available to him are fully utilised to support a Programme for Government that will provide the prosperity that we need in the North. The Committee will also engage closely with all the stakeholder groups within the Department's remit to ensure that their voices are heard in the consultation on the draft Programme for Government. One of the strengths of the new approach to the Programme for Government is the consultation that is built into it.
The Committee is clear in its view that the new configuration of Departments must end the silos that existed previously, where officials worked in isolation, making the joined-up, cooperative, partnership government that we need so much harder to achieve. The Committee heard from the permanent secretary that the new culture in government would disrespect boundaries and overcome budget rivalry. Obviously, we intend to hold him, his Department and the Minister to account to ensure that that proposition, which has been long promised, is eventually achieved through this new approach to doing government. The Economy Committee is up for the challenge of doing all of that, and members will be watching to ensure that the promises of a strategic, cooperative approach are realised. We will also perform our scrutiny and policy development roles to the best of our ability to ensure that the draft Programme for Government emerges from the consultation as a robust and collaborative blueprint for improving the economy and the lives of our people.
I will speak now as a party member. As I said, one of the key strengths of this new way of doing the Programme for Government is the consultation process that is built in to it. Previously, consultation was seen by many stakeholders as a tick-box exercise that was a legal requirement in a consultation period, and it went through with minimal change. It appears that some of those who criticised the Programme for Government — I am keen to hear what others have to say — have offered no alternative except for those criticisms. In fairness to them, they were not involved in the origins of the process, but I wonder whether they simply want to go back to the old type Programme for Government, which was largely pre-cooked. It seems to be the expectation of the leader of the Opposition that we would get a largely pre-cooked Programme for Government that would go out for the normal statutory period of consultation and come back with minor amendments, as has been the case since 1998 under Executives that were led by the Member's party. We had a pre-cooked Programme for Government, minor amendments were put in place, and then there was a Budget, which was almost a separate process that did not align itself to that. For me, the great strength of this is that you have broad draft heads, and the people who are involved in the development of that know the process. I could take the criticism of the leader of the Opposition in that he was not involved; I find it a little strange that others who were involved in the process now criticise something that they did not object to throughout its formation. Rather, there was a broad heads of agreement, if you like.
The leader of the Opposition described that type of objective as "motherhood and apple pie". Having read some of the uncosted party manifestos presented in the run-up to the last election, I think that they would be a very strong judge of motherhood and apple pie. Nonetheless, this process allows those involved at grass-roots level — the people at the coalface of delivering the type of change that the Programme for Government wants to effect — to put the meat on the bones by coming forward with much greater assistance. In turn, we will align budgets to meet that expectation and the key delivery targets. For me, this is a new way of doing it. After five years, it may prove not to have been the best way, but I would like to hear from those who consider that it is not what they think would be best. Are they simply arguing to go back to the old process? Do they think that it was perfect, or do they have an alternative vision that they want to offer? I would be interested to hear that.
Another key point and very welcome development is, if you like, the balance in the document between economic well-being and societal well-being. The placing of societal well-being at the heart of the Executive and their Programme for Government is a very important step. We — particularly me, in my role as chair of the Economy Committee — want to see economic growth. We want balanced regional economic growth, better jobs created and better employment opportunities for all our people, particularly our young people. However, an equally important area of the Executive's work that we want to see addressed is the societal well-being of the people who need our assistance. The vulnerable and those who depend on our services must also be at the heart of the Programme for Government.
With those two developments, we have an important new way of doing business. I look forward to hearing those who do not agree provide alternatives. Make no mistake about it: there is a programme to be done over the next five years. Others have left the responsibility for doing that largely to my party and the DUP, and we must go forward because the people who elected us to the positions that we are in expect us to deliver for them, for their interests and for the communities that we represent. That is the job of work that we have here.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you and all Members who are here today, especially the new Members and, in particular, those making their maiden speech. They include Mr Stalford, who made a fine speech — I expected no less — but, if I may make one comment on that speech, it is this: he is, of course, right to assert that opposition that is not about creating and constructing something different is self-indulgent. I agree with the Member in that regard; indeed, there was a time when the DUP might have been very much in the character of that. From our point of view, however, opposition is not about destroying, demolishing or degrading something; it is about creating and constructing something better in this place — a Government in Northern Ireland for all the people — and, at the same time, demanding the right to dissent because, as somebody said, there is much to dissent from. That includes the content of some of this document.
Perhaps today or later, we will hear more about the theme of borrowing from the experience of other jurisdictions, not least the model of the Scottish Government, to inform government in this jurisdiction. If the First Minister is completely genuine about what she says is a new, better, innovative approach, let us embrace all that is new, innovative and better from the Scottish system. Will we, on the far side of this Programme for Government, have a situation like the one in Scotland, in which people are seconded into government for particular Bills or particularly complex areas? In the next Government, will we have a process like the one in Scotland, whereby amendments to Bills are invited into government very early in the legislative period in order to ensure that the external world — NGOs, business and the private sector — has an input in shaping the character of that legislation?
Are we going to have civil servants in Northern Ireland being told to have an open door to the external world when it comes to the shaping of government policy and practice? That is the paradigm shift that we are looking for.
I will give way in a second. It is not just about wanting an outcomes-based approach, which is a better approach, but will we have the paradigm shift that sees government shaped in the image of something very different from the past and more shaped in the image of what happens in Scotland, which has served its people so well?
First of all, I welcome the fact that the Member has, given the previous contribution from Mr Murphy, recognised that the outcomes-based approach is absolutely the way that we should be moving forward. The second thing is that this is exactly the sort of debate that we want to engender around doing things differently. Officials who are here today will be taking a very clear note of everything that Members say, and we can then discuss how to move things forward. I very much welcome your speech on what is happening in Scotland because I find it very interesting.
It has been very interesting for the last 10 years and longer, but have Ministers, parties and Governments embraced all that which is different in order to demonstrate a paradigm shift? We will wait and see.
Of course I welcome an outcomes-based approach to government, but let us recognise what this document is: it is a hybrid document that is part outcomes-based and part upfront commitments. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister had to put in the foreword commitments already entered into arising from their commitment to Fresh Start because they realised, too late in the day to form an inclusive Government, that a Programme for Government that was outcomes-based would say to people that it lacked ambition and that is why you had to put in the upfront commitments arising from Fresh Start in relation to the past, in relation to institutional abuse, and not least in relation to multiple flagship projects across the North. It is a hybrid document that is, on the one hand, outcomes-based but, on the other, about upfront commitments to our people. Why? Because our people wanted upfront commitments; they wanted to hear a message of ambition and leadership and scale and volume. They did not want an outcomes-based approach alone; they wanted something greater. That was the very argument that the SDLP made in the abortive Programme for Government negotiations. We asked for ambition, not just in relation to the flagship projects and much besides but in relation to poverty, regional imbalance and childcare. This document is characterised by warm words on much of that and not much else besides.
Listen to what it says about poverty. It says that the commitment will be to reduce the level of poverty. We have a catastrophic situation arising with child poverty. By 2020, it could possibly, in real and absolute terms, be over 30% and approaching 35%. What is the point in making a commitment to reducing poverty if you do not at least say what the scale of that ambition is? Reducing poverty without even using the word "significant" might mean very little in the real world of the people in all our constituencies who are suffering because of disadvantage and discrimination and so on and so forth.
The situation is similar with regional imbalance. A commitment, which is a good one, was entered into over the lifetime of this Government on the roll-out of money for the A5. That is good, but remember the background to that. There was a commitment in the last Programme for Government for 2011 to 2015 to deal with regional imbalance. At the end of that, five years later, how was regional imbalance dealt with? By more warm commitments on what might happen in the future. The measure of this Programme for Government, which is outcomes-based, should have been upfront commitments so that people in the west know that it will not just be nine miles of the A5 that will be built but that it will be the 50 or 60 miles needed to conclusively deal with regional imbalance.
Finally, Mr, I mean Madam, Speaker — I will eventually get used to the right phrasing; I apologise for that — there is the issue of victims. The word "victims" is not mentioned at all in relation to outcomes, indicators or measures. Can you imagine saying to the victims of the conflict and the victims of institutional abuse that that word is not even mentioned? Not even mentioned.
I welcome the opportunity to be able to speak on the Programme for Government framework, which is now out for public consultation. I want to focus my remarks on the process issues, without prejudice to our party's view of the content of the Programme for Government, which my colleague Stephen Farry will address in terms of the outcomes and indicators that have been proposed in the document.
I want to start, perhaps unusually from an opposition position, by endorsing the process that has been adopted by the Executive in developing the Programme for Government on this occasion. It is a process based on best practice and is, in our view, a more coherent and strategic means of planning for this mandate. Whilst others have sought to dismiss the outcomes framework as simply motherhood and apple pie, we recognise that a focus on outcomes rather than activity is actually a better place to start if we want to see the lives of those we represent measurably improved during this mandate.
It is possible to do much and achieve little. Activity and delivery are not the same thing. Deciding what actions you want to take before you have decided what you are trying to achieve, and then judging your performance solely by how many of those actions you are delivering, regardless of whether they are achieving real improvement for people, is a fruitless and pointless exercise. We therefore welcome the move from departmentally driven action-based planning towards a more strategic outcomes-based approach. Such an approach offers the opportunity for more cross-departmental and cross-sectoral working and better and more efficient use of resources, and, by focusing on outcomes, it puts measurable improvement for our constituents at the heart of the process. Whether that opportunity is fully realised by the current Executive is, of course, another matter entirely.
The UUP has criticised this programme for being too high level — as I take from Mr Attwood's remarks that he has also done — and lacking in detail. The same party — the UUP — argued for, and claimed as a great achievement, the inclusion of two weeks' negotiations, which would lead to an approved Programme for Government. I know that they spent barely two minutes in those negotiations, but I would love to know exactly how much detail one would expect to be able to extract from a Programme for Government in a two-week period, even had the outcomes framework been agreed in advance. If they expected a detailed action plan and budget for each Department to be delivered in 14 days, they are either completely delusional about how coalition negotiation works — and, indeed, how government itself functions — or are simply being utterly disingenuous and opportunistic in their criticism of this process.
Anyone with an ounce of wit would have known that, at the end of two weeks, the Programme for Government draft would be high level and general. It was clear that detailed action plans for each Department, and the budgets attached, would have to be developed through public consultation, which would take time and would, therefore, only be realistically available around the end of this year.
I am happy to give way.
I thank the Member for giving way. Does she not accept that the Fresh Start Agreement says at paragraph 61 that, by the end of April, there would be this document — the framework — and, at the end of the two weeks' negotiations, there would be a draft Programme for Government — the thing you are saying could not be done? It is in the document.
First of all, we did not endorse the Fresh Start Agreement, so that is an irrelevant question to ask me. Secondly, as I said, even had we had this framework agreed, you would still not have had anything other than a very high-level document in order to consult with the public at this point in time after two weeks.
I firmly believe that every party that agreed to an outcomes-led approach knew that that would be the case. No one should be ducking that fact now to play cheap politics with the process. As a party, Alliance did feed into the very early stages of that preparatory process in good faith and without prejudice to any outcome of the elections at the end of the last Executive.
Indeed, we proposed for inclusion through our advisers some of the outcomes that are listed on that programme framework, including, for example, the outcome that:
"We are a shared society that respects diversity"
Clearly, we were not involved in the more detailed development after the election that produced the various indicators and measures. The SDLP also participated in that process. Its special adviser attended the meetings where the process was agreed and had the opportunity to feed into that framework. At no point did they raise issues with the process of how the programme would be developed or with the reality that the consultation would be on a document that was always going to be high level prior to the election.
Therefore, as a party, we in Alliance are not getting to our feet to rubbish this process. Rather, we are going to focus our criticism and, indeed, our support on what is and is not included, on the quality and efficacy of the indicators and measures that have been proposed and, in due course, on the detailed action plans that will be developed to deliver the outcomes. The litmus test for the new Executive and for this programme is what difficult, radical and even unpopular actions they are willing to take to achieve the outcomes. That is where the rubber hits the road in this process. That will be when it will be clear whether this is merely aspirational language but lacking in any substance or whether it is backed up with genuine will and commitment to deliver real change. That is when we will know whether the parties will genuinely share power and resources between Departments rather than divide it up between them, as was too often characteristic of previous Executives.
As a party, we have major doubts about that commitment, and we are being honest about that. Having tested the leaders of this Executive in the discussions that we had prior to the formation of the Executive, we specifically looked to those areas that would be crucial to delivering a more joined-up approach. On such issues as the abuse of the petition of concern, which continues to block progress and reform; the required investment in skills to grow our economy; a commitment to integrated education, which has a transformative effect on reconciliation and community relations; urgent action on dealing with the past and its legacy, including specific actions to tackle paramilitarism; and addressing the financial and economic implications of living in a divided society, it was clear to us that genuine will and commitment to deliver real change was absent, as was meaningful cooperative working.
Furthermore, as Stephen Farry will set out in his remarks, the robustness of the indicators and measures is in some cases poor, not least on key issues around community relations and cohesion, sharing and integration. Those measures must be verifiable, measurable, evidence-based and meaningful, and we question whether that is the case in quite a few. However, above all, they need to reflect ambition for this society, and they are, in many cases, very much lacking in that regard. None of that bodes particularly well for this programme or for this Government; however, most importantly, it does not bode well for the people who we represent. Therefore, I hope that, despite our reservations with the content of the document at this point, through consultation, the concerns that we have will be addressed and that we will see the delivery of progress and change, which the people of Northern Ireland, quite rightly, are not just eager but now impatient to see.
I rise as a member of the new Committee for the Executive Office to speak on the draft Programme for Government, and I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is, effectively, the ambition that our Executive have for our society as a whole. Let us face it, the big issues are the day-to-day and bread-and-butter issues that affect each and every one of us on the ground. It is important that those are looked at with a view to making life better for us all as a society. I welcome the recognition by the Executive that a different approach is needed and that this Government needs to work across boundaries, organisations, groups and communities for the common good. Engagement with local government, the private sector and not forgetting the voluntary and community sectors, which do so much, is vital if we are to make the improvements necessary.
There is much work to be done now, with the Executive focusing on seeking views from this draft Programme for Government framework, which is setting the direction of travel for this establishment in this five-year term. I believe that the approach of focusing on outcomes and using indicators to demonstrate the changes desired and the measures to let us know that we are succeeding is a good starting point to deliver the changes that we would all like to see in Northern Ireland. The framework sets out the direction of travel to include providing the opportunity for people to have their say on the framework, engaging with the stakeholders about the actions needed to help to deliver on the indicators, the building of action plans, the coordination of the Programme for Government with the Budget process and, finally, the agreement of the Programme for Government along with the Budget and investment and social strategies by the end of 2016.
There are 14 proposed outcomes and 42 indicators in this document. The very many issues listed as indicators include reduced crime, increased healthy life expectancy, improved quality of healthcare, improved support for adults with care needs, improved educational outcomes, reduced economic inactivity, reduced poverty, increased competitiveness of the economy, increased shared space, reduced reoffending, improved mental health and an improved supply of suitable housing. Those are just some of the indicators provided in the framework. All are of great importance in their own right, and I am sure that each of the 108 MLAs would acknowledge them as important to the vast majority of people who live in Northern Ireland.
I note that the consultation on the Programme for Government framework is open for eight weeks in total and that it closes on 22 July. I hope that interested parties, of which I am sure there are many, take the opportunity to make their voice heard. I also welcome the fact that an online survey is available, which should provide a simple and very quick way of responding to the framework.
I will leave my comments at that for now and look forward to the consultation responses and, indeed, the outworkings of this ambitious draft Programme for Government framework. I support the motion.
I start my remarks by putting the Programme for Government into context. We continue to be overruled by a Conservative Government that is wedded to austerity. I suspect that every party in this Chamber would want to have more ambitious spending plans than are available to the Executive currently. The Budget has been cut year on year over the last five years and will continue to be cut for at least the next three years. That is the context in which this Executive have to deliver their priority public services, and we have to deliver our public services.
Each Minister is faced with the huge challenge of prioritising spending in their Department where it will make the most impact and change. That is where the Programme for Government framework comes into its own. It sets out a vision for the future; it sets out a pathway that we can follow; and it is asking, in the most democratic of ways, civic society — the community, trade unionists and others — to become involved in the debate and help us shape our society for generations to come, in the context of the financial realities in which we are working. There are parties in the Chamber that will claim to be more opposed to austerity than others and that they will do all sorts of things in the next five years. But what they have to ensure is that we change our society and create better outcomes for future generations. <BR/>I listened intently to Mr Nesbitt's contribution. For five minutes we got a history lesson on his view of the Fresh Start Agreement and the events that led to him and his party walking out of the talks. The foreword to the 'Draft Programme for Government Framework' sets out why Mr Nesbitt and others walked out of the talks. It says, in the second paragraph, that:
"We believe a different approach is needed and so this new approach focuses on the impact on our people rather than the actions we take within Government." — and this is the most difficult part for some of the parties that were in the Executive to sign up to —
"We recognise that for this to work effectively, we need a cohesive Executive working to deliver for all. We also need a system of Government that works across boundaries, organisations, groups and communities for the common good."
That is, for this to work, we need a cohesive Executive. Opposition within the Executive was no longer acceptable. From their point of view, in my opinion, the parties that have chosen to walk into opposition have done the right thing. I am a strong advocate of the Good Friday Agreement.
I am a strong advocate of power sharing. I am proud to have played my part in power sharing with my unionist neighbours. That was an important step for this society and an important step for republicans and unionists to take, and I think that parties have an overriding obligation to live by that principle. I think that the parties that have walked away have done public service a great favour, although not because I believe they will form a wonderful Opposition. The Opposition cannot agree with the Opposition, and we have noted that here today. The Ulster Unionist Party cannot agree with the Alliance Party and vice versa, and the SDLP cannot agree with anyone. We have not heard from the other parties yet, but I suspect it will be a mixture of all that. However, we have a cohesive document in front of us from the Executive, setting out a pathway for the success of this society. It will not all be a bed of roses. I go back to my opening remarks: the Executive will be dealing with a very difficult financial climate. Priority decisions will have to be made, and, when people respond to the consultation on the Programme for Government, we, as a society, will have to make choices. We will have to make decisions on whether it is money for potholes or pupils or whether it is money for the health service or hedgerows, because, folks, there is not enough money to go round.
In the last few minutes of my contribution, I want to recite a wee story that was told to me by the principal of a school when I was Education Minister. He was facing significant financial difficulties at his school, while, on the roads around his school, they were erecting brand new, shiny lamp posts and putting up new lanterns. They all looked very well. The principal said to me, "John, the most important lights that we need to turn on in our society are in our pupils' heads, and the money spent on those lamp posts and lanterns would have been much better spent in my classrooms". I could not argue with that. Those are the sorts of decisions that we will have to make going forward. What are the most important places for our Executive to invest in? It has to be health, it has to be education and it has to be the economy. We have to ensure that we deliver those core public services, and other things may have to be relinquished because of that. Folks, if we are going to create a new beginning for new generations, let us ensure that our Programme for Government turns a light on in pupils' heads: street lighting can keep.
I rise in the Chamber for my first time as, rightly said, a representative for the people of North Antrim. I am privileged to have been given this opportunity by them, and I fully intend to do my best in this place to be an effective voice and an effective representative of our people. I thank the people of North Antrim for electing me and giving me this opportunity, and I will work hard to repay that. I also thank my predecessor, David McIlveen, for the work that was done in the North Antrim constituency, and I will work hard and continue to build on the foundation that he laid down over the past five years.
I am a member of the Executive Office Committee, so I stand on that basis as well, and I welcome this Programme for Government framework. We have something here that is good. It is forward-thinking, and it is something that we need to deliver on. We, in the DUP, stood on a five-point plan, and we need to deliver on that. People were very responsive to that; they trusted us on it and bought into that plan. I am delighted about that. I have a lot of confidence about the next five years that we have in government, and this Programme for Government sets it out very well. As Christopher rightly said, there are 42 key indicators in there as to where we need to be. Those can be measured very successfully, and the programme is laid out very well.
I would like to pick up on a few things from that. While I was on the campaign trail in North Antrim, I am sure you can imagine that, as I am from Ballymena, jobs were on people's lips. Ballymena and North Antrim have suffered some devastating blows over the last number of years, and I will continue to be a voice for those people and the job losses that we have suffered. The framework talks about jobs — it talks a lot about jobs — and one of the examples here is that we want to see more people working in better jobs. It is about ensuring that opportunities exist for people at all levels in our communities.
There is a mixture of people in the Chamber today. There are people who went through school and on to further education, and there are people who chose not to do that. I chose to leave school and go into the workplace. I did well and worked hard, which suited my course. My wife is slightly different: she went on to university and is a schoolteacher, so there is that difference. I want to make sure that there are opportunities for every person in education so that they can do as well as they can. I want people to be able to leave school and go on to further education, if that is what is right for them, or to go into the workplace. It is about ensuring that opportunities exist for people to leave school and go out to get skills or to go into the workplace and learn good skills that will equip them for life.
I am delighted that my colleague Simon Hamilton has been announced as the Economy Minister. That is a welcome change. The people of North Antrim will be delighted, because for us in North Antrim the issue is jobs and delivery.
I am extremely proud to have been elected to the Assembly to represent Lagan Valley. I grew up there, raised my children there and am a proud resident of the area.
I served for 11 years on Lisburn City Council and the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. In my time as a councillor, I chaired committees on environmental services and economic development. I worked as the chair of Peace III and the chair of Comet INTERREG to deliver EU funding to communities and to business. I have seen excellent progress in the Lisburn and greater Lagan Valley area over the last 18 years, but it has also been the site of a number of shameful failures under previous Governments. As the Ulster Unionist spokesperson for infrastructure and a member of the official Opposition, I will ensure that the Government are held to account in this mandate. While I hope that we will see significant progress over the next five years, I am increasingly concerned that infrastructure will be a series of vanity projects and undelivered strategies.
A significant cause of concern for me is the lack of meaningful targets in the Programme for Government. While the PFG promises to connect people and opportunities through our infrastructure — an ideal we can all agree on — there is scarce detail on how that will be achieved. The PFG is so vague that the Minister could deliver only negligible improvement and still technically deliver what was promised. I look forward with interest and no small degree of trepidation to seeing what the Minister intends to deliver.
As a spokesperson for the Opposition, it is my role not only to critique but to suggest what we should do instead. In that vein, allow me to suggest a few key projects that I hope the Minister and the Executive can commit to.
The success of the Balmoral show is an inspiration to the rest of the country. The recent announcement that it is to open for four days in 2017 is welcome and is a source of immeasurable pride to my constituency. However, the chaos surrounding the roads into the show is also a source of shame. Year after year, we read the miserable reports of traffic jams, parking bedlam and wasted opportunities due in no small part to the disgraceful lack of progress at the Maze site. Simply put, the infrastructure for that world-beating show and venue must be improved. Better planning of roads and targeted improvements, such as an M1/Balmoral link road, could solve the issue. Additionally, any Members who travel via Sprucefield will be aware of the extremely poor connections to Belfast that inevitably result in long delays and tailbacks.
With no progress on the Sprucefield bypass, the Knockmore link road is also important to the development of the area, and I am pleased that Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council has taken important steps to invest in its delivery with the Department and developers. Those projects are important if we ever want to spread the success of the economy beyond the greater Belfast area. Our poor road infrastructure is discouraging investment in general, but it hits the outer parts of the country particularly hard.
It is highly unlikely that all phases of the A5 will be completed within the time frame, so the budget will not be spent. Over £100 million will be surplus. We must ensure that all small projects are identified to improve our road, rail and river network. They do not have to be multibillion-pound, decade-long quagmires. With smart, targeted funding, we can drastically improve travel times. I hope that the Minister can agree that progress will not be delayed simply due to a lack of interest or political will. It is also vital that this Government leverage the expertise and knowledge of civic society as a whole.
In the Fresh Start Agreement, the two parties in government promised to deliver a compact civic advisory panel. It is utterly imperative that the forum contains experts from the world of business and infrastructure. In addition to being an excellent venue to encourage new faces into politics, the forum must be well placed to suggest infrastructure improvements and critique ministerial decisions. It must not become a talking shop for yes-men. I hope that the Executive demonstrate courage in appointing true experts who can not only advise on major projects such as the York Street interchange and the A5/A6 but, crucially, suggest smaller, more targeted improvements that will make a major impact.
One of the improvements must be the decentralisation of government administration away from Belfast. The worrying trend in Northern Ireland of offices such as the DVLA being relocated to Wales must be reversed. I want to see all Departments, particularly the Department for Infrastructure, leading the way in spreading the administration across Northern Ireland plc. Improving Internet connectivity is another key indicator in the PFG document, but, again, we need to see what concrete, costed commitment the Executive will make. We do not need to reinvent the wheel for that, but I argue that we need a sea change from the approach of the previous Executive. The Minister need look no further than my constituency to recognise in the Resurgam Trust in Lisburn the model of how the Department can foster community-led improvements to infrastructure and support the third sector in sustainable business. That project and others must be allowed to develop in a sustainable way, so I also call for an end to the unnecessary and nerve-wracking process of annual bidding and the introduction of service-level agreements to sustain community partnerships.
In conclusion, I want to work in this mandate to be a constructive member of the Opposition. I do not intend to be easy on the Minister or the Department, but I hope to be a source of alternative options rather than of a simple critique. I do not intend to be Mrs No, but, as certain members of the party to my left can tell you, I do not bow easily. The Minister can expect the same tenacity in my role here.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. As this is my maiden speech, I will begin by thanking the people of Mid Ulster for electing me. As some will know, I took over the seat that was left vacant by our deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, so I have big shoes to fill. I certainly hope that I will give the people of Mid Ulster the same kind of representation as he did. They were very proud of him — rightly so — for the representation that he gave in the Assembly.
As Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, I have noted that there are three indicators that will fall to DAERA: indicator 29, which is to increase environmental sustainability; indicator 36, which is to increase household waste recycling; and indicator 37, which is to improve air quality. However, during a very brief discussion with the DAERA permanent secretary and his team at the Committee last week, I raised the fact that there are no specific indicators for the agriculture sector or rural communities. DAERA officials responded by saying that the agrifood sector makes a very significant contribution to the economy and will be a key driver in the economic indicators contained in the framework. They also said that, at a high level, the important outcomes such as jobs, health and the economy will impact rural dwellers as much as the urban dweller. <BR/>The Committee was also told that DAERA will work with other Departments in a coordinated, integrated way on the impact of these high-level indicators on rural dwellers and that, since the introduction of the Rural Needs Act, they now have the statutory basis to do so. However, the Act will not apply to central government until 1 June 2017 and to local authorities until 1 June 2018, so I am looking forward to hearing from the Department on a semi-regular basis over the next few years about how that is to happen. This new framework must be for all our people, be they urban or rural dwellers.
The Programme for Government is focused on outcomes. As it states:
"these are things with which people can identify such as living longer and healthier lives or getting good jobs — which are designed to stay in place for a generation rather than a single Assembly term and define if we are progressing as a society".
Each indicator also has a number of measures to see whether it is happening. These are largely derived from existing statistics. They will show how we are performing in relation to the outcomes and provide a basis to monitor progress and take appropriate corrective action. Some of the outcomes indicate that the measurement is available at NISRA at a geographical and urban/rural level. For example, indicator 16, which is about increasing the proportion of people in work, can be measured at urban and rural level. Ensuring that the opportunities for jobs and good-quality jobs are available to rural as well as urban dwellers is exactly what we want. However, some of the indicators cannot be measured at this level, such as indicator 21, which is about increasing the competitiveness of the economy. It appears that it cannot be measured at urban/rural level, yet agrifood is to be one of the key drivers for the economy and is one of the few industries that can be, and is, spread throughout all geographical parts.
While the new Committee did not get into this level of detail with officials at our first meeting, I expect that we will do so in the near future. I hope to explore all those measures and find out in detail how they will be used to ensure that the outcomes and benefits of the framework are there for the farmer and rural communities. That is all that I wish to say as Chairperson of the AERA Committee.
As Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, the environment and rural affairs, I believe that there needs to be a focus on outcome 13, which is:
"We connect people and opportunities through our infrastructure".
It is vital to assist our businesses and communities. Rural broadband and telecommunications are causing inequalities for our rural dwellers and businesses as they face much higher costs for, very often, much poorer service provision. The proportion of premises with access to superfast broadband is 88% in urban areas and 37% in rural areas. That is a massive and unacceptable disparity. We are driving businesses into urban settings, which creates inequalities for rural dwellers in gaining employment. Therefore, the rural road network and access to good, affordable transport services are essential outcomes in the PFG.
In my previous role as chairperson of Mid-Ulster District Council, I witnessed at first hand the difficulties faced by businesses in rural areas in trying to access good broadband provision. It is a real challenge for us. I also witnessed the fact that our Ministers did not come forward to meet Mid-Ulster District Council. I hope that in this new and fresh start, with the Programme for Government as its basis, Ministers will be very open to meeting all 11 new super-councils because that is the grass roots and that is where our people are. Ministers need to take cognisance of what is happening in councils and of what councils are saying to them and what councils need.
I welcome the draft Programme for Government and, in particular, the focus on outcomes and monitoring delivery, which represents a new and innovative methodology. I know that, when we speak about this, it sometimes sounds very much like Civil Service or management speak. However, what this methodology does is focus on a number of key questions. First, what is it that your Government want to achieve for you and why? Secondly, how well are they doing it? That clarity is very welcome as a new approach.
The draft Programme for Government outlines some big issues facing the Northern Ireland Executive and, in fact, facing all of us in the Chamber: tackling poverty; reconciliation and social change; improving health and education; and growing our economy. These are indeed very significant issues. When I was thinking about the challenge facing the Northern Ireland Executive, what came into my mind was a quote from the late and great Muhammad Ali, who sadly passed away just a few days ago. That quote is:
"It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe."
I suppose that that could have relevance in people's personal lives and in communities, but I think it is also relevant when it comes to Governments and Departments. I want to echo the words of the First Minister about the high level of consensus that there seems to be about the challenges that face us in the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. Despite the billions of pounds and the consensus on what those issues are — the consensus about what those mountains are that we want to climb — we do not see the progress necessarily that we all want to see.
So what are those pebbles? To me, those pebbles are, and can be, the way we do business. Shut in the old ways, the silos, we are inefficient and ineffective. I know that it is often said, and it has been said in this Chamber before, that if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got. That is why I warmly welcome this new, innovative change within the current Programme for Government.
The new approach was first trialled and tested within our Delivering Social Change framework within the Northern Ireland Executive. I pay tribute to the National Children's Bureau, which put in a huge amount of effort and work in putting together that innovative approach. It was very clear, when we looked at that agenda, that it was not just a methodology that was suited to delivering social change; it was a methodology suited to delivering change right across government. That is why I welcome the mainstreaming of that right across the key issues of the Programme for Government.
How we deliver is critical; it is absolutely essential to achieving what we want to deliver. Therefore, I warmly welcome the new and innovative approach to making real and positive progress in agreeing our vision and in achieving our vision of building a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland.
Madam Speaker, congratulations to you in your new role and to all those Members who have made very good maiden speeches. I was brought back briefly to Belfast City Council during Christopher's maiden speech and he will know that, coming from that Chamber and having small children, that is the first and last time for a while that he will speak for seven minutes without being interrupted.
I am glad, too, to have the opportunity to speak on the Programme for Government, which will be the guiding framework for Northern Ireland for the next five years and which, obviously, all of us want to work. There has been a lot of prickliness from the Executive parties about our decision to go into opposition, but I think we can be clear that we all live here. We use these public services, we raise our families here and we want this to work as well. We can be very clear that we are not going to be wreckers, outside the process in opposition. We do not have a big bogeyman out the door, or a hand that we are going to overplay for years. We are not going to spend the next five years taking free kicks, like the opposition parties do in the South.
We campaigned, in the run-up to the election, on the basis that we would use the new Fresh Start-created14-day window to get some of our ideas in there, and we stuck to that as far as possible. It became very clear, very quickly, that there was to be no partnership and next to no detail. I see that the Alliance Party has taken some issue with our criticism of the process. Let me clarify: we did not vote for Fresh Start, so we are not bound by the process, but the very task of amending the primary legislation to provide for 14 days instead of the previous window gave a very clear indication that that was supposed to be a serious and substantial negotiation window. In good faith, we told third-sector organisations to get their ideas in because this was going to be a substantial negotiation window. As my colleague Alex Attwood has outlined, this is not just an outcomes-based document. You will see in all the PSs that have been added, post the discussion document from last week, that it now suddenly mentions: North/South institutions, regional imbalance and investment, victims and historical abuse. These are the things that, in the two weeks after the election, we were saying needed to be there but were not.
The rash of private Member's Bills and no-day-named motions that have gone in in the opening days of the mandate show very clearly that even members of the parties in the Government know that a lot of these issues are not going to turn up in the programme. If the issues that we raised during the negotiation, and which the Executive have now tacked on, were sufficiently important, can they now help us understand why, when we asked for that detail, we were accused of prickliness and misunderstanding the process? We are not against the outcomes-based concept. Most people are not, and, in fact, we welcome it. It is just about the lack of detail coming on the back of such a poor record of delivery over the last couple of mandates.
We also acknowledge that having a target does not always mean anything. The last Executive had a target, which they met, to produce a shared future strategy, and, right enough, a shared future did not magically appear because they were written down. Scotland also uses the framework, and it has worked well, but, with respect, this is not Scotland. That was a one-party Government that had made transparency and cross-cutting their political culture and which does not have the same silo mentality, political baggage and departmental fiefdoms that this Assembly has become known for.
We are certainly not against public consultation either, though you can understand that people are a little bit cynical. Less than six months ago, in Fresh Start, you reduced the statutory minimum consultation period from 12 weeks to eight weeks, and we have had no update since the Stormont House talks on the compact advisory panel that was to replace the Civic Forum model that was allowed to fall.
Of course, it is useful for coalface organisations to have their opportunity to shape and refine the Programme for Government, but there has to be something for them to respond to. No organisation is going to disagree with a single one of the fine aspirations in this document, but we do not know what methodology is going to be used to decide which of those ideas are going to be taken and whether that is going to bring any clarity, rather than just reflect the broad range of opinions that we know are out there. People are not sure whether this just an exercise in saying, "We asked your opinion, it is your Programme for Government" when there are any future problems.
It is also likely that, in a difficult funding climate, a lot of organisations are going to struggle to find the resources to put together a comprehensive response, but in the culture of this Executive, where much-needed social change money was siphoned off into the invite-only social investment fund, it is going to take a lot of courage for organisations to come out and say that, in fact, the emperor is not wearing any clothes and to point out the holes in your document.
In the last mandate, a lot of themes were not adequately progressed, and consultations and reports and workshops went into OFMDFM, the place where ideas went to die, and very little came out. The international strategy, the racial equality strategy and the sexual orientation strategy were all literally years late. Legislation passed as a result of the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 obliged the Executive to produce an anti-poverty strategy, but, last June, Justice Treacy found that you were in breach of that requirement, and still, there is nothing included in this document.
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. In her contribution, she mentioned the social investment fund in a very critical way. Is she aware that, in our constituency, the social investment fund is creating the provision of an education and learning centre in Sandy Row and a day centre for children in Taughmonagh? Which of those projects does the Member think should be done away with?
Yes, the Member does remember it, because miraculously it was announced, after no movement for four years, 10 minutes before the election. Suddenly, we announced that a tiny portion of that money was going to those places. We know that there is need out there, but we think that that should have been open to all the organisations that have ideas and skills for solving problems, not for special pet projects that get a wee tap on the shoulder, telling them that they are eligible to apply for it.
Looking at the last Programme for Government, as I said, we see that targets do not always mean that you are going to do anything. I understand that almost half of the 82 pledges were not met, despite the free year that was tacked on by the Secretary of State. Commitments to reduce child poverty, as I said, were not met, and no strategy exists. At least you have not done what they did in London, where, when they were not meeting their targets, they changed the target halfway through. Hopefully, that will not happen. We missed the target to reduce serious crime; again, this document makes no mention of the elephant in the room of paramilitarism and organised crime. How, without agreeing to tackle that, are you going to move that forward?
You failed to develop the Maze prison site and Desertcreat and other major projects. On the environment, the Executive failed to meet their commitments to provide retrospective energy efficiency in public-sector housing. Indeed, while the housing target on building new build was met, we know that that has not met the need that is out there. On childcare, a section of society that is crying out for support, OFMDFM failed to implement a childcare strategy and handed back funds that any parents who are paying out possibly more than they are earning will absolutely wince at. If you want to talk about alternatives, we have produced very comprehensive proposals and you are more than welcome to use them.
We are with the Government on wanting a strong economy, a more equal society, longer lives, more fragrant flowers and tastier dinners. We are with you on all of those things. Previous contributors from Executive parties have asked us what our alternative is. What is your alternative? You have not produced any detail yet.
We have heard a lot, but we have 100 pages of rhetoric here. When we start to get some of the detail, we will give it a fair wind. The proposals that are good we will support, but there is nothing in here on how we prepare for corporation tax powers, nothing on how we enhance North/South cooperation, nothing on how we get more out of devolution and nothing on how we address the mess over selection —
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I am pleased to follow on from the Member, who represented a party that was very much in the last Executive. Lots of Executive failings were listed, but the Member needs to be reminded that her party was very much part of the last Executive.
I want to speak mostly as Chair of the Education Committee. Obviously, given that Wednesday's meeting will be the second for our Committee, I am not in a position to articulate an agreed Committee position on the draft PFG. I welcome references in the draft Programme for Government to educational improvement, addressing the attainment gap, improving educational quality and, of course, early intervention designed to enhance life chances.
It is worth commenting on the things that were achieved in the last Executive Programme for Government. One of those was in the area of educational attainment and educational improvement. Very often in this society, that is measured by GCSE attainment, including in English and maths. There is a debate more generally about whether that is the best or most comprehensive way to assess the impact of an education system. I think everybody would agree that literacy and numeracy are key to educational progress and should always be used in some way to measure outcomes.
I emphasise that in the past decade we have seen a year-on-year improvement and percentage increase in the number of school leavers achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C or their equivalent. In 2014-15, when the last available figures are from, the figure was 81·1%. When you include GCSE English and maths, you find the figure is 66%. That represents a significant improvement on, for example, the 2009-2010 figure of 59% and gives a measure of the progress that is being made.
I take the opportunity to congratulate schools, teachers, pupils and parents, as well as — I will probably come into my Sinn Féin MLA mode now — the Sinn Féin Education Ministers, who successively were the deputy First Minister, the Principal Deputy Speaker and Mr O'Dowd. Ministers are often faulted for perceived failings, but I congratulate them on the year-on-year improvements in the areas I have mentioned.
Moving back to Committee Chair mode, I think that Members will generally welcome an increased focus in the new PFG on addressing the attainment gap. This is to include considerable emphasis on pupils who are entitled to free school meals. It is worth noting that improvements have coincided with the inception of the signature programme and increases in levels of free school meal entitlement in post-primary schools. Those were excellent initiatives that yielded good outcomes in education.
Other education-related outcomes in the draft Programme for Government include increasing the number of schools assessed as providing good or better learning provision, which is, of course, a logical conclusion of the Every School a Good School policy, and the outcomes that deal with early intervention, giving children the best possible start in life. I have in mind a scheme that shows the disproportionately positive effect of interventions, the Sure Start programme. Over this period of time, it would be worth exploring whether even more children and families could benefit from Sure Start provision. That will be difficult, because there was a recent increase in that respect. However, it would be worth looking at that afresh to see whether we can bring more people into the Sure Start tent.
I want to praise the process as well. Some people are suggesting that all of it should be in here, now, in detail. I think that this is a real exercise in participative democracy, and I will certainly encourage sectors and communities to engage thoroughly in the weeks and months ahead.
I heartily agree with my colleague, Linda Dillon. Linda referred to rural communities suffering from deprivation, not least in roads infrastructure. The condition of rural roads in many constituencies at this time is extremely bad. Poor broadband is blunting the effectiveness and competitiveness of rural businesses. In the recent past, a private satellite company was meant to fill the gaps for government in places where BT cannot reach. There has been a systematic failure across Tyrone, mid-Ulster and other places. People are angry at being without proper broadband for two and three weeks. It is dramatically affecting their businesses. There is a need for job creation in towns like Omagh and Strabane. I have, in my left hand, my priorities for the Assembly election. I will keep them close to hand, because they are measures that would improve the quality of life for people in the constituency of West Tyrone.
During the election campaign, I attended a Mencap hustings event and, more recently, a meeting with the western learning disability action group. Some things that need to find their way into the Programme for Government are absolute commitments for greater support and greater respite for families, ageing parents and carers of adults who have learning disabilities, not least in the Western Trust area, where underfunding of £8 million has been identified by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority. These are big issues. I am sure that we will hear that from the sectors and communities when they engage in a formal sense with the draft Programme for Government framework.
It is not often that I disagree with John O'Dowd. John gave the context of Tory cuts.
Yes. I absolutely agree with that context-setting, but I disagree with John in one respect: I want my street lights, and I want the lights to go on in the heads of the children.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker, I was slightly alarmed at your cutting off Mr McElduff prematurely, because I wanted to hear a bit more about the split in Sinn Féin over this issue.
Before I get into detail, reference has been made to the social investment fund. At times, the opposition parties may well disagree on issues, and I will come to our approach to that shortly. To follow on from the comments made by Claire Hanna, I would say that it is worth referencing that nothing that has been done through the social investment fund could not have been achieved by Departments putting programmes in place on the ground. Sometimes, the issue seems to be who is getting the funding as opposed to the ability of Departments to spend that type of money.
Does the Member also accept that it is, maybe, a good opportunity to reflect on some inaccuracies in the previous Member's contribution about the SIF? The SIF came before Delivering Social Change. The social investment fund was established under the steering group, so all the groups and projects had an opportunity to put in their proposals. Most importantly, the First Minister and deputy First Minister had no role in the selection of the projects: all of the projects were decided at local level through a local steering group.
Thank you very much. Certainly, my view is that governance around decision-making in the social investment fund is poor and is more prone to risk than would be the case in the normal processes that are run through Departments. Indeed, if there are concerns about the lack of attention to certain issues, that can be rectified.
I turn now to the motion and the framework. In common with my colleague Naomi Long, I stress that we believe that the concept is essentially sound but is clearly still under development. We are keeping an open mind at this stage and are withholding our final judgement until we see the detail over the autumn.
Clearly, as a party, we are comfortable with the general direction of travel. Given that we participated in the early stages of the process, up to the point of the election being called, we have certainly given our implicit endorsement of the process.
However, at no stage have we formally endorsed the content. The development of the content was accelerated in the final few weeks before the election by the Civil Service and also in discussions between those parties who were joining the Executive in the past couple of weeks.
That said, the concept makes considerable sense. It is better than an arbitrary list of action points and targets thrown in by Departments, which may or may not be realised. Instead, we have a series of high-level set objectives. By definition, this will come across as motherhood and apple pie at this stage: that is the nature of the process. The real test will come in due course with the targets that are set, how challenging those will be and the policies, programmes and resources that will be allocated to turning those targets into reality.
There is a logic in developing the most rational policies and practices that will get us to the targets that have been set out most efficiently with regard to resources. While I can understand Members' frustrations that certain actions are not mentioned at this stage, if the process is respected to its logical conclusion, the Executive should come forward with proposals that will get us to the outcome most effectively. At times, however, we may disagree about what those may be — I suspect that there will be disagreement in the Executive parties as to what those may be — but I believe that the theory remains sound.
From our experience of the Executive, not only of being in the Executive but of being in opposition under previous mandates, we are sceptical about how genuine the situation will be with the Executive's adopting the most logical approach to achieving the objectives. Far too often, other considerations enter into the equation, which sometimes reflect political realities. That is fine: we are a political Assembly. However, when that happens, it portrays the true disingenuousness as to how those targets can be reached. The process can be compromised through too many political considerations coming from the different partners in government.
I have a concern about what has been said about health. There has been a lot of focus on the importance of setting objectives and following through in due course with policies to get that outcome, but the two parties in the Executive are both making a commitment to spending an additional £1 billion of revenue spending on health by 2021. That seems to run entirely counter to the approach that is being adopted. I am all for spending the right amount of money on health to achieve much better outcomes, but surely the most logical thing to do is to put in place the reform process and work out what we need to spend to achieve outcomes and to resource that transformation, rather than making an arbitrary commitment now that the round figure of an additional £1 billion will be spent by 2021. In particular, the realisation of that outcome in the absence of other efficiencies being found means that we are looking at very stringent cuts to other Departments if we are to achieve that £1 billion extra for health. That will undermine a lot of the draft framework's other worthy objectives. When I say "efficiencies", I mean more than simply tampering with the levels of rate exemptions, rate capping or abolishing a few quangos here and there. We are talking serious reform or, potentially, some form of revenue raising or addressing the cost of division.
I will spend the balance of my time focusing on some of the specifics that have been set out. Some of them are good and sound — for example, what we are doing on skills. I am pleased to see that there is recognition of gradation with skills, and we are not looking at a very flat indicator; that is positive. I am glad that economic inactivity is mentioned. The logic there is that we efficiently implement the existing strategy that was agreed by the previous Executive.
I have concerns about other areas. If we are talking about increasing reconciliation, the theme seems to be about people respecting different cultural traditions in society, which may be one aspect of reconciliation. However, reconciliation is also about building friendships and overcoming divisions. It is possible that you could achieve that type of outcome through people tolerating activities better in different parts of the community rather than a genuine coming together, so we need to be careful as to exactly how that will be achieved.
Also, we need to have some concern about how far we go in focusing on the regional imbalance in our economy. We need to transform the Northern Ireland economy overall, and we need to recognise that there are imbalances and try to address those, but, if we become a slave to that, we might end up overly micromanaging investment decisions and neglecting the ability of greater Belfast to drive our economy — not just the areas around greater Belfast but all of Northern Ireland.
Thank you, Principal Deputy Speaker. It is nice to stand up to get some blood flowing in my legs. I will start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sam Gardiner MBE, a one-time Father of the House. His dedication to these institutions, to the people of Upper Bann and, indeed, to Lurgan is extremely well known. I wish him all the best for the future. He has handed that baton on to me, and I am very mindful that I am here to represent all the people of Upper Bann. I must take the opportunity to thank those people for putting their faith in me and voting me into the Assembly.
I believe that it is also important to show humility because, for all those who voted for me, there are many more who did not and did not give me a preference. I will represent them just as much as I will represent anybody else in my constituency, and I will use the core values and standards that have sustained me over my whole lifetime: integrity, respect for others, professionalism, selfless commitment, courage and, above all, loyalty. I am extremely proud to be opening a fully functioning MLA constituency office in Portadown once again.
If I may, I will take a moment out to thank all Members for their kind words of support on the passing of my beautiful grandson Cameron, who died at the age of 15 months, the day before the election. Your kind words have sustained me. It remains a difficult time for me and a difficult time for my family, but knowing that there are people like you who gave me those kind words has helped me and will help me in the long term, as it will help my family.
As I move on, I have to start by saying that I am disappointed by this whimsical document on crisp white paper with no real value, intellectual currency or, in fact, shifting responsibilities. It sets an agenda for the next five years but does not give a long-term vision for Northern Ireland in the next 20 or 30 years. In fact, there may even be some in government who do not want Northern Ireland to have that long-term future.
Let us drill down into the document a little. No, let us just scratch the surface for a moment. At its heart is the Fresh Start Agreement, and, at the heart of the Fresh Start Agreement is tackling paramilitarism. Yet, there is absolutely no mention of paramilitarism until page 29, and, even then, it is fleeting with no measurable outcomes and no indicators. Let me just take a line from outcome 7, if I may:
"A safe community is one where paramilitary groups and criminal gangs cannot exert influence".
Where are the indicators to address that? In fact, the Executive — I have to say that the Ulster Unionist Party was part of the Executive and is not without blame — are sustaining paramilitarism in this country. Looking to the future, I can see us sustaining it for another five years. We have semi-autonomous paramilitary wings at Her Majesty's Prison in Maghaberry.
We allow that to happen. We sustain it. We give it credibility. We give it an identity. We are giving it structure. We are allowing them to direct terrorism, and, if anybody thinks that that is not true, you just have to look at the brutal murders of prison officer Ismay and prison officer Black. Where are the indicators to deal with that and to stop the segregation and treat those people as they are: criminals to be dealt with as criminals?
Look at it from a more basic level and at the illegal paramilitary parades on our streets. Indeed, in my area of Upper Bann, in Lurgan, there were men, women and children dressed in paramilitary uniforms. I commend the Police Service of Northern Ireland for how it dealt with them during and after the parade, but the damage is already done because those paramilitary parades are influencing our children. Where is the indicator to deal with that? Before some of you people sitting here roll your eyes at me on this, let me remind you that paramilitarism affects far more of our outcomes, such as our international standing in outcome 10; an effective justice system in outcome 11; division and segregation in outcome 12; and effective and reliable public services in outcome 13. Those are all affected by paramilitarism, yet we have not, in this document, addressed it with any indicators whatsoever.
As a new MLA, I came in here expecting to see a Programme for Government that would handrail us to a brighter long-term future. I genuinely did, and I genuinely want that. What I got was an expensive doorstop holding closed the door to prosperity, social progress, cultural acceptance and the normalised society that our people deserve.
I thank the Member for his maiden speech. I also want to put on record our deep commiseration — I am sure that I speak for all the House — on the loss of your beautiful grandchild. I am a mamó — a grandmother — myself, and the loss of a child is a dreadful thing. I just want to put on record our commiseration.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I note and welcome the draft Programme for Government with its 14 strategic outcomes and the indicators focused on societal outcomes. This is a collaborative approach, and it is very important to give people their say and a sense of ownership because it is their Programme for Government. I, along with others, will be encouraging people to have their say on this developing, rolling process by 22 July.
Speaking as the party's spokesperson on infrastructure, I welcome the fact that one of the strategic outcomes is dedicated to infrastructure. Indeed, as a representative from the west and the wider north-west, I welcome the fact that regional balance is also included as one of the strategic outcomes. Whilst those individually are very welcome, it is important to point out that very good infrastructure underpins all 14 outcomes and indeed underpins all the economic and social development that we have here.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McGlone] in the Chair)
I welcome the fact that the Programme for Government gives a commitment to deliver on the flagship projects announced in the Budget last August. Those have been identified in the new Programme for Government framework and include the Belfast transport hub, the stadia programme, the training facilities for emergency services and the new children's hospital. From a north-west perspective, I welcome the recommitment to the A5 and A6 in the programme. That is extremely important. It also recognises the importance of key strategic corridors like the A8, A1, M1, A4, A26 and A22. That is extremely important.
In the time ahead, it is important to recognise that these strategic corridors are extremely important, not just within the North but within the wider context of the island of Ireland. These roads do not stop at the border. Indeed, the A5 is connected to the N2 at Monaghan and the N14 at Donegal. The M1 becomes the A4, which leads on through the N16 on to Sligo and into the west. It is important that we continue to work with the Irish Government. One of the objectives of the Trans-European Network, which is under way, is to reduce these bottlenecks and linkages between different pieces of transport infrastructure. We will continue to play our part as a party with the 30 Members that we have in the Oireachtas in moving this ahead.
I welcome the fact that, in the document, in relation to transport and infrastructure, we see reference to the commitment to active travel and the bicycle strategy. Indeed, the Ulster canal is also mentioned. This is something that my colleague Seán Lynch is interested in and has been working at for a number of years. No doubt, we will keep this high on the agenda.
In conclusion, folks, I welcome this new PFG framework. As my colleague from West Tyrone Barry McElduff said earlier on, this is an example of participative democracy. It is a new approach, which will unfold and develop as the consultation takes place with stakeholders right across the different sectors. It sets out a direction of travel. I commend the draft Programme for Government and encourage everyone to have their say in the development of this process.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Members will be relieved to hear that I am not going to dwell on issues around process, our views on which have been accurately and eloquently proffered by my colleagues Alex Attwood and Claire Hanna.
Mr O'Dowd made a good contribution to today's debate. He spoke of the challenges facing the new Executive, the new Ministers and their new Departments. Certainly, there are huge challenges, but there are also huge opportunities to do things better and to make things better for people. This document, in our belief, does not grasp or even attempt to grasp those opportunities. Mr Stalford, in his maiden speech, said something along the lines that it is the business of government to improve the lives of people. He intimated that those of us who chose not to be in government, and those of us who did not have that choice, have no role to play in that. Well, we are making it our business in opposition to improve the performance of government.
We have seen — and people have felt and continue to feel — the failure by government to deliver on real issues. Nowhere has this failure been more pronounced than in my constituency. The fig leaf that has been used to cover at least one of these failures — for example, the expansion of Magee, and the economic and social benefits that that would undoubtedly bring — is that it was not in the Programme for Government. So please forgive our concerns at the lack of specifics in this document. We cannot argue with these desired outcomes — who could? — but we just want to ensure them. Last week, many Members attended an event in the Long Gallery. It was hosted by Autism NI and sponsored by Mrs Cameron. Participants described their frustrations and concerns at the lack of delivery by several Departments, and the lack of care. It was entitled "Broken promises". One would get the impression from this Programme for Government that the Executive are avoiding making promises just to avoid breaking more promises.
We need more detail. How are we going to reduce health inequality? How are we going to increase the supply of suitable housing, and how are we going to afford it? How will we improve the skills profile of the population, and, especially, how will we do so when we are voting through Budgets that reduce the skills budget? Plans to reduce poverty are admirable, but we have, as Ms Hanna said, seen strategies come and go. Some strategies we have just waited for, and are still waiting.
I would like to have seen, in particular, more detail in the document on how we intend to improve environmental sustainability. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be extremely difficult in the context of trying to grow our economy, and I believe that this can only be achieved through the introduction of Northern Ireland-specific climate change legislation.
As my colleagues have outlined, it is our intention to work constructively inside the Chamber and outside it to help deliver all these outcomes and much more. We will continue to demand answers and demand actions to obtain tangible evidence that they are being delivered or on why they are not.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. This is my first time speaking in the new mandate, and we are down to sit to 9.00 pm. I am disappointed about that, because I think that we are still failing the staff in the Building. It is an archaic way of doing business. It is not family-friendly, and it is not rural-friendly. I know that the Business Office and others will be looking at this, and I think that, as we start the business of the new Assembly, we need to get things right from the start. For the past five years, we have talked about the need to attract more women into the Assembly, and we have talked about the need for family-friendly hours. We are starting a new session, and we have not done anything about it. That should be on the record as something that needs addressed.
On the other hand, I am glad to see that the Executive will be doing business differently. This is a progressive framework, and it will help us to tackle the age-old problem of departmental silo mentality. It puts well-being at the heart of government. Health is at the forefront of the document. It talks about public health strategies, tackling health inequalities, active travel, which is a health issue in itself, childcare and mental health. Of course, all of those issues sit in different Departments, and that is why we need an outcome-focused Programme for Government, not a department-focused Programme for Government. It is only apt that we commend Carnegie and those involved in the Roundtable on their work over the past three years. I attended many meetings, and I know that the current Minister for the Economy did the same, as did junior Minister Fearon and David McIlveen. They no doubt contributed to the new progressive framework that we have in front of us, and it is a good thing that the public will have their say. It is a good thing that stakeholders and the community will have their say in the document to ensure that we get it right. The direction of travel from the Executive clearly is the correct one.
I am disappointed that the Opposition have not done their homework. I was expecting great things from the much talked-about Opposition, the Opposition who cannot decide how they will be an Opposition — the two main parties, anyway. Today was an opportunity to land a few blows on the new Executive. It was an opportunity to outline the detail of their alternative Programme for Government framework, but there is no alternative before us. I say to the Members to the left that there is an opportunity to feed in those views, and we want detailed proposals, not just "We don't like this, and we don't like that". We need detailed proposals about what their alternative Programme for Government framework is. I hope that they will be a constructive Opposition, as they have outlined. All that I have heard today so far is complain, complain, complain. It was said over the election that they wanted to be a constructive Opposition, but we have yet to see that.
It is great that active travel has been included as one of the indicators. That represents the crossover between both health and transport and health and infrastructure. This needs to be looked at closely as part of the consultation. Coupling public transport with active transport could mean that a decrease in cycling and walking is masked by an increase in bus and train journeys. I will put that forward as part of our response. Active transport is much more important than that. We are in a very car-centric society, and there are a lot of car-centric civil servants. That should not be allowed to cloud aspects of the Programme for Government and its indicators.
There are issues, indicators and targets here that are very important to the rural community that I represent. Internet connectivity is one example. Travel times are an issue for rural commuters, as Declan McAleer outlined. Then there are big issues for the health of rural communities. Those are equally important.
I want to come back on a point that Claire Hanna made about the Scottish experience, because there are parallels with our situation. I remember how John Eldridge, whom I have met on a number of occasions, outlined how he knew that there would be departmental resistance to the new way of doing government. In effect, he brought it in overnight in consultation with Ministers. He knew that there would be institutional resistance from parts of the Civil Service. I have no doubt that there will be resistance from our local government structures as well. I encourage the other parties not just to dismiss this new way of doing government. It is bold and progressive. It is about doing things differently and focusing on health and other outcomes that are important to the communities that we represent. We are moving away from the old way of doing business, the silo mentality and the culture of fiefdoms in Departments. It is a big, big step, and I urge the Opposition not to try to make hay out of this but to respond to the consultation and to ensure that we take this step forward for the better of everybody in our communities.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Executive's draft Programme for Government framework. I do so from a health perspective. Is it a draft framework or a vague wish list to buy some time for officials to draft yet another document that will probably only be ignored anyway? It makes me wonder what all the meetings in the six months leading up to the election were really all about. The fact that the last Assembly existed without a Programme for Government for 2015-16 demonstrated exactly how little regard the document is actually given.
The amateurish and unprofessional measures accompanying the health indicators will give people very little confidence. It would have been better to leave them out, rather than rush them in before it went to the printers. Targets, despite what some officials in the Department and trusts might say, remain important as a means of monitoring and judging health performance. From the outset, I urge the Executive to avoid being taken down the path of believing that somehow health targets are a burden or are in any way unnecessary.
There are 42 indicators in the current draft PFG framework document, and only six relate to health. I want to make some brief comments on some of them shortly. Whilst no one could disagree with any of the six, what is more noticeable is what is not included. At a time when 376,382 people are waiting for a first outpatient appointment, diagnostic test or inpatient treatment, surely the most pressing target for the Department and the Executive collectively is to deliver timely and safe treatments for patients.
Our second key priority would be to remove the abhorrent variances in the quality of care provided across the five health trusts. Take the target that 100% of patients with suspected breast cancer be seen within 14 days.
Overall, in 2015-16, 99% were seen on time in the Western Health Trust, yet only 66% were seen in the South Eastern Trust and an appalling 43% in the Belfast Trust. In addition, rather than including bland indicators, such as increasing respect for each other, maybe the Executive should place a duty on its Ministers to respect their staff. Maybe then, scenes such as the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives threatening to take industrial action, partially as a result of sheer anger at the attitude of the then Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, could have been avoided.
Why is there no indicator on committing to continually review services to ensure that they are able to adapt to an ageing population? When it comes to reducing health inequality, we cannot forget that people who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to die from heart disease and respiratory disease. Far too many of those deaths occur before the age of 65, and most are entirely preventable with only a few lifestyle changes. Smoking, an unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption and little physical activity all greatly contribute to this inequality.
We delivered the creation of the Public Health Agency despite opposition from the DUP at the time, and we will firmly oppose any measure to dissolve it, especially now after the deeply flawed and poorly handled announcement on the abolition of the Health and Social Care Board. I would certainly like to see a commitment from the First Minister and deputy First Minister for the PHA to continue for the next six years.
When we look at indicator four, "Reduce preventable deaths", we see that there needs to be a commitment to target each of the five big causes of early death: cancer, stroke and heart, respiratory and liver disease. We also need to look at our ratio of intensive care beds. There could be little surprise that following the success of the cancer patient experience survey in England and Wales, the PHA and McMillan Cancer Support here funded a similar survey for Northern Ireland. The 2015 Northern Ireland Cancer Patient Experience Survey covered around 5,000 adult cancer patients in Northern Ireland with the primary diagnosis of cancer who had been inpatients or day-care patients and were receiving active treatment between 1 December 2013 and 31 May 2014. This is just one example of why indicator five, "Improve the quality of the healthcare experience", is crucial. However, it is essential that the trusts, when listening to patients, are open and responsive to the concerns that will inevitably be aired.
Finally, turning to indicator six, "Improve mental health", there is an ever-increasing body of evidence proving that our poor rates of mental health are directly related to our previous levels of violence. It is a legacy issue, with not only victims being affected but the children and grandchildren of victims. We cannot ignore the staggering fact that more people have lost their life through suicide since the Belfast Agreement than died during the entire Troubles. This is a core issue for the Ulster Unionist Party, and it is why, in February, we published a detailed policy paper dedicated to the issue containing 15 specific points, including ideas like a mental health champion, greater focus on prevention and tackling signals earlier and tackling the stigma sometimes associated with poor mental health. The paper has been positively welcomed by experts, and I will send a copy to the new Health Minister for consideration with this indicator in the PFG.
In conclusion, I encourage the Executive parties, when they eventually consider the targets they will set for themselves, to challenge and not merely agree with the Civil Service and to set reasonable, tangible targets. I encourage them to not just accept the low hurdles but to seek to drive forward real, lasting and important changes for our people. That is not an easy task with a Civil Service that, two decades on, is still struggling with the post-devolution era. I trust that the Executive will do what is right for Northern Ireland. We on the opposition Benches will constructively criticise where necessary —
I congratulate you on your first sitting as a Deputy Speaker.
There has been quite a bit of talk today about process: the process leading up to this, the process before the election and the process from here to December or whenever we will have a final draft of the Programme for Government. That is fine. It is all important, and we have to put it all on the record. However, I think that the public are more interested in what we will do.
We believe strongly in consultation and always have done. We always argue for good consultation processes. We have just been through the best consultation you could ever go through. All of us sat down and worked with experts, spoke to civic society and developed manifestos, argued over them, defended them and put them in front of the people. Then we went out. I consulted thousands of people about our manifesto, our ideas and about this place and how it works and does not work. We have been through that. It is called an election; it is called democracy. We then had to try to form a Government.
The SDLP went into the process to honestly get the best possible draft Programme for Government, even if it was a broad one. That is why we met the Civil Service, and we are thankful for the openness with which we were met. We met the head of the Civil Service and the heads and key figures in many of the Departments. We argued, interrogated and tried to come up with the best possible solutions to some of the problems on the basis of the work that we had done in our manifesto. We then put forward papers with specific policies and ideas. Mr McKay wants us to come up with specific ideas: we have done that, and they are all published. That was our approach to the process. Unfortunately, that is not where we ended up.
There was one meeting that we did not get: a meeting with the Finance Department on the overall financial picture. That was the only meeting that we could not get. We might not have been looking forward to it, but we are all interested in finding out why that was. What is the financial picture? How bad is it? It is important that the public are given an early understanding of the financial picture. We could not get that in the process.
We wanted a draft Programme for Government. The language of this is interesting. Many Members, many from government Benches, have talked about the "draft Programme for Government". Of course, this is not a draft Programme for Government; it is a framework for a Programme for Government or whatever the language is. From our consultation with the public, our view is that people are not interested in personality clashes up here, who is speaking to whom and who gets on well with whom: what they are interested in is when we will get down to the business of delivering. They will not be satisfied that we will not even have a Programme for Government for another five or six months.
People want us to rush urgently towards reform, change, action and delivery. That is what the last mandate was supposed to be about. We were in government, and we hold our hands up for the part that we played. We tried our best with one Ministry. None of us could stand here and say that that was a mandate filled with delivery, opportunities taken and change delivered. That is not what happened. We should consult, but we should consult with something, not just a broad wish list. That is what our manifestos were supposed to be about: policies that we could deliver. We then had an election, and we all accept the result of that.
Society is crying out for action, not warm words. The framework does not understand or recognise the fact that we face crises on so many fronts. We face a crisis on emigration, with far too many of our young people leaving our shores to find work or a university place. We face a crisis in homelessness: in my city, thousands of people are on the housing waiting list.
We are facing a crisis in child poverty. In Derry, north Belfast, west Belfast, parts of east Belfast — right across the North — far too many of our children are living in levels of poverty that are far too high. We face a crisis in hospital and health waiting lists. We still face a staggering level of economic inactivity in many areas. Bizarrely, we face further cuts in our university sector.
We accept that this is the process now, and we will positively and constructively engage in it. We will put in papers, respond to the consultation and do our best to put forward alternatives where required. We will, however, need to see the needs of the people and areas that have been left behind for far too long being addressed. We need to see a commitment to increased opportunity for childcare for hard-pressed families. Our manifesto talked about moving from around 12 hours to 20 hours, with a view of going to 30 hours later. We want to see targeted economic investment in the areas that have been left behind. We want to see fairness at the heart of everything that this Government do. We want to see support for victims. We want to see the opportunity that arises out of the potential of North/South development — economically, in the health service, in education, in tourism and right across the different sectors — being realised once and for all. We need to see, once and for all, infrastructure going to the west, not more warm words about it. If we do not see —
If we do not see — I will make this point to finish — once and for all, after more than 50 years, investment in the university at Magee in Derry, we will not support the Programme for Government that, again, fails to do that.
I take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your new role.
As the Ulster Unionist education spokesperson, I will critique the education policy in the draft Programme for Government framework. As the Ulster Unionist Party leader said, our position is to scrutinise and critique — not necessarily to oppose — the work of the Executive. We are happy to give support where it is deserved.
In the wake of an election in which the Northern Ireland electorate was encouraged to vote for the DUP to keep Sinn Féin out of the First Minister's post, I recall the plea for education to be taken out of the hands of Sinn Féin. After 18 years of education in the hands of Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland now has a DUP Education Minister, albeit that it seems that he is joined at the hip with Sinn Féin. Only the second ministerial visit by new Education Minister Weir was to an Irish language secondary school in Belfast — Coláiste Feirste — which received a £15·5 million extension from the Department's coffers.
The visit probably raises more questions than it answers. Unfortunately, the answers are not found in this draft Programme for Government framework, which begs this question: what are the Programme for Government priorities for education? Will the 2016-2021 mandate see further such investment? Will the people of Northern Ireland see a change in the Education Minister compared with the last Education Minister when it comes to future decisions on funding for new secondary schools? In particular, I refer to the supporting of the start-up of a secondary school with a first-year intake of only 14 pupils, just because it is an Irish-language school. Will the new Education Minister go against any ministerial advisory group recommendations and seek to follow a personal or joint DUP/Sinn Féin political agenda?
While the last Education Minister was proud of taking politically biased decisions and going against the ministerial advisory group's recommendations on a value-for-money decision, I am not sure that we are moving into a new era in education. None of those questions is answered in the draft Programme for Government framework, and the actions of the Education Minister so far have not given me any confidence in the matter.
One key outcome in the draft Programme for Government refers to the Department of Education:
"We give our children and young people the best start in life".
Of course, who could disagree with that, but how do we achieve that outcome? We look at the indicators, and numbers 15 to 11 refer specifically to educational outcomes.
Indicator 11, "Improve educational outcomes", will be measured by the increase in the percentage of school-leavers achieving at level 2 or above, including in English and maths, but the unanswered questions remain. Are GCSEs the only method of measurement? The Chairman of the Education Committee, who is not in his place now, referred to that earlier. Will they consider other qualifications? More than that, are our young people actually job-ready with these qualifications?
I nearly got excited when I read the heading "Reduce educational inequality", which is indicator 12. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you recall, in the last mandate, the Ulster Unionist Party's attempt to remove article 71 of the Fair Employment and Equal Treatment Order 1998, which is the exception for schools under fair employment law that allows them to discriminate in the employment of teachers on the basis of religion. I thought for one moment that the 'Programme for Government Framework' might pledge to remove this fair employment exception, especially since, as recorded in Hansard, all parties said that they supported such a move; but, no, that is not in the document. The aspiration to improve the educational outcome of those receiving free school meals is a commendable one, but there is no mention in the framework of looking at the free school meals measurement to assess whether it remains a fair measurement of deprivation. Certainly, there has been a lobby to do this.
Indicator 13, "Improve the quality of education", again is motherhood and apple pie stuff. Of course we all want that. We also want the Education and Training Inspectorate to be changed to be more effective and to work alongside schools in a better fashion to enable schools to make improvements. There were a number of key recommendations in a previous Education Committee's report that, so far, have not been implemented.
By increasing their qualifications, indicator 14 wants to:
"Improve the skills profile of the population".
However, there is no mention of the particular problem of persistent underachievement in parts of Northern Ireland. Numerous reports published over the past 10 to 15 years identify where this attainment gap exists. The research has clearly identified, in particular, that boys from a working-class Protestant background are doing significantly worse than girls from a middle-class Catholic background. I am surprised that such necessary targeted interventions are not mentioned. Initiatives like the signature projects in numeracy and literacy proved successful but were cut in the previous mandate. Will these or similar make a comeback? We do not know this from the 'Draft Programme for Government Framework'.
Indicator 15, "Improve child development", aims to measure an age 3+ health review using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire in the red book formerly known as the personal child health record. In contrast to the other indicators, this is something new and, indeed, rather specific and focused. So, the argument used by the Ministers that this document is only at a high level and does not get into detail is lost in this case.
In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am disappointed that we stand today with only a framework rather than a detailed Programme for Government as promised in the Fresh Start Agreement. Are you going to tell me that my time is nearly up, Mr Deputy Speaker? In regard to educational indicators and outcomes, it is very high level and without specific detail. Where is the aspiration to break down the barriers between the many and varied sectors that make up our education system?
I would like to congratulate those Members who made their maiden speech today, and I look forward to working constructively with them in delivering a better Northern Ireland for all our constituents. I welcome the opportunity to speak as the Ulster Unionist Party's community spokesperson. During the previous mandate, I was not a Member of the House for very long. However, like many, I watched as we leapt from crisis to crisis whilst those who matter most — our constituents — suffered.
It is predicted that, by 2020, one in four children in Northern Ireland will be living in poverty. If this Executive do not address that, we will further fail our children.
In 2012, OFMDFM launched the Delivering Social Change framework, which stated:
"The framework has been established to deliver a sustained reduction in poverty and associated issues across all ages and to improve children and young people’s health, well-being and life opportunities, thereby breaking the long term cycle of multi-generational problems."
However, according to the most recent poverty bulletin, 23% of children were in poverty in 2013-14. That is approximately 101,000 children, and it is an increase from 20% the previous year. Some 20% of working-age adults were in poverty in 2013-14; that is approximately 213,000 working-age adults. That is an increase from 18% the previous year. Some 21% of pensioners were in poverty in 2013-14; that is approximately 63,000 pensioners. That is an increase from 20% the previous year.
The last Executive failed to deliver on key poverty targets, even though they went through a full process of listening to individuals, the community and voluntary sector and leading academics. Do the two parties of Government really expect the people of Northern Ireland to believe that this renewed listening, to the same stakeholders who will be telling them the same things, will create a policy portfolio that will address what should have been addressed over the last four years?
In 2013, homelessness charity Crisis carried out research that identified that Northern Ireland had higher rates of homelessness than any other region of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the latest statistics on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive website show that there are 39,338 individuals on the housing waiting list, of whom 22,097 are considered to be in housing stress, including 11,016 households deemed to be statutorily homeless. That is simply not acceptable.
The Department for Communities is very large and has a wide range of functions. In addition to the functions of DSD, it has taken on many of those of DCAL. I know that many people are concerned that arts and culture may receive less priority in the new Department, but I am determined that that should not be the case. Arts funding became a major issue in the last Assembly as budgets were cut and many groups faced severe difficulties. Prior to the election, the Ulster Unionist Party produced a policy document dedicated to the arts and, in our Assembly election manifesto, we committed ourselves to five points — not the only party that had a five-point plan. A key one was to lobby for the inclusion of the arts in the next PFG, outlining the Executive's acknowledgement of the importance of the arts and demonstrating our commitment to them.
Instead of entering this mandate with a clear strategy and a set of policies that are already addressing the growing demands for social housing, tackling poverty and delivering for communities, we enter a new mandate with fluffy promises to make it better and calling on those who have already been talking to us to say some more.
I am just about to finish; you can come in in a minute.
I will give credit where credit is due, and I will play my part as a member of the official Opposition to ensure that those fluffy promises are turned into results that benefit those who need help the most.
That is me finished, folks; fire away.
This morning, when I woke up, I heard of the death of a constituent, which the police were investigating. In the last hour, I have heard that it was a member of the Assembly staff who died. I would like to put on record my condolences to the family and, if the initial suspicions of the police are true, I wish them every success in their investigation and in catching whoever was responsible for the death, if it has been untoward.
I welcome the outcomes-based approach of the draft Programme for Government framework. I think it is a progressive way of providing a holistic and long-term vision for Northern Ireland. The test is not what is in the document; it will be in what is to come. Politics is not simply about what we want to achieve. Ask any person in the street, and they will want to see better educational achievement, better health outcomes and fewer preventable deaths. These are things that we can all subscribe to. The art of politics is in the how: how are we going to achieve these things? We are not there yet with this document, so it is right that this is a take-note debate because that is all we can do with the document. We can take note of it; the real substance will come in the actions plans and, I hope, a legislative timetable for what we should expect to come forward from this Executive on how they can deliver on these outcomes.
When he spoke, Mr Attwood talked about a hope of a paradigm shift and following the Scottish model of being open and being an interactive government that engages with the wider community. I hope for that too, but I have to say that I am not optimistic on that. My party was asked to meet the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in relation to the Justice portfolio. Quite reasonably, I thought, I asked to see a draft of the Programme for Government, and I was told no. If that is a sign of the type of engagement that we are going to see from this Government, I am afraid that the hope of a paradigm shift will not be lived up to.
The First Minister also spoke about a spirit of cooperation. Members will be well aware that that was high on my agenda in the last Assembly, having brought forward the Children's Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. I want to see us go beyond the legal requirement of government to work together for children and see a government that works together for the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. However, it appears that there is going to be no legislative requirement for that. In fact, in the last mandate, we could not secure a legal commitment to have cooperative governance. When John McCallister brought through his opposition Bill, his plan had been that the government would be a single entity. It concerns me that those now in power were resistant to that requirement. What I will be looking for today from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister is a commitment that we will not see a repeat of the embarrassment of Ministers suing other Ministers, which we saw repeatedly in the last Assembly, including from the now First Minister. This was not only a cost to public finances but a cost to the reputation of these institutions and our governance. We need to see cooperative governance and a Government that act as one and are responsible for all decisions, not just those of their particular party colleagues.
I welcome the commitment to equality in outcome 3 in the document. Again, the test will be in what actions are taken to achieve that equality. Equality is not simply ending discrimination, as is mentioned in the opening paragraphs of outcome 3. Equality has to be about more than that; it has to be about inclusion and rights protected within the law. In that, we have a challenge to the parties of government. Are we going to see Minister Givan bring forward the long-awaited sexual orientation strategy, which was promised in the last Programme for Government but not delivered? Are we going to finally see legislation for marriage equality brought through and passed in this Assembly? We have to respect the mandate of the DUP, whose manifesto said that it would not support such provision. Equally, however, I call on the First Minister and her party to respect the mandate of those of us who were elected with the commitment that we would achieve marriage equality and that, when that proposal comes back to the Assembly, we will see no petition of concern and will see respect of that mandate. More importantly, I hope that we will see a signal that we can have inclusivity in Northern Ireland and that outcome 3, for a more equal society, is not just words but something we can achieve in reality.
There is another commitment to increase environmental sustainability. I express my optimism, I suppose, about that being there, but I am disappointed that the only measure seems to be the measurement of greenhouse gases. That is absolutely fundamental, of course, but I cannot stand over a commitment to environmental sustainability that says that if you reduce greenhouse gases it is OK if you pollute our rivers. We need something more holistic. We need genuine sustainability.
I worry that all the talk about openness and well-being is undermined by the very opening purpose statement, which talks about:
"Improving wellbeing for all — by tackling disadvantage, and driving economic growth".
Having read through the document at length over the weekend and having read through it again and again, I cannot help but think that it is not a draft Programme for Government at all but is, in fact, 114 pages of concentrated waffle that is designed to deflect from an already agreed programme of Thatcherite austerity. There are plenty of aspirations in the document, many of which I agree with and, no doubt, many Members would agree with. In the end, the devil is in the detail and actions speak louder than words.
Take the aspiration to reduce poverty, for example. That is an important and laudable aspiration, but what does it mean in practice? We know, for example, that benefit cuts will increase poverty. We know that job losses will increase poverty. We know that the bedroom tax, which is coming in in 2020, will increase poverty, and we know that all that is in the Fresh Start Agreement. How can we reconcile the reality of an austerity programme like the Fresh Start Agreement with an aspiration to reduce poverty? The truth is that the Executive cannot.
Again, there is an aspiration in the document to improve mental health. Of course, everyone in the Chamber would welcome that, but how can we square that with a situation where in the areas with the highest levels of suicide and most affected by issues associated with mental health, north and west Belfast, there is a disgraceful plan to close down mental health centres? What use is that aspiration to the users of Everton and Whiterock mental health centres in Belfast?
What is more, how can any aspiration to reduce poverty or improve public services be reconciled with an economic plan taken straight from the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan playbook to reduce tax on corporations and give big business handouts? The last 30 years of neo-liberalism have taught us that there is no such thing as trickle-down economics. It does not exist, and it does not work. In reality, the Fresh Start Agreement is a plan to send wealth upwards at the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds that will be paid by the taxpayer and the public sector.
There is an alternative to the right-wing economics advocated by the Executive. It is based not on cutting tax on corporations but on making the rich pay. It is an alternative that does not seek to set aside millions of pounds, as the Fresh Start Agreement indicates, to go after so-called benefit fraud; instead, it sets money aside to go after the real fraudsters, who avoid paying millions and billions of pounds in taxes. There are more multimillionaires per head of population in Belfast than in any other city here in the North or in Britain, except London and oil-rich Aberdeen. A socialist alternative says, "Make them pay".
Why not abolish the rates system and replace it with a progressive local income tax where the rich pay the most, or, at least, why not remove the cap on rates for the wealthiest? Why do we not stop wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on wasteful PFI schemes? Why do we not end the wasteful voluntary redundancy scheme where £700 million is being set aside to put people out of work? <BR/>Why do we not use £700 million to build homes and put people into work? It is not about a lack of money, it is about priorities. If it were about lack of money, the House would not have consistently afforded itself a pay rise while telling everyone else to take a pay freeze or pay cut.
The House has failed the vast majority of people here for too long. I am very doubtful that the Programme for Government represents anything different. Indeed, the introduction to the document says that its progress cannot be judged in a single Assembly term but, rather, in a generation's time.
I want to make it clear that we do not have a generation's time to wait in order for the House to get its act together. Public-sector workers and hard-working staff in places like the Royal Victoria Hospital do not have a generation's time to wait for the living wage. The LGBT community cannot wait a generation to see its right to equal marriage granted. Those in child poverty will not be children in a generation's time, and they cannot be expected to wait. Women who are being prosecuted because they want to control their own bodies cannot wait a generation. The Irish language community, the pioneers of Bóthar Seoighe, with the thousands of people following in their footsteps in schools like Coláiste Feirste, have waited long enough for their rights and I am sure that they will not be prepared to sit back and wait to see if Stormont sorts things out in a generation's time. And, of course, the thousands of people who want to see a future free from sectarianism and communal bickering cannot be expected to wait a generation when they already have had to wait for at least 20 years.
In closing, I remind the House, and anyone else who is watching, that what Stormont does, people and the workers can undo. Even if the Programme for Government goes through, which it likely will, that will not be the end of the matter, because the day of reckoning is yet to come, and it is coming soon for the austeritymongers on both sides of the Chamber.
This document can only be described, at best, as synthetic and shallow. It is not about producing a Programme for Government; it is a mere collection of platitudes. It is an all-things-to-all-men manifesto with no direction as to how it is going to deliver any of the platitudes. Of course, there is a very good reason for that, which is that this is a Government of irreconcilable differences.
It is no surprise then that they postpone the production of a Programme for Government. As has been pointed out, Fresh Start told us that this document was to be out in April 2016, and then there would be the draft Programme for Government. Of course, six months later, all of that is in reverse. The reason why it is in reverse is that this is a Government that are incapable of agreeing their vision. We know this through no better source than the First Minister, because she told us all, in her quest to be elected, that it was imperative that she be elected because Martin McGuinness, her partner, had a very different vision. She told her spring conference in Limavady that Sinn Féin would take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction. Now, the terrible twins, the DUP and Sinn Féin, are in the position of having to try to produce a Programme for Government, knowing as they do that they are pulling in opposite directions and that one wants to go socially, economically and in other ways in one direction while the other wants to go in the opposite direction. So, it is no surprise to me that we have this synthetic, shallow document which does not answer any of the questions.
This is a document with nothing on some of the key issues. We have the situation of education, where, for years, we have not even been able to regulate, within the ambit of government, the transfer of our children from primary to post-primary.
This document has no vision or way forward on that. It has nothing to say about cuts or the austerity to which the last Member referred. Nowhere does it set out any sense of fiscal probity or direction. Why? They are pulling in opposite directions, so it just goes silent on those issues.
The document has nothing to say about paramilitaries to any degree that matters. There may be no surprise there. If they want indicators in this new world where we will judge things by indicators and match them against indicators, what about the indicator of Sinn Féin no longer being inextricably linked to the IRA? Would that be a good indicator of whether paramilitarism is being dealt with? It was the First Minister who told us that Sinn Féin — her partner — is inextricably linked to the IRA. There is an indicator, if you want to take one, of whether any progress has been made on paramilitarism.
Try another. Try the indicator that Sinn Féin at last admits that there is an IRA. Would that be a good indicator to tell us whether this coming together to address issues such as paramilitarism is bearing any fruit, or is it just OK within the ambit of this woolly, meaningless document that, even in the face of a report on paramilitarism and the Chief Constable reaffirming his assessment of last autumn, Sinn Féin can be part of this Government, pull in whatever direction it is meant to be that the framework suggests and still say, "IRA? What IRA? There is no IRA". The First Minister can tell us that there has to be because her partner — Sinn Féin — is inextricably linked to the IRA, which her partner says does not exist. Just let them think about how they will square that circle on paramilitarism. When you begin to think about that, you begin to see just how facile and meaningless the document is.
Finally, it is my hope that, in two and a half weeks' time, the document will require a major rewrite because it will become the responsibility of the devolved Assembly to play its part in extracting this part of the United Kingdom from the EU. We will then need to think about the policies by which we will retake our fishing industry, we will have a Department that will set the arrangements for fishing — there is not much shadow or thought of that in the document — and Departments will have to prepare a bonfire of EU regulations.
Unlike many of my new colleagues in the Assembly, I will not take the opportunity today to make my maiden speech. I will do that another time. I will just make my comments brief.
Throughout the document, there is much mention of improving health, housing, respect, poverty, economic inequality and education. It mentions various targeted demographics, such as children, the disabled and youth. Identity and even paramilitaries are mentioned, as I have heard in the discussion in the Chamber several times. Those noble sentiments are all to be applauded, but, for me, the glaring omission from the document is women. Women are over half the population in Northern Ireland, yet they remain untargeted by commitments to improve the inequalities levied on them. Indicator 7, for example, states that we wish to "Improve health in pregnancy", yet it is concerned only with a baby's birth weight; it does not address a pregnant woman's health outcomes. If we are to wait for wider society to fill in the blanks in the document, I call for wider society to take a very gendered view of what this Programme for Government should deliver over the next couple of years.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
I have watched, over the past several years, as consultation after consultation is responded to and those responses are ignored. I have seen strategies such as the childcare strategy being written and put forward after a lot of work, time, effort and money has been spent to produce them and then being shelved. I feel that this Programme for Government ignores the role of women in Northern Ireland and makes no commitment to us. Given the work undertaken in the previous mandate, particularly our previous Speaker's commitment to good works and the creation of a women's caucus in the Assembly, I hope that, in this mandate, we can begin to address gender inequality in Northern Ireland with the urgency that it deserves.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I have listened carefully to what has been an interesting and, not too many times, passionate debate. I am pleased by the support shown for the Executive's Programme for Government framework approach. As the First Minister said in her opening remarks, the approach and style of the next Programme for Government will be different. That is not to say that previous Administrations were wrong to do what they did or that their actions and strategies were misguided; much of the work started previously will continue and, I have no doubt, find a place under the new Programme for Government. However, the difference this time is that we will have a much clearer idea of what we want to achieve and be in a better position to tell what is working and what is not. We will also have a better picture of the things that we need to do — the things that will make a real difference — so that we can take the important actions for those whom we should be working with and supporting.
By adopting an outcomes-based approach to the Programme for Government, the Executive have made some significant statements of intent and ambition. It sets the bar at a high level and commits the Executive to taking on the most difficult challenges facing our society. If something can make a difference to our societal well-being, it will be taken on. Where evidence demonstrates that efforts are not making a difference, we will be quick to alter course and redirect resources to more meaningful effect.
The document that we are debating today has been agreed by the Executive, but it is just the beginning. It is a draft Programme for Government framework and, as the name suggests, a structure for carrying more detailed programmes, strategies, actions and plans. As an Executive, we are committed to improving public services, investing in our schools, hospitals and roads and protecting the most vulnerable, and that is against a backdrop of increasing pressure on public finances.
As an Executive, we need to be more creative and more joined-up if we are to deliver for all of the people. The new approach to developing a Programme for Government will allow the Executive to rise to those challenges. Over the next three months, the Executive will formulate the work programmes that they believe will deliver the outcomes contained in the framework. However, this will not be done in isolation. Ministers and their senior officials will want to use this period to take every opportunity to meet stakeholders and potential delivery partners from all sectors to discuss and agree on the roles that they might be able to play in achieving our common goal.
I turn to some of the comments that were made. I took a careful note of most of what Members said. Obviously, given the time, I will not be able to cover everything.
The discussion on the debate began with the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who declared himself proud not to have been involved in the Programme for Government process. He was not because he left the Government last year. Instead of standing with the rest of us to face down those still involved in criminality in our society, he took the coward's way out and took his party out of the Executive. He went on to say that there were two tests that they applied to whether or not they would be in government on this occasion. Both tests have no credibility whatsoever, in my eyes.
In my view, the reason why the Ulster Unionist Party did not come into government was because of the election results. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Programme for Government. If the party had been returned with enough MLAs to have three, or even two, Members in the Executive as Ministers, it would have gone through the door and into the Executive like a rocket. The leader did not do that because the election did not turn out as he thought it would. That was the only reason why the Ulster Unionists did not come into the Executive.
He also said that, from 2011 to 2016, the Executive did not deliver, but he totally ignored the fact that many of the difficulties presented to the Executive were mostly of an economic nature in relation to the massive cuts inflicted on our Executive by a Tory-led Administration in London. That had a very dramatic effect on our Departments' ability to deliver, including the Department for Regional Development, which the Ulster Unionist Party held. Of course, the Ulster Unionist Party went into the general election of 2010 supporting the Conservatives who took those decisions, and it is quite rich, in my opinion, to try to blame the Executive for the difficulties that were presented to us by the dramatic cut to our block grant.
Christopher Stalford went on to talk about a very important issue, which is how poverty affects communities. All of us recognise that we need to improve the health of everyone and ensure that people have the best opportunity to live longer, including people in Sandy Row and, indeed, many other areas. Healthy lives are an obvious outcome for inclusion in the Programme for Government. There will be increasing demands on our health system, and the implications for our public finances make this one of the biggest challenges facing the Executive.
As we all know, an international expert has been invited to study our health service and, no doubt, he will come forward with proposals that he hopes, and many of us will hope, that all the political parties can sign up to. Hopefully, that will be a dramatic opportunity for us to ensure that we are consistently in the business of improving our health service. That is a major issue.
Conor Murphy and Pam Cameron mentioned the issue of how outcomes can help communities, particularly people who are suffering marginalisation and disadvantage. That is very important. That outcome is about helping and caring for the most vulnerable in our society and ensuring that provision is adequate to meet their needs, but it is also about giving people the opportunity and means to help themselves.
Somebody said that there was no mention of victims in the context of what we are trying to do, but an important dimension to all this will be addressing the legacy of historical institutional abuse, the legacy of the past, the needs of victims and survivors and other issues associated with our past. All those will have to be tackled in the next term of this Administration.
Alex Attwood asked a number of questions about the approach for the Programme for Government framework. He described it as a hybrid document. The reality is that, since November 2015, the SDLP had representatives attending all the meetings that took place from the very beginning right through to the election. I think that most of the people who came were note takers, and I do not think that any of the representatives uttered a single word during that conversation. We got that from the civil servants and from other political parties who attended the meetings. That clearly indicated something to me from a very early stage. I went so far as to ask for a meeting with the leader of the SDLP, well in advance of the election, to establish whether it was going to come into the Executive. He talked about how it would depend on the outcome of the discussions around the Programme for Government. We then had workshops, meetings and discussions, to which his party was invited, yet his party made little or no contribution to those discussions. It was then that the warning bells rang in my head that, in all probability, the SDLP would not come into the Executive. Why did it not come into the Executive? For the same reasons that the Ulster Unionist Party did not come into the Executive: it did not get the result that it had hoped for. The SDLP came back to the Assembly with 12 Members and decided, like the Ulster Unionist Party, in an act of desperation, that, in order to change its political fortunes, not the fortunes of the people of the North of Ireland, it would absent itself from the Executive and go into opposition. That is the reality. Of course, the SDLP has hooked its wagon to a political party that, even though it held the Department for Regional Development, was totally and absolutely opposed to the construction of the A5. That is clearly on the public record.
Alex Attwood also said that people in the community are not happy about the approach that is being adopted. He certainly does not speak for Celine McStravick, who is the director of the National Children's Bureau for the North. She said that the NCB is delighted that the Northern Ireland Executive have adopted an outcomes-based approach with their Programme for Government. She went on to say that that is an extremely significant change in how government will work and, if operated correctly, will ensure that Programme for Government policies deliver tangible results for the benefit of all. She went on to say that, for the first time, citizens will be at the centre of policymaking, Departments will have to work together to achieve policy objectives and there are important implications for the way the entire Civil Service will work. She said that, to that end, the NCB has been heavily involved in working with the Executive to help bring this shift in direction, which is delivering great results across the world, and that the NCB looks forward to aiding the Executive with their aim of effective delivery and to therefore secure improved outcomes for children, families and communities.
I thank Naomi Long for her support for the process. She took a very honourable approach on behalf of her party. She gave a very clear and correct explanation of her party's understanding of the process and what was clearly the disingenuous approach of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.
John O'Dowd gave us all a reality check, setting out the challenges facing our Departments for the next five years as a result of the austerity agenda pursued by the Tory Government in London. Is it not amazing to hear people talk about the lack of achievement from the Assembly and Executive in the last term? How many times did you hear the British Government mentioned during this debate by some of the most vehement critics of what we are trying to do? The Executive are described as right wing, anti-children, anti-education, anti-health and anti-everything when, in reality, the people who hold the purse strings are the British Government. During the last term of the Assembly, the British Government cut ruthlessly into our block grant. There needs to be a reality check when people look at how we go forward, and not just in relation to a recognition of that issue. The words "motherhood and apple pie" have been used quite a number of times today, and I hope that, when people come forward with their ideas about how we improve life for our people, they will come forward with costed proposals on how we do it. It will be against the backdrop of recognising that we are still dealing with a ruthless Tory Administration in London that are still committed to austerity. It was important that John gave us that reality check.
Phillip Logan, from North Antrim, mentioned the issue of jobs in Ballymena, and we all know that Ballymena, like many other areas, has been hit, but they have been hit very badly by job losses in recent times.
Jenny Palmer, from Lagan Valley, talked about infrastructure. She actually mentioned the words "vanity projects". Implicit in all that was that we need more roads east of the Bann and not so many west of the Bann. I do not accept that. Of course, the Ulster Unionist Party was in no way enthusiastic about the high-level North/South Ministerial Council project that was the construction of the A5. She made points in relation to the Balmoral show, which has been a huge success, and access routes to the show, all of which are legitimate remarks. Of course, many of the difficulties and problems around the Maze/Long Kesh site came from the fact that the Ulster Unionist Party lined up alongside the extremists within society who were opposed to the construction of the peace-building and conflict resolution centre on that site.
Linda Dillon, from Mid Ulster, talked about the need for environmental sustainability; how we deal with household waste; the need for good, high-quality jobs for rural dwellers; the importance of the agrifood industry as well as improving rural broadband to remove the inequalities that rural dwellers suffer from. She made a vital point, and that is the relationship of this Administration with the super-councils that are now 14 months old.
Emma Pengelly, from South Belfast, talked about the need to tackle poverty and growing our economy, and she quoted Muhammad Ali. All of us who grew up with Muhammad Ali not only believed he was a great boxer but absolutely believed that he was somebody who was totally in favour of equality, coming as he did from a community in the United States of America that had been treated despicably for a very long time. So, we remember him fondly today.
Claire Hanna talked about prickliness from the Government parties and talked about Fresh Start. She was proud that the SDLP was against Fresh Start, and not just against it but voted against it in the Executive. What would have been the consequences if we had voted against Fresh Start and if the DUP had not gone for Fresh Start? I will tell you what the consequences would have been: direct rule Ministers would have been in here the next day imposing their water charges, removing the right to free prescriptions, removing the free travel for older people, and God knows what else.
The alternative to Fresh Start would have been to negotiate solutions to a lot of the issues that were ignored by Fresh Start. The Member critiques the lack of detail in our responses, yet the outcomes-based approach with no detail is fine for you. You critique us hitching our wagon to the Ulster Unionist Party, which, you claim, is anti-building roads. Have you any differences with the party you have hitched your own wagon to?
You criticise the process that we outlined to the electorate, which was that we would seek to negotiate a Programme for Government and, if it was not acceptable, we would go into opposition. You did that in the Republic; we did the same here. Can you outline, without recourse to the phrase "enemy of the peace process", the difference between what you did in the South and what we have done here in choosing to use opposition to hold a failing Government to account?
You raised an awful lot of issues during that concise contribution. The reality is, no matter how you dress it up, if there had been no Fresh Start Agreement — you were involved in the discussions that led up to it — direct rule Ministers would have been in here the following week, and you would not be sitting in the seat that you are in today. I would not and neither would the First Minister be in the positions that we are in today. Let us deal with the reality of what we had to deal with during the course of last year. If we had followed the SDLP position, there would have been no Assembly, there would have been no Executive, and the British Government would have had their fingers on the tiller here in the North. That is the reality.
In terms of how we move forward, we were criticised right, left and centre by the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP during the last Administration. We were effectively dealing with a situation where both parties wanted to have one foot in the Government and the other foot out, one foot in the boat and one foot on the bank. We know where that takes you. It takes you absolutely nowhere.
During Colum Eastwood's contribution, he correctly talked about the fact that, during the election, everybody in the House went out and talked to thousands of people and stakeholders about what they were offering up. Of course, that debate was had. There were television debates, and people had an opportunity to make judgements. They sent the DUP back into the House with 38 seats. They sent the Ulster Unionists back into the House with 16. They sent us back to the House with 28 seats, and they sent the SDLP back with 12. The people made their judgement, and they judged that they wanted us, with all of the difficulties, challenges and problems that we had during the last term, to take our society forward. I had always hoped that we could have done that and that the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists would have been in that power-sharing Executive, which was the central theme of the Good Friday Agreement, but of course that did not happen.
Barry McElduff went on to talk about education, the importance of literacy and numeracy and the brilliant work that John O'Dowd did in raising the levels of literacy and numeracy in schools. He mentioned the fact that there was a dramatic increase in the number of young people leaving with five good GCSEs. I think that he deserves credit for that.
Stephen Farry talked about SIF. I remember, when SIF was first mooted, that Alex Attwood described it as a slush fund for paramilitaries. Whatever about the challenges with a new and innovative project, it was certainly no slush fund for paramilitaries. The reality is that it was an attempt to empower local communities, and, indeed, projects are now up and running in local communities that are having an impact on poverty and on people who have not had a job for a very long time and which are also providing much-needed amenities and facilities for local communities.
On how we go forward, we also had a contribution from Doug Beattie from Upper Bann. Obviously, all of us were very sad to hear of the tragedy in his family, and I think that there is not a person in the House who was not totally sympathetic to his family at that time. He raised the issue primarily of how we bear down on the activities of armed gangs and paramilitary groups that are still out there and are still hostile to the peace process and, clearly, would not like it to succeed. We have received the report from the three-person panel, and that will go to our Executive in the next while. That report deals with everything referenced in Doug Beattie's comments, and I think that people will await the outcome of that with considerable interest.
Declan McAleer talked about the situation in West Tyrone, and he made a very important point, which was articulated by others as well. He encouraged people in society and in the community to become involved in this consultation. That includes people who are involved in the community and voluntary sector, different stakeholders and ordinary people who have an interest in how we go forward. I renew that appeal. I think that it is very important that we see as much involvement as possible from the public in all of this.
Daithí McKay rightly talked about family-friendly hours, and he made the same point about the public and stakeholders having their say. He rightly challenged opposition parties to come forward with their costed proposals. That is where the "motherhood and apple pie" is in opposition land. It is out there because people think that they have the right to come in here and stand up and make all sorts of grandiose claims such as, "Why are we not doing this? Why are we not doing that? You have failed us on this. You have failed us on that". Let us hear and see the costed proposals, and let us see how that fits into the Budget that we as an Executive have to deal with as a result of the challenges that we face coming from London and the fact that they have the ability to cut our block grant.
Jo-Anne Dobson dwelt on a range of health issues. Of course, we have a new Health Minister who is working against the backdrop of what will be, hopefully, significant change as we go forward in this term, not least because of the challenges posed for all of us by the outcome of an international report on our health service.
I have already mentioned Colum Eastwood, who came after. The main point I made was in agreement with him. We all spoke to the public against the backdrop of the relentless criticism of the DUP and Sinn Féin from the UUP and the SDLP; yet the public, in its wisdom, decided to return us as the lead partners in this Executive.
I was quite shocked by the comments of Sandra Overend from Mid Ulster, which were terrible and very unfair to young people who are taught through the medium of Irish in Coláiste Feirste. For that to be her first point, in a criticism of the Education Minister's visit to the school, was shameful and I think she should be embarrassed at that remark.
Andy Allen talked about fluffy promises. There is nothing fluffy about what we are trying to do, which is to give the public an opportunity to have their say rather than take a top-down approach. This has been successful in other places in ensuring that there is an opportunity for the public to have a meaningful input into the outcome of this Programme for Government.
Steven Agnew mentioned the death of a member of Assembly staff, which shocked us all: some of us have been sitting here for a couple of hours and had not heard about it. Whatever the circumstances, the First Minister and I, with everybody in the House, send our sympathy and condolences to the family as they deal with a very traumatic situation.
Steven went on to talk about equality. On this important issue, there will be times when the DUP and Sinn Féin will not agree, particularly in relation to issues such as marriage equality. These are things that we have to work through. We are all on a journey, and we all recognise that there is a duty on us to ensure that nobody in our society feels discriminated against.
Gerry Carroll made his point that it was 114 pages of concentrated waffle. He also said that the devil is in the detail. Of course it is, and it is unfair to use such terminology at this stage when we have yet to see the outcome of the public consultation, including the public in West Belfast and those in many other parts of the North who want to see us tackling poverty and standing up for the most marginalised, vulnerable and disabled in our society. I was taken aback by his information, which I have not got, that the bedroom tax will be here in 2020. We have made it absolutely clear that, under no circumstances, will our people, no matter what section of society they come from, have a bedroom tax imposed upon them.
Jim Allister made his contribution, and the less said about that the better.
Clare Bailey talked about the glaring omission being the position of women, although she paid tribute to Mitchel McLaughlin for the creation of the women's forum, which has been a very important development in our Assembly.
I said before the election, at the beginning of last month, that my priority was to bring forward and implement a Programme for Government that grows the economy, provides proper public services and promotes equality and inclusion. I also said that we need a Government that work coherently and collectively, and with equality and respect at the heart of how we do business. I am pleased to say that the Executive's draft Programme for Government framework does all that and more. It will enable us to prosper, live longer and healthier lives, have an equal society, live sustainably, be innovative and creative and be a place in which people can fulfil their potential. It will help us to have more and better jobs, build safe communities, care for others and provide help to those most in need. It will establish a basis for us to be a confident, welcoming and shared society that respects diversity, where we give our children the best start in life, and where we are all well connected by good infrastructure in a place where people want to live and work and that is attractive to visitors and investors. It will also allow the Executive to do things differently, working in more joined-up ways and engaging with stakeholders and delivery partners from every sector.
When the full document is finalised at the end of the year, I am committed to the fact that it will be not only a programme that affects us all but a programme to which everyone can subscribe and in which everyone can play a part.
I commend the draft Programme for Government framework and ask the Assembly to support the motion.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly takes note of the draft Programme for Government framework 2016-2021 as agreed by the Executive on 26 May 2016.