As David Cameron yesterday used his speech to the Conservative faithful to defend an economic strategy which even the International Monetary Fund has now questioned, the Northern Ireland Executive outlined plans demonstrating the power of government to create employment whilst simultaneously addressing chronic social problems.
Despite the 6.9% cut to the overall Northern Ireland budget contained within the chancellor’s 2010 spending review, the first and deputy first ministers outlined plans to employ 230 new graduate teachers and health workers as part of six ‘signature’ projects worth £26million to improve numeracy and literacy, offer increased family support, and to support job creation within local communities while tackling dereliction and empty units.
Among the measures announced were:
• The employment of 150 recently graduated teachers, who are without permanent employment, on a two-year contract to deliver one-to-one tuition in English and maths to Year 11 and 12 post-primary school pupils who are not projected to get a “C” grade in English and/or maths;
• Employment of 80 recently graduated teachers, who are without permanent employment, on a two-year contract to deliver one-to-one tuition to primary school pupils who are struggling with reading and maths at Key Stage 2;
• £2 million additional support for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Parenting Programmes including additional health workers to support new parents - the programme will provide support for up to 1,200 parents living in areas of deprivation and will potentially employ up to 50 additional health workers.
In hailing measures designed to boost the economy and job prospects for young people, DUP first minister Peter Robinson explained:
“The Delivering Social change Framework is how we, as an Executive, will tackle poverty and deprivation. We want everyone to be equipped with the skills to strengthen our economic growth and for everyone to benefit from our mainstream education, health and employment programmes.
“Without even the most basic educational qualifications many of our young people find it a struggle to get a job and create a better life.
“The additional support being provided for literacy and numeracy will tackle this problem head-on and help our young people obtain the qualifications to find work. It will also provide 230 young unemployed teachers with an opportunity to get teaching experience while contributing to raising educational achievement.”
The deputy first minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, continued:
“[This] announcement is about working together in new ways across Departments and in partnership with the community, businesses and wider society. The aim is to make a tangible difference, particularly for our children and young people, over the next two years.
“This programme will lay the foundation for sustained social improvement and economic growth in the longer-term. Crucially, it underscores the importance that the entire Executive places on addressing the needs of all of our citizens - in particular those suffering disadvantage and those who have been left on the margins of society.”
Whilst both the Alliance and SDLP welcomed the announcements wholeheartedly, the Conservatives’ allies in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists, instead opted to raise a series of questions over how it would all work, giving a lacklustre welcome at best.
The announcement comes hot on the heels of another made earlier in the week by Mr McGuinness of a new long-term £13.3 billion investment strategy to prioritise construction projects and create jobs.