Official Report: Monday 06 June 2016
The Assembly met at 12:00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.
Mr Speaker: Before we proceed to the Question, I remind Members that the motion requires cross-community support.
That Standing Order 20(1) be suspended for 6 June 2016. — [Mr Clarke.]
Mr Speaker: The Minister of Health wishes to make a statement on waiting times.
Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Health): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a statement to the Assembly today on a hugely important matter for the health service: the excessive waiting times for treatment currently experienced by patients across the North. I attach such importance to this matter that it is the first area of my responsibilities that I have chosen to speak to the Assembly about since taking up office as Minister. It is, of course, one of a number of challenging issues, but it is probably the one that causes most concern to patients, and I am determined to turn that position round. That said, to do so will require the continuing support of my Executive colleagues.
The root causes of the problem here are representative of the wider challenges to the provision of world-class health and social care: increasing demand; financial constraints; and a slowness to bring about radical change and reform.
The reality is that the way we deliver services has led to a situation where our hospitals are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand for elective care. The specific issues are the increasing complexity of conditions requiring treatment, our ageing population, greater specialisation in the workforce and spreading our resources too thinly across the region.
My energy will be fully directed at reducing waiting times and delivering the change needed to build a sustainable health service for this and future generations. The problems that we face are not unique to the North but are shared with health economies across Europe and beyond.
The work of the expert panel and the organisational reform of health and social care that was started by my Department earlier this year hold the prospect for us to become the pathfinder in finding new, innovative ways to deliver improvement. My approach to securing these improvements will require short-term and longer-term action.
I was proud to be a member of the Executive that, following the Fresh Start Agreement last year, committed £40 million to begin tackling excessive waiting times and invest in front-line services. While this was a short-term measure, it has resulted in over 80,000 patients benefiting directly as a result of the additional funding that was allocated in November 2015. Those patients were previously on waiting lists for assessments, treatments, diagnostics and a range of other services — some for a very long time — and would not yet have been seen or treated had it not been for this investment. In particular, the number of patients waiting longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, which had been steadily increasing for over a year, reduced sharply from December 2015 to March 2016.
Had the trend over the first nine months of 2015-16 continued, it is estimated that the position at the end of March 2016 would have been much worse, with around 189,000 outpatients waiting longer than nine weeks and around 39,000 patients waiting longer than 13 weeks for treatment. The additional activity reduced this forecast position by some 53,000 outpatients and some 6,000 patients waiting longer than 13 weeks for treatment.
I want to pay tribute to our staff in the health service who delivered this activity within a relatively short timescale. Our staff are the health service's greatest asset, and their dedication to delivering high-quality care to patients is the hallmark of the service that we all can recognise.
Through the recent injection of funding, we have clearly demonstrated that we can deliver tangible short-term improvements in waiting times. While I would not dispute the views of those who criticise such short-term action as failing to tackle the underlying issues that contribute to excessive waiting times, my policy will be to adopt a balanced approach to taking further short-term action combined with longer-term change.
My Department will therefore bid for additional resources in June monitoring. If we are successful with this bid, the Executive will be able to build on the progress that has been made over the past few months in tackling waiting times by ensuring that the current demand for elective care is met at broadly the current capacity levels in the health service. However, pursuing short-term initiatives alone will not be good enough for me. I am determined to maintain the momentum that was started by my predecessor Simon Hamilton to transform the way in which we deliver health and social care services. I want to get to a position where excessive waiting times will be in the past and sustainable high-quality services, underpinned by a stable budget, will be the reality and the future going forward.
Part of that transformation must be about primary and secondary care working better together. Integrated care partnerships (ICPs) have already helped to drive new forms of collaboration. Working through ICPs, general practitioners have been reviewing waiting lists in a small number of areas and, drawing on advice from experts in hospitals, have ensured that only those who need to be on a waiting list remain on a waiting list.
There are particular opportunities to undertake this work in specialties such as dermatology, gynaecology, urology, rheumatology and general surgery. A pilot that was undertaken in Belfast during 2015-16 contributed to patients reviewed being removed from the waiting list. My Department has therefore committed £800,000 to expand this work in 2016-17.
This approach means investing in skills and knowledge in primary care. Initiatives such as Project Echo, which uses videoconferencing technology to help transfer expertise from secondary specialists to generalists in primary care, will therefore play an important role.
Against the backdrop of the progress made in recent months, we are developing an elective-care plan to arrest waiting times over the medium to longer term. As well as maximising the number of patients who can be treated in the community, the plan will ensure that existing funded capacity in the health service is fully maximised and targets new recurrent investment to expand the health service's capacity to meet patient demand. However, I will require significant additional funding to deliver that.
I referred earlier to the root causes of the waiting-times problem: increasing demand, financial constraints and a slowness to bring about radical change and reform. While the elective-care plan that I referred to should make a significant impact on reducing current waiting times, providing that additional funding is made available by the Executive, these root causes will be tackled only by securing significant further additional investment to transform the way in which we deliver health and social care.
I will therefore discuss with my Executive colleagues at the earliest opportunity the additional funding for the elective care plan and the need for additional investment to transform the delivery of services. I will also update the Assembly on our approach to delivering the proposed investment.
I referred earlier to the work of the expert panel, led by Professor Bengoa, as holding the prospect for the North to become the pathfinder in finding new, innovative ways to deliver improvement by taking longer-term action to build a vibrant, successful, sustainable health service that delivers better outcomes for patients. Part of that success will be to achieve a stable long-term financial position for the health service, where it is no longer viewed as taking up ever increasing amounts of limited public expenditure in order to respond to short-term budget pressures. I believe that my proposal for significant transformational funding will be money well invested if we can use it to attain the prize of stable finances and sustainable services.
The demand for health services is growing and will continue to grow, driven by demography, an increase in chronic conditions, the emergence of new technologies and changing practice in healthcare. Currently in the North, 49% of people have a long-standing health condition, 60% of people are overweight, 37% are obese and 23% of the population are in receipt of disability living allowance. The population is getting older and, rightly, people have higher expectations for their health service. These factors are creating pressures across the system and are putting increasing demands on an already stretched system. Change is needed and is inevitable. Therefore, we need new ways of working in health and social care to deliver better health outcomes for our population, reformed organisations that positively promote innovation and enable change to happen quickly and better use of our limited resources to deliver the maximum benefit for patients.
I eagerly await the panel’s report at the end of June. My Executive colleagues and I will give it full and detailed consideration, and the Department will publicly consult on our proposals to implement its recommendations.
The political summit, which the panel held on 17 February and was attended by the five main political parties in the Assembly, signalled a sea change in an attempt to build consensus and a willingness across the political spectrum about the key issues that we need to tackle in health and social care and to develop a shared agenda to deliver improvement. I hope that this willingness to work together can be taken forward under the new mandate. I will be meeting Professor Bengoa and his colleagues next week for an update on their emerging findings and proposals and I am grateful to them for their endeavours and commitment to the task at hand.
The Health Minister in the South has said that he will establish a special committee to look at a 10-year plan for the health service there to provide a singular vision over the next 10 years. I believe that we share common issues in building sustainable health services across the island. The opportunity to share best practice and build upon the collaborative service developments that we have already started will, therefore, be part of my agenda to transform health and social care.
To conclude, tackling excessive waiting times is high on my agenda for delivering improvement in the health service and services that are safe and effective for the patients they serve. I assure the Assembly, patients and their families that long waiting times are completely unacceptable to me. However, I will need time, new investment and radical change in how we deliver services to create the conditions for a sustainable health service and the better outcomes that we all want to see.
I commend the statement to the Assembly.
Mrs Dobson: I thank the Health Minister for her statement. We have called for this issue to be the Executive's number one priority and I am pleased that you are addressing it in your first statement. It is also timely, given our party motion tomorrow on this issue. I note the Minister's wish, on the bottom of page two of her statement, to attain stable finances and sustainable services. Does she agree that funding the health service through short-term monitoring rounds must become a thing of the past, and will she provide an update on the additional £30 million announced by her predecessor on 6 March? I note that that is not mentioned in the statement.
Mrs O'Neill: I thank the Member for her comments and her question. Going forward, I want to be in a position where we put the health service on a footing that allows us to be sustainable and give the first-class service that our healthcare workers provide. The only way we are going to be able to, realistically, reach that potential and position is if we are serious about transforming healthcare. I think that, perhaps, Professor Bengoa's report is going to be key and critical in allowing us to chart our way forward. I welcome the fact that, previous to the election, there were a lot of soundings from all political parties that they want to show political leadership, that we need to remove the politics from health and that we need to work together. I look forward to that approach from everybody in the time ahead. I think that Professor Bengoa's report is going to allow us to chart the direction in getting to the position where we will have a sustainable health service. That is a vision that we all can clearly sign up to.
In terms of the additional funding allocated to address the waiting lists — initially it was anticipated that the funding would reach about 65,000 to 70,000 patients and allow them to receive their first appointment — I am delighted to say that the we actually exceeded the target and reached 80,000 people. I think that it has been money well spent in trying to get those people access to the health service. We are still working our way through all of that, and I will be working with the trusts. Obviously, when it comes to dealing with end of year finances, we can see properly and explain further how that money has been spent and how we have been able to make a difference. I think the fact that we have been able to reach 80,000 patients is quite significant.
Ms P Bradley (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health): I thank the Minister for her first statement to the House and wish her well in her new role.
I will follow on from the previous question, and I understand that, as Chair, I get a little bit of latitude, Mr Speaker. The Minister talked about the summit that was held with Professor Bengoa and the expert panel. There was consensus around the room that we wanted politics to be taken out of health and for it to move forward. He is due to report in a few weeks' time. Does the Minister have any more information on the level of detail that will be in the report? I understand that we do not currently measure review appointment waiting times — they are measured in the rest of the UK — so I do not believe that we have a full picture of waiting times. Is the Minister willing to look into that?
Mrs O'Neill: I will take the questions in reverse order. I know that the Health Committee previously did some work on the referral-to-treatment target. It is a better way to measure performance, so we should work towards that position. We have to be able to deliver on it, so we need to do more work on transforming the health service to allow us to be able to implement it.
The board is working on a five-year plan on how we deal with elective surgery and waiting lists, and we should work towards that key measure. I look forward to talking to the Chair and the Committee more about that.
As for Professor Bengoa's report, there is collective agreement that the panel brings together significant expertise and an international perspective to look at how we deliver health services. As you are aware, the report and the panel's work is very much about how we can deliver services and what is best for patients and service users. As you said, he will hopefully report towards the end of June, and I will be able to share that with others. It will really help us to chart our way forward.
I intend to meet Professor Bengoa when he comes here next week. One suggestion is that he will also meet all the political parties, which will be key in order for everybody to be up to speed on where he is and where the panel has got to.
Everybody is aware of the terms of reference for Professor Bengoa's work. They are about setting out the principles to underpin the reconfiguration of the health service. The body of work has been well worth doing, and I look forward to meeting him next week and engaging with the Committee on how we move forward.
Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her statement. It is very welcome that this is the first issue that she has brought to the Floor as Minister. She said that we need a health service that is innovative and sustainable. I hope that we take the politics out of the issue because it is critical for many families across the North. The Minister is right: we need positive change. One change before the Department at the moment is the closure of the Health and Social Care Board. Will the Minister update us on that process?
Mrs O'Neill: I thank the Member for his question. Following public consultation earlier this year, work has commenced on the design of the new structures. Over the coming weeks, I will take some time to consider the proposals emerging from that work, and I will then make a decision about the way forward, based on what I believe to be the optimum model for efficient and effective planning, commissioning and performance management of HSC services to supply the delivery of better outcomes for all our people.
It is important that we take the time to get the new structures right because we do not want to rush into something and then find that they are not fit for purpose a year down the line. I want to take my time and make sure that I look at all the evidence. We will need legislative change to take that forward through the next 12 to 18 months, with implementation happening thereafter. There is an ongoing large body of work, and I look forward to sharing that with the Assembly in due course.
Mr McGrath: I thank the Minister for her statement and wish her well in her work in the Department in the time ahead.
What assurances can the Minister give us that any additional resources secured in the June monitoring round will be used in an equitable manner across the full health network to include places such as the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick and the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, which are ideally placed to alleviate pressures in the major centres?
Mrs O'Neill: When assessing patients, you decide the order based on clinical need. There is a medical consideration, so money spent will be based on that. I intend to use any additional funding that we get to make sure that we prioritise the patients who are most in need. That is the most equitable thing that we can do, based on the medical evidence and assessment of those professionals.
"maximising the number of patients who can be treated in the community".
What resources will she allocate in this financial year to build the capacity, infrastructure and human resources? To date, there has been very little evidence of that through Transforming Your Care. I want some reassurance that that money will flow down through there.
Mrs O'Neill: When we look at new and innovative ways to help patients, a lot more focus needs to be on community care and helping people in their own home. Whilst Transforming Your Care has made some positive changes, we have not gone far enough, and maybe the pace of change has not been quick enough. For me, the medium- to longer-term vision is that we will have more community service and use more areas such as the integrated care partnerships so that all the professionals work together to provide services for people at home. That is where we want to be, but we have a way to go to get there. There are some really good examples that we can build on, but, for me, it has to be about shifting the focus from the acute end of the hospitals and making sure that we treat people before that so that they do not have to go to hospital.
Mr Clarke: Like others, I thank the Minister for her statement. It is timely given that many of us hear about waiting times. I also believe, as others do, that the issue should not be politicised. The Minister's statement said that the direction from December to March was that the times reduced. Can she identify any one thing that contributed to that? I welcome anything that decreases the number of people on waiting lists.
Mrs O'Neill: The fact that the Executive were able to provide the additional funding allowed us to focus that money towards trusts and allowed them to reach the 80,000 people we reached over that period. It shows that, whilst there is a capacity issue in the health service, we were able to address waiting lists. We have an awful lot further to go. The length of time that some people are waiting for treatment is ridiculous. We want to take that progress even further. Whilst there have been some positive outcomes, we need to build on that, and the way to build on that is by starting to deal with the structural issues in the health service. That will allow us to reconfigure how we deliver services and allow us to reach more patients.
Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá ceist agam faoi chomhoibriú idir an dá rialtas ar an oileán seo. My question is about cooperation between the two Departments on the island, as the Minister's statement refers to. Can the Minister assure me that cooperation between her and Minister Harris, which is aimed at addressing a whole range of issues, including waiting times, will be a priority for her in the time ahead? Is there perhaps an early opportunity for the North/South Ministerial Council to meet in health sectoral format?
Mrs O'Neill: I thank the Member for his question. I absolutely agree: there are areas in which we can build on the cooperation that already exists. The recent announcement on children's cardiac services shows that we have been able to work with Belfast and Dublin on delivery. There is a lot more scope and potential for us to be able to look at new areas in which to work together, and I have requested a meeting with Minister Harris to see how we can chart our way forward with that. When you look at some of the cooperation, working together and work that has already been taken forward in the health service, you can clearly see the benefits. We are a small island with two healthcare systems, so it is important that we get economies of scale, work together and provide better services for all on this island.
Mr Storey: I, too, welcome the Minister's statement on what is a very pressing issue at the moment for many of our constituents. Her statement refers to bringing about:
"radical change and reform."
Will the Minister give an assurance that, when she is looking at that radical change and reform, local hospitals such as the Causeway, which has been under some pressure in the past but clearly has a very good track record on delivery, will play a crucial and central role in the elective care plan, so that an invaluable facility in my constituency will be utilised to the maximum in the delivery of health as we ensure improving health for all our constituents? I believe that Professor Bengoa was very impressed when he recently visited the hospital.
Mrs O'Neill: When we talk about radical change, we are talking about change in how we deliver services. It is not about hospitals or closing hospitals. Professor Bengoa has not been involved in that body of work. He has been looking at how it is done now and how it can be done better. There are opportunities to use all our hospitals in different ways. There could be different specialisms.
So there are opportunities to use all our hospitals in different ways. There could be different specialisms in different hospitals. Accident and emergency services are provided at all the sites in whatever capacity they provide them, so it is really about restructuring and how we deliver services. It is not about closures. We should all embrace the work that Professor Bengoa is taking forward. To date, all parties have signed up to the principles and terms of reference, and I look forward to engaging a lot more about that.
Mr Butler: I thank the Minister for her first statement in this role. I am glad to see that the crisis in our waiting times is the very first issue to be discussed in the Assembly. I look forward to further debate on this issue tomorrow. The delays across our hospitals are frightening; I am sure that you would agree. Does the Minister then agree that patients have been coming to harm as a result of the delays and will continue to come to harm until we address this fully?
Mrs O'Neill: When a person is referred from their GP to a hospital for their first appointment, they are still under the care of their GP, so they should not be at harm. If that GP assesses at any time from when they referred the person that they think that their condition is worse, it is their obligation to inform whoever they referred them to, for example a consultant in a trust.
I wanted to discuss waiting times today because it is a crucial issue and something that we need to address in the short, medium and longer term. I have set out my stall in terms of how I think we can do it in the longer term. In the immediate term, we have to just try to get people in, get them seen and assessed, and get their treatment and pathway set out.
Just to reiterate: people are under the care of their GP when first referred, so I do not think that it is fair to say that people are at harm.
Mr Dunne: I, too, thank the Minister for her statement. Does the Minister agree that there are real issues with missed appointments by the public, in many cases without any notice, and the high level of cancellations by hospital trusts of consultants, doctors, etc, often at very short notice?
Mrs O'Neill: I agree that there is a problem with that. Obviously, we regret any cancellation of appointments where patients have been inconvenienced and may have to wait longer. For that reason, a target has been set to reduce the number of hospital-cancelled consultant-led appointments by 20% by March 2017. I acknowledge that that performance is not where it should be or needs to be, so it is an issue that I will be examining further with the HSC Board and trusts to make sure that they continue to focus on it. We cannot keep giving off and criticising the public if the hospital services are also doing it, so it is an issue that we need to tackle. We have a target now, but I intend to discuss that further with trusts.
Mr McNulty: I thank the Minister for her statement. I also wish the Minister well in her new and challenging role. Has any assessment been done by her Department on delays in the provision of beds for treatments due to lack of carers in the community who could facilitate the efficient discharge of patients from hospital?
Mrs O'Neill: I do not have any departmental assessment. I can certainly look into that, but I agree that it is a factor in my constituency role when dealing with patients and people who cannot be discharged from hospital because there is no care package. That is a real issue. It is particularly an issue in rural areas, where it is difficult to recruit carers. There is large scope for work to be done around why you cannot recruit carers. These people are usually the lowest paid. Quite often, if they work for the independent sector, they do not get mileage costs, so there is a big issue that I want to focus on and give attention to because we do want people to be cared for at home; we want that to be more and more the emerging picture. The only way to do that is if we have proper workforce planning and we work to make sure that we can recruit carers. As I said, there are particular challenges in rural areas.
Mr Lyttle: I welcome the fact that the Minister has recognised that waiting times in our health service are totally unacceptable. It is my understanding that despite additional funds, urgent heart consultations at the Ulster Hospital, for example, are running at up to six months, and autism assessments in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust are almost two years. That is a crisis by any estimation. The Minister says that the root cause of this problem is slowness to deliver on radical reform. Can I ask the Minister, therefore, what specific radical reform she plans to deliver that her predecessor did not?
Mrs O'Neill: I referred to Professor Bengoa's report. There have been a number of reports over the last number of years: the Maurice Hayes report at the start of 2001, the Donaldson review, and Transforming Your Care. So, we have had a number of steps forward and all those brought some positive change. One of the things that the Donaldson report recognised was that the pace of change was not quick enough, so that is what we need to move forward with. I want to take the body of work that Professor Bengoa has been involved with and seriously transform our health service. Otherwise, we will be having this debate and this conversation time and time again. If we do not get to the situation where we have the health service on a sustainable footing, we cannot invest in new technologies and new drugs, and we cannot help patients more.
I want to set out a vision where the endgame will be that we put more resources into preventative work to tackle health inequalities and the reasons why people get sick in the first place. The only way that we will get that is if we have real pace of change and real meaningful change that actually reconfigures how we deliver services. That is my priority in the time ahead, and that is the legacy that I want to leave in this Department.
Mr McGlone: Mo bhuíochas leis an Aire chomh maith. Regarding treatments in what is referred to as the independent sector or, as we know it, the private sector, has the Minister had any evaluation done of the number of cases where, upon arrival for treatment in that sector, persons have been told that their procedure cannot go ahead due to inappropriate or inadequate screening of the patient having been done on what is loosely described as the NHS side? That appears to be a recurring issue now too.
Mrs O'Neill: That issue has not been brought to my attention, but if the Member wants to write to me or drop me an email, I will be happy to examine it further. As I said, it has not been on my desk yet, but I am happy to look at it.
Mr Allister: Interestingly, the statement makes no mention of the use of the private sector in the health service. Is that because its use has been abandoned under the Minister or is it because the Minister has abandoned her ideological opposition to the use of the private sector?
Mrs O'Neill: I will never abandon my principles, I can assure you of that. I can tell you that I want to see a position where we do not need to use the independent sector. I want to be in a position where we create a health service that is on a sustainable footing that can deliver first-class services, and I think that the only way that we can do that is if we transform the whole healthcare system and how we deliver it. That is why I have set out the vision about how I want to move forward, and, as I said earlier, we are going to continually come back to this conversation around capacity issues in the health service, waiting lists and all of those things if we do not seriously transform the healthcare sector.
That having been said, I will not allow patients to be very much in need. For me, the use of the independent sector is a short-term measure to allow people to be treated and to receive the care that they need. Whenever independent sector provision is used in the health service, it is only because there has been a real body of work done around the capacity of the health service to deliver and on what the short-term capacity is. For me, the overriding concern is ensuring that patients receive their treatment in a timely manner. That, for me, is the key. Obviously, I want to get to the point where we have the capacity in the health service to deliver.
Mr Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose it and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
I call on Mr Stevie Aiken to move the motion. As this is Mr Aiken's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption. However, if it becomes overly controversial, he may not be granted that privilege.
That this Assembly calls on the Minister for the Economy to commission a manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and, just for the record and so that my mother will not be upset about it, it is Mr Stephen Aiken. I do not think that I have been called Stevie for a very long time.
In moving the motion in this Assembly calling on the Minister for the Economy to commission a manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland, the first thing that I would like to say is that this is a historic occasion, because we believe that this is the first official Opposition debate in this Chamber since 1972.
Overall, we welcome the Minister's appointment, and we, as the Opposition, will offer constructive and supportive scrutiny to help build an effective strategy for our manufacturing sector. What we want is to see how we can grow it from its present level over the next 10 years. As you are well aware, manufacturing generates annual sales approaching £20 billion, directly employs 85,000, supports production and the employment of over 214,000 in the wider supply chain and creates well-paid jobs and strong communities in every constituency across Northern Ireland. We will provide constructive support for the Minister, providing that policies are put in place to create a shift from a public-sector-led to a strong, stable and flexible private sector economy that has Northern Ireland manufacturing at its core.
It is good to see that a Department for the Economy has been created — a long-standing objective of our party — a Department that should be the driving force for Northern Ireland going forward. The need has never been greater, with our economy growing at a less than impressive gross valued added (GVA) level over the years from 2010 to 2014 of 10·2%, when the UK average was 16%. Indeed, Northern Ireland has the lowest GVA growth of any UK region, and it is considerably less than the Republic of Ireland. If we look further back, to 2009, we find that, while the UK's GDP as a whole has increased by 13·9%, that of Northern Ireland has grown by only 3·1%, which, as I am sure the Minister would agree, is a very poor outcome.
What are we going to do about it? We cannot just rely on the current structure, which has not shown the innovation, adaptability and agility that has been shown in other regions of the United Kingdom — for instance, in the Northern Powerhouse around Manchester — or even in the Republic of Ireland.
It is disappointing that, in the draft Programme for Government framework, which has three outcomes, 10 indicators and 11 measures all about the economy, there are no real specific ideas for building this new economy. It is also concerning, after we have fought hard to achieve the introduction of a lower rate of corporation tax at 12·5%, that this central idea is not even mentioned in outcome 1, where the draft Programme for Government talks about how we can prosper through a:
"strong, competitive, regionally balanced economy".
We, the Opposition, as do Northern Ireland businesses, as represented by the CBI, Manufacturing Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, Unite and other unions — above all by the companies themselves — need to see a proper, joined-up manufacturing strategy that puts backs towards our prosperity and future.
We should be setting targets. We should be making 20% of our GDP from manufacturing, rather than the current level of 14%. This should be a hard, measurable target. We should benchmark the success or failure of our manufacturing strategy against other UK regions, such as Scotland, which is, of course, where the Programme for Government framework is sourced from, Wales and the Northern Powerhouse and against the Republic of Ireland. Maybe this could form the basis of an annual health check on all our Departments that would allow the people of Northern Ireland to see how our Government are over- or underperforming.
We would also welcome from the Minister a robust championing and defence of a series of pro-manufacturing approaches that would be transformative of our economy, especially around taxation, keeping business rates low, energy costs, maintaining security of supply, extended enterprise zones, improving infrastructure and urgently addressing the shortage of skills that our innovative companies are facing. We suggest that we need a couple of specific measures, in particular, a coherent and stable tax structure built around the 12·5% rate of corporation tax and delivered on time. We should retain the 30% cap rate on business rates, for not just the short but the long term. We should also use enterprise zone facilities, which I know the First Minister was not happy with. We need those in areas where Northern Ireland is particularly challenged, and we need to grow in those in what we need to do.
We also need to do something about our rather paltry research and development. We currently put only about a third of the UK total of research and development into what we do as we go forward. We need to increase that to the average UK level, and what we are going to call for is a fund of approximately £1 billion over the next 20 years, which needs to be linked to business, universities and industry. However, we are very conscious of making unrealistic demands on an already taut budget. What we can do is closely examine how some of the money is spent on the underperforming quangos around them, of which there is a plethora. We need to divert funds from those and other areas so that we can support a proper Northern Ireland regional development fund, and Europe could be critical in doing this and helping us as we go forward.
All of this needs to be backed up by some more practical things. We need to address the high cost of energy for our manufacturing and agribusiness companies. But we must also rate that our energy sector requires considerable investment, with an aging grid that is not capable of dealing with the demands of low-carbon generation. It needs functioning North/South and east-west interconnectors to connect us to the growing all-island energy market and a regulator that delivers energy on a median all-island cost. We have some of the highest energy costs in Europe, but we need to be able to match others. Most of all, we need to match the energy costs in the Republic of Ireland, which are, in some places, for the major manufacturing companies, 16% to 17% less than ours. We must question how, in an all-island energy market, our Utility Regulation mechanism appears to deliver very little. There are some fundamental questions there that need to be asked.
We also need to address the skills shortage and investment in higher education and further education, but we need to do it by listening to what our businesses need as well as by promoting our previously mentioned research and development in what we are trying to do. We also need to deal with other business costs, such as sea and air transport, and ask why it is five times more expensive to cross the North Channel than it is to cross the English Channel. It is ridiculous to note that, over a period of 25 years, it would probably be cheaper to build a tunnel under the North Channel than it would be to continue with these high costs.
Equally, air passenger duty (APD) is a tax on business and should be addressed urgently. Infrastructure needs to be improved — roads infrastructure, in particular. Broadband has, in some parts of Northern Ireland, become a joke and needs to be sorted out. Again, we mentioned a smart grid, and if we are to have a much more flexible and innovative economy, we need to make sure that the fundamentals of that are available. We need proper road links to our major logistical hubs, and we need to do something about the other levels of infrastructure that we have.
Penultimately, we need to change the mindset: manufacturing is not in a sunset period. Our 3,820 manufacturers, at any scale, can drive our future. Achieving a 20% manufacturing sector and generating an additional 100,000 jobs is achievable, but only if we put it at the centre of making Northern Ireland work. For that, we need vision, strategy and willingness from us all. To make that happen — it is too important to be delivered just by our government Departments — we would welcome the Minister creating a fully inclusive Northern Ireland strategic manufacturing board, as happens in other areas of the United Kingdom and Europe, to bring together all of the key partners to make it work and to work with our stakeholders to rally to make Northern Ireland one of the best places for manufacturing jobs as we go forward.
Before I ask the Minister to respond to our calls for commissioning a proper manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland, I think we need to address what is probably the biggest single issue affecting the future of business in Northern Ireland. We are currently planning to have a referendum in the United Kingdom on our future membership of the EU. Listening to the clarion calls from the business community and from many of our business-led organisations, one of the most important things that we is see at the moment is a lack of certainty — there is fear about the future; there are concerns about North/South and east-west trade in particular; and there are concerns about what our companies will face in the future. I think it is remarkable that if we look at the parties in the Chamber, the majority of them will support the United Kingdom remaining within the EU, and I would like the Minister to make a statement on behalf of the Government, which includes his party and another party, about that support. We should be going to the people of Northern Ireland and saying that we should remain in the EU because that is indeed the best place for us in the future and the best place for us to deliver a proper manufacturing strategy.
Leave out all after "Economy" and insert
"to include the development of the manufacturing sector in the Executive’s new economic strategy.".
First, I congratulate the Member for South Antrim on his maiden speech; I look forward to working with him on the Economy Committee and on these issues as we go forward. I also congratulate the Minister on his appointment. We are very pleased that he is in post, very pleased that we have the Department for the Economy, and we want to wish him well for the future. I also want to note that I think it is important that this debate has been on the issue of manufacturing.
I welcome that focus. It is important that we are bringing these issues to the fore, debating them, talking about them and sending the message that they are issues that we are concerned about and that need to be addressed.
We have tabled an amendment to the motion. Although we welcome the focus on manufacturing, we are seeking the approval of the House to amend the motion. Before I come on to that, it would be useful for us to have a look at manufacturing in Northern Ireland and at the current state of play.
There is no doubt that there have been an awful lot of difficulties for manufacturing over the last number of years. That has had impact on our constituents. In my constituency, many people worked in Ballymena — and I am thinking of Michelin, JTI and the job losses that have taken place. It is important that we recognise that we are not just talking about figures; these are real people who have lost their jobs and find themselves in a very difficult situation. We should be doing all in our power to sustain the jobs that we have in Northern Ireland and create more.
There is no doubt that there are many challenges that the manufacturing sector is facing. However, it is not an insignificant sector or an insignificant part of our economy. As Mr Aiken, the Member for South Antrim, said, it is responsible for 85,000 jobs directly and supports over 100,000 more. It is responsible for £213 million in export sales and hundreds of millions of pounds of foreign direct investment. Manufacturing is also responsible for some of our best paid and most highly skilled jobs in Northern Ireland and, although there have been challenges and difficult times, we should welcome the fact that there has been growth in the sector over recent years. Indeed, we have seen thousands of extra jobs added in the manufacturing sector since the downturn. As well as having growth, we are growing at a faster rate than the rest of the UK despite having a larger than average manufacturing sector in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom. So although the picture for manufacturing is challenging, it is not a bleak picture or one without hope.
We have tabled the amendment because we are committed, as a party, to creating more and better jobs in Northern Ireland. We welcome that we will have the opportunity to have another debate on the economy tomorrow and talk further about plans for an economic strategy. That will require work, not only in manufacturing but across the whole economy and whole sectors. As a result, we are focusing on a new and refocused economic strategy to deliver growth for the whole economy. Manufacturing should be at the centre of that, and we hope that it will be.
In the amendment, why are we asking for, instead of just a single manufacturing strategy, —
Mr Frew: I thank the Member for giving way. He is right to talk about a holistic approach. I heard the previous speaker talking about infrastructure. Does the Member realise that infrastructure has been heavily damaged in Northern Ireland by cuts from the Tory party, a party that was wedded to the UUP for many years? Does the Member, like me, want to know where the UUP stands on the European Union and whether they are in or out? At the minute, we do not really know where they stand.
Mr Lyons: I look forward to Mr Swann winding up the debate. He will be able to answer those questions. Perhaps the Ulster Unionist Party is not united on the issue; perhaps, some people have seen the light and have realised that we would be better off out of the European Union. I will not speak for the Ulster Unionist Party —
Mr Lyons: I will let Mr Swann answer that question, and no doubt the Chamber will be full when he makes his remarks so that we can get some clarity on the issue.
We want to see growth in the whole economy and in manufacturing. Growth in the whole economy will help manufacturing as well. That is why we want to see an economic strategy for all of Northern Ireland and across all sectors. Of course, there is overlap between different sectors and different businesses within our economy. Some of the issues that people raise are rates, infrastructure, skills and education, energy, competitiveness and investment. All those issues come together. Although not all businesses or companies have issues with all the problems they face, together we need to address them all. As my colleague Mr Frew said, perhaps we need a more holistic approach. The best way in which we can deliver for Northern Ireland on those issues is through one strategy.
Of course, the challenges that face manufacturing are not unique to manufacturing. That does not mean that we will have an absence — I hope that we will not — of help, targets or actions for manufacturing. You will all be avid readers of the DUP manifesto for the 2016 Assembly election, which was endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and in which we made it very clear that we want manufacturing to be put at the very heart of the economic strategy. It is also useful for us, as Back-Benchers and as opposition parties, to have that one strategy; we can hold the Government to account by saying, "Here's one single document. Here's what the Executive have said that they were going to do". It is useful to have that codified in one document.
I hope that I have been able to outline why we seek the support of the House for the amendment. As we move forward, there are steps that need to be taken. Mr Aiken rightly outlined some of the things that we want to happen. We hope that there will be a focus on issues such as skills. As we move forward, it is hugely important that we have our people trained, educated and with the right skills for the jobs that are coming along, especially in light of the devolution of corporation tax powers, which will be hugely important for Northern Ireland. There is the potential to create thousands of jobs. I know that not everybody agrees with what we have done about the devolution of corporation tax; I think that, a few years ago, the Ulster Unionist Party said that it was time to move on from the issue, and it was time for plan B. I am glad that we stuck to plan A and have the devolution of corporation tax. We not only have the power devolved but have set a date and a rate. That is very important.
We also need to focus on energy, which is a massive issue not only for those in manufacturing but for those in other businesses. We need to look at that to see how we can have cheaper energy than what we have at the minute and how we can provide help to industry and businesses. Infrastructure has been mentioned, as has the need for a proper infrastructure to be in place.
I hope that I have been able to outline to the House the reasons for our amendment. We look forward to working with other parties in the Assembly to bring forward an economic strategy that can deliver real tangible results for the people of Northern Ireland and create a more prosperous future for us all.
Mr Murphy (The Chairperson of the Committee for the Economy): I am delighted, as Chairperson of the Economy Committee, to participate in the debate, which was tabled by the Deputy Chair. While I am speaking as the Chair of the Committee, Members will be aware that we have met only once, so we have not had the opportunity to discuss a potential manufacturing strategy for the North or what such a strategy should look like. However, speaking on behalf of the Committee, I assure the House that we will debate fully and will not be found wanting when it comes to listening to stakeholders, discussing among ourselves and providing ideas to the Minister for such a strategy to be brought forward. It might have been better if we had had some of that discussion before today's debate, but, that said, I am sure that today's contributions will feed into the Committee's discussion. We will proactively look at providing a pathway that not only supports our existing manufacturing industries but seeks to develop new industries.
I do not think that anyone here is naive enough to assume that we can develop a strategy for the North that ignores the realities of the global economy and the balances and links between our economy and that of the South, Britain and the EU. However, we as Members, particularly those whose constituencies were affected, are aware of the announcements of large-scale job losses at the likes of Michelin, Gallaher's, Bombardier, Seagate and others, and, of course, everyone shares the view that we cannot afford to lose those types of skilled jobs.
I will advocate that the Committee take a measured view of the potential benefits of a dedicated manufacturing strategy for the North and what it might contain. Should there be consensus on such a strategy, the Committee will want to ensure that it is the right fit for us here and not simply imported from elsewhere. I suggest that the Committee will want to look at what disadvantages or additional cost burdens — Members who spoke previously mentioned some of those — we face that competitors in other regions do not and how those might be best offset through the work of a strategy and indeed the Executive. The Committee will have to consider whether our job promotion model facilitates the development of manufacturing jobs here. Additionally, we must consider whether jobs in manufacturing may be more secure in the long term than jobs in, for instance, high-tech or creative industries and whether we are promoting jobs strategically over a range of sectors.
At the Committee's first meeting last week, the issue of energy costs was raised, and, as I said, it has been mentioned by the Members who spoke previously here. Clearly, there is a particular concern for 20 or 30 of our largest manufacturers. We must also consider, as mentioned, how the proposed lowering of our corporation tax rate in 2018 will impact the situation for manufacturers. The development of a specific manufacturing strategy for the North may require a fundamental redesign of Invest NI. These are all questions that must be considered. The Committee would obviously be a key player in any process of developing such a strategy, and I know from listening to Committee members last Wednesday that we will not be backward about bringing ideas to the table.
It would be unwise to engage in a hastily developed strategy simply to respond to the large-scale job losses that we have had. However, quite clearly, as the amendment suggests, any such manufacturing strategy — listening to the contribution of the Member who moved the motion, I think that he would probably accept this — must be located firmly in an economic strategy that is located firmly in the broader Programme for Government and that that is aligned with a Budget that can deliver on such a strategy. I think that that is the logical way to go forward.
Speaking on my own behalf, a Cheann Comhairle, I want any strategy that promotes, supports and encourages new manufacturing industries to be one that is regionally balanced as well. The need for regional balance across the Six Counties is referred to in the Programme for Government framework document that has gone out. Clearly, developing such a strategy is not simply a matter for us here but, given the way in which the Programme for Government itself has been designed — it will be rolled out over the autumn — this is a matter on which we need engagement with all stakeholders. People in the manufacturing industries and the manufacturing trade unions, who are at the coalface of these industries, need to be part of developing such a strategy. It should be done only on the basis of feedback from across all those sectors and consideration of the bigger issues facing manufacturing that discourage investment and job creation. It may be within our gift to try to assist in a greater spread of job creation across the manufacturing industries. Taking all those matters into account —
Mr Murphy: — I believe that we can come up with a strategy that is located in the economic strategy and backed by a Budget through the Programme for Government.
Mr Speaker: As this is Sinead Bradley's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that the speech is made without interruption. I remind the Member that that may be forfeited, of course, if she becomes ultra-controversial.
Mrs S Bradley: I will attempt not to, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much. As you said, it is my maiden speech to the House. I would like to direct my first comments to thanking the people of South Down, who have given me the privilege of being here and representing them. It is a great honour for me to add my name to the list of SDLP representatives who have served the people of South Down, namely, the late Eddie McGrady; my father, PJ Bradley; Eamonn O'Neill; Margaret Ritchie MP; and, in the last mandate, Karen McKevitt and Seán Rogers. Like each of those former Members, I will endeavour to make sure that South Down is very well represented in the House, and I look forward to working with others for the betterment of the people of Northern Ireland.
However, I share with you openly my hope that this chapter of politics in Northern Ireland will be remembered in South Down as the time when the Narrow Water bridge was finally delivered. Nothing short of that would bring satisfactory closure to the lifetime's political work that my father, P J Bradley, put into that project.
I move to the business in front of us. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the need to develop a manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland. Many base factors are essential for a balanced growth of all sectors across our economy. Those include things that have already been mentioned, such as access to a healthy and skilled workforce, the development of reliable and competitive sources of energy, and infrastructure etc. No doubt there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss in detail many of those issues in an overarching economic agenda delivered for Northern Ireland.
This motion, however, presents us with an opportunity to pay particular focus on one sector in that economic offering: manufacturing. It is well documented that the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland has suffered a number of blows during the past 12 months. Some Members have already mentioned the loss of more than 1,000 jobs from Bombardier, and there have been similar cuts with Michelin, JTI Gallaher and, lately, Seagate.
Manufacturing NI recently warned that more than 6,000 jobs could be lost across the sector over the next decade, due to advances in technology. Despite that, manufacturing continues to play a significant role in our overall economy. Many headline statistics can be found to illustrate just how significant it is. In my constituency, South Down, major employers such as Bradfor Limited, MJM Group and B/E Aerospace are but a few of the key manufacturing businesses supporting the economy. In Northern Ireland, manufacturing represents 13% to 14% of GDP. The SDLP shares the manufacturing sector's belief that it is possible and necessary for the Executive to work with the sector to increase that contribution to 20% of GDP. Manufacturing NI says that this would be possible with, and I quote:
"the implementation of a manufacturing strategy, the establishment of a target on competitive energy prices, continued stability on rates and a raising of ambition".
The amendment sadly does not fill me with confidence that ambition has been raised. Make no mistake: this debate has the potential to represent a pivotal moment in the future direction of manufacturing in Northern Ireland. We see an opportunity to create a focused strategy that has the potential to navigate specific barriers to growth in the sector and help realise that desirable 20% of GDP. At a time when Europe openly seeks to reindustrialise, Members have yet to grasp the significance of needing a specific manufacturing strategy. I find it regrettable that, through my maiden speech, I have to try to convince others that a real need for a dedicated manufacturing strategy exists. I would have much preferred my contribution to have focused on the ambitions of that strategy.
Mrs S Bradley: The Northern Ireland Executive must formulate and implement a manufacturing strategy, for which the industry has been calling for more than a year.
Dr Farry: I congratulate Sinead Bradley on her maiden speech. I have no doubt that she will follow in the footsteps of her predecessors in giving a very passionate voice to the people of South Down. I also pass on my congratulations to Mr Aiken on his maiden speech, the Minister on his appointment and, obviously, you, Mr Speaker, on your appointment as well. [Laughter.]
That is the protocol out of the way.
In any discussion on manufacturing, we must bear in mind that we meet with the referendum barely weeks ahead of us. That colours anything that is said in the Chamber about manufacturing.
It is clearly in the interest of Northern Ireland that we remain part of the European Union, particularly for the manufacturing sector, which already depends very much on exports and access to international markets for its current level of activity. If we are to follow through on the laudable objectives of increasing the share of our economy for manufacturing, it is only through exports that that will be realised. Being part of Europe is absolutely fundamental to the future of manufacturing here.
It is also worth taking a moment to think about exactly what we will be doing in terms of manufacturing. It is important that this does not become an issue of the precise architecture of how strategies fit together but is more about the commitments that people will be making to turn those into reality. I also pass on my congratulations to the Ulster Unionist Party on its new-found appreciation of the value of strategies. As someone who listened in the past mandate to them bemoaning yet another strategy and demanding action, I note that finally they have recognised that a strategy is useful for crystallising visions, aims and objectives and for setting out the action points that will be taken and, crucially, the resourcing that will be set aside against those.
Indeed, while Mr Aiken read out a very important list of initiatives that could be taken to improve manufacturing, it is important that we are also mindful of the resources required to turn that into a reality. The only commitment that I heard to new resources was some minor tinkering with quangos. Even the abolition of quangos does not produce a huge amount of additional resource, because the functions of quangos still have to be addressed elsewhere in the system. It is important that, when we talk about the steps that are required, we put in place the resources to ensure that they come forward. If we are talking today about this historic moment of opposition and even constructive opposition, that is not just about being an Opposition with a nice smile; it is about having a clear alternative and ensuring that it is feasible and can be properly resourced.
I recognise that manufacturing in Northern Ireland is going through challenging times. There have been a lot of negative headlines and bad news stories in particular over the past 12 months. At the same time, it is important that we recognise that, while there is serious scope for growth, we have a healthy situation and employment in manufacturing is at a level exceeding the figures as far back as 2008. We have many strengths, and we are seeing an evolution of our manufacturing sector or sectors in a move to more high-value-added jobs. That involves some bad news at the same time as we are having good news about new jobs being created.
In terms of the architecture itself, I see the choice between the motion and the amendment as being a false binary choice. It is important that we recognise that manufacturing must be central to any new or refreshed economic strategy, but there may well be scope for doing additional and more detailed work outside the very particular confines of the economic strategy. That strategy will make references to other strategies — for example, the current skills strategy or the STEM strategy. There are a lot of particular issues around skills. When we look to manufacturing, we see a range of interventions in particular subsections of manufacturing, whether it is life sciences or IT. Indeed, Invest NI has a number of initiatives in that regard already.
It is also important that we recognise that manufacturing is very diverse. It ranges from things like life sciences through to plastics and heavy engineering. There is also an ongoing debate as to whether agrifood is part of manufacturing: some people count it as part of manufacturing, and some do not. Of course, we already have a separate strategy there, Going for Growth. It is important that we have that proper, rounded discussion with the business community and particularly those in manufacturing as to how best we can serve their interests and keep an open mind as to what the best set of structures will be in that regard. I regard this as being a false choice, because I believe that there is scope for us to do something that is particularly focused on manufacturing in the broadest sense.
Dr Farry: I accept that we have to recognise that there will be particular substrategies plus the overarching economic strategy.
Mr Storey: Regrettably, I cannot stand here today and say that this is my maiden speech, as I have been here since 2003. However, after all those years, we still have in Northern Ireland much that we need to be proud of. It disappoints me that, when I come to the House — I have said this repeatedly in previous debates — it seems as though we always want to concentrate on the negatives. Of course, we now have a new Opposition; well, one of four, five, six or seven. I am not sure how many leaders of the Opposition there are now.
It is time that the Assembly — I advise, if they would be so kind to take the advice, the official Opposition or whoever is in that corner to do this — actually talked up Northern Ireland. Let us remember that, in our manufacturing, we have 214,000 direct and supported jobs. That is one in four of all jobs in the economy. We have £9·9 billion total GVA contribution to GDP, which is around 30% of the economy. Productivity is at £55,700, which is 38% higher than the Northern Ireland average with an advanced manufacturing contribution of 27% more. Those are the figures from Manufacturing Northern Ireland. Yet, when we come to the House, we find it is all about what more we need to do. Not one Member who has spoken today has paid tribute to the manufacturing base that we have or to the 214,000 direct and supported jobs for how they have contributed to the well-being of Northern Ireland.
It is not perfect; there is a huge amount of work still to be done. Coming from North Antrim, I know all too well the impact of job losses. We made reference to that, and I thank Members for the references to the closure of JTI and Michelin and to the pressures that there are, even on our manufacturing companies, such as Wrightbus, as well as to the challenges they face on a day and daily basis to underwrite and secure the long-term future of those jobs. I pay tribute to companies such as Terex, which has recently come into Ballymoney in my constituency. It is a global organisation that needs to continue to be supported; indeed, I recently met with it. I agree with the issue that was raised by the Member and others about the cost of our energy. I have no doubt that my colleague the Minister — I pay tribute to him and wish him well in his new role — will make this an area of priority.
Let me come to an issue that was also raised by the Member. I am glad to be on the Economy Committee with him and look forward to working with him. I have no doubt that we will have our differences, and no doubt we will have our political spats; you would not expect anything else from politicians. However, he raised the coming referendum. I would like the Member to ask the companies in Northern Ireland that have been curtailed, restrained and in many respects set at a disadvantage because of our attachment to the European Union. The regulations are destroying and crippling the advantage that our companies could have in the way in which they provide their services. Indeed, I ask the Deputy Chair of the Committee and the proposer of the motion whether he could speak to his colleague Mr Swann and ask him his view of the issue, because, of course, we know, as has been alluded to, the Ulster Unionist Party, not for the first time on a number of issues, is divided on it. My party is very clear. If you heard my colleague Sammy Wilson on this morning, you would know that we should deal with facts, not fear. Let us deal with the reality of where we are. It is regrettable that our Chancellor came to Northern Ireland today and was about bringing fear to the debate as opposed to bringing the facts to it.
Mr Farry makes a very valid point that it is a diverse environment in which manufacturing operates, and we need to ensure that in our terminology, our policy, our strategy and in everything we do we have covered all the areas appropriately so that we —
Mr Storey: — continue to build on the success and make Northern Ireland the economic powerhouse that, I believe, it can become.
Mr T Buchanan: I support the amendment before the House. At the outset, I congratulate my colleague Simon Hamilton on his appointment as Minister for the Economy. I wish him every success in his new role, and it is one that I am confident he will use to lead this country forward to even greater success and prosperity. I wish him well.
Northern Ireland is no stranger to being a world leader on the manufacturing stage. This country has been built on a firm foundation of manufacturing, and this small but powerful nation has a rich history in manufacturing, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The foundation has stayed firm through the centuries, and Northern Ireland has thrived in spite of obstacles on a national and, more recently, international scale.
It is fair to say that, in recent years, cuts to the manufacturing sector across Northern Ireland and a climate of instability led to some very challenging circumstances, at times, for the industry. However, I believe that it is now time and the opportunity is here within Northern Ireland for us to rise again to manufacturing excellence and show again our strength on a global scale. In Northern Ireland, we already have the right ingredients in place to ensure that this long-term vision for the future not only comes together but thrives on a global scale.
It is imperative that we as a Government come up with the long-term strategic policies that will empower Northern Ireland to believe in its own strength. Through the mix of all the ingredients, the manufacturing sector will have the tools to become more competitive, globally. It is only through close partnership with industry that we can create a highly skilled workforce that can deal with the dynamic nature of this rapidly changing sector.
However, that is only one strand of the partnership. There must be flexibility within government to bring leaders from across the manufacturing sector to share ideas to ensure that we move in the right direction. That type of collaboration between government, industry and education is the vehicle to steer us towards a more efficient and streamlined manufacturing sector as we move forward.
A vital ingredient in the future economic strategy, which includes manufacturing, is skills. If we are serious about improving the economic prosperity of our region, we need to build on the good work that was started in the former Department for Education and Learning. Investment in science, technology, engineering and maths is crucial in empowering our young people with the skills that we need to build up the manufacturing sector in our country. In conjunction with empowering our young people with appropriate skills, research and development in industry is a fundamental force that will drive the economy forward. For manufacturing to be successful amongst many other sectors, research and development must be at the cutting edge of growth and preparation for the future. We already have two world-class universities with a wealth of knowledge, which is already informed by industry. Skills exchange and sharing between education and industry needs to be the hinge on which our strategy swings to improve and grow our sectors in Northern Ireland.
Foundation industries such as energy and investment by energy companies into long-term projects which meet manufacturing energy needs, are also essential. One of the big areas is broadband provision, which needs to be enhanced. There is very poor broadband provision in some areas of my West Tyrone constituency. That can have a devastating impact on companies, and it is a real factor for businesses that are trying to compete in the global market.
Even with such poor infrastructure, however, we have to say that manufacturing industry continues to strive. Precision engineering is a niche market in the west Tyrone area; it is thriving and growing. That is one example of where the skills and attitudes of businesses in the manufacturing industry can adapt and be —
Mr Speaker: I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close.
Mr T Buchanan: — world leaders, despite the difficulties across the sector.
Manufacturing excellence does not necessarily equate to business success. As a Government, we need to be smart and to think more like a business. We must provide strong links within a global market and make it much easier for companies to access those markets and do all in their power to ensure that that happens. I support the amendment.
Mr McGlone: The SDLP supports the motion and its objective. The Minister for the Economy should take the lead in developing a manufacturing strategy, in collaboration with his Executive colleagues. The relevance and importance of that is that it needs to be joined up in a multifaceted way. Economic development is indeed heavily reliant not only on the skills base but on the infrastructural base, which includes roads, water and, as already referred to, the network grid and, crucially, broadband and all that goes with the attendant communications network that is so frequently used now by businesses to help develop and promote their companies.
The introduction of the current Executive's draft Programme for Government framework talks about finalising and agreeing the Programme for Government, the Budget, a refreshed economic strategy, a new investment strategy and a social strategy by the end of 2016. It does not talk about a manufacturing strategy. In fact, manufacturing is noticeable by its absence in the Executive's framework document whilst other sectors, such as tourism, get numerous mentions. This is a mistake. We have had reference to corporation tax, but key to its success or otherwise is of course stability. That stability includes our position within the EU. Earlier, Mr Storey referred to his colleague on 'The Nolan Show' this morning who referred to the likes of Sweden, Norway, France and Switzerland in the context of the preferred option for relationships within these islands and indeed with the EU. It might be helpful if he could place those things in the proper context and factual record and bring the cogency of that argument up to date, rather than talking about how he wished things could be and not how they are.
However, getting back to the key element of the manufacturing strategy, the recently announced job losses at Seagate in Derry, Sirocco Engineering and Michelin, the closure of the JTI plant in Ballymena and the Bombardier statement of intent to reduce its workforce demonstrate the difficulties that the manufacturing sector is facing. Workers' representatives and employers in the manufacturing sector have consistently called for a specific manufacturing strategy to be put in place by the Executive. They may differ on some of the details but they are united in seeking the development of a comprehensive Executive strategy to support and grow the manufacturing sector.
Unite has previously joined with the manufacturing employers' group, Manufacturing NI — I am sure that many of us have already dealt with both groups and worked with them closely in the past — to call on the Northern Ireland Executive to commit to a manufacturing strategy. In November last year, they called for urgent action to protect the manufacturing base and help create the conditions to allow manufacturers to grow. In April this year, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, called on the incoming Executive to put forward a comprehensive manufacturing strategy to tackle issues such as energy costs, skills development and support for investment, which have been referred to. In March this year, Manufacturing NI published a report by Oxford Economics on the economic contribution of manufacturing here and called on the Executive to raise ambitions and drive reindustrialisation of the economy. Just this week, Manufacturing NI and the Unite union once again joined together in support of the motion that we are debating today. I hope that serious support and deliberation will be given to it.
What is clear from the Oxford Economics report is that, despite the difficulties that I mentioned, the manufacturing sector outperforms every other part of the economy. It delivers 214,000 direct and supported jobs. That is a very positive message; it means one in four of all jobs in the economy. Eighty-five thousand people are directly employed in manufacturing. It is the largest single employment sector in my constituency of Mid Ulster. Manufacturing delivers a £9·9 billion total gross value added contribution to GDP, which is around 30% of the economy. Productivity, at 55,700, is 38% higher than Northern Ireland's average, with advanced manufacturing's contribution being 25% higher still than that. Manufacturing accounts for almost two thirds of all export sales, some £6 billion. Manufacturers invested £254 million —
Mr McGlone: — in R&D in 2014 and the manufacturing sector attracted £900 million in foreign direct investment between 2010 and 2014. There is clearly room for improvement. I support the motion as it stands.
Mr Allister: Mr Speaker, I trust that you will rebuke the Member for North Belfast, the Chief Whip of Sinn Féin, for her flagrant breach of the protocols and courtesies of the House when she walked in front of the previous Member to speak and between you and him when he was speaking.
No economy can hope to succeed and grow without the engine house that is the manufacturing industry. The service industry and everything else have their place, but, without manufacturing providing the strong backbone that grows an economy, no economy will reach its potential. Manufacturing, therefore, is central to the growth of our economy or any economy.
It is good to hear sound bites about prosperity in the manufacturing sector. I am not putting the manufacturing sector down in any way, but I have to be mindful, representing North Antrim, of the context in my constituency of two dire blows in the devastating losses at JTI and Michelin. It would be nice if the Minister had something positive to tell us today about the replacement of those jobs in North Antrim. It would be a timely occasion in the House, not outside it, to do that. We live in hope in that regard.
I will address a couple of the major shackles on our manufacturing. It is my hope that, come 23 June, some of those shackles will be cut because we will be liberated from the restraints of being in the European Union. It is a fact that, although only 17% of manufacturing businesses in Northern Ireland export to the EU, every manufacturing business is subject to the same market restraints, regulations and Brussels restraints as apply across the market, as if they were all exporting when they are not. One of the consequences of leaving the EU would be to liberate instantly those businesses that have been subject to unnecessary EU regulation for 40 years, even though they never exported to the EU.
One of the follies of membership of the EU is that all businesses are subject to the regulations as if they exported, even though they do not. The greater bulk of our produce is sold either locally or to GB. In manufacturing export terms, only a quarter of our produce is exported to other EU countries, yet we are subject to the entirety of that burden and restraint.
For manufacturing, the second reason why I hope that the people of the United Kingdom have the good sense to leave the EU is that it will liberate us in terms of trade as a nation. The minority of our trade is with the EU. The growth in our trade is with the growth parts of the world outside the EU, yet, because we are in the EU, we are not permitted as a nation to make a single trade agreement with any of the countries with which our trade is growing. Our hands are tied behind our back as a consequence of growing our trade and because of our membership of the EU. Far from the scare stories, the scaremongering and the ludicrous things that the Prime Minister and people from the Chancellor down have been saying, 23 June presents a marvellous opportunity for manufacturing, industry and this society to liberate themselves from the dead hand of Brussels to free ourselves —
Mr Allister: — from that moribund part of the world — the EU — and to follow the growth that is outside. If we do that, our manufacturing has a prosperous future rather than one hindered by the present regulations of Brussels.
Ms Ní Chuilín: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to apologise for walking past Patsy McGlone and ask Patsy to accept my apology for walking in front of him. I do not think that there is any need to conduct a whole investigation into a protocol, if you would not mind just accepting my apologies. Thank you very much.
Mr Speaker: Apologies noted. I draw all Members' attention to the fact that, when a Member is on his or her feet, you ought not to walk in front of him or her. It is early days, but let us adhere to the procedure.
Mr Hamilton (The Minister for the Economy): I welcome the opportunity to respond to today's debate. I congratulate Members, including the mover of the motion, on their maiden speeches and thank Members for their kind words about my appointment. I am very glad that the first debate in the new Assembly is focused on the economy, and I think that it shows the centrality of my new Department in taking Northern Ireland forward.
There is something of a perception that Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector is in the doldrums. I understand that, and perhaps it is because of the demise of many of our traditional heavy industries over the last number of decades. Industries such as shipbuilding and textiles have either gone completely or are a shadow of their former selves. The decisions by JTI and Michelin, which were referred to several times today, to close their plants in Ballymena, along with the news of 1,000 job losses at Bombardier and, more recently, job losses at Seagate in Londonderry, are not only devastating to those who are directly affected but exacerbate the belief that manufacturing in Northern Ireland is in poor shape. That perception does not tally with careful analysis of the performance of the sector.
Whether it is jobs, sales, exports or output, our manufacturing sector is performing very well. Figures for 2015 show that employment in the sector is now at 80,000. This is the first time since 2008 that the sector has had 80,000 jobs. Sales by manufacturing firms in 2014 stood at £18·1 billion, which is an increase of 1·7% on the previous year. Manufacturing exports in 2015 were £6·3 billion, which is up £350 million on 2014. Manufacturing output was up 2·4% in the last year. Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector has been outperforming the rest of the UK, with output since 2009 up by 19% compared with 6·9% across the whole of the United Kingdom. If manufacturing were indeed in decline, none of those statistics would show the improvements that they do. I would not for a second suggest that the sector is not challenged, but it is not in the crisis that some suggest.
I, for one, am proud of the many achievements and successes of our manufacturing companies, including the fact that one in three of London's red buses are made at Wrightbus in Ballymena; that 40% of the world's mobile crushing and screening equipment is made in Northern Ireland; that over 30% of the world's airline seats are manufactured at B/E Aerospace in Kilkeel; that one in 10 cholesterol tests worldwide are made by Randox; and that a quarter of all computer read/write heads are made at the aforementioned Seagate.
I want to make it clear that, as Minister for the Economy, and as encouraged by Mr Storey in his contribution, I will always be a champion and a cheerleader for local industry. I will not stick my head in the sand and deny that there are difficulties, but neither will I talk down any sector and seek to suggest that a crisis exists when it does not. Manufacturing is and will remain a crucial and central part of our local economy. It accounts for 11% of all Northern Ireland's jobs and contributes 16% to the total economic output. While there has been some bad news of job losses, there has also been good news in the manufacturing sector, with, for example, 110 jobs announced at CDE Global in Cookstown in March. It is encouraging that the Economic Policy Centre at Ulster University forecasts that employment growth in manufacturing will account for around 10% of the 40,000 additional jobs in the local economy over the period to 2025.
There are many who will call upon my Department to provide support for the manufacturing sector, so it might be useful if I sketch out some of the assistance given in recent years. In the last Programme for Government period, from 2011 to 2016, Invest NI provided £270 million of assistance to manufacturing businesses, which, in turn, unlocked £1·9 billion of total investment and created over 13,000 new jobs.
To compete in the global economy, it is vital that Northern Ireland has in place a strong and efficient route for the delivery of high-level professional and technical skills — a point made by my predecessor as skills Minister that will, I am sure, repeatedly be made. My Department is in the process of implementing major reforms initiated in the last term of Northern Ireland's professional and technical education and training landscape through a new system of apprenticeships and youth training.
Another way in which we have been supporting manufacturing is through the competence centre programme. This helps to facilitate and encourage knowledge exchange between industry and academia in collaborative programmes in connected health, sustainable energy, advanced engineering and agrifoods. This work will support the development and commercialisation of new technologies. Invest NI has committed £5 million of funding per centre over five years. Currently, 85 companies are participating across the four competence centres, and 43 collaborative projects have been initiated.
The Executive as a whole have continued to keep in place the policy of industrial derating, which provides businesses, including many manufacturing ones, with a 70% reduction in their rates bills. That policy has keep over £300 million in the pockets of local businesses in the last five years.
Business costs are an important aspect of Northern Ireland's competitiveness. Research has shown that, on balance, even when taking into account some areas where we have higher prices, we are a highly cost-competitive location compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Overall, it has been estimated that business costs were typically about 84% of those in the whole of the UK and 95% of those in the Republic of Ireland, driven mainly by lower labour and property costs.
I am well aware that, for some of our larger companies, energy costs are a significant component of overall manufacturing costs, but we should remember that cost challenges for the sector do not relate solely to energy. I am grateful to the energy and manufacturing advisory group (EMAG) for its comprehensive report and recommendations on actions that might be taken to alleviate energy cost pressures on the sector. Energy markets are complex, and actions taken in one area can have unintended consequences elsewhere. The group's report serves to illustrate those points with a diverse range of policy and operational recommendations. My Department and I are looking closely at the recommendations that have been put forward. It will be important to give careful consideration to the EMAG recommendations in the context of the wider strategic landscape and the Department’s work to review and refocus the strategic energy framework.
The focus of the motion is the call for a manufacturing strategy. I am not convinced that a stand-alone manufacturing strategy is the right thing for Northern Ireland, and let me try to explain why. My Department is leading on the development of a refocused economic strategy that will accompany the final version of the Programme for Government. A key component of informing that refocus is a strong and robust evidence base. MATRIX, which is the Northern Ireland science industry panel, was created to provide advice and guidance on the high-tech business sectors and emerging market opportunities that we should exploit to make a major impact on economic growth in Northern Ireland. MATRIX has identified strategic subsectors in major global markets that we will look to further exploit. Those subsectors, which are mainly manufacturing-based, are in the broader global markets of telecoms and ICT; life and health sciences; agrifood; advanced materials; and advanced engineering. As a small region, Northern Ireland does not have the scale to compete in every aspect of those markets. That is why MATRIX drills down to identify areas of strength and opportunity. For example, in life and health sciences we will seek to exploit capability in key subsectors, such as precision medicine, clinical trials, diagnostics and health data analytics — all of which are, of course, areas with high-end manufacturing capabilities.
That level of attention to key subsectors has also ensured that we are well placed to know our technology strengths and market capabilities in the context of European smart specialisation. Indeed, it is widely considered that Northern Ireland has the most detailed understanding of its leading industries and, therefore, the key manufacturing subsectors of any UK region. That gives our economic policy in this area considerable focus, and we continue to build on this evidence base all the time.
MATRIX's work also reflects the fact that sectors are increasingly dependent on one another; in fact, some of the most important emerging opportunities are in spaces where sectors overlap. We must not forget, for example, that services and manufacturing have become increasingly intertwined and we now have many professionals, such as software engineers, designers, accountants and scientists, working in the manufacturing sector. It is appropriate to look at all industries collectively while considering a strategy to grow the private sector.
Our manufacturing base is, because of our strong history of manufacturing, still very diverse. There are activities ranging from aerospace, automotive, electronics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals to heavy plant machinery, agritech equipment and construction products, to name but a few. You will appreciate that there is not a one-size-fits-all support solution. What will work for the small firm that is cutting, welding and making farm trailers is very different from what will work for the company manufacturing sophisticated composite components for the aerospace sector. It is important that that diversity is recognised, and I believe the best way that government can help is to create the environment that allows manufacturing companies to move forward with policies and support tailored in a way that maximises the benefit to the economy.
In essence, for those looking for a strategy, we already have one: it is called the economic strategy. It will be refreshed and refocused in line with the new PFG. I can assure the House that it will highlight the particular significance of manufacturing to the local economy and will set a clear direction for ensuring that the full gamut of appropriate policy instruments is in place to support the sector, namely a pipeline of talent to meet the skills needs of the sector now and in the future; investment in economic infrastructure; a support environment for innovation and knowledge exchange; business growth support measures; assistance with market development and exporting; and a regulatory environment that is good for business as well as protecting the interests of employees.
Before I close, I want to say that I am delighted that we now have a date and a rate for the devolution of corporation tax. A rate of 12·5%, effective from 2018, will provide a major stimulus for the economy and support for all sectors. I am confident that the ability to lower the rate of corporation tax will help to grow the entire private sector, including the manufacturing sector, as we seek to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy towards greater private-sector and value-added growth.
To summarise, while I recognise that manufacturing has experienced some recent setbacks, the sector remains at the very heart of business and industry in Northern Ireland. Our region's strong manufacturing heritage remains intact, with a higher percentage concentration of manufacturing businesses in Northern Ireland than in the UK as a whole. We can remain confident that it will continue to have a significant role to play in the Northern Ireland economy as we seek to meet the challenges of global competitiveness. The debate today has been informative, and I can support the amendment that calls for the development of the manufacturing sector to be fully considered and reflected in the Executive's refocused economic strategy.
Mr Dunne: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the amendment, and I welcome the new Minister for the Economy, Simon Hamilton, to his post. I wish him well for his time in office, and I trust that he will remember the good people of North Down during that time.
I believe that the most productive way to go forward on this issue is, as the Minister has said, to include the development of manufacturing in the Executive's new economic strategy. That is why we tabled the amendment. Our manufacturing sector has been at the very backbone of our economy for many years. With our mixture of a very highly skilled and educated workforce and a rich industrial and enterprising heritage, we have a proud and able sector that we all want to see flourish in the future. While challenges continue to exist, we see our economy continuing to recover from the global recession, which naturally had an impact on our open economy. I am delighted that outcome number one in the draft Programme for Government is that we prosper through a strong, competitive, regionally balanced economy. That puts the economy in its rightful place at number one, right at the heart of our priorities for this country in the future. The economy must continue to be the number one priority for our Executive and, indeed, for Invest NI.
Our manufacturing sector is vital in sustaining and growing our economy. We need to grow our private sector as we seek to rebalance our economy and make Northern Ireland the number one place to do business and to invest. Making the right conditions to improve our economic competitiveness and building on our export market are key to truly developing the sector. We must continue the preparatory work to get the conditions right on the ground for our new rate of corporation tax, and I welcome the statement today by the Minister on that. We must ensure that we maximise the potential that that lever gives us for our manufacturing sector.
It is vital that we equip, train and skill our workforce to ensure that we can compete for sustainable foreign direct investment and continue, as we must, to give robust support to Invest NI.
As I wind on the debate, I will summarise some of the points made by the various Members who spoke. I think that we would all commend Stephen Aiken for his maiden speech. He wants to see a change away from the public to the private sector. He registered his concern and the need for stronger economic growth. He also wants to see a joined-up manufacturing strategy, with targets and benchmarking. It is important that there are targets and benchmarking in place to monitor how we are doing. He made the point about the need for an uplift in R&D, something that the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment looked at in detail.
My colleague Gordon Lyons made the point — it is a very good one — that we need to continue to sustain the jobs that already exist in our Province by making sure that proper funding is in place to stop the leakages and losses that happen. However, he also recognised the continuing growth: we are growing faster than other parts of the UK.
Conor Murphy, the Chairman of the new Economy Committee, made various points about the need for the support of a manufacturing strategy. To be fair, he recognised the need to engage with the Committee and all stakeholders to come up with an inclusive strategy.
I think that we would all commend Sinead Bradley for her maiden speech as well. It was very impressive. We recognise the work of her father in the Chamber and respect the work that he did over the years. I am sure that she will work well with other Members for South Down, including my colleague, Jim Wells. She made points about the need for strong support for the south Down area and for the local GDP, which is so important, and about setting targets for competitive energy prices, which is also very important.
Mr Dunne: Unfortunately, I have little time. Stephen Farry, the former Employment and Learning Minister, made very good points in relation to the need to upgrade our skills and recognised the different views on whether life sciences, engineering and the agrifood sector be included.
Mr Speaker: I call Mr Robin Swann to conclude and wind on the debate. The Member has 10 minutes.
Mr Swann: It is a pleasure to wind on the first Opposition debate of the new mandate in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I congratulate and thank my party colleague Steve Aiken for bringing it forward.
Some of the Members from the left tried to portray the debate and the motion as talking Northern Ireland down. It is far from it, and I want to make that clear from the outset. Mr Aiken even said that this was not about manufacturing being in a sunset in Northern Ireland. The ambition and drive were summed up by Ms Bradley when she said that the debate was about raising ambition for the manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland.
The Minister quoted statistics, but I think, as Mr Aiken pointed out, 13% of our GDP comes from manufacturing at this time. We clearly should have a target of 20% of GDP from manufacturing in Northern Ireland. That is something that we should strive to attain, as is recognised by all the stakeholders in Northern Ireland and in the joint press release from Manufacturing NI and Unite the Union. Very rarely do we see joint press releases from employers and unions about good news. Unite the Union said about this motion:
"Only a dedicated strategy will bring the focus and oversight necessary to ensure real action to meet the challenges facing our producers."
"Employers and trade unions have a vital role to play in terms of developing and overseeing delivery of such a strategy — we stand ready to play that role."
Both Manufacturing NI and Unite the Union asked every party in the Assembly to back this motion for a single manufacturing strategy for Northern Ireland. It is something that they have been calling for for the past year and a half to two years. I do not have clarity on why the DUP and Sinn Féin have had a difficulty with a stand-alone manufacturing strategy. The amendment wants to make it part of a "new economic strategy". Mr Lyons stated that he hoped to see manufacturing at the centre of the strategy. By proposing a stand-alone manufacturing strategy, we want to ensure that manufacturing is given the place that it duly deserves in the Northern Ireland economy.
I want to move on to some of the statistics raised in the Chamber today by the Minister on the great successes we have in manufacturing and the current numbers employed: over 80,000 at this time. Let us not forget that those figures include the large number of people in my constituency who still work for JTI Gallagher and who have not lost their jobs yet. There are blows and job losses coming to manufacturing and employers that have not been included in those statistics.
This motion is not about talking down Northern Ireland manufacturing or portraying it as being in a state of crisis; it is about giving a reality check to our new Government to ensure that manufacturing is given its rightful place, and I hope that it is not buried in an economic strategy but is given its rightful place. I ask all Members in the House today, no matter what they have committed to do, to actually listen to the stakeholders out there. I think it was a point that Mr Murphy made, as Chair of the Committee for the Economy, when he said that the Committee wanted to listen to all the stakeholders. Two of the major stakeholders in manufacturing have spoken — Manufacturing NI and Unite the Union — and they have made it clear that they want a stand-alone manufacturing strategy.
I will move on to some of the contributions and I want to come back to Mr Lyons. There were some sly comments made about the potential of my stance on Europe, but we should reflect on what Mr Dunne said in the Economy Committee the other week; he was concerned about what would happen in Northern Ireland when we left the European Union. Maybe the DUP needs to look among its own members rather than looking this way first. That may not be as clear —
Mr Lyons: I can assure the Member that, as far as the Democratic Unionist Party is concerned, it is united on this issue —
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr Lyons: Perhaps the Member would like to outline his position on membership of the European Union.
Mr Swann: I would be happy if he asked Mr Dunne about his position, because we have it in the record — [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: I ask the Member to address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr Swann: My apologies, Chair, I was trying to address and allay fears.
I suppose one of the things that is different, possibly, about this party when compared to the rest of them is that, when our party executive passed its motion, which was actually taken by the executive of our party and was not made by a hierarchy that did not consult its members, that although, on balance, the Ulster Unionist Party feels that we are better within the European Union, members are allowed their own free thought.
Mr Swann: I have given way to the Member once, but I want to progress because —
Mr Frew: Will the Member give way? — [Laughter.]
Mr Frew: I thank the Member for giving way. Of course, he is trying to make as good a job as he can of explaining the Ulster Unionists' position. He must have found it extremely difficult when he was canvassing in the Assembly elections to get that point across, when he made it clear so many times that he was for voting to leave, while his party is for voting to remain.
Mr Swann: Can I ask the Member where I canvassed to leave? I ask the Member if he has any proof of that? When I was asked the question on the doorstep, I told the truth at all times, maybe unlike some of the other candidates that were canvassing in North Antrim.
Mr Swann: No, I have given way once; I will move on.
I will go back to the motion, because I know that the Business Committee and the Commission have taken legal advice that Europe is not to be debated in the House, although some, no more so than myself, would like it to be.
Moving on to some of the other contributions, Mr Farry, the previous Employment and Learning Minister, seemed to cast aspersions this way that I used to be critical of strategies that came out of the Department for Employment and Learning —
Mr Swann: Maybe I should point out that we were not just critical of the strategies coming out. It was the 13 strategies that the Department held that had 233 recommendations and the 14 implementation plans that the Department held that had 197 recommendations. So a Department, which actually had 430 recommendations, that was done away with maybe gives some weight, credence and some acknowledgement that other parties in the House have seen the very good and valuable work that came forward. When it comes to those strategies, maybe the economic inactivity strategy, if it is fully implemented and fully funded, would be a supporting mechanism to the manufacturing strategy that we have put forward today.
(Madam Principal Deputy Speaker [Ms Ruane] in the Chair)
I have made the case for why we see that a stand-alone manufacturing strategy should be brought forward as part of the Programme for Government. What concerns me is the talk that the Programme for Government is going out for consultation. The Chair of the Economy Committee said that stakeholders will be listened to, but when the Opposition tabled a motion asking that a manufacturing strategy be central to the Programme for Government, the main Government party tabled an amendment to demonstrate that that would not be the case and that it would be part of an economic strategy. So, as far as we are concerned, the Programme for Government consultation has finished and the programme has been decided. This place can be clear that a stand-alone manufacturing strategy will not be part of this Programme for Government because the amendment tabled by the DUP clearly demonstrates that.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Assembly divided:
Ayes 58; Noes 37
Mr Anderson, Ms Archibald, Mr Bell, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Ms Dillon, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Ms Fearon, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hazzard, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kearney, Mr Kelly, Mrs Little Pengelly, Ms Lockhart, Mr Logan, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyons, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCausland, Mr McElduff, Mr McGuinness, Miss McIlveen, Mr McKay, Mr McMullan, Mr McQuillan, Mr Maskey, Lord Morrow, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Ross, Ms Seeley, Mr Sheehan, Mr Stalford, Mr Storey, Ms Sugden, Mr Weir
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Easton, Mr Robinson
Mr Agnew, Mr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Ms Armstrong, Mr Attwood, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Butler, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Mrs Dobson, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Ms Hanna, Mr Hussey, Mr Kennedy, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McKee, Mr McNulty, Mr McPhillips, Ms Mallon, Mr Mullan, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mrs Palmer, Mr Smith, Mr Swann
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Aiken, Mr Swann
Question accordingly agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to.
That this Assembly calls on the Minister for the Economy to include the development of the manufacturing sector in the Executive’s new economic strategy.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: Before we move to the next item of business on the Order Paper, I have received notification from members of the Business Committee of a motion to extend the sitting past 7.00 pm under Standing Order 10(3A).
That, in accordance with Standing Order 10(3A), the sitting on Monday 6 June 2016 be extended to no later than 9.30 pm. — [Mr Swann.]
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to four hours for this debate. The First Minister and the deputy First Minister will have 40 minutes between proposing and winding up. All other Members who wish to speak will have seven minutes.
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",
"we care for others and we help those in need ... We give our children ... the best start in life",
"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.
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.
Mr Nesbitt: Principal Deputy Speaker, thank you very much, and I thank the First Minister for the introduction to this debate.
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 —
Mr Nesbitt: I will certainly give way to the First Minister.
Mrs Foster: 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.
Mr Nesbitt: 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".
"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.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: As this is Mr Christopher Stalford's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.
Mr Stalford: 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.
Mr Murphy (The Chairperson of the Committee for the Economy): 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.
Mr Attwood: 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.
Mr Attwood: 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?
Mrs Foster: 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.
Mr Attwood: 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.
Mr Attwood: I hope that this Programme for Government process measures up because it is very clear that it needs to.
Mrs Long: 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.
Mrs Long: No, I want to finish my point, and then I will.
Mrs Long: 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.
Mr Nesbitt: 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.
Mrs Long: 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.
Mrs Cameron: 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.
Mr O'Dowd: 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.
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.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: I call Mr Phillip Logan, and as this will be his first opportunity to speak as a private Member I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.
Mr Logan: 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.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: I call Mrs Jenny Palmer. As this is Mrs Jenny Palmer's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.
Mrs Palmer: 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.
Madam Principal Deputy Speaker: As this is Linda Dillon's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.
Ms Dillon (The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs): 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.
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.
Mrs Little Pengelly: 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.
Ms Hanna: 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.
Mr Stalford: 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?
Ms Hanna: 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 —
Ms Hanna: — for people. Issues of identity are also parked in the "too hard" pile. We look forward to seeing the detail.
Mr McElduff (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education): 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.
Mr McElduff: 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.
Dr Farry: 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.
Mrs Little Pengelly: 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.
Dr Farry: 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.