George Robinson enquired as to any impact on the Victims and Survivors Service as a result of the reduction in the number Departments during today’s Questions to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. First Minister Arlene Foster, answering on behalf of the Department, confirmed that the Service will remain within the remit of the Executive Office – “As such, we do not anticipate that there will be any negative impact on services for victims and survivors. Indeed, we believe that there will be a continued focus on the collaborative design programme, which will bring further improvements to services for victims and survivors.” £14m has been set aside for the Service – the highest ever opening budget that we have had for victims across Northern Ireland. Mrs Foster added “I have consistently fought to protect victims’ issues and victims’ budgets, and I will continue to do that in this Department. I believe that we will be proactive in that area in the coming year and in the years to come.”
During the topical question period Chris Lyttle asked the First Minister whether Northern Ireland will match the provision of free childcare enjoyed in the rest of the UK, which currently stands at 30 hours compared to Northern Ireland’s 12. Mrs Foster explained that the Department is currently considering responses to the consultation for the new Childcare Strategy which closed in November 2015. This will take in to consideration any reference to the free childcare provision in the rest of the UK. Mrs Foster also pointed out that childcare will transfer to the Department of Education after the next election. The First Minister also confirmed that it is her hope that the new childcare strategy will be agreed before the end of the current mandate explaining that “I think it would be right and proper to do that, particularly since childcare will transfer to the Department of Education under the new arrangements for leaner government. ”
During Question Time the First Minister also fielded questions on the Minority Ethnic Development Fund, the Anti-Poverty strategy, the Urban Villages programme, the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry and the UK Open Government Action Plan 2016-18. During the period for topical questions, Mrs Foster continued to answer questions on the community and voluntary sector, the Fresh Start Agreement and the Easter rising commemorations.