Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, answered questions on behalf of his Department during today’s Question Time. Budget cuts were once more at the forefront of Members concerns as Kieran McCarthy enquired about the impact they will have on the Victims and Survivors Service. Junior Minister, Jennifer McCann, answered on behalf of the deputy First Minister explaining that the Service remains a “high priority” and the Department is “committed to ensuring that the Victims and Survivors budget is protected”. A bid for an extra £1.3m has been submitted in the October monitoring round to match last year’s baseline of £11.3m. However, the increase in the number of victims and survivors coming forward has meant that some cost-cutting measures are being put in place but the Department is confident that a targeted 4.4% worth of administrative efficiencies will protect front line services. The Junior Minister pointed to the steady reduction in the block grant from the British Government as a mitigating factor to the stretched resources. Ms McCann also updated the House on the vacant Victims Commissioner post – applications have been received and interviews will be commencing next week.
Colum Eastwood asked if the Programme for Government target of creating 1,670 jobs in Londonderry in 2013/2014 was achieved. Job creation was one of the key priorities of the One plan, one of the Programme for Governments initiatives for the regeneration of Londonderry. Mr McGuinness was delighted to announce that the number of jobs created in 2013/2014 was estimated at 1,683. The jobs were created through small business start-ups and expansions, support from Invest NI and as a result of the City of Culture programme. The deputy First Minister credited all the hard work and investment that has occurred during a difficult economic time while acknowledging that “much more work still needs to be done”.
The deputy First Minister also answered questions on gender balance in public appointments and the Social Investment Fund. During topical questions he also answered queries on the Irish Government’s role in talks regarding the future of the Assembly, budgetary cuts and racist and sectarian attacks.