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Underachievement in Education

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Speech to the NI Assembly 

Mr Speaker/ Deputy Speaker

I want to thank Ms McIlveen and Mr Ross for putting forward this important motion.

This is a subject that, given the excellent promise and capability of our education system and the skills of the teaching profession, we should not be debating today. We should not need to debate this issue.

Underachievement in education has a negative influence throughout the whole of Northern Ireland but the statistics show it has a major depressing and dismal impact within the inner city areas. And I see the evidence of this every day in my constituency office or as I travel around my constituency.

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The Economy Can Be Better Handled

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The Province’s long established dependence on the public sector – which has now swallowed up almost one third of the workforce - is not helping to build a more potent, pro-active economic base for the future, with more emphasis needed on developing commercial life.

Robin Newton, east Belfast MLA and Belfast City councillor believes that to achieve this innovation and entrepreneurship in an increasingly global economy, many things need to happen, including the forging of better partnerships.

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Belfast Driving NI Economy

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Belfast is the gateway to Northern Ireland.  It serves as the shop window to all that lies behind and despite some recent job losses; Belfast’s economy has been enjoying good growth. While at all times it is necessary to view any economy holistically, it is always the capital or regional city that will set the economic pace. The prosperity, or indeed the poverty, of Belfast would have an unplanned effect on the other cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland.

Thankfully, the city’s tourism industry is currently booming; in fact it has grown by over 400% since 1994, seeing Belfast emerge as Europe’s most popular short stay destination.  In 2005, tourists generated £284.9 million and helped to support nearly 16,000 jobs.  According to the reputable business magazine “Management Horizons Classification”, Belfast has risen from Mr Average’ to ‘Mr Glam’.

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The Economy Needs a Joined Up Skills Strategy

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Economic prosperity is an essential ingredient for a real and sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.  Successful western economies are underpinned by a working age population with skills and knowledge at all levels of attainment.

Northern Ireland once had a vocational training and skills programme that was the envy of Europe. Statutory training boards covered all major sectors of industry and Government Training Centres (GTCs) provided excellence in training for apprenticeship skills. This successful training system was demolished and replaced by voluntary arrangements.

However, the Government has now developed with employers, an alternative: the UK-wide Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) and local Sector Skills Councils. Whilst this is a welcome move it does not completely fill the gap, as employers are recruiting eastern European skilled labour to meet manpower shortages.

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Workplace 2010

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Speech to NI Assembly

Madam Speaker

The sub-committee met under the prevailing circumstances of much work having been done on this matter and indeed that the letting of the Workplace 2010 contract was at an advanced stage. This situation placed constraints on the sub-committee members and indeed it could be considered that the brief was a very narrow one. 

I met also to within the circumstances that there was much need for investment in the public sector buildings and the recognition that in the effective delivery of public sector services it was necessary to have modern and efficient offices.

The Government has taken advice and the result of that advice is that the PFI option has been chosen. The members of the sub-committee did express concerns that within this context the officials supporting the work of the sub-committee would only be allowed to do so in support of current Ministerial policies.

Post Office Closures

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Speech to NI Assembly

Madam Speaker

I am indebted to my colleagues for putting forward this motion.

I fully understand and accept their concerns about the dramatic impact the proposals of Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling will have on the network of Post Offices.

The proposals to close many of these much loved facilities raise a great deal of emotion. In making his announcement Alistair Darling said, that the loss making post office network cannot be left as it is and it needs to be “rescued” – anyone with any sense realised this rescue plan meant taking out of circulation about 2,500 offices across the UK. Northern Ireland will face the axing of many of its local post offices.

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Report on Economic Challenges Facing the NI Economy

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Speech to the NI Assembly

In giving this report general support there is the recognition that the Northern Ireland economy and the economic structure are not fit for purpose. There is a wealth gap between NI and GB that is constant over many years. NI has a Gross Value Added (GVA) per head of around 80% of the UK average. Scotland, our closest neighbours are about average.

There have been changes in the NI economy, but in the opposite direction to the creation of the high added value economy which is the declared aim of the job creation agencies under the remit of DETI. Job creation is via a large number of jobs being produced at the low end of the chain; very little added value. On this basis closing the wealth gap, between NI and GB, even leaving aside the RoI, is unlikely. Productivity is 82% of the UK average over the years 1998 –2004.

The conclusion is obvious. Northern Ireland needs a much increased, export led private sector, with increased higher added value, higher productivity. The NI economy needs to compete in the global market place meeting the challenges head on, but on a level playing field.

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Industrial De-Rating

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Speech to NI Assembly

Confidence within the local manufacturing sector was last year so low that an official government report urged a programme of action that includes promoting the message that ‘manufacturing has a future’.

‘The Future role of Manufacturing in Northern Ireland’ which the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) commissioned from PriceWaterhouseCoopers last summer was produced because of the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and the movement of companies to overseas low cost countries. The report is impressive, but urgent action on the impressive words is now called for.

There is a need for some positive movement on the various issues identified. My concerns were once again raised following the announcement by Adria to stop manufacturing in the northwest plus the high profile campaign against industrial de-rating organized by local companies. And the employers do deserve support in their campaign. The favorable rates position has been a small feature in helping make NI an attractive manufacturing base for inward investment.

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