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Programme for Government 2016-2021

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP 2:00 pm, 7th November 2016

3. Mr Swann asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline any discussion that they have had with the Minister of Finance in relation to the Programme for Government 2016-2021. (AQO 569/16-21)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

We are taking a collaborative approach to developing the Programme for Government. There is regular engagement with Executive colleagues, including the Minister of Finance, on the draft Programme for Government that was agreed by the Executive on 27 October 2016. Those engagements will continue as we put in place plans to realise the programme's outcome of societal well-being. Clearly, there is a connection between work on the Programme for Government and work on the Budget. Once we have greater clarity regarding our funding envelope, which will be after the Westminster autumn statement, we will carefully align the Budget with the Programme for Government.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the First Minister for her answer. She referred to work on the Budget and Programme for Government. Has she had any discussions with the Finance Minister on setting aside money for the financial implications of the renewable heat incentive scheme?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

That is a very creative way in which to get the renewable heat incentive scheme into First Minister's questions. We are engaging weekly with the Finance Minister on the Budget. That will become a lot clearer once we have had the autumn statement, which is at the end of this month. Then, we will be able to align the Budget with the Programme for Government and, indeed, deal with any other demands on the Budget.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

Can the First Minister indicate whether the Ulster Unionist Party made a substantive response to the Programme for Government and, if so, whether there were any ideas in it worth taking on board?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Yes, I can. This is the response to the Programme for Government from the Ulster Unionist Party. The first page is a commentary on the Programme for Government. Most of the second page is the same. The response has one — one — item that the party wanted to bring to the attention of the Executive.

I will read it out with your permission, Mr Speaker:

"In the spirit of constructive opposition, we offer one important addition to the 14 outcomes listed on page 12 of the Programme for Government framework".

Bear in mind that it has had months to put together its response to the Programme for Government. This is what we get:

"In recognition of the legacy of the Troubles, we suggest the outcomes should include specific references to victims and survivors beyond the general comment 'We care for others and we help those in need'".

And it gives us draft wording. That is it. That is it in terms of the Programme for Government. That is it in terms of what one of the Opposition parties has to say in relation to the Programme for Government. That is it.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 7th November 2016

How has the decision to adopt an outcomes-based approach been received during consultation?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

It has been received very well, apart from that response from the Ulster Unionist Party. Eight hundred and ten consultees have put forward their views. Most of them are a little bit longer than that. The deputy First Minister and I were at a conference organised recently in Belfast that was attended mostly by local government and the third sector. Attendees warmly welcomed the outcome-focused approach and the very collaborative way in which we are taking forward the Programme for Government. I think that most people recognise the need to work not just across government but outside of government if we are going to make a real impact with what we want to do for Northern Ireland.

It has been received very well. The second iteration is now out for consultation. I encourage everyone to look at it and bring forward their ideas. That consultation ends on 23 December, just before Christmas.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answers so far. I noticed that one of your colleagues asked about the SDLP's responses. We put in 50 suggested legislative initiatives that the Government could take. I do not blame the Ulster Unionists; they are not there to be a think tank for you. As with the Bengoa report, I did not see any financial allocations. Will you outline what financial provision will be made over and above recurrent spending to address specific Programme for Government priorities?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I do not know whether the Member was in the House when I said that we are waiting on the autumn statement at the end of November so that we can align the Budget with the Programme for Government. That, of course, is what we intend to do. I welcome the fact that the SDLP made suggestions. That is what opposition is meant to be about. I note that she gave cover to the Ulster Unionist Party by saying that it is not there as a think tank. It is there as an Opposition, and it is meant to put forward an alternative. It has not done so. Until it does, it should reflect on that.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

First Minister, are you not somewhat embarrassed by the way in which you seemed to sneak out the latest emanation of the Programme for Government on a Friday before a holiday? Much more importantly, is there not a paucity of targets in the document that has been delivered? I understand the point about finance, but surely a Programme for Government must have targets in it.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am certainly not embarrassed about putting the document out. There was a press release that went out. I am sorry if the Member was off on his holidays and was not able to read that. I cannot answer for the media. If they are not interested in covering the Programme for Government going out in its second iteration, that is a matter for them, not for me.