03/07/2012 Stormont Today


03/07/2012

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to the final Stormont Today of this session, as

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MLAs take a break from the stresses and strains of life on the hill.

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But before hitting the beaches ,they had plenty of business to do.

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The finance minister has been addressing the crisis at the Ulster

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Bank. They're talking about next week though they wouldn't say the

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beginning or the middle of the week, simply that they hoped and it was

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that they hoped to have it resolved by next week. With the holidays

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about to start, has the culture minister given away her dream

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destination? I think it's important the people like me from Belfast get

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on the bus, which leaves Belfast every half hour, and go to Derry

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because it has a lot to offer. look back at the year in higher

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education Gerry Campbell from It's the end of term at Stormont

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and while members will get some time off, one minister has had a

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bit of a reprieve. The Department of Employment and Learning was due

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to be scrapped over the summer, but it's unclear now what's going to

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happen. So is it worth saving? With me, Gerry Campbell from the

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umbrella group Colleges NI. Is it worth saving? Department of

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employment an learning has been supportive of colleges across the

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last 14 months that the minister has been in post. In terms of the

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decision the executive made in January in terms of abolishing them,

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we had asked that time be take ton look at the decision to be made and

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take some views on board of various stake holders of where the

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functions will transfer to. I'm pleased to say the members of the

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executive have take than on board and have listed to my sector and

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the various colleges who put forward reviews, along with other

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key stake holders in terms of the CBI, the Federation of Small

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Businesses, the Institute of Directors and a range of business

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organisations and employers, who have said that there is a strong

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role that colleges have to play in supporting economic development and

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in helping to create jobs and innovation and entrepreneurship in

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the economy. It's important then to look at the role that the colleges

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play within a new sector and the sector colleges NI and the sector

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have come out strongly to support moving to a new department of the

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economy or a defpt similar to what Derry exists at the moment. Has the

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uncertainty affected your sector? It's been business as usual ats the

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moment. Colleges have continued to deliver at the moment. However,

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we're now at a stage where a decision needs to be made sooner

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rather than later in terms of what department or the functions will

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transfer across to. The dainker is moving over the summer recess and

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moving into the Autumn, is that there becomes uncertainty that

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leads to difficulties within the sector. The sector employers,

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students, learners all stake holders need to know where the

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sector will move across. In the intervening period since the

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announcement was made, the sector and colleges have made great

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strides to engage with employers, students and lecturing staff,

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engage with the Assembly committee and other political parties and a

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wide range of stake holders. It's fair to say they've listened to our

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reviews. We hope they would take that on board in terms of the final

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decision to be made. Staying at employment and learning minister

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Stephen Farry should have been facing his last Q&A session as

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we've explained. We'll hear from him shortly, but first up today was

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Caral Ni Chuillin and a question on the city of culture. Cot minister

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outline the benefits of this funding for not just Londonderry,

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but the whole of the North West? Absolutely and I thank the member

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for that question. It is accepted that that region has been

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underfunded for decades. Certainly in terms of the economy, it will

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help generate the local economy, help provide employment and the

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development of skills which will hopefully make local people

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employable. It will be on the culture, when the culture, City of

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Culture finishes. As well as that, you've got hotel beds, restaurants,

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local companies involved in design and production and indeed, you've

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also got tourism, transport, local transport as well as that. And

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that's just the economic, you know, there's estimated well over 30

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million euro has been spent. Goes from 30 million to beyond. You have

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the annual convention as well, which will bring substantial amount,

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the social legacy that will leave also is very important. Again, it

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will help build and develop good relations from the people across

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the city, but indeed across the North West region. It will feed

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into the border counties in surrounding areas as well. I think

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it's only but good. Certainly the executive's contribution to this is

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quite substantial. I understand that the Culture

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Company is still to secure �7.75 million for marketing and

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programming. They hope to secure part of this through sponsorship.

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If this is not secured, does Decal plan to make up the short fall? If

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so, would the minister give assurance that further funding

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required would not be as a result of a further pillaging of the

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Ulster Scots museum budget? I'll take the last point first. The

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budgets weren't pillaged. When people don't spend their money it

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gets brought back into central fund. It is a disgrace that they didn't

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spend their money. If that continues to happen, I'm going to

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make future arrangements for that because that can't happen at all.

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Will the minister agree with ewith -- with me that not only will this

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have a great impact on employability but a longer laster

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effect with cultural legacy? I do. I thank the member for his question

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and the legacy is one of the important issues for the executive.

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I suppose in response, the -- to the question raised, economic

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legacy will bring investment to a part of the north, which has been

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deprived of investment for decades. It will also bring local employment,

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and employability skills, above and beyond, it will actually put a part

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of the north, which has a brilliant cultural hub any way, it will help

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promote that, but leave a richer and greater legacy. It is crucial,

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even the one-day concert, which had something like 8,000 to 10,000

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people attending, all of which attended and spent money, not all

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of which were from the city of Derry. It's important that people

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like me from Belfast get on the bus, which leaves every half hour, and

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go to Derry because it has a lot to offer. Onto employment and learning

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and does an Irish passport guarantee free tuition in Scotland

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or not? Here's Stephen Farry. understand that some Northern

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Ireland domiciled students are applying to Scottish universities

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as European Union members. I understand it's too early in the

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application cycle to say whether there will be issue for places for

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such students. As this is a matter for the relevant Scottish

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authorities, Northern Ireland domiciled students who hold non-UK,

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European Union nationality are advised to contact the Scottish

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higher education institution where they intend to study and the

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students awards agency for Scotland to clarify their fee status and

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eljablt for tuition fee support. thank the minister for his answer

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and appreciate that in many ways these decisions are taken by the

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Scottish Executive. But it does leave a lot of Northern Ireland-

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based or Northern Ireland originating students in a degree of

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limbo through a lack of certainty. Account minister give any

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indication has the Scottish Executive given an indication as to

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the time scale for a difintive answer as to how their applications

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will be treated? I think this is an important issue. I certainly want

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to give as much clarity as I possibly can from the Northern

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Ireland's perspective. But ultimately, the best and I think

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the only real advice that we can give to students is that they, on

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an individual basis, need to talk to both the Scottish awards agency

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and also the institution to which they are applying. I think there's

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a danger in anyone drawing generalities from this or coming to

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any assumptions regarding their personal circumstances that may

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flow from what has happened with somebody else. Of course, this

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situation has arisen from the fact that the Scottish authorities have

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taken their own particular decisions around free tuition for

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Scottish-based students. We have done something similar in Northern

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Ireland with our freeze on tuition fees. This is an aspect in terms of

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what happens under devolution, decisions that both have taken are

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done with the best of reasons. There are anomalies that may arise

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and distortions to student flows. We have to take actions to mitigate

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those. I do understand that the Scottish authorities are looking at

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various means by which they can address this situation and that

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there may be discussions in the near future between officials from

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the devolves regions and the department of business and

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innovation and skills in London in the veneer future. One of the main

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criticisms of this year's Stormont session has been a lack of

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legislation. First thing this morning the junior minister

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outlined a plan to introduce 26 bills next year. He made a point of

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answering the Assembly's critics. Members will know that a bill is

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the culmination of a lengthy process of policy development,

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public consultation and expert technical drafting. Insofar as it

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places duties and obligations on government, specific bodies or

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private individuals, it must both be necessary and fit for purpose. I

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think I can confidently speak for the executive when I say it does

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not intend to promote large amounts of hasty and ill-thought out

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legislation, nor to overregulate society for the sake of generating

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activity. It is that which would be abysmal, not a failure to meet

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notional numerical targets. I'd also suggest that a customary

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extension sought by committees for the scrutiny of bills indicate that

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they share the executive view that legislation is too important an

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issue to rush, other than in compelling circumstances. None of

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this is in any way to deny the central role that legislation must

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play in what is, after all, a legislative Assembly. But that

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wasn't good enough to satisfy the Assembly's harshest critic.

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months in office before it produces a tentative legislative programme.

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I can begin to see now why this executive will need every one of

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the 161 staff and press officers to spin this as achievement. But could

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I comment on the total absence of any subStantive measures to deal

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with the bloated nature and size of Government. And is it the case that

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even the one step in relation to Dale is now stalled in. An answer,

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six weeks ago, the minister's department said legislation would

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be interdeuced by July. Now we don't even have a commitment the

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legislation, we have some form of words which says that ministers

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will confirm their legislative intentions. Is there still an

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intention to abolish Dale? If so when? That's been to the executive?

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And can I finally reassure the minister his department is in no

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danger of falling into rushed legislation, because so far, it's

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been nil on quantity and nil on quality.

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Let's hear from the minister This is still under consideration

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and this is a very important decision for Northern Ireland. My

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Department is a major economic department and it is a top priority

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for the Assembly and we have to ensure that whatever read to, we

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protect the important economic drivers around skills and we have a

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coherent agenda that brings together sticky players, and

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employers, on to one roof to move ahead in a coherent manner. -- on

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the one roof. Jim Allister does not see this as a key department.

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the past year, a lot has come through my department and we

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announced a major scheme to address youth unemployment in Northern

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Ireland and measures to address the needs and we have had a freeze on

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tuition fees and a major departure from the rest of the UK and

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devolution inaction and we have published a higher education

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strategy and the skills strategy. We are doing a lot across a broad

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range of activities to invest in the skills of the workforce and

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create job opportunities. It is difficult, there has been

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discussion that we are focusing too much and youth unemployment and

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should be looking at the parents and keeping them in jobs to set a

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good example? Unemployment is an issue across the board and we have

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to address everybody's needs and we have programmes and place but

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almost one third of unemployment falls within a very narrow six-year

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gap between 18 and 24 or and in many cases many people who have

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education and training but lack employable skills and that is the

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intervention we're trying to achieve. We are trying to produce a

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Budget that will be on a greater skill -- scale and comparative

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schemes in the UK and we will invest in new measures to address

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the needs and these are major achievements. Some people argue

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that instead of these science and technology subjects, we are

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training to many people because there are jobs at the other end?

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have a report on the future skills needs of the economy and that has

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shown that we will need more high- level skills and within that, more

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people studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics and I

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have completed a working group with an action plan for that sector and

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there is a good footprint in ICT and the indications that there are

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shortages and we cannot squander the opportunities by not investing

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in the right skills. Corporation Tax is as far away as

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ever. Gerry Campbell, do you think the department has done enough,

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particularly for you sector? Over the last 14 months the Minister has

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been a great supporter of the colleges and the work they do and I

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think not only the department but the executive is to really

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recognise the important role that colleges play as a linchpin in

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delivering the programme for government and economic strategy.

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Colleges are an important link between post-primary education

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through to university and employment and the challenge that

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we have ahead of us as a society is to win sure that we not only tackle

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properly the needs issue for people between 18 and 24 but also to look

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at adults who need to retrain and also this who are currently

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unemployed to give them the opportunity to go back into

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employment. There are challenges ahead if the Corporation Tax comes

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on board and they need a requirement for the minister's

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department to continue investment in colleges and in the right levels

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golf professional, technical, vocational education and to make

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sure the department works with other colleagues, particularly

:17:25.:17:30.

education, to ensure that young people at the ages of 14 - 16 are

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given the opportunity to make the right choices at that time. Are you

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not concerned that in the Department of the economy, you will

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get lost and not have the focus that you have now? Nor, we are the

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key drivers for the economic strategy and with key links to

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ensure that employers get the right levels of skills within colleges.

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These are the key constituents in the charming be economically

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relevant curriculum. The idea about getting people moving through post-

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primary education, through university, and people will go

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through apprenticeships, with 100 jobs and 100 days, so there is work

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that colleges do. We will leave it there. The Finance Minister had

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meetings with senior figures from RDS on the Ulster Bank over the

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ongoing crisis which has left tens of thousands with little or no

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access to their own money. In his third week and with little sign of

:18:28.:18:32.

any resolution, the Minister had measured criticism for the

:18:32.:18:36.

organisation. The one point that I made to Sir Philip yesterday was

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that I believed the bank had probably done themselves sun damage

:18:41.:18:50.

as well as raising problems for individuals by this drip-feed. It

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will be fixed by Monday, Friday, next week. It would be better if

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they had been up front and said this would be three weeks. I must

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say, even after the conversation with Sir Philip, I am still not

:19:11.:19:16.

clear as to win the problem will be sorted. It cannot be sorted this

:19:16.:19:21.

week. They have made that clear. They're talking about next week,

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although they would not say if it was the beginning or the middle of

:19:25.:19:34.

the week. They hoped to have it resolved by next week. All of the

:19:34.:19:38.

jumping up and down by the Finance Minister here and the Assembly, and

:19:38.:19:42.

the intervention by the Chancellor or the Finance Minister in the

:19:42.:19:45.

Republic, none of that will resolve what is basically a tactical issue

:19:45.:19:51.

but I can only take the assurances that Ulster Bank and RDS have given

:19:51.:19:56.

me. The reason for the sequencing is nothing to do with priority is

:19:56.:20:00.

as far as who the most important customers are or what is the most

:20:00.:20:06.

important market. The system failed in a certain way and then a certain

:20:06.:20:10.

sequence and had to be repaired in a certain way. Since Ulster Bank

:20:10.:20:16.

were at the end of that sequence, the They'll be the last to be dealt

:20:16.:20:20.

with. Because of that, there is a bigger backlog of transactions that

:20:20.:20:26.

has built up. Housing Executive is feeling talents and tax payers.

:20:26.:20:30.

That is what the Social Development Bannister told the Assembly area.

:20:30.:20:33.

Nelson McCausland men a statement following a report into multi-

:20:33.:20:38.

million-pound maintenance contracts. He said he would introduce special

:20:38.:20:43.

measures but warned that more radical change could be on the way.

:20:43.:20:48.

On taking up the post, I expressed my concerns about the issue of

:20:48.:20:52.

contract management, both on the briefing of the Government review

:20:53.:20:56.

findings and under mentation and on the issues leading to the

:20:56.:21:03.

termination of the Red Sky contract in 20th July 11. I wrote to the

:21:03.:21:09.

chair of the executive board asking for assurance that they haven't

:21:09.:21:14.

place robust and focused contract monitoring arrangements for all

:21:14.:21:19.

contracts. I was assured that the monitoring arrangements for

:21:19.:21:27.

response maintenance contracts were indeed very thorough. However, in

:21:27.:21:30.

light of my continued concerns about the issues which led to the

:21:30.:21:34.

termination of the Red Sky contract by the Housing Executive, that

:21:34.:21:37.

might be present and other contracts which had not been the

:21:37.:21:41.

subject of an a full investigation. It I asked that a forensic

:21:41.:21:45.

investigation was carried out of a sample of Housing Executive

:21:45.:21:49.

maintenance contracts to provide me with assurances in relation to the

:21:49.:21:53.

other contracts, the quality of services to tenants and the proper

:21:53.:22:01.

use of public funding. I have received, on 29th June, the draft

:22:01.:22:05.

report in relation to the forensic investigation that I commissioned.

:22:05.:22:10.

As this was on the receipt in the last few days, by officials need

:22:10.:22:16.

time to consider this in detail. Nevertheless, I am very concerned

:22:16.:22:21.

that the findings of the evidence clearly demonstrate that there are

:22:21.:22:25.

considerable issues in relation to the Housing Executive's management

:22:25.:22:31.

of Response maintenance contracts. I will be copying this report to

:22:31.:22:35.

the Housing Executive for comment and will ask what they consider the

:22:35.:22:41.

issues raised and respond to me by mid- August. I believe that a

:22:41.:22:47.

Northern Ireland Housing Executive has failed to date to demonstrate

:22:47.:22:51.

the required response to the known shortfalls and contract management,

:22:51.:22:55.

either in a manner which recognises the importance and significance of

:22:55.:23:00.

these issues, or which demonstrates an unequivocal demonstration to

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address these matters with the necessary pace and urgency. Hyphae

:23:05.:23:09.

that tenants and the tax payer are not getting the quality of service

:23:09.:23:13.

that they have the right to. I do believe that there has been a

:23:13.:23:18.

culture within the agencies and perhaps other departments that are

:23:18.:23:22.

responsible we never seemed to lie with anyone and I want to assure

:23:22.:23:25.

the Minister that whenever these reports are being worked through,

:23:25.:23:28.

the responsibility right through from the agency and into the

:23:28.:23:31.

apartment if need be, that we get to the bottom of that

:23:31.:23:36.

responsibility. We're getting to the 0.4 we can see the overall

:23:36.:23:43.

picture. -- to the point where we can see. We need to see how that

:23:43.:23:46.

revealed within the Housing Executive for such a number of

:23:46.:23:50.

years. I will want to know how that happened and we need to get to the

:23:50.:23:53.

bottom of this and we need to see were the responsibility lies and I

:23:53.:23:58.

will pursue that to the very opposite of my ability. This

:23:58.:24:01.

Stormont a suitable place for children? MLAs thinks so. They want

:24:01.:24:08.

to make it easier for school groups to come and visit. The issue was

:24:08.:24:13.

raised to the Assembly commission. Would he consider through the

:24:13.:24:17.

commission liaising with the Department of Education to ensure

:24:17.:24:20.

that funding is made available to allow schools to get access to

:24:20.:24:29.

Stormont? I thank the number for his supplementary and sometimes I

:24:29.:24:32.

think that he is more parochial than I am, he mentions that also

:24:33.:24:40.

quite a bit around you. The figures for Mid Ulster, incidentally, are

:24:40.:24:45.

23 inward visits from your constituency with 711 participants.

:24:45.:24:50.

That is in the last year. There were to agree to visits involving

:24:50.:24:55.

126 per to some of its and obviously the Assembly benefits

:24:55.:24:59.

from the enthusiasm of the individual member, such as Mr McRae,

:24:59.:25:04.

who is enthusiastic about the service. There is a travel subsidy

:25:04.:25:07.

available to visiting groups and within the commission, I am sure

:25:07.:25:10.

you will appreciate that there is an atmosphere of diminishing

:25:10.:25:17.

budgets. Having said that, it is a good idea that you should contact

:25:17.:25:21.

and be in dialogue with the Department of Education about ways

:25:21.:25:24.

and means of encouraging more and more schools to take up this

:25:24.:25:32.

invitation and an informed at 95% of the school's have taken up the

:25:32.:25:37.

education service in either of the direct way of coming here are

:25:37.:25:42.

receiving them in their individual schools but that does leave 5% and

:25:42.:25:47.

the Assembly commission is looking that -- looking at that. Those

:25:47.:25:52.

schools that have not engaged, we want to look at that.

:25:52.:25:55.

Environment Minister told the chamber today about plans for a

:25:55.:25:58.

one-off payment to councillors who are leaving after decades of

:25:58.:26:03.

service. As Mark Devenport told me, it is part of a plan to reduce the

:26:03.:26:09.

number of councils from 26 to 11 councils. This is part of the local

:26:09.:26:17.

council shake-up and that has been complicated. They will streamlined

:26:17.:26:21.

best down to 11 and they expect some other veterans who have been

:26:21.:26:24.

sitting through the years of the Troubles to buy out at this stage

:26:24.:26:32.

and some of them say, well, after so many years, we deserve a pay-off.

:26:32.:26:35.

Payments to politicians are always pretty controversial and I detected

:26:35.:26:39.

some nervousness on the part of the Minister, Alex Attwood, about all

:26:39.:26:44.

this but he did justify the play- offs in the following terms. There

:26:44.:26:51.

will be some criticism about pay- offs to politicians and many people

:26:51.:26:56.

would regard this in terms of recognition for unsung heroes.

:26:56.:27:01.

says that what he is proposing is going to be less generous than what

:27:01.:27:05.

had been previously envisaged in 2009 when people talked about a

:27:05.:27:10.

scheme costing more than �4 million. He was unable to come up with any

:27:10.:27:13.

overall cost, that depends on how many councillors and feel of the

:27:13.:27:17.

scheme but he says these payments will be capped. At no more than

:27:18.:27:23.

�30,000 for the longest serving. And to the MLAs and the TD's, we

:27:23.:27:28.

have information today about this Inter-Parliamentary for them.

:27:28.:27:32.

would ahead of the game because Martin McGuinness told you on the

:27:32.:27:37.

Sunday politics that this was going to go ahead. Maybe some pay back

:27:37.:27:41.

from Sinn Fein who have been keen on this for long. They made that

:27:41.:27:44.

move with the Queen and we have some kind of agreement about to be

:27:44.:27:49.

announced. There will be a meeting tomorrow involving Willie Hay and

:27:49.:27:55.

his counterpart in Dublin and we would expect them at that meeting

:27:55.:27:59.

to come out and give us a date for the North-South parliamentary forum

:27:59.:28:03.

which in the olden days would have been rejected by Unionists as an

:28:03.:28:05.

embryonic All-Ireland Parliament but nowadays there seemed prepared

:28:05.:28:09.

to go along with this because in the new spirit, this is all about

:28:09.:28:16.

practical co-operation. A final word, in terms of the recession,

:28:16.:28:20.

high army being affected? Come Lodges are working with efficiency

:28:20.:28:24.

savings and they have been giving efficiency saving go for the last

:28:24.:28:33.

five years for -- over the last five years. Colleges are continuing

:28:34.:28:37.

to deliver the same mind if not more to students but within this

:28:37.:28:44.

diminishing budget. -- same amount. That challenge is maintaining that

:28:44.:28:48.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.


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