Report on the Executive's draft Programme for Government 2011-2015 and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2011-2021
Committee: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Date: Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Reference: NIA 29/11-15
Mandate Report Number: 2011/15
Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister 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 First Minister and deputy First Minister.
The Committee has eleven members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
- Mr. Tom Elliott (Chairperson)
- Mr. Chris Lyttle (Deputy Chairperson)
- Mr. Trevor Clarke
- Mr. Colum Eastwood
- Mr. William Humphrey
- Mr. Alex Maskey
- Mr. Francie Molloy
- Mr. Mike Nesbitt
- Mr. George Robinson
- Ms. Caitríona Ruane
- Mr. Jimmy Spratt
1.1 The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister has the lead in co-ordinating the responses of Assembly statutory committees to the draft Programme for Government (PfG) and draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI). In addition, the Committee also wishes to highlight some of the issues raised during its consideration of the proposals in the PfG/ISNI relating to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.
1.2 The PfG supported by the Budget and ISNI collectively set out the Executive's strategic vision for Northern Ireland and how this vision is to be resourced and delivered. The PfG establishes five strategic priorities for the Executive. Each priority is supported by a number of key commitments which each have milestones/outputs for each year in the PfG period. The five priorities are:
- Growing a Sustainable Economy and Investing in the Future
- Creating Opportunities, Tackling Disadvantage and Improving Health and Well-Being
- Protecting Our People, the Environment and Creating Safer Communities
- Building a Strong and Shared Community
- Delivering High Quality and Efficient Public Services
1.3 The draft Investment Strategy reflects the Executive's priorities from the PfG and seeks to invest a total of £5.376bn in years 2011/12 to 2014/15 and £7.218bn in years 2015/16 to 2020/21. The ISNI document also highlights key achievements since 2008. Although OFMDFM does not expend a large amount of capital funding, the Committee has a key role in ensuring that the Investment Strategy effectively delivers on the investment needed to achieve the Executive's priorities.
2.1 In co-ordinating the responses of other statutory committees, the OFMDFM Committee wrote to committees seeking their views on the draft PfG/ISNI, with particular focus on:
- Gaps in the Programme for Government
- Comment on the Milestones/Outcomes of departmental commitments
- Monitoring progress
2.2 The Committee held an evidence session with the First Minister and deputy First Minister on 14 December 2011, in which they briefed the Committee on the content of the draft PfG/ISNI (a copy of the Minutes of Evidence are included).
2.3 The Committee also held a round-table event with the Commissions that fall within the Department's remit (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the Commissioner for Older People and one of the Commissioners for Victims and Survivors) on 11 January 2012 (a copy of the Minutes of Evidence are included).
2.4 The Committee's response to the draft PfG/ISNI will look to highlight its overall strategic views in addition to commenting on the 3 areas mentioned at 2.1.
3. Responses from Statutory Committees
3.1 At its meetings on 8 and 15 February 2012 the Committee considered responses from the Assembly's statutory committees to the draft PfG/ISNI. These responses are produced in full at Appendix 3 to this report.
3.2 It is not the role of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to comment on the views of other statutory committees or to seek to substitute its views for those legitimately held by other statutory committees on the draft PfG/ISNI. However, as the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has lead responsibility for the process to develop the PfG, the Committee agreed that it would like to comment on the strategic priorities.
4. Strategic Priorities
4.1 The Committee generally welcomes the 5 strategic priorities within the draft PfG and would like to highlight the interconnected and cross-cutting nature of the priorities as evidenced in the "Building Blocks" listed within each priority.
4.2 The Committee would like to emphasize the importance of joined up government and interdepartmental co-ordination to ensure that commitments are delivered efficiently and effectively. The Committee would like to see further detail on how departments will be held to account for delivering their key commitments, particularly in cross-cutting areas such as poverty and social inclusion, the integrated childcare strategy, the "One Plan" and agricultural waste/energy.
4.3 The Committee would also highlight the importance of producing detailed delivery plans for each of the commitments contained within the draft PfG. During evidence sessions, the Commissioners welcomed the focus on equality and sustainability as the underpinning principles within the PfG and the commitment to continue to promote equality of opportunity.
5. Gaps in the draft PfG
During the briefing sessions with the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Commissioners, a number of issues were raised in relation to gaps in the draft PfG:
5.1 In relation to child poverty, there was a discussion in relation to the possibility of putting Northern Ireland specific targets into the PfG. This issue was also brought up in discussions with the Commissioners. The Committee is aware that there are UK-wide targets contained within the UK Child Poverty Act. However, the Committee would like consideration given to producing Northern Ireland specific targets, which would allow monitoring of progress here and contribution towards meeting the targets in the UK Child Poverty Act. These targets could then be incorporated into the PfG.
5.2 A number of organisations considered that there was insufficient reference in the draft PfG to their particular area of responsibility including the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors who felt that there was insufficient reference in the draft PfG to dealing with the past.
5.3 During the evidence session with the Commissioners, there was a discussion in relation to the lack of a legislative programme to accompany the PfG and that there was little reference to legislation in the draft PfG. All the Commissioners welcomed the commitment to extend age discrimination legislation in relation to provision of goods, facilities and services. The Committee would like to see further information in relation to the items of legislation which have been agreed and would welcome a commitment to publish a rolling legislative programme.
5.4 The Equality Commission highlighted the need for legislation in relation to disability and race, as Northern Ireland was falling behind the rest of the UK in relation to protection and provision. The Committee was briefed by the Equality Commission on the gaps in legislation and would ask the Department to consider bringing forward a flexible framework capable of reflecting changing best practice in relation to disability and race. The Equality Commission also felt that the focus of the EQIA was on the past and present rather than on the implications of the commitments in the PfG.
5.5 The Commissioner for Children and Young People highlighted the following areas in which there are significant gaps in the draft PfG: early intervention; family support; mental health; play and leisure; participation; safeguarding children; post-primary transfer; special education needs; children in care; and children with disabilities.
5.6 Overall, the Commissioner for Older People felt the significance of an ageing population was insufficiently addressed in the draft PfG, including its significance for Northern Ireland's workforce and as a key consumer of health and social care services. The Commissioner highlighted the increasing rates of pensioner poverty and especially pensioner fuel poverty and that there is no recognition of this in the draft PfG.
5.7 The Commissioner for Older People highlighted that there was between £1.18m and £2.26m every week, in unclaimed benefits for older people and if there were a specific commitment to maximise benefit uptake this would greatly impact on reducing the levels of pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland. The Committee would like to see the establishment of a mechanism whereby an individual's enquiry as to a particular benefit entitlement would be a trigger for the provision of advice and a check on his or her other benefit entitlements. The Commissioner for Older People also highlighted the need for a commitment in relation to promoting and supporting volunteering.
5.8 The Commissioner for Victims and Survivors advised the Committee that victims felt there was a lack of recognition of victims in the draft PfG and that this could be addressed by including a commitment to continue to develop services that address the needs of victims and their families.
5.9 Following the Committee's briefing from the Department on 15 February on the draft European Priorities for 2012/13, the Committee agreed that there should be greater reference to Europe and the opportunities available in the PfG. In particular the Committee would like to see a commitment in relation to increasing the uptake of European funding by 20% over the period to 2015. The Committee would also like to see a commitment in the PfG to greater engagement in Europe and with the European institutions and that the European Priorities document would provide the milestones/outcomes for the commitment.
6. Comments on milestones/outcomes
During the briefing sessions, Members as well as witnesses made a number of comments in relation to the commitments that are the Department's responsibility.
6.1 Develop the "One Plan" for the regeneration of Derry/Londonderry – There were comments made in relation to the lack of information in the milestones/outputs as to the areas in which development would take place.
6.2 Provide financial and other support across government to ensure the success of the Derry/Londonderry City of Culture 2013 – There were comments raised in relation to quantifying amounts and type of support to be provided.
6.3 Provide £40m to address dereliction and promote investment in the physical regeneration of deprived areas through the Social Investment Fund (SIF); and Invest £40m to improve pathways to employment, tackle systemic issues linked to deprivation and increase community services through the Social Investment Fund (SIF) – The Committee remains interested in the Social Investment Fund and how the Executive will ensure delivery of the funds over the period. The Committee would also like to see further clarification in relation to the meaning of the word "dereliction" in the commitment.
6.4 Implement an Integrated and Affordable Childcare Strategy – The Committee welcomes this commitment and sees this as one of the key approaches to tackling child poverty in Northern Ireland. The Committee would like to see the implementation plan brought forward as soon as possible.
6.5 Deliver a range of measures to tackle poverty and social exclusion – The Committee welcomes the commitment to tackle poverty and social exclusion in the document. The Committee welcomes the earnings disregard pilot and sees this as an important tool in encouraging parents into paid work and it would welcome more detail on the pilot.
6.6 Fulfil our commitments under the Child Poverty Act to reduce child poverty – The issue of having Northern Ireland specific targets in the PfG was raised and Members would like to see greater joined-up working in the area of reducing child poverty.
6.7 Extend age discrimination legislation to the provision of goods, facilities and services – The Commissioner for Older People and the Equality Commission welcomed this commitment.
6.8 Improve online access to government services – The Commissioner for Older People highlighted concerns that improving online access may provide a barrier for older people and that the commitment could make reference to tackling exclusion for older people.
During discussions there were also comments made in relation to some commitments that are not within the Department's responsibility.
6.9 The Commissioner for Victims and Survivors stated that references to crime in the PfG do not acknowledge the legacy of sectarianism and estrangement between neighbourhoods. The Commissioner also raised the issue of the future of peace walls and that there was no historical back-drop in relation to this. The Committee would like to see this issue considered in consultation, at the outset, with the local communities affected.
6.10 The Commissioner for Older People welcomed the focus to tackle crime against older people and the more vulnerable.
7. Monitoring Progress
7.1 In the previous PfG period, the Committee received regular delivery reports (approximately every 6 months). This report provided the latest assessment of the prospects for delivery of the Executive's key goals and commitments under the priority areas; and the associated targets as set out in the 23 Public Service Agreements (PSAs).
7.2 In the report, the prospect for delivery of the commitments was highlighted in a traffic light system with options for green, green/amber, amber and red. During the previous mandate the Committee raised on a number of occasions that the reporting of progress through this system was in instances misleading as to the actual progress. In the previous mandate the Committee wrote to the Department asking that progress would also be shown in a numerical form (percentage of progress or financial investment).
7.3 The Committee is keen, in this new PfG period, that the progress of departments in delivering their commitments is clearly demonstrated and reflects accurately what is happening "on the ground". The Committee would encourage the Department to bring forward at as early a stage as possible their delivery plans for meeting the commitments. The Commissioners also highlighted this as a key issue.
7.4 The Committee would again like to see an update on the progress report every 6 months in order for committees to scrutinise the work of departments in achieving their commitments.
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