In April 2015, the Minister of Employment and Learning announced, on behalf of his Department and then-Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment Arlene Foster ‘Enabling Success’ – a strategy to tackle economic inactivity and get people back to work.
In his speech to the Assembly, the Minister stated:
“High levels of economic inactivity represent a major structural problem with our economy, which, if unaddressed, would limit our ability to develop and transform our economic prospects.
For that reason, our two Departments have been leading, on behalf of the Executive, on the development of a new strategy aimed at tackling economic in Northern Ireland.This will be the only dedicated government strategy in the United Kingdom at a national level aimed at tackling economic inactivity.”
As part of the strategy, a number of departments wanted to invite a number of pilot projects to test how best to actually get people back to work on the ground – a rather major piece of work for the Executive given the high prevalence of people out of work in NI.
According to the Executive’s own 2016-2017 Budget, 27% of people of working age are deemed to be ‘economically inactive’ – vastly beyond the UK average at 21.9%.
As part of the perceived priorities for the new Minister for Communities (which will take on most of the current DSD portfolio plus some other features) the Budget states ‘How to enable access to debt advice and tackle economic inactivity’ as a major priority. (Source pg 51)
Also, the section on the new Department for the Economy refers to economic inactivity and the use of European funding in the form of the European Social Fund.
“The Department is also the Managing Authority for the Northern Ireland ESF Programme 2014-2020, which has a European funding allocation equivalent to £144 million and a total value of £360 million. The strategic aim of the ESF Programme 2014-2020 is to combat poverty and enhance social inclusion by reducing economic inactivity and to increase the skills base of those currently in work and future potential participants in the workforce”.
On a side note, it is likely that the new Economy Department will be headed by a DUP Minister who favour leaving the EU.
Bearing in mind the DEL Minister made the Enabling Success statement in April 2015, and was mooted long before that, you might be shocked to discover that BtP can reveal today that the Department hasn’t received any bids for funding for pilot projects.
Why? because, as the Department told BtP – ‘due to the ongoing pressure on government budgets and finance, these cross-departmental projects have yet to commence.‘
In essence, we are being told that a major Executive strategy to get people back into employment in NI has completely stalled – because of the austerity budget that the Executive agreed as part of the Stormont House Agreement.