17/01/2012 Stormont Today


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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. The post Christmas credit card


bills may be on the way - but up here it seems Government


departments have been underspending rather than overspending. The


Finance Minister was flashing the cash and he had this warning for


any prophets of doom. The trade unions who seem to think that if


you get any good news you have to smack it on their head immediately.


And forget the argy bargy - love was in air in the Chamber. I could


almost Qasim overdid who was the Minister? Find out


later in the programme. And keeping me company tonight the


chief executive of our Further Education Colleges, Gerry Campbell.


Further Education has found itself in the spotlight recently - and is


at the centre of the reshuffle going on at the executive table.


Gerry Campbell, does it make a difference which department you end


up in? I think it does. It is important to realise that colleges


have a central role to play in the economy of Northern Ireland. The


economy has been identified as the number one priority for the country.


The colleges have a role in restoring it individuals and


helping young people get the skills employers need and linking them


that not only with schools, but also with players in industry and


being at the centre of the economy. There is an argument for bringing


in the Department of Education. From the college perspective what


is important is what is best for the economy and what is best for


Northern Ireland. I would put forward that we link in with other


government department as well in terms of social inclusion, dealing


with young people who have an employment and education. We need


to be at the centre of what the Executive is tackling in trying to


get the right level of skills and get the right levels of business


and get the economy back up and running again.


You mention skills. Do we have the right level of skills to move


forward? We have done a lot of work in the


redeveloping the curriculum. We would have links with small


employers, medium employers. We would try to build up business with


other countries. We lengthen and listen to what employers as saying.


It is about creating new technologies and working with


creative industries. We do listen to what employers are saying and


try to work that back into the curriculum we have.


We will come to that again that later in the programme.


Question Time almost didn't get started today as the Speaker will


explain - but when it did it was the Finance Minister who was first


up. But as we will be hearing from him later in the programme, we'll


concentrate on questions to the Health Minister instead - including


questions on trade unions, breast feeding and immigration law. But


first here's the Speaker. I am told that the alarm bell is


I am told that the alarm bell is not working at the present time. We


not working at the present time. We are trying to fix their alarm


system. An attempt was made to make the chamber look respectable.


topic was trade union activity financed by the health service.


Resulting from the involvement of health and social care activities.


Would the Minister agree that the Would the Minister agree that the


trade unions are an important part in the future of the health service.


I would ask him to take this opportunity to reassure a house


that he is committed to the principles of social partnership


and to the fact that the trade unions will be central to those


reforms? I am totally committed to social partnership. That is


demonstrated by the Department facilitating trade union members. I


wish but that would be reciprocated and stop suddenly I felt that it


was not when the first strike was called. We did not have clear


reasons set out for that strike in the first instance. There was are


low vote from the membership for that strike and that was


demonstrated on the day of the strike went limited numbers of


people came out. Trade unions should be seeking to negotiate.


That is what we are pushing for her. I trust that the member would join


me in condemning strikes switchback unnecessary. I am grateful for the


reply. Does the Minister agree that 1.6 million is a significant amount


of money? Is it really a court activity of the Department of


Health to fund trade union activity? The year that I gave was


2010, 2011. Obviously his party must have thought it was an at


acceptable activity. On to health promotion but one MLA had this to


say. I thank the Minister for his commitment to increasing health


promotion but does he except that we are behind other regions of the


UK as well as the Republic and even further behind Scandinavian


countries? That would be fairly obvious otherwise we would not be


spending more on public health. Thank you for the answer. I want to


ask does he believe that given the health benefits not just in terms


of children's immune systems but in terms of obesity, does the Minister


a belief that enough is being spent on breast feeding? We have the


public health agency. There are huge benefits that come about as a


result of children being breast-fed. It is something we want to


encourage. Even if young mothers for a short period of time do that


it can have benefits. We will be doing more work on that particular


era Andrew would encourage such a public health agencies to continue


that work. What action has the Minister taken to encourage more


doctors to come into their health service. Particularly in relation


to working in the emergency departments? Emergency medicine is


a speciality in which we have difficulty recruiting junior


doctors. The biggest contributory factor is changes to immigration


rules that were introduced in 2008. Despite a recruitment exercise to


India, we find this situation. We got a response in December last


year from a minister saying that the rules will not be changed. His


view was that we should be no separate list for Northern Ireland.


The economic news may still be pretty bleak with the high street


taking repeated hits - but Stormont's finances may not be in


as bad a shape as was previously thought. The Minister Sammy Wilson


likes to boast about running a tight financial ship so is he


starting to get results? When the 2011 budget was set there was an


expectation that it would be a tight settlement with little


expectation of McTigue delete reduced requirements during the


course of the year. However while this may reflect a robust action


taken by departments, it also raises the possibility that their


original budget allocations to some departments at either reflected an


orderly pessimistic if you, or her under estimated the capacity within


departments to pursue and deliver savings. There is evidence that


suggests efficiencies are being driven out. �10 million was


allocated for the Department of regional development. This will


allow further maintenance and repair of our major and minor roads


as well as new buses to run on those roads. This is good news for


the construction industry. This will mean that road maintenance


this year will be �111 million. That is the highest ever recorded.


It does illustrate the executives commitment to dealing with some of


the issues which the construction industry have brought to us in


terms of jobs. I was and this morning to the trade unions who


seem to think that if you get any good news on Northern Ireland you


have got to smack it on the head immediately to make sure it does


not gather any kind of momentum and introduce more gloom and doom and


despair with Matt predictions, and the our predictions, about the


losses of jobs in the public sector. The best thing that those people


who are involved in all areas of the economy in Northern Ireland can


do, and also in the media, is to maybe try and encourage some


confidence in the economy rather than always knocking everything


that happens and indeed trying to compete with each other as to who


can make the future looked blackest. Those kinds of things would help


the pursuit of creating jobs and encouraging firms to invest.


Education was also a big winner. Sammy Wilson confirmed an extra


�120 million over the next three years - although only next year's


�30million is guaranteed. Despite the good news, David McNarry


couldn't resist having a go at his old sparring partner. The zest for


consuming money never ceases to amaze me. On their education


package let us be fair. This is good news. Very good news. It


should be welcomed by take all. Would the Minister tell us what was


the nature of the compelling arguments which convinced him to


release this money? I am glad to see that the member has moved away


from me being the creative of black holes. He asks what compelling


arguments are being made in relation to schools? First of all


all members in this Assembly when they were faced with the five %


reduction followed by one % reduction and the dire consequences


that was going to have, many of them were saying we will not have


the teaching complement required, that was one of the things. There


was the pressure through public representatives. What about the


pressure on further education colleges? Ho will they be able to


cope with unexpected increase in demands. There will be an increase


in demand wanting to potentially study. You might also find that


there is not enough supply to meet the demand and there is more


interest in it their courses ended the F T sector. Many people have


come through the colleges and got good qualifications and went on


into employment. I would stress the banter between skills


There are going to be wide-ranging changes to the rules on pre-school


education. The education minister John O'Dowd wants to broaden the


numbers who get priority - and end preference to children born earlier


in the school year, as he explained to our education correspondent


It has been recommended in the past that this is removed. There are


Baunton thing is that we provide pre-school education. -- the


important thing is. Every child whose parents want it will receive


pre-school education in the year before they attend primary school.


Does that mean that those with July and August birthdays will not get a


place? It will not. This is to benefit those who fall outside of


those states. You are going to look again at social deprivation.


Parents working and earning a low wage are concerned about this.


Because of the criteria that has been set previously, low income


parents for our -- fall outside the category of. Were hoping to change


this. We want to bring low income parents into the system. Could you


also be giving other advantages to other children, such as travelling


children? In this current criteria, my focus is on a family's on lower


-- is on families who are on low incomess. Back to the chamber,


where things got romantic. I could kiss him, but I don't think that


would be appropriate. I hope we can work together to ensure there are


places immediately available. back to the future of the


employment and learning department. Joining the is Basel. The party


leaders had further talks today. -- We have been talking about how the


car up is going to happen. How do you feel about it because it means


a loss of part of your job? Everyone that is involved in any


committee, you get quite attached to it and certainly everyone in my


committee was committed to the work that we do. There is a sense of


sadness that the work you have started, you might not be able to


carry forward. Having said that, there is some benefits - but


It is obviously tied in to what is happening with the Department of


Justice, but would it have been better to wait to reduce the number


of departments ought up once or rather than doing it in this


fashion? If it is right to do it for one, it is right to do it for


money. Part of the problem we have instalment is we take for ever to


make a decision and then implement it quickly, usually wrongly. I do


sense that there will be an acceleration of the realignment of


all the other departments. It could happen in a year. Is there some


merit in changing the committee structure for the new departments


because the role of the committee is to be a watchdog and to


scrutinise and now if the department is bigger, is there some


merit in increasing the size of the committee, or having some extra


level of scrutiny? You could conceivably have to committees


looking at one Ministry. The committee's -- the committees do


not need to be aligned the individual departments. I do think


there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of changes have to be


implemented. Gerry Campbell, it is difficult in terms of youth


unemployment. How do you argue for the resources to upscale as any


young people as possible to make their chances better of getting a


job? I heard an alarming statistic today. Youth unemployment has


doubled in the past few years and one in five young people in


Northern Ireland are unemployed. It is frightening. The younger they


are unemployed, it is harder to get them into work. -- the longer. It


is also costing more in benefits and people are not contributing in


an employment situation. Government needs to look at things from a


strategic perspective. All departments need to work together


to eliminate this. We will leave it there for now. Yesterday saw the


first sitting of the four Assembly since the Christmas holidays, but


to be fair to MLAs, committees were meeting last week and the week


before. We stuck out were weekly round-up -- we start our weekly


round-up of committee business. Maya understanding in terms of the


current situation is that there is support among staff for a merger.


Are you disputing that the formal response of union members was


against the merger? Are you disputing that? Those were the


recommendations. I use it just didn't they have retracted or


changed those? They may be. If you want to invite the unions along.


I am inviting you to justify what you said to the House.


information I heard was that there was sufficient support. We are not


talking about that. We are talking about you unequivocally telling the


House... I stand by what I said. must be your understanding that


these documents were withdrawn. at all. These documents are in a


position of a merger. You come to the House and say that the


documents show that the merger is favoured. You misled the House.


That is a strong statement that you are making. That is what you did.


The term misleading in terms of protocol is on parliamentary. --


unparliamentary. The committee buy- up serve on helps to contribute to


the local economy. If online gambling is a growing threat to


your Business in any case, and it is apparat the best of the UK where


there are loan restrictions, is it not likely to continue to be a


problem? The effect of the matter is we are still an industry in


Northern Ireland and we are suffering like everybody else. We


need help and one of the simple things would be a Sunday opening.


People are betting on Sundays illegally. They would not have gone


online at the been able to offer the service. -- had we've been able


It was not all doom on gloom -- and gloom. Department hand back every


quarter the money they do not spend. We are coming towards the end of


the financial year and there was more money to hand out. The


Department of Culture had asked for �2 million. They were hoping to get


that from the sale of the public office building, but the sale fell


through and it is back on the market. They needed �2 million to


plug their accounts. There was more talk on the shake-up of the


ministerial department. Yes. It was proposed that the Justice


Department stayed. But because they have to ministers, it was thought


that the Department for Employment and learning should merge. The


party leaders met today to discuss the papers, but it was a waste of


time. Andy prominent victims campaigner was here. What was that


about? He was here because it is alleged that victims of Unionist


crimes are being ignored. He has spoken to Sinn Fein and his meeting


Peter Robinson tomorrow. He said he was glad that the First Minister


wanted to meet him, but he was not impressed by some of the other


politicians. Gerry Campbell, in terms of staff across your further


education colleges, are based got enough to teach the new courses


needed? Yes. Our lecturers can spend quality time in industry and


business to make sure their skills and knowledge are at the cutting


edge. So you are confident that we will have exactly the right sort of


people for the right sort of jobs in the future? Yes. Everybody needs


to work together to deal with these issues, whether it be proved


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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