27 March 2015

Education Committee Applauds Young 'MoneySense' Experts

The Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings was the venue this week for a special ‘MoneySense’ Enterprise session. Hosted by the Assembly’s Education Committee, the event was part of the Ulster Bank’s MoneySense for School’s programme which supports the delivery of financial education to post primary school students across Northern Ireland.

Over 40 school children from Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus took part in a range of activities designed to help them to learn more about the world of business and entrepreneurship.

Members of the Committee joined pupils as they worked in teams to develop business plans for the opening of a coffee shop. The winning team was ‘Jukebox Café’ who impressed the judges with a comprehensive business plan, their ability to work cohesively as a team and their creative ideas for menu, style, deco and the branding of their Coffee shop.

The Committee Chairperson Michele McIlveen said after the event: "Basic finance and business competence are essential to a modern economy. The MoneySense for Schools initiative is an excellent opportunity for schools to supplement their current curricula with programmes that teach key employability skills. The Committee very much enjoyed meeting the student’s today and were very impressed with their creativity and financial knowhow. We commend this innovative programme"

Education Committee Member Trevor Lunn MLA gets involved 

Committee Member Sean Rogers MLA lends a helping hand

Ulidia College ‘MoneySense’ participants pictured in the Assembly Senate Chamber

The Winning Team Jukebox Café 

Committee Chairperson Michelle McIlveen helps out

Committee Chairperson Michelle McIlveen MLA and Deputy Chairperson Danny Kinahan MLA pictured with Ulidia students and representatives from the Ulster Bank 

Committee Member Chris Hazard hears more about the plans for ‘Sleepers Café’

25 March 2015

Question Time: Education - Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Education Minister began Oral Question time by answering a question on the number of joblosses that will come from schools in the Southern Education and Library board area. The Minister said " at this stage, it is estimated that 500 teaching and 1,000 non-teaching posts will be made redundant during the coming financial year. It is too early to determine the number of redundancies that may occur in the Southern Education and Library Board area. It is for individual employers to determine their staffing requirements, and it is not possible at this stage to determine the actual numbers of posts that will be declared redundant. The Minister then went on to answer a supplementary question from Miss Michelle McIlveen on what he is considering using the surplus fund that is available to his Department in a more creative way to offset schools' needs. " The Member raises a very interesting point. It is worth noting that, despite a very difficult term in the 2014-15 financial year, there is still a £47 million school surplus. I am not suggesting that the majority of those schools should now spend that surplus, but there are quite significant surpluses that in some cases run to over £500,000 accumulated over several years. That money is given to schools to spend on the educational well-being of pupils now. I have said before that some schools tell me that they are saving it for a rainy day, but my answer is, "Well, I tell you what, it's raining". That money needs to be drawn down in a responsible way and used. Perhaps there is a need for an Assembly debate or, without stepping on the Education Committee's toes, further research by the Committee as to how that surplus, if it is not drawn down within a reasonable period, is reinvested in education. We cannot continue with the scenario that allows £47 million of unspent moneys in education".

During the 15 minute period of Topical Questions the Minister answered question on what assurance he can give that the schools estate, particularly classrooms are up to a fit and proper standard, how the Minister's Department has dealt with the recommendations specific to it from the Employment and Learning Committee's inquiry into careers education, information, advice and guidance and approximately how amny primary-age children are studying computer programming.

Question Time: Culture, Arts and Leisure Tuesday 24 March 2015

Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Caral Ni Chuilin, discussed the funding opportunities available to boxing clubs during today’s Question Time. Sport NI recently opened the third round of the Active Awards for Sport funding programme, a lottery funded small grants programme for grass-roots, community-based sports (such as boxing clubs) with grants ranging from £1,000 to £10,000. In addition the Department is also investing £3.27m in boxing through the boxing investment programme. This investment has gone towards the provision of equipment, improved facilities and the appointment of a club development manager to work closely with clubs to improve infrastructure and build capacity in clubs. The Minister is also pushing for a support worker for clubs that will be able to assist with funding applications and general administration allowing clubs to concentrate on training children and young people.

The Minister also confirmed that the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council intends to send a team of athletes to the Youth Games in Samoa in September 2015. Sport NI is collaborating with the Games Council to prepare the business case for funding. When asked if she would support a move by the Games Council to bring the 2021 Youth Games to Northern Ireland, Ms Ni Chuilin encouraged “The Member will be happy that I will soon meet the Commonwealth Games Council about preparation for the 2021 bid. I anticipate, after that, having some representation from the Member and others about how we take it forward. We are all approaching the event with a "Let's see" and, hopefully, a can-do attitude, depending on budget.”

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on cultural and creative hubs, Somme centenary commemorations and the cultural awareness programme. During the period for topical questions the Minister continued to answer questions on costs of the Irish language TV campaign, library opening times, Belfast festival and the impact of funding cuts. 

24 March 2015

Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister Monday 23 March 2015

Pam Cameron asked the First Minister, Peter Robinson, about the impact that the delay in Welfare Reform will have on the Stormont House agreement during today’s questions to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Mr Robinson revealed that the Stormont House Agreement implementation group (comprising the five party leaders) has continued to meet every Monday in an attempt to work toward agreed objectives and timescales but “unless an agreement can be reached on welfare reform, the other elements of the Stormont House Agreement cannot be implemented. The Secretary of State has made clear the repercussions of such a failure: corporation tax will not be devolved, despite the Bill having passed its Final Stage in the House of Lords last week; there will be no funding for the public sector voluntary exit scheme, which could have created a potential saving of up to £500 million per annum; and the planned reduction in Departments and reduction in the number of Assembly Members will not go ahead. ” The financial impact is also of great concern. Having already been fined £100m by the Treasury another fine of £114m is on the way. There is also the issue of how social security and tax credit payments will be made when the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs close their legacy IT systems, which we are presently using.

Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, also discussed the implementation of the Child Poverty Strategy. The Child Poverty Act requires the Executive to review the Strategy every three years. The last review was completed in 2014 and the delivery of a child poverty strategy is one of the key components of the Delivering Social Change programme. A child poverty advisory group with representatives from the Departments was established to oversee the development of a new outcomes-based child poverty strategy. That new strategy will allow us to assess and review the action taken and is due to be published shortly.

The First Minister also addressed Members’ concerns on St Patrick’s Barracks, racial equality, on-the-runs letters, the recent trip to the US and the Delivering Social Change literacy scheme.

Question Time: Regional Development - Monday 23 March 2015

What additional steps is the Regional Development Department doing to enhance road safety outside schools? Danny Kennedy, Minister for Regional Development confirmed that "my Department takes the safety of children on their journeys to and from school very seriously and has implemented a significant number of safety schemes, many through the Safer Routes to Schools programme, which was introduced in 2005. Those schemes use engineering measures to warn drivers of the presence of pupils and to reduce vehicle speeds.

The Safer Routes to Schools measures included enhanced electronic signing, road markings and coloured road surfacing to draw drivers’ attention to the presence of school children. As each school is unique, additional measures, including central islands, footpaths, lay-bys, drop-off and collection areas, and enforceable keep clear zigzags can also be considered.

My Department also provides road safety awareness and bicycle training each year in 60 schools through the Active School Travel programme, which is jointly funded by the Public Health Agency. The programme was supplemented in 2014-15 with additional capital funding of £1 million, which provided infrastructure near or en route to a number of schools with the aim of encouraging safe active travel for the school journey. That included the widening of footways, new and improved crossing facilities, and new cycle tracks".

Mr Attwood MLA asked the Minister how his Department planned for the impact the recent increase in fares by Translink is having on passengers. The Minister said, "given the difficult financial context facing Translink this year and next, unfortunately the recent fare increase — the first since January 2013 — was unavoidable. It should, however, be recognised that, since coming to office, I have ensured that fares have increased at around half the rate of inflation. Translink is also continuing to promote the various smart ticketing options, which will help to reduce the impact of the recently introduced fare increases on passengers. For example, an annual rail ticket includes a substantial discount for a regular commuter.

No one, myself included, wanted to see the recent fare increase, but it has been kept to an absolute minimum. It remains the case that Translink fares compare very favourably with those in the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Republic of Ireland.

During Topical Questions the Minister answered questions on the dualling scheme between Randalstown and Castledawson, the Londonderry to Coleraine rail track project,  Mersey Street road works and when the Minister will publish the PAR review into procurement for the Derry to Coleraine rail line, albeit that he could publish a redacted version.