22/12/2016

Other News In Brief

Funding Secured For Voluntary Search And Rescue Groups

A £240,000 capital funding package has been secured for voluntary Search and Rescue groups in Northern Ireland.

The groups deliver assistance to the emergency services and directly to the community. They provide lifesaving search and rescue on inland waterways, mountains and caves. They also provide a specialist search dog facility and support civil aviation with a sky watch service.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden said: "This vital funding package of £240,000 will immediately benefit the voluntary Search and Rescue teams who, around the clock, are ready to answer calls from people in distress.

"In the first six months of this year, volunteers responded to around 250 incidents, and contributed around 10,000 operational hours. Their dedication, enthusiasm and courage is outstanding."

Concerns Raised Over Teachers Pay Dispute

Concerns have been raised over the ongoing teachers pay dispute.

Sandra Overend MLA, Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, said: "There is continuing concern about the ongoing teachers’ pay dispute which has now been plunged into uncertainty going into the Christmas break. With no budget being presented to the Assembly, schools have been left in a state of limbo over the Christmas period.

"I am not convinced that the Education Minister has any desire to resolve this ongoing dispute. In fact, the Minister has recently referred to the teaching dispute as a matter which has already been settled. It looks as though he is hiding his head in the sand, hoping that if he waits it out, this problem will just go away. Being in tune with the feeling on the ground, I can only conclude that the Minister is completely out of touch with reality on this issue. Ultimately it is the pupils who will suffer the most as a result of this debacle.
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"The Education Minister has belittled the concerns of teachers and has sneered when I and fellow MLAs have tried to impress upon him the severity of the situation. He has also dismissed as a myth the fact that Northern Ireland teachers should have received a similar 1% pay rise as their counterparts in England in 2015/16. Teachers have been showing me payslips that clearly show that their current take home pay is lower now than it was in 2008 despite being in a position where they are doing more work and have more responsibilities. Surely this is an indication of the reality of the situation."

Call For Executive To Agree A Budget

Alliance Finance spokesperson Stephen Farry MLA has warned of the impact of continued delays in agreeing an Executive Budget, saying it will impact the public and community sectors.

Dr Farry said the Executive needed to agree a Budget as a matter of urgency, as doing so had become a casualty of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

He said: "Time is not a luxury the Executive has. This is not something which can wait much into the new year, let alone be dragged out almost up to the beginning of the incoming financial year.

"The publication of the Budget allows Departments to work out the detailed budget lines lying beneath the headline allocations, even before the Assembly formally adopts it. In turn, they pass on allocations to a range of arms-length bodies and also many organisations in the community and voluntary sector. These bodies include vast organisations such as the health trusts and the Education Authority.

"Already due to the UK Autumn Statement at the end of November, any notion of a draft Budget has been abandoned, so the final Budget will hit us cold. Delays have real consequences for public sector organisations and the community and voluntary sector wanting to plan ahead. For some organisations come the beginning of January, they may have to put staff on protective notice."

(CD)

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