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Assembly Written Question 14318/17-22

Question: To ask the Minister for the Economy, pursuant to AQW 1325 17-22, what work has been undertaken to develop a dedicated fund to support skills growth; and when will any plans be published.

Answer: Investing in skills must be at the heart of our economic recovery. Good, relevant skills levels do not simply support economic growth, but contribute to people’s well-being and ultimately help to create a more equal society, where everyone can reach their potential.

The last decade has, however, seen very significant reductions in the funding for the skills development programmes that are now urgently needed to support all sectors, as we seek to move towards economic recovery. The strategic importance of the skills system to achieving our long-term goals of economic growth and improving social equality must, therefore, be met with strategic investment.

This is reflected in the work currently underway to develop a new Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland. Research to support the Skills Strategy consultation document indicated that stakeholders ranked funding as the most important issue for Northern Ireland’s skills system. This is backed up by the approach taken in the highest performing economies, which is to increase their investment in skills.

For these reasons, a key proposed commitment in the new Strategy is to create a dedicated, ring fenced fund for skills growth. This approach has already been established in England (National Skills Fund - £2.5bn) and in the Republic of Ireland. This funding must be additional to our existing skills budgets, if we are to make an impact; equally, we should not be considering any reduction in our current levels of investment.

My Department has been developing an initial range of skills proposals to meet the needs of industry, which would sit within a dedicated fund. I should emphasise, however, that this is at a very early stage and these are outline proposals only, which are still under consideration. A bid for resources to support work under the proposed Skills Fund has been submitted to the Department of Finance under the Comprehensive Spending Review.

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