Government needs to act sooner to help children in difficult family situations and lessen the impact
on their education.
That’s the view of Douglas East MHK Joney Faragher who, during this week’s debate on the Island Plan, said there was not enough in it to tackle the problem of inequalities faced by children. Greater emphasis was needed on intervention for children who struggling for reasons outside of school.
Ms Faragher welcomed reference in the plan to a children’s commissioner and a child first policy approach but bemoaned the fact there was ‘no actual reference to the influence of birth situation on educational outcomes’, which she described as a clear issue and one that could be mitigated. ‘We need investment in early intervention so that we can identify families that are struggling and intervene,’ she said.
‘I would like to know how our early health and support (EHAS) team has been supported and improved over the years since the Scottish Inspectorate was brought over at the taxpayers’ expense in 2014 and told us that the provision of health and support to children, young people and their families at an early stage and that positive intervention depended on the practices of individual staff rather than adhering to strategic direction or agreed policies.’
She called for a cohesive approach bringing together EHAS and the Education Department, which
were natural partners. Kerry Sharpe MLC said she had hoped to see specific mention of children in care and care leavers in the plan as they were ‘our responsibility’ but had been overlooked historically and there was a lack of support throughout their childhood and beyond.
Education Minister Julie Edge said the department was focussing on ‘specifically ensuring that effective early intervention is available to improve the lives of learners at risk of poor outcomes’. It would work with ‘strategic partners’ to ensure a provision that recognises the significance of ‘adverse childhood experience’.
‘We need to ensure we have the right policies in the right place to support children from birth,’ she said, pledging the concerns raised were a department priority.
Ms Edge told Tynwald that gov was clear on the ‘importance of investing in our residents’ education from an early age’, with a commitment to review funding and a new quality assurance assessment. Tynwald approved the Island Plan on Tuesday after a long debate. While most welcomed the general visions outlined, many were critical of a lack of detail, costings or targets in the plan itself.
Douglas South MHK Claire Christian was one of three to vote against the plan. She hit out at the
repeated references to visions, which she said could turn into ‘mirages’, and no one having an idea
of the cost. Commitments to review an issue were not commitments to take action, she warned.
Some wording seemed to be designed to allow gov a ‘get out’ for failing to deliver.
Mrs Christian drafted an amendment that would have forced gov to come back with specific costings
to be debated in July but withdrew it in favour of one drafted by Douglas Central MHK Chris Thomas.
His version would have required departments to lay before Tynwald – not necessarily for debate – corporate and departmental delivery plans in May and financial plans in July. Mr Thomas said it reflected the approach he wanted to bring in with the workstreams of the new housing and communities board, launched as part of the Island Plan and which he helms. He said his amendment was essentially the same as Mrs Christian’s except for ‘rather than having a massive debate in May 2022, what this version of the amendment calls for is that government would lay before Tynwald’ and then the gov’s own schedule for debates on the departmental plans could be followed.
However the amendment was voted down (16-8 in the Keys, 8-1 in LegCo). Chief Minister Alfred Cannan said it would result in all the information being presented in ‘one big holistic lump’ and not benefit the public. Mr Thomas, who voted against the plan, also warned: ‘The next five years could well be worse than the last five.
‘Businesses are struggling in the local economy with emerging international pressures.’ Employment was static, he added, which was a concern, and ‘fragile’ public finances needed careful handling. ‘There is real poverty and struggle in our island.’ Health Minister Lawrie Hooper said he welcomed ‘challenges’ to the plan from members but rejected complaints about a lack of detail.
‘Everyone is saying it needs more metrics,’ he said. ‘What metrics? Give me three. ‘The public do not care about discharges from Noble’s Hospital before 10am, they do care about how long it takes to see a GP. So the metrics that go into this plan need to be important. Not just collecting data and publishing data for the sake of it.’ He acknowledged Ms Faragher’s calls for early intervention to help children and said it was a ‘key part of delivering care at the right time’.
Speaker and Rushen MHK Juan Watterson also voted against the plan, echoing concerns about the process that brought it to Tynwald. ‘There was an opportunity to do better,’ he said, arguing it would have been preferable to debate it alongside the Budget at the scheduled February sitting.
But Chief Minister Alfred Cannan was bullish.
He was widely lauded for his opening speech – even if Mr Thomas later pointed out that the lavish
praised heaped on him by Bill Henderson bore a striking resemblance to comments made by the
veteran MLC when Howard Quayle unveiled his first programme for government five years earlier.
Summing up at the end of the debate, Mr Cannan welcomed ‘constructive criticisms’ and ‘positivity’
during the debate.
‘This plan today sets out the vision for the future and we have to regard ourselves as visionaries if
we are truly going to drive this island forward and unpick the problems and critical challenges that
we are facing,’ he said. ‘The list is long and extensive but this plan sets out our key priorities in terms of where those challenges lie. We have heard from various ministers how they intend to build on that and take that forward within their departments.’
The document ‘actually outlines to Tynwald what we are going to do differently to make this
government more transparent, more accountable and to give Tynwald and the public greater insight
into both what we are achieving and how we are going about achieving that’.
That included individual ministers going before Tynwald annually to account for their department’s
Responding to criticism about the sidestepping of the six week rule for lodging reports for Tynwald
debate, which some branded a disregard for transparency and democratic process, he warned that
the rule would not always be observed in future, either.
‘There will be plenty of times I expect over the next 12 months when items will be before Tynwald at a much quicker and shorter pace.’ He said he prioritised ‘nimbleness and national importance versus a need to adhere with the bureaucratic process’.