Changes to Government Policy a Result of Committee Work
Date: Thursday, 24 March 2011
Reference: E&L 11/10/11
Engagement with stakeholders and Government departments by the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning has led to real policy changes.
One of the greatest successes for the Committee during the current Assembly term has been the acceptance of the need for a cross-Departmental strategy to help those young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (the so-called NEETs).
The Committee concluded its Inquiry at the end of 2010 and made a number of recommendations, the majority of which have been accepted by the Executive and the Department of Employment and Learning.
Chairperson of the Committee Dolores Kelly MLA said: “Our most significant success and one that will still be producing results for years to come was our NEETs Inquiry. This was a huge piece of work but importantly the Committee was able to persuade both the Department and the Executive that a cross-Departmental strategy was required. A public consultation form the development of such a strategy is to be launched this week and, once completed, will shape programmes for years to come. This is a fine legacy and I am proud that my Committee has taken the lead.
“I am also very proud of all the work carried out by my Committee over the past four years in terms of engaging with groups involved in the Employment and Learning remit. We have gone out to visit a large number of the FE Colleges campuses, as well as all the university campuses and a large number of training organisations and other stakeholder groups. We have held Committee meetings all over Northern Ireland and have hosted well attended breakfast briefings, bringing together the different education sectors with training groups, small businesses and local government.
“We have also scrutinised Department training schemes, including apprenticeships and the Training for Success Programme which was designed to replace the JobSkills programme, through Committee Inquiries. These programmes are an integral part of increasing local economic prospects and our inquiries have helped to make these programmes better targeted, more effective and provide better outcomes.
“Employment and Learning has been one of the most proactive and accessible Committees at the Assembly and its work speaks for itself.”
Notes to Editors:
The Committee’s first Inquiry into DEL’s Training for Success Programme was prompted by concerns around the contracting process for the programme. The programme was designed to replace JobSkills. The Inquiry report was completed by the Committee in May 2008 with a key recommendation being the removal of apprenticeships from the programme and the establishment of a separate flagship programme for apprenticeships. The Department accepted this key recommendation and created the stand alone Apprenticeships NI programme.
In January 2009 the Committee completed its Inquiry into Teacher Training which had been prompted by a change to the funding model for St. Mary’s and Stranmillis University Colleges and which also developed to examine the proposed merger between Stranmillis and Queen’s University, Belfast. The Committee made a number of recommendations which aimed to place the university colleges on a more sustainable footing and to provide breathing space for Stranmillis to consider all the other options open to it
In response to the economic downturn in the latter part of 2008 and the increasing number of apprentices being made redundant, the Committee began an Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships. This Inquiry ended in June 2009 and, again, produced a number of important recommendations which DEL has generally accepted and has fed into the evolution of Apprenticeships NI.
Also in June 2009 the Committee completed an investigation into Workplace Dispute Resolution. This investigation began as a response to changes mooted in this area in Great Britain and the repeal of legislation there. DEL conducted a consultation on the issues around Workplace Dispute Resolution and the Committee decided to use this as a starting point for its own investigation into the issues. Although not a formal Inquiry, the Committee gathered evidence in the normal way and produced a report. The recommendations contained in this report were used as the basis for the Employment (No.2) Bill, which the Committee then scrutinised and agreed in November 2010. In the past few days this Bill received Royal Assent and has become the Employment Act 2011.
The Committee scrutinised the Employment (No.1) Bill which makes provision regarding the enforcement of legislation for employment agencies and the minimum wage and the membership of, and representation before, the Industrial Court. Members supported the proper enforcement of good practice by employment agencies and also the proper application of the minimum wage as, in many cases, vulnerable groups such as migrant workers had not been receiving this. The Committee agreed the Bill (now the Employment Act 2010) in September 2009 and regards it as a particularly necessary piece of legislation as agency working is now very commonplace and the economic downturn has made unscrupulous employers more likely to exploit vulnerable workers.
Additionally the Committee scrutinised the DEL Student Loan (Amendment) Bill. This Bill seeks to exclude student loans from being incorporated into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) as they are excluded from bankruptcy proceedings. The Committee agreed the Bill in November 2010 and Members regard it as an important piece of legislation that puts IVAs on the same footing as bankruptcy with respect to student loans.
The Committee largest single piece of work during the mandate was its Inquiry into Young People (16 to 24) Not in Education, Employment or Training, so-called NEET young people. The Committee concluded the Inquiry in December 2010. During the process of evidence-gathering form the providers of programmes to re-engage NEET young people and other stakeholders by the Committee considerable momentum to develop a NEET strategy developed. The Committee facilitated the establishment of a Stakeholder Forum and encouraged DEL to engage with other relevant departments to develop such a strategy. The issue has been considered by the Executive and DEL will launch a public consultation on the development of a NEET strategy on Thursday 24 th March. The Committee regards its Inquiry as being the catalyst for these developments.
The Committee Chairperson is Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA
Deputy Chairperson : Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Mr. Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr. Paul Butler MLA
Rev. Dr. Robert Coulter MLA
Mr. Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr. David McClarty MLA
Mrs. Claire McGill MLA
Ms. Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr. Pat Ramsey MLA
Mr. Peter Weir MLA