Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Assembly returns: What reforms schools, hospital, business and voluntary sectors need

Stormont needs to return to try to help attract investment
Stormont needs to return to try to help attract investment
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Northern Ireland's Stormont Assembly returns on Monday for the first sitting since March 2017.

Below we get the views of experts in the health, business, education and voluntary sectors on the need for reform in their areas.

Health

Belfast GP George O'Neill

"I think the biggest priority needs to be progress on the Bengoa report, which looks at the delivery of health and social care right across Northern Ireland.

"It's not quite collecting dust as the last Health Minister Michelle O'Neill did set out a response to it which has given the Department of Health a road map.

"There are certain areas  that do need the support of an Executive to deliver, so this is being held up.

"It's also very difficult to recruit new GPs in Northern Ireland. But my hope is reforms will allow others, like physiotherapists, to carry out some functions and free GPs up for some of the more complex cases.

"But this needs further and recurrent funding for any of these changes."

Business

Colin Neil from Hospitality Ulster

"Stormont needs to get back. While the topics to be debated are standalone conscience issues, there's so much more that needs to be addressed.

"We have the highest business rates now in the UK, which is absolutely incredible. We have budget pressures everywhere and we're working on outdated legislation.

"It's that old thing of if you're not going forward, you're going backwards. So if we've been 1,000 days without an Assembly we're 2,000 days behind.

"The lack of a proper tourism strategy as well means we can't fulfil our potential. Tourism could grow by a £1bn over the next 10 years, that could have been started three years ago.

"Our liquor licence legislation is also so out of date. Our cost pressures are going up but we can't trade any extra hours to compensate for that.

"There really is just an endless line of stuff that our MLAs should be taking care of."

Voluntary

Geoff Nuttall - Head of policy and public affairs for NICVA

"The burning issues we're concerned about is the impact of not having ministers there to make budget decisions.

"Living with the year to year budgeting is particularly difficult for the voluntary sector when they can't plan anything in advance.

"We also don't have any proper representation in the Brexit debate as things develop.

"The current situation is extremely stressful. For the last four years, organisations don't even know if they can keep their staff.

"Ultimately our sector is serving the people from all parts in society with the greatest need. We cover everything from health and social care services, environmental organisations to advice groups.

"It's not just about clarity, there have also been extensive funding cuts in recent years which makes life very difficult."

Education

Geri Cameron is President for the National Association of Head Teachers in NI

"Education is in a crisis in Northern Ireland, there are pressure points everywhere on issues like capacity and budget.

"Our long-held view that we're world leaders in Northern Ireland is going down the tubes basically.

"I would say to politicians that we need a mechanism for changing the relationship between the Education Authority, employment bodies and the schools.

"At the minute, they're adversarial and they need to start working for the benefit of children and young people.

"A Bengoa style review is needed for education, not for closures, but to spend our resources more wisely.

"We have a teacher's industrial dispute going on for eight years. That's almost unheard of in the world.

"The employers have failed entirely in bringing a resolution to the table. We're told the Department of Education has signed off on an extra business case to find the extra money, but the Department of Finance know nothing about it and they're the people that have the say.

"So ultimately, there's no communication. So the school leaders I represent are bearing the brunt that teachers are working to rule in schools.

"We support their right to do that, but it's having a desperate effect on school leaders and ultimately on learners. It's grim."

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