Session: 2013/2014

Date: 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Committee: Employment and Learning

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 1 September 2012 has been as follows:

Mr Robin Swann (Chairperson) (1,2)

Mr Thomas Buchanan MLA (Deputy Chairperson) 

Mr Jim Allister MLA

Mr Sammy Douglas MLA (3)

Mr Phil Flanagan MLA (4)

Mr David Hilditch MLA (5)

Mr Chris Lyttle MLA

Mr Fra McCann MLA

Ms Bromwyn McGahan MLA (6)

Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

Mr Alastair Ross MLA (7)

[1] With effect from 19 February 2013 Mr Basil McCrea is no longer Chairperson nor a member of the Committee 

[2] With effect from 27 February 2013 Mr Robin Swann became Chairperson of the Committee

[3] Mr Sammy Douglas replaced Mr Sydney Anderson on 11 February 2013

[4] Mr Phil Flanagan replaced Ms Michelle Gildernew on 10 September 2012

[5] Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr David McIlveen on 1 October 2012

[6] Ms Bromwyn McGahan replaced Mr Barry McElduff on 21 January 2013

[7] Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr George Robinson on 28 January 2013

 

This End of Session Report covers the work of the Committee for Employment and Learning from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013.

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 formally on 30 occasions all of which were in public session.

In addition, the Committee carried out an Inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance in Northern Ireland.

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

Committee Meetings / Visits

Of the 30 meetings convened by the Committee, all of which were held in public session, seven were held outside of Parliament Buildings. In keeping with the Committee’s aim of seeing the impact of the work of the Department of Employment and Learning at first hand and to meet with key stakeholders, the Committee held meetings at: Belfast Metropolitan College, E3 Campus; the STEM Centre, South West College, Dungannon; Southern Regional College, Newry; University of Ulster, Magee Campus; South West College, Enniskillen; as well as at the Armagh Planetarium to discuss the work that the Planetarium does in relation to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and met in the Titanic Building, Belfast on the morning that the Department launched its Youth Employment Scheme at the facility.

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, how to create employment and ensure effective training and education for young people. The locations visited by the Committee were as follows:

  • The STEM Centre, South West College, Dungannon.
  • E3 Campus, Belfast Metropolitan College, Belfast.
  • Ulster Supported Employment Limited (USEL), Belfast.
  • The Nerve Centre, Derry/Londonderry.
  • Southern Regional College, Newry.
  • Armagh Planetarium, Armagh.
  • University of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus.
  • South West College, Enniskillen.
  • South Eastern Regional College, Bangor.
  • The CERN Institute, Switzerland.
  • EU Employment Forum, Brussels, Belgium.
  • BT Young Scientist Awards, Dublin Ireland.

During its visit to the South West College, Enniskillen on 23 January 2013 the Committee held an informal breakfast meeting with local employers and business representatives prior to commencing the formal meeting. In addition the visits to the University of Ulster, Magee Campus and the South Eastern Regional College, Bangor Campus were arranged to assist the Committee Inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance in Northern Ireland.

On 13 November 2012, at the request of the Committee, Dr Steve Myers, Director of Accelerators and Technology at the CERN Institute, Switzerland, gave a presentation to MLAs and Assembly staff in the Senate Chamber on the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle at CERN. The Committee had invited Dr Myers, who was educated at Queen’s University Belfast, to talk to the Assembly in recognition of his role in the discovery.

As a result of the event, Dr Myers invited the Committee to visit the CERN Institute to see its work. On 4 March 2013, the Committee led a delegation of representatives of the colleges and universities in Northern Ireland to CERN to build links between them and the Institute. During the 3 day visit, the delegation also visited the International Labour Organisation to discuss its work and to the University of Geneva, to look at its facilities and some of its on-going work.

The Delegation was successful at building links between CERN and the Northern Ireland Colleges and Universities as was evidenced by the fact that, since the visit, the CERN road show visited Queens University, Belfast and CERN representatives including Dr Myers visited the Belfast Metropolitan College and the University of Ulster at Magee. In addition a member of the teaching staff at the Belfast Metropolitan College was awarded a place on the “Engaging Pupils in STEM – Sharing Good Practice” teachers’ course at CERN.

The Committee for Employment and Learning Delegation at the Large Hydron Collider Control Room, the CERN Institute, Switzerland.

The Committee for Employment and Learning Delegation at the Large Hydron Collider Control Room, the CERN Institute, Switzerland

Primary Legislation

Although the Committee for Employment and Learning has not dealt with any Primary Legislation of its own during this session, it has considered the Education Bill being progressed by the Committee for Education.

In addition, the Committee has considered the contents of the Public Service Pensions Bill being progressed by the Committee for Finance and Personnel and considered the views of the Department for Employment and Learning on the Bill and wrote to key stakeholders to seek their views.

Subordinate Legislation

During the session the Committee considered proposals for 10 Statutory Rules from the Department of Employment and Learning. Although the majority of these Rules were technical and routine in nature the Committee has also requested clarification on issues before agreeing to the Rules. As some proposals for Statutory Rules are progressed over two Assembly sessions, the Committee has scrutinised 12 Statutory Rules.

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

In the previous session, 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. Over the summer of 2012, the Committee collated responses to its request for submissions to its Inquiry. At its meeting on 20 June 2012 it agreed to carry out an Inquiry on the issue.

At its meeting on 12 September 2012 the Committee considered the responses to the Inquiry and agreed on how it wished to proceed. Also at its meeting on 12 September 2012, the Committee agreed to schedule a joint briefing with the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education and to schedule a series of briefing sessions with the organisations that had responded to the inquiry.

Given the joint responsibility for CEIAG, the Committee informed the Committee for Education of the Inquiry Terms of Reference and invited that Committee to be involved with the Inquiry. At the request of the Committee for Education steps were taken to provide it with all the information provided to the Committee as part of the Inquiry and received the permission of that Committee to engage with the Department of Education and to keep it informed.

A total of 41 organisations provided written submissions to the Inquiry with a number of them also providing additional information or revised submissions at the request of the Committee. In addition 28 organisations gave oral evidence to the Committee on the Inquiry.

In addition to the written and oral evidence, the Committee undertook study visits to the South Eastern Regional College, Bangor Campus and the University of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus to learn more about the careers education, information, advice and guidance that they offered. Also the Northern Ireland Schools and Colleges Careers Association carried out its own CEIAG survey at its conference in November 2012 and submitted it to the Committee for information.

The Committee agreed that, in addition to gaining the views of organisations and educators with an interest and knowledge of Careers guidance and advice, it needed to engage with young people as part of the Inquiry into Careers. In conjunction with the Northern Ireland Assembly Outreach and Education Directorate the Committee designed four questionnaires for completion by students in; year 12 in schools, colleges, university, and those young people that have left school and are not in education or employment. Each questionnaire was designed to be short and to elicit young people’s experience of the careers service they received. It was also decided that the questionnaires would be online and that a letter would be sent out to the relevant institutions with a link to the relevant questionnaire.

On Friday 1 March 2013, letters were issued to the relevant Schools, Colleges, Universities and other service providers regarding the availability of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was closed on Monday 8 April 2013 and the final online response figures were; Schools - 7207 responses, Colleges - 94 responses, Universities - 1077 responses and Others - 50 responses.

During the evidence sessions for the Inquiry, the Committee expressed great interest in the role that parents play in the career decisions made by their children. The Committee felt that parents need to receive more information from schools and careers advisers at an early stage to ensure that they can steer their children toward the right career where realistic job and career opportunities exist. In response to these issues, the Department of Employment and Learning has now published a booklet for parents on careers advice for their children.

Budget Scrutiny

As in the previous session, 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 noted that the demand for the Department of Employment and Learning’s services are closely linked to the wider economic climate and that this puts a strain on the Department’s budget.

The Committee has had seven briefings from officials on aspects of the Department’s budget and two briefings from Assembly Research and Information Service Researchers on Financial Forecasting. On 26 of September 2012, the Committee was briefed by officials on the October Monitoring Round and received an update on the Department’s budget. During the briefing the Committee agreed to follow up on a number of issues including writing to Further Education Colleges and to Stranmillis College requesting information on their capital projects, it requested a Departmental briefing paper on the money received under the Barnett Consequentials for youth contracts and requested information from South West College on whether they have applied for Capital Funding and if so what the funding was allocated to.

The Committee also welcomed the Executive’s £200 million stimulus package to help alleviate some of those issues and received a briefing from the Minister for Employment and Learning on the out workings of the package on 14 November 2012.

During the Departmental Briefing on 12 December 2012 on the January Monitoring Round the Committee raised a range of issues with the Department for further explanation. On 29 May 2013, the Department’s Director of Finance briefed the Committee on the June Monitoring Round and advised it of a bid for £5 million to alleviate pressures on the Department. Although the Department advised the Committee that it was confident that the bid would be successful, the Minister for Finance and Personnel declined the bid and the Committee requested a response from the Department on the impact this will have on services which it will consider in the new session.

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. During the session the Committee was briefed by the Minister and requested that he explain a perceived lack of engagement with the Committee on the development of policy and the Minister agreed that he would consult more with the Committee at each stage of the policy development process.

The Committee has been particularly focused on the Department’s new Employment Programme, Steps 2 Success. The Committee has had 4 formal briefings from officials during this session on the Programme at various stages of its development by the Department and one informal with officials to familiarise itself with the details of the proposals. In addition the Committee noted the issues raised by a number of stakeholders about the new Programme and raised these with the Department, a fact that was acknowledged by the Minister in his statement to the Assembly on 18 June 2013 when he pointed to the “invaluable feedback” given by the Committee on the Programme. The Department is currently engaged in the process of contracting suppliers to administer the Programme and the Committee will be updated when this stage is complete.

The Committee also kept itself updated with issues for the Department emanating from the European Commission and every quarter it received a briefing from the Assembly Research and Information Service on the legislative and non-legislative issues relating to Employment and Learning coming out of Brussels. The Committee also received quarterly briefings from the Department and the Thematic Desk Officer on these issues to discuss how the Department is engaging. As part of these briefings, the Committee has led the way in using video conferencing in their public meetings to carry out these oral briefings at a great saving to the Assembly. The video conferencing of Committee meetings has now been adopted by other Committees in the Assembly.

Through these European briefings the Committee took specific interest in the work of the EU High Level Group on Higher Education and was briefed via video conferencing by representatives of the Group about their work on 13 February 2013 and then on 26 June 2013 when the Group’s report was published.

The Committee has been considering the issue of Post-19 SEN Provision and has been active in corresponding with other Committee’s and Departments regarding this issue.

At its meeting on 20 February 2013 the Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Education requesting information on the current policy and future plans for Post 19 SEN provision from DEL.

At its meeting on 20 February 2013 the Committee for Employment and Learning considered the response to this request and Members raised their own concerns on this matter. The Committee agreed that this was an important issue which merited its full consideration. The Committee agreed to write to the Post 19 SEN provision lobby group to engage with it on the issues.

Given the concern of the Committee on this matter it agreed to look more closely at the issues involved and received briefings from the Post 19 SEN Lobby Group and also from DEL on Post 19 SEN provision on 15 May 2013 as well as a briefing on the Disability and Employment Strategy and Access to Work Scheme. As a result of the Committee’s engagement on this matter the Minister for Employment and Learning has instructed his officials to take forward a number of actions including to carry out an audit of Further Education provision for young people with learning difficulties.

Engagement – Informal meetings / events

The Committee continued its extensive engagement with stakeholders in this session, in both formal and informal meetings.

The Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson met informally with the Minister for Employment and Learning and his senior management team on a number of occasions to discuss the work of the Department. 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 the Senate at which Dr Steve Myers of the CERN Institute talked of the work of CERN and the discovery of evidence of the Higgs Boson.

The Committee met with the Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, Sir Peter Gregson and members of his staff to celebrate the achievement of the University in being awarded Sunday Times University of the Year runner-up and top University in the UK for Medical Science and Pharmacy. In addition the Committee met with Mrs Irene Megaw of the South Eastern Regional College to celebrate her winning of the UK Further Education Lecturer of the Year Award 2012.

In its promotion of innovation in Business and its belief that the future prosperity of Northern Ireland is in emerging technologies, the Committee hosted a presentation by Mary Walshok co-founder of CONNECT in San Diego, California. Connect promotes the creation of innovative technology and life sciences products by linking inventors and entrepreneurs with the resources they need for success.

The Committee also hosted an event in the Long Gallery to promote the Armagh Planetarium and to explain how the science, research and development that has went into space exploration has led to new and innovative products for everyday use.

Mr Robin Swann MLA, Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning welcoming attendees to the Showcase Event for the Open University in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings

Mr Robin Swann MLA, Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning welcoming attendees to the Showcase Event for the Open University in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings

The Committee has also hosted a number of events to showcase the work of the 3 Northern Ireland Universities. At each of these three events the Universities showcased their research and their courses to MLAs, Ministers and invited guests. The Committee also hosted a fashion show on 12 June 2013 showcasing the work of the Belfast Metropolitan College fashion students. In addition the Committee also hosted an event to celebrate and promote the establishment of the Children’s University in Northern Ireland.

Mr Robin Swann MLA, Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning welcoming attendees to the Belfast Metropolitan College fashion show in the Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings

Mr Robin Swann MLA, Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning welcoming attendees to the Belfast Metropolitan College fashion show in the Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings

Likely Key Priorities for the next session

The Committee considered its Forward Work Programme for the coming 2013/2014 session at its Planning Day on 4 September 2013 and agreed its key priorities which are outlined below:

  • Steps 2 Success Programme
  • Review of Teacher Training Infrastructure
  • Review of Apprenticeships and Youth Training Policy
  • Consultation on Economic Inactivity
  • Review of Teacher Education
  • Departmental Business Plan
  • ICT Action Plans
  • European Social Fund
  • Graduating to Success and Access to Success

In addition the Committee agreed its scrutiny of recurring issues as follows:

  • Labour Force Survey
  • Savings Delivery Plans
  • Monitoring Rounds and Outturn Figures
  • Programme for Government targets
  • European Issues
  • North West Regional College Action Plan - Quarterly Briefing

The Committee will also consider two pieces of primary legislation com ing from the Department:

  • Work and Families Bill
  • Employment Bill

The Committee has also agreed that it when it finishes its Inquiry into CEIAG it will undertake a new Committee Inquiry into the provision of services for those individuals with Special Educational Needs when they leave school.

ANNEX A  

Committee for Employment and Learning

Expenditure for the period 1 September 2012 – 31 August 2013

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:

  • Luasanne, Switzerland to visit the CERN Institute
  • Brussels to attend the European Employment Forum

and 7 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

£12,385.49

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

  • Inquiry into CEIAG

£415.01

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:

  •  

£0

Consultancy support - the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the committee and commissioned research, also the cost of drafting Standing Orders

Specialist adviser to the Committee on [issue/inquiry to which the advice related]

£0

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.

£3,361.56

 

Total Expenditure

 

 

£16,162.06

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