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22 September 2015

Question Time: OFMdFM 21 September 2015


Acting First Minister, Arlene Foster, answered Members’ questions on behalf of the Department during today’s Question Time. Steven Agnew MLA was keen to find out the costs involved in the proposed new Childcare Strategy. The consultation period for the Strategy will end on 13 November 2015 and will include a series of public consultation events. Costs will include capital grants to fund new childcare places, grant administration and registration, and inspection of facilities. The Grant Scheme will be the most costly of the 22 actions outlined in the proposal with community-based childcare, cross-border childcare, assistance for private sector providers, childcare for private firms, capital fund for childcare, flexible childcare and childcare for low income families also requiring funding. Mr Agnew expressed concern that the finance will not be available for the strategy given the current financial climate. Mrs Foster argued that the intention for the scheme is to be sustainable in the longer term making the initial cash injection a prudent investment adding, “we don’t want to get in to a situation where we are paying out a grant year-on-year and drag down the market for childcare which will be the wrong way to move forward, so we need to look at how we’re putting the intervention in place and making sure we get the best value for money out of it”.

Brenda Hale then asked the Minister to outline any recent improvements in provision for Victims and Survivors. Mrs Foster affirmed the commitment to providing Victims and Survivors with the best service possible. The review of the Victims and Survivors Service in 2014 and the appointment of a new Victims Commissioner serve as evidence of the continued desire to ensure the best possible provision. A collaborative design programme was set up to provide an improved model for service delivery which better meets the needs of all victims and survivors. The expansion of services provided to Victims and Survivors was also a key aspect of the Stormont House Agreement. Mrs Hale then expressed concern about recent media reports that perpetrators will be granted amnesty for crimes committed during the Troubles as part of the Stormont House Agreement. However Mrs Foster was quick to dismiss such a suggestion saying that there is no amnesty agreed at Stormont House and no plans to include it in legislation at Westminster. The Minister described the reports as “very upsetting to a wide range of people who have suffered during the Troubles.”

During Question Time the Minister also fielded questions on the sale of the former Ministry of Defence site at Ballykelly and Social investment Fund projects in Upper Bann. The regular period for oral questions was then followed by a 15 minute period of topical questions.