UUP leader Reg Empey mentioned his party’s reservations over the Education Bill, and the way it appeared, on yesterday’s Stormont Live and today the Belfast Telegraph has more on the UUP opposition to the detail, but not the principle, of the legislation. Meanwhile, at the Assembly’s Education Committee, attempts by government officials to reassure voluntary grammars that, following the proposed transfer of employment of staff, the new body would not be “a big brother system” were somewhat undermined by Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd.
Sinn Féins John ODowd (Upper Bann) said it was right that the ESA was trying to put more accountability in the voluntary sector. “I suggest if the voluntary grammar schools seek their independence they should stop taking taxpayers money,” he said.
“And then they wouldnt have the hassle of people who are elected by taxpayers to make sure taxpayers money is spent properly holding them to account. “Any group or any body that is being given large sums of taxpayers money has to have accountability in them in my opinion, theres no option other than to bring them in under the employing authority (ESA).”
Although, as I mentioned last night, with the Education Minister appointing members of the ESA, including councillors, it’s not entirely clear how that “accountability” will operate in practice.. And if those schools were spending “improperly” doesn’t the Minister already have the authority to address that?From the Education Bill
2. -(1) ESA shall consist of –
(a) a Chair, and
(b) not fewer than 7 or more than 11 other members,
appointed by the Department.
(2) In making appointments under sub-paragraph (1), the Department shall so far as practicable secure ¾
(a) that at any time a majority of members are councillors (within the meaning of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 (c. 9)); and
(b) that each member has experience in a field of activity relevant to the discharge of the functions of ESA.
(3) The Department may by order amend sub-paragraph (1)(b) by substituting for the numbers specified there such other numbers as may be specified in the order.
The first question to be asked is given that there are to be 11 new local Councils, and assuming each Council can identify appropriately qualified councillors, are all 11 members to be councillors? Or should that figure be increased already?
And, in the apparent absence of a mechanism for Councils to propose appropriately qualified councillors, who are appointed members of the ESA, including those councillors, accountable to?