End of Session Report 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Committee: Employment and Learning

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Monday, 12 November 2012

ISBN: Only available online

Remit, Powers and Membership

The Committee for Employment and Learning is a Statutory Departmental Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Employment and Learning and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • call for persons and papers;
  • initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Employment and Learning.

 

The Committee has eleven Members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, with a quorum of five. The Membership of the Committee since 12 May 2011 has been as follows:

Mr Basil McCrea MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Buchanan MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jim Allister MLA
Mr Sammy Douglas MLA
Ms Michelle Gildernew MLA[1]
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA[2]
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr David McIlveen MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Mr Alastair Ross MLA

[1] Ms Michelle Gildernew resigned from the Northern Ireland Assembly on 2 July 2012.
[2] Mr Fra McCann replaced Mrs Sandra Overend on 6 February 2012.

This End of Session Report covers the work of the Committee for Employment and Learning since the beginning of the new Mandate on 12 May 2012 to 31 August 2012.

The Committee’s work programme for the session included a number of visits and stakeholder events. The Committee considered a range of subordinate legislation, undertook a number of study visits throughout Northern Ireland, and met on 37 occasions.

In addition, in response to the announcement on 10 January 2012 by the First Minister and deputy First Minister of their plans for reducing the number of government departments from twelve to eleven by dissolving the Department for Employment and Learning and transferring its functions principally to the Department of Education and to the Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment, the Committee for Employment and Learning carried out a consultation with key stakeholders, requesting their comments on the proposed dissolution.

Details of Committee expenditure during this reporting period are included at Annex A.

Committee Meetings / Visits

Of the 37 meetings convened by the Committee, seven were held outside of Parliament Buildings.  The Committee held meetings at Queen’s University Belfast, the Belfast Metropolitan College, the premises of First Steps Women’s Centre, Dungannon, South West College, the Lisburn Campus of the South Eastern Regional College, Parkanuar College, the Thomas Dornan Trust, Dungannon and at the Kings Hall Conference Centre in Belfast during the IFEX Food, Drink, Retail and Hospitality event.

The Committee also made 12 visits to a range of bodies and organisations to inform its work.  During these visits the Committee was able to talk to staff and young people regarding the issues of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, how to create employment, ensure effective training and education for young people.  The locations visited by the Committee were as follows:

  • Belfast Metropolitan College e3 Campus, Springfield Road, Belfast.
  • The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland Science Park.
  • John Huddlestone Engineering, Greyabbey.
  • University of Ulster, Magee Campus.
  • Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queen’s University Belfast.
  • St Mary’s University College, Belfast.
  • University of Ulster, Belfast Campus.
  • Wrightbus, Ballymena.
  • Jobs and Benefit Office, Omagh.
  • Todds Leap Activity Centre, Ballygawley.
  • EU Employment Week, Brussels, Belgium.
  • Farborough Airshow, Farnborough, England.

During its visit to the Lisburn Campus  of the South Eastern Regional College on 29 June 2011 the Committee held a breakfast meeting with students, lecturers and local businesses involved in an initiative by the college to improve students’ future employment opportunities.  The breakfast provided the young people with an opportunity to showcase the industry projects which are an integral part of their courses and which are designed to improve their employability skills. These ranged from working with local engineering companies to the provision of back-up services for the 2012 Olympics. After the breakfast meeting the Committee held its formal Committee meeting at the College.

On 28 September 2011 the Committee visited Parkanuar College, the Thomas Dornan Trust, Dungannon. The College provides opportunities for people with disabilities to bridge the gap between school or the sheltered home environment, to employment and independent living accommodation.  The Committee heard from students and staff about the work of the College and the types of vocational and educational training courses available to residents. The Committee also held its Committee meeting at the College.

Committee visit to Parkanuar College

In November 2011 the Committee visited the Centre for Cancer Research & Cell Biology (CCRCB), at Queen’s University, Belfast.  The centre is part of a UK-wide group pioneering national and international progress in bowel, oesophagus and breast cancers and is one of the UK’s premier cancer research centres. The Committee was taken on a tour of the Belfast City Hospital’s Cancer Centre and saw how local research was resulting in ground-breaking clinical trials and providing high value employment in the region.

Committee visit to the Centre for Cancer Research & Cell Biology at Queens University Belfast

On 8 December 2011 the Committee travelled to Dungannon to visit the First Steps Women’s Centre to see how adult training can give people a second chance at learning.  The Committee, which also held its weekly meeting in the Women’s Centre, spoke to members of the Forum for Adult Learning Northern Ireland (FALNI) about the importance of helping adult learners improve their skills and chances for employment.  FALNI presented a strong case to the Committee of the huge importance of encouraging people to take advantage of lifelong learning, particularly where early educational experiences had not been positive.

The Committee also held a joint meeting with the Committee for Education on 29 May 2012 to discuss the Review of Teacher Education. The two Committees met to discuss issues of concern and to form a joint response on the Review being conducted by the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning.

In acknowledgement of the importance of the aeronautical industry for employment in Northern Ireland, the Committee visited the Farnborough International Air Show from 9 to 13 July 2012.  The Committee felt that the Air Show was an ideal opportunity to speak to local businesses pursuing contracts and to engage with them on what their needs are in relation to government assistance for the sector and the education and training infrastructure required for the aeronautical industry. 

Subordinate Legislation

During the session the Committee considered 19 items of subordinate legislation which were laid in the Assembly. As part of its process for scrutinising subordinate legislation, the Committee has sought the views of relevant stakeholder organisations and worked with the Department for Employment and Learning to ensure that these views are properly taken into account.

The Agency Workers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

On 1 June 2011, the Department briefed the Committee on the results of the public consultation on the transposition of EU Directive 2008/104/EC on conditions for temporary agency workers and requested the Committee’s support for introducing the Directive into legislation.

The Committee felt that although the implementation of the Directive is a European Commission requirement, given its importance, the Assembly should have the opportunity to debate its impact and therefore tabled a Motion in the Business Office for debate.  On 15 June 2011, the Committee received briefings from the Department, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and representatives of the Law Centre NI to ascertain their views on the impact of the Directive.  On 21 June 2011, the Assembly debated, and carried, the Committee’s motion that the Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, would ensure that the needs of workers are taken into account when implementing the EU Agency Worker Directive, and that costs to businesses would be minimised.

Inquiries

Consultation on the Dissolution of the Department for Employment and Learning and the Transfer of its Functions

In response to the announcement on 10 January 2012 by the First Minister and deputy First Minister of their plans to dissolve the Department for Employment and Learning and transferring its functions to other Departments, the Committee carried out a consultation with key stakeholders to gain their views and comments on the proposed dissolution.

In particular the Committee held 2 stakeholder events with 22 organisations as part of its evidence gathering for its consultation on the dissolution of the Department for Employment and Learning and the Transfer of its Functions. 

The Committee produced a report on the results of its consultation which heard from a wide range of stakeholders, including Departmental staff, the universities and colleges of further education as well as business organisations, unions and voluntary and community organisations.  On 1 May 2012, the Assembly debated and carried a Committee for Employment and Learning motion that called on the First Minister and deputy First Minister, when considering the transfer of the functions currently exercised by the Department of Employment and Learning to other Departments to take note of the views of key stakeholders. 

The Committee’s Inquiry report was published on 15 May 2012. 

 “We have been impressed with the responses and options for redistributing functions identified by the stakeholder groups. One option, in particular, that of the creation of a new Department for the Economy, showed that people were looking for another way for Northern Ireland to put economic and skills development at the centre of government.” Chairperson of the Committee, Basil McCrea MLA.

Committee Inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in Northern Ireland

Following a number of briefings from stakeholders, the Committee expressed its concern regarding the structure and effectiveness of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in Northern Ireland.  Briefings from groups such as the Careers Service itself and the Northern Ireland Schools and Colleges Careers Association identified that there are inconsistencies in how CEIAG is taught in schools and colleges, with additional concerns being raised by Members on how the NI Careers Service compares to other services in the United Kingdom. In response the Committee agreed at its meeting on 20 June 2012 to carry out an Inquiry on the issue.

At its meeting on 4 July 2012 the Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry and also made a call for evidence from a list of identified key stakeholders. 

On the basis of written evidence submitted, the Committee will consider which organisations and individuals to invite to provide oral evidence to the Committee during the Autumn of 2012.

The purpose of the Inquiry is to identify areas where the CEIAG strategy for Northern Ireland is failing to meet the needs of target groups such as school age pupils, young people, the unemployed and those living in rural and urban areas. 

The Committee will make recommendations, where appropriate, on how policies, procedures and practises can be improved in order to maximise opportunities to support CEIAG for the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy and its citizens.

Budget Scrutiny

The Committee has been mindful of the difficulties of the current economic climate and has worked closely with the Department throughout the session to ensure that best use is made of the resources available. The Committee has had eight briefings from officials on aspects of the Department’s budget.  At its meetings on 1 and 22 June 2011 the Committee was briefed on the June Monitoring Round and sought clarification on a number of issues including the implications of the withdrawal of funding for existing PhD students.   At meetings on 5 October and 9 November 2011 the Committee considered the Departments October Monitoring Round return and sought further details on the funding bids submitted and wrote to the Minister to request more detailed and timely information on budgetary matters.  In addition, at its meeting on 19 October 2011 the Committee was given an overview of the Department’s financial position and the impact of budgetary pressures on services by Departmental officials.  The Committee agreed to write to the Department for further information on various areas of concern including details of bids for the Steps to Work and Apprenticeships programmes which were made under the Comprehensive Spending Review, and to request a more detailed breakdown of what funding is contractually committed and which funding is not contractually committed relating to the Department’s £36 million capital funding. The Committee has also received briefings on the January 2012 Monitoring Round and the June 2012 Monitoring Round and has received evidence from a range of bodies regarding the impact of the budget decisions taken by the Department.

Policy Scrutiny

The Committee continued to exercise its scrutiny role over a wide range of policies, both those currently being implemented by the Department for Employment and Learning, and those under development. The Committee has been particularly focused on the issue of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) and the Department’s role in developing a cross Departmental Strategy. The Committee has also taken a great interest in a number of other consultations and strategies that the Department has been developing on issues such as a Strategy for Higher Education, the Merger of Stranmillis College with Queens University Belfast, a consultation on the widening of participation in Higher Education, the Department’s review of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the review of Tuition Fees and Student Finance.    

Engagement – Informal meetings / events

The Chairman and deputy chairman met informally with the Minister for Employment and Learning and his senior management team. The Committee has also hosted a number of smaller informal events for stakeholders. Such events have not only enabled the Committee to meet with stakeholders, but have also facilitated effective local networking and joined-up government.

On 24 October 2011 the Committee for Employment and Learning hosted an event, in conjunction with CollegesNI, when six of Northern Ireland’s Regional Colleges showcased some of their most innovative training programmes.  As part of the event the Committee met a number of young people, including fashion students and with Mr Philip Green who received a gold medal for bricklaying at the WorldSkills London 2011 competition, to hear their views on their work and about their training experiences and the opportunities provided by local colleges. The Committee was also eager to learn more about how the training provided helps to improve the local economy.

Committee event in the Long Gallery in conjunction with CollegesNI

The Committee also hosted its own ‘Masterchef’ style event on 29 November 2011. Nine trainees from the NOW organisation prepared a gourmet meal, dressed tables and escorted the invited guests, including MLAs and two well-known local chefs.  The NOW organisation, which is based in North and West Belfast, works with adults with learning difficulties to prepare them for work and provides them with skills and support to help them live independent and productive lives.

“It has been a fantastic opportunity for the Employment and Learning Committee to work with NOW and its trainees. Helping adults with learning disabilities achieve independence by developing skills is not just important, it is crucial if we want to encourage everyone to be full members of our society.” Basil McCrea MLA, Chairperson of the Employment and Learning Committee.

The Committee ‘Masterchef’ event in the Long Gallery with the NOW organisation.

Given the plans to dissolve the Department of Employment and Learning, the Committee held an event in the Long Gallery to thank those individuals and organisation who had provided evidence and assistance to the Committee over the preceding years.

Committee Motions

During the session the Committee for Employment and Learning brought forward four motions to the Assembly all of which were carried.  On 1 June 2011, the Department briefed the Committee on the results of the public consultation on the transposition of EU Directive 2008/104/EC on conditions for temporary agency workers. 

The Agency Workers Directive ensures the appropriate protection of temporary agency workers through the application of the principle of equal treatment. Thus, agency workers would be entitled to the same rights as that of a permanent member of staff in a similar post, unless any difference can be objectively justified. The conditions to which the directive will apply include duration of working time, paid holidays, rest periods and night work, and will apply following a twelve week qualifying period. 

The Committee felt that although the Directive had to be introduced, given its importance, the Assembly should have the opportunity to debate the impact of the directive and therefore put down a Motion in the Business Office for debate.  On 15 June 2011, the Committee received briefings from the Department, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and representatives of the Law Centre NI to ascertain their views on the impact of the Directive.  On 21 June 2011, the Assembly debated a Committee motion that the Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, to ensure the needs of workers are taken into account when implementing the EU Agency Worker Directive, and that costs to businesses are minimized.

The Committee called on the Minister for Employment and Learning to ensure that the needs of workers are taken into account when implementing the EU Agency Worker Directive, and that costs to businesses are minimised.

On 27 June 2011, in response to the completion of the Department for Employment and Learning public consultation on Higher Education Tuition Fees and Student Finance Arrangements the Committee tabled a motion to debate the important issues surrounding the question of how higher education is to be funded in Northern Ireland – an issue which was also being addressed in the other parts of the United Kingdom.

The Committee motion, which was carried by the Assembly, called on the Minister to ensure that funding is available to maintain the excellence of Northern Ireland’s Higher Education system, and is consistent with our aim of maximising educational opportunities for all.

On 6 February 2012, the Committee tabled a motion calling on the Minister and his Executive colleagues, to expedite the finalisation and implementation of an effective and cross-departmental strategy for young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEETS) and the on-going Review of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), in order to address the issues of record levels of youth unemployment, increasing disengagement with mainstream education and to make necessary improvements to ensure that EMA is targeted at those in greatest need . 

The Motion, which was carried by the Assembly, was prompted by the importance of the issue and by the work of the previous Committee which undertook an Inquiry into the NEETs issue, the purpose of which was the development of a strategy for these young people. It focused on who they were and the reasons why they were in that category, how best they can be helped and supported. 

As discussed earlier the Committee produced a report on the results of its consultation which heard from a wide range of stakeholders, including Departmental staff, the universities and colleges of further education as well as business organisations, unions and voluntary and community organisations.  On 1 May 2012, the Assembly debated and carried a Committee for Employment and Learning motion that called on the First Minister and deputy First Minister, when considering the transfer of the functions currently exercised by the Department of Employment and Learning to other Departments to take note of the views of key stakeholders. 

Likely Key Priorities for the next session

The focus of the Committee this Autumn/Winter will be to engage with key stakeholders and take evidence on its Inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in Northern Ireland.  The Committee will also continue its scrutiny of the Department’s budget and in particular look at the impact of the Department’s policies and strategies on employment in Northern Ireland.  The Committee will be particularly interested in monitoring the emerging strategies from the Department such as the Youth Employment Scheme and the Access to Success Strategy and how the Strategies, Programmes and Plans initiated by the Department form a coherent and targeted approach for the benefit of Northern Ireland and its citizens.  

ANNEX A 

Committee for Employment and Learning

Expenditure for the period 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Budget area

 

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

 

Includes the cost of committee visits to:

 

  • Farnborough Air Show  - to meet Aeronautical Companies from Northern Ireland to discuss support they need to develop the Industry
  • EU Employment Week, Brussels, Belgium

 

and 7 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings.

 

£3,988.51

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

 

  • Inquiry into the Dissolution of the Department of Employment and Learning

 

£642.50

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

 

  • Inquiry into the Dissolution of the Department of Employment and Learning
  • Inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance in Northern Ireland

 

£566.74

General expenses

 

Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, gifts provided by the committee during visits and conference fees for members.

 

£5,266.45

 

Total Expenditure

 

 

 

£10,464.20

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