COVID-19 Guidance and Financial Support to Industry Sectors

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 7th July 2020.

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Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15 pm, 7th July 2020

No, I will not.

At the Committee, I specifically asked the head of the DVA to tell me who has responsibility for driving instructors. They are self-employed. I have been approached by driving instructors. I have corresponded with them and given them the best advice available to me. However, I am very clear: driving instructors are self-employed, and their guidance was on the website of the Department for the Economy. The Minister for Infrastructure has responsibility for driving examiners, an entirely different kettle of fish, especially if you are the one doing the test.

In relation to the furlough scheme and the haulage sectors, you can see that the Infrastructure Minister has, alongside the Finance Minister, corresponded with the Department for Transport and put in place whatever measures and opportunities she could to protect ferry routes. Unfortunately, however, the ferry companies decided to keep the financial package for themselves and did not pass on a reduction to the haulage sector. That is regrettable. It is something, I am sure, that the Department for Transport and, individually, Ministers here have raised with the ferry companies. However, that is the fact of the matter.

I looked up the guidance for taxi drivers myself, as I had heard what driving instructors were saying. I wanted to find out what the guidance was so that I could pass it on to driving instructors. Lo and behold, where was the guidance? It was on the Department for the Economy's website, because that is where the guidance comes from, as taxi drivers are a self-employed sector.

We have great difficulties with the motion because it leads to confusion and misdirects. It is not serving the people, whom they said they seek to serve and get the best for. If we are honest and truthful with all those sectors, we will give them the right information, at the right time and send them to the right Ministers to get the help that they need. We would not send them up the garden path for us to make our own political point-scoring available to them.

In the SDLP amendment, we want to recognise the fact that this matter is not simply for DFI, where there is very clear regulatory responsibility. I will give the House some indication of some of the decisions that the Minister took within her area of responsibility.

The Minister wrote to Ministers Murphy and Dodds, seeking information and advice as to whether there was specific support and financial assistance that the taxi industry could access. Again and again, Minister Mallon wrote to the Executive, stressing that there was a need to ascertain what financial support could be made available to the industry. She also wrote to the Minister for Communities, asking whether taxis could be redeployed to help support the fightback against COVID-19. In the responses from the Sinn Féin Ministers, Minister Mallon was assured that there was support for taxi drivers. She was assured that a Sinn Féin Minister was exploring options for redeployment. People should ask what happened: what redeployment opportunities were presented by that Sinn Féin Minister? Minister Dodds not only wrote to Minister Mallon but, in answers to MLAs, she clearly pointed out that she was providing guidance for the taxi industry. The taxi industry has availed itself of support.

I am mindful that I have to address the issue around the coach and private hire sectors. It is my understanding that the Minister for the Economy will be making that provision because the industry is part of the wider hospitality task force that has been asked to look at the options that might be available for them. I hope that good news will come to that particular sector, because we all know that, the drop-off in tourism, especially from outside Northern Ireland, has had an adverse impact on that sector.

It is most regrettable. In all my years, Committees have spoken with one voice. We have not generally created divisions, and it is very clear to see where the party political point-scoring is coming from. Some Members are looking for a greater focus on some industries and not on others. You have to ask why they seek to support some specific industries.

The message is that, if there are opportunities for the Executive to help in any way, in any particular loophole or gap that needs to be filled, I ask Members to support our amendment, so that we can act and speak with one voice.