26/02/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


Andrew Neil and Tara Mills present political news and debate, including former defence secretray Liam Fox in his first major television interview since leaving the cabinet.

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Well come. As we enter another big week for health reforms, is


Labour's scaremongering? The shadow health secretary joins us for our


top story. In his first major television interview since leaving


cabinet, Liam Fox on why George Osborne should defend -- depend on


A Lib Dem at Lord's and a troublesome Tory backbencher go


head-to-head. Our political panel of the bright


line things he to analyse British Are we doing enough to plug the


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2029 seconds


Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland.


Recession? What recession? Business leaders tell us they can't get the


qualified people to fill many highly skilled jobs So are


politicians doing enough to plug The executive are keen on making


the economy central to government. ICT sector could be the engine of


growth. And he may be about to lose his own job, but can the Minister


for Employment deliver on his promise to pitch Northern Ireland


as a player in a global market But first with me for the next 20


minutes former Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey and Aoife Clarke from


the CBI. Is Peter Robinson right? It is not a news story because it


has been an ongoing issue. 10 years ago, I carried out some work on how


much coverage a bad news story on the economy got and it won every


time. It is easier to portray a closure of a factory with a


reporter outside it and it is to explain to people than another half


a dozen people got jobs. There is a tendency to look at the glass being


half empty and it is not new. course, a factory closing has a


massive impact on the workers and others. We cannot ignore it, can


we? No. But I do think, at times, we do not get the balance right and


that is a difficulty in broadcasting. There is a bit of an


emphasis on the dying side. I have sympathy with what Peter said in


that regard. Peter Robinson appears to be


favouring a hear no evil see no evil approach but some people argue


that had the media taking a more proactive role in the banking


crisis we wouldn't be a here and now? We live in a democracy,


thankfully. If there is bad news stories for the economy people need


to know about them. Maybe the sophistication of some of our


stories isn't where it could be. For example, some of the global


barometers on infrastructure or skills and maybe there is not


enough co-operation. We would like to see more of that to bring some


new ones to the story. unemployment figures, 18% youth


unemployment, which means 82% are in some employment or training. You


cannot tell that in a different way, can you? No. Ultimately, the figure


of those who aren't in work is catastrophic and it needs to come


down. It would be doing a disservice to the people in


Northern Ireland if we were to flip those figures just for a positive


headline. Amidst the gloom of rising


unemployment, here's some good news. A survey by a recruitment firm says


Belfast is one of the best cities in the UK to get a job in the IT


sector. But there's a reason for that, we've got a serious lack of


qualified people. In a moment, we'll be talking to the Employment


Minister, Stephen Farry, but first Who says science isn't fun? STEM


subject, science, technology, engineering and maths are


celebrated here at the centre here. It is all about putting the wow


factor backing for students. But too many students are not choosing


STEM subject. An American insurance company, at Allstate, employs many


people here but they cannot find the right people with skills.


getting close to crisis levels and it is disabling asked to grow our


business. I think the executive are keen on making the economy part of


what is central to government. The ICT sector could be the engine for


growth. It is ironic when you have this sort of situation coinciding


with a substantial level of unemployment. Some of this is not


surprising when you look at the fact that the economy is changing


and the education and training system will struggle to keep pace


with that. At least 15,000 people work in the technology sector here


and thousands more use computer skills in other businesses. There


are around 700 ICT companies and international investors. More than


60% have a degree and there are around 1000 graduates per year in


ICT and related subjects. Employers say more graduates are needed and


they are calling on government to go a step further. We need to set


targets for the number of science and technology A-levels people do.


The number of people who do maths as well. A good starting point


would be 30% or 40% of subjects in STEM subjects were the first choice


for the students at Dungannon College. People weren't interested


in science as it was seen as difficult or uncool. Now, with


media and TV shows, I think it is becoming more exciting and


appealing. I wanted to do i t fall time because I have a passion for


it. I saw the course here and decided I would apply. Some


employers have called for a cut in tuition fees for science and


technology degrees. It would encourage more students to study


the subject because there are a lot of jobs revolving around science.


South-west College has bent over half a million pounds creating


islands dedicated first STEM centre designed to sell the merits of


science and technology. There are a lot of teachers teaching to A-level


standard but, generally, and in certain parts of Europe also, there


hasn't been enough focus on engineering, manufacturing and


product design. Tradition the, we were good and we probably came --


became complacent now we have to get back in there and be the best


The minister Stephen Farry joins us. What about the idea of a fees cut


or a bursary to encourage students to study the subject that will grow


the economy, --? We are making progress. Let me just say first of


all, I recognise that skills are the main driver of the economy here.


We are keen to make - might get the message to investors overseas and


local employers that we are keen to invest in skills. Certainly, during


my term of office, I have bin throw off -- proactive in identifying


where we have skill shortages or mismatches. In terms of STEM


subjects, I increased the number of places in local universities and


they will be in STEM subjects. We have to send the message to the


education system itself and try to encourage students to consider


careers in areas where there will be jobs in the future. We need to


get information into the careers advisory enough. But we are at


least 1000 graduates a short every year so it needs to be tackled this


year? Things take time to turn around. Do we have the time? I am


moving as quickly as I can and being proactive. This year, I set-


up and ICT working group. I was listening to voices coming through


from employers and we are bringing key players around the table,


including universities and the further education sector to see


what actions we can take to turn around what we are doing in terms


of the ICT sector. We have a strong base already and there are


indications we can do more. I am very much up for seizing the


opportunity. Some people might argue there is very little action.


While everyone is talking about the short, medium and long-term,


companies invest elsewhere. Companies are still coming in. The


New York Stock Exchange has come in. More companies are interested in


coming. We have really qualified people and that is why companies


looked to come here so we are not failing in that regard. The key


issue is what we can do more of to seize the opportunity. I have


commissioned research showing what other specific skill needs we have


to invest in to take advantage of lower corporation tax. Bill


McGuinness, one government adviser and a successful businessman, says


beat skills shortage issue is as important to our economy as a cut


in corporation tax. The two going harmony. The corporation tax it


looks at the demand side. Equally, it doesn't happen in a vacuum and


we have to invest in the driver's of the economy. Skills and research


and development, for example. have almost been in post for a year.


What has changed in that time and is this necessarily a criticism of


the Department? Of things to slow? No. We have a department that is


singularly focused on skills. We invest in more places in terms of


universities, we listen to employers and take action in terms


of what has to happen in the ICT sector. Also we prioritise tourism


as a priority scale. There are opportunities we have their for the


rest of the decade. As a department, and given the size of Northern


Ireland, we have the opportunity to be flexible and responsive. They


cut in fees would be a straight forward weight to incentive vies


students into proper degrees that really matter? We have cut fees and


we have the lowest fees in the UK. We have sent a clear message we


want people to participate in higher education and that doesn't


just mean University but things like level for apprenticeships. In


ICT, we need graduates and people with more and more high-level


skills across a broad spectrum in higher-education and


apprenticeships -- further education. Apprenticeships are


potentially disappearing. How do you think it will be desired -


might divided up? There are important challenges out there. The


core message to the future has to be to maintain a sale bit -- single


skills narrative here. If we fragment our skills. Like putting


off apprenticeships, we will seriously undermine our skills are


offering and send a negative message. Should we merge to


departments and have one department for the economy? We are open for a


proper rationalisation. A single department of the economy makes


sense. We have to make sure we get there in a proper way that works


for the economy and does not undermine it.


Coming to you. You are reform employment minister. Was there a


lack of vision during your tenure? We have been here before. One of


the first things I did was attend a meeting where all of the ICT people


were around the table telling me how many places they needed and


what we needed to do to help them get those people. One of the things


that came out of that was the idea of conversion courses where someone


with a degree can convert to an ICT qualification. We provided up to


6000 points a year for eight course. We ran two or three of these but


people could not get jobs at the end so it petered out. The demand


for people ebbs and flows according to the economy. Employers and Bro


McFerran has been a Brit as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, -- a


brick, but what they pay is an issue. Building up enough of a


stock of people, the last thing you want to do is convert them took IT


qualifications and in the next minute, they are being made


redundant. We have to strike a balance. A lot of the initiatives


that were mentioned, the department is quick at doing that, but the


fact is there is not a consistent demand. It comes and goes and


having a pool of labour at the right time is a trick. You advise


the CBI. How far behind are we? wouldn't say we are particularly


behind with reference to London. This is one of the things, matching


supply and demand in a fast- changing labour market, it is a


challenge. I worked on our Queen's of industry campaign and skills is


a key issue as well as tax and intellectual property. We were


researching our paper last year and we looked at other countries that


are doing well, like Singapore, but no one is doing it perfectly. The


executive needs to keep their foot on the gas a and make sure that


they keep in touch with industry. If you focus on one area, you may


drop the ball in another area. there is an acceptance that the old


style of jobs are gone and we have to feel -- fill the gap and give


people a job. We are looking at welfare reform by pushing people


off benefits and into work? Absolutely. There are some concerns


about the global backdrop which isn't good. Various challenges


within skills and the interface between that and welfare reform. It


is very complex but there are some enduring concerns about how that


will pay out -- play it in the men -- labour market. It is a short


time frame as to how it will impact on the ground. We would like to see


more clarity. He spoke about the eggs and flows, surely a job for


some space of time is better than no job? Sure. We are seized about


the problem we have with young people out of work. For some people


it is a structural problem but for many it is a reflection of the


economic downturn. The rate for young people is higher than for the


population as a whole as they suffer from inexperience. If you


can't get on the first run of the ladder, it is difficult. We are


trying to put together a new programme to give young people the


opportunity to get experience. It is important business plays a role


and we have a positive relations with the CBI air and other bodies


in that regard. Now you are on the outside of the government looking


in, could they do things differently?


The only thing I would be critical of in student fees is that I would


have put them up a bit and used the money for exactly the sort of


things Steven is talking about. In Spain, youth unemployment is double


what it is here. If you have missed anything in the


world of politics, here is a catch- Monday kick-off. Sports Minister


doesn't like this game of politics. No love lost but plenty of love


when this MLA it revealed her son's fight for life. Your life is on


hold when you are dealing with renal failure. Normal family life


goes out the window. Martin McGuinness was asked by a a a


father to find out the truth about his son's murder. Tell us to


Dunecht. Second in command as far as I was told. Alex Attwood gets in


the swing for a new course and why this Republican likes his bit to


get more women elected. We operate within a chamber many of us feel is


the equivalent of Jurassic Park. God gave us to its ears and one


mouth. David Trimble's return to On the female quotas, you have to


MLAs instalment. Are quite is a good idea? No, the atmosphere has


to be made more female-friendly rather than quotas. I think most


women want to get to the top on merit and if you have quotas, the


danger is people may say they got there because of their agenda. What


we have to do, in the parties, and I tried when I was leader, to put


in education, training and encourage people. The same applies


in getting them to apply for public appointments. We did not get enough


applicants when I was on the board and we had to approach women to ask


them to apply. How would affirmative action go down as in


the business walk -- world there is a shortage of women in the


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