23 June 2015

Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister Monday 22 June 2015


Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, and Junior Minister, Michelle McIlveen, answered questions on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister during today’s Question Time. Mrs Foster provided the House with an update on the childcare strategy after Patsy McGlone expressed his concern about the burdensome high costs of childcare. Mrs Foster confirmed that “The cost, and, in many cases, the high cost, of childcare is what the strategy has been trying to identify.” The first phase of the strategy was launched in September 2013. After a research and consultation phase it was determined that the greatest area of need was for school-age childcare services (4-14) such as breakfast clubs, after school clubs and summer schemes. As a result the school-age childcare grant scheme was launched last year. So far 79 applicants have qualified for £3m worth of funding over the next 3 years and will create around 2,200 low-cost quality childcare places. Work on the final strategy is progressing well and is expected to be released for consultation by the end of the year.

George Robinson then asked what effect the on-going difficulties with agreeing Welfare Reform and consequent budgetary restrictions will have on organisations working with victims and survivors. Mrs Foster assured that “The First Minister and deputy First Minister are committed and will continue to remain committed to ensuring that victims and survivors receive the best services possible and that funding is targeted to those most in need.” In fact the funding for victims and survivors services has been increased to £14m in this financial year. In addition, Ministers are looking at how service provision can be improved. OFMDFM officials are currently working with key stakeholders to realign and improve the service delivery model. Mrs Foster did discuss the real need to deal with Welfare Reform and the budget agreed with the Treasury in the Stormont House Agreement saying “we have to deal with the budget that is allocated to us by the Westminster Government. Wishing it away is not going to do any good. We have to get real and deal with the issues that are in front of us now.”

During Question Time the Minister also discussed the racial equality strategy, Programme for Government targets, foreign direct investment and online safety.