MLAs are concerned at possible crèche closures

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MLAs expressed their concern at delays in formulating a childcare strategy for Northern Ireland, on 6 March 2013.

Officials from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) were briefing the OFMDFM Committee on a childcare strategy consultation.

Fergus Devitt, who had been involved in the consultation, said he sensed that there was "a sense of frustration among the sector that there is no childcare strategy in place".

The SDLP's Colum Eastwood questioned whether spending £50,000 on after-school film clubs really constituted childcare.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee had been discussing the proposed closure of crèches by the University of Ulster and raised this matter with the officials.

Mr Devitt said the proposed closures had been brought to their attention at a consultation event at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in Londonderry.

Committee chairman and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt wanted to know if the department would be advising organisations such as the university of Ulster of what would be expected of them under the strategy.

"Clearly there are a number of organisations such as universities, further education colleges and others who are in receipt of considerable funds and we may well want to look at how they can help in delivering what is envisaged throughout the childcare strategy," Mr Devitt replied.

The next item was a briefing by officials about the Programme for Government (PfG), but Mike Nesbitt was unhappy that updated departmental briefing papers had been delivered to the committee just two hours before the meeting.

Members discussed the possibility of abandoning the session if the amended papers contained substantial changes from the earlier version.

The chairman questioned OFMDFM official Tim Losty regarding the protocol for the delivery of papers.

Mr Nesbitt said the papers should have been delivered five days before the meeting.

Mr Losty said he did not want to "appear evasive" but it would be best to speak to his colleagues who would appear before the committee the following week.

He then briefed the committee on a number of PfG commitments including the Maze/Long Kesh site, the One Plan generation plan for Londonderry, and the UK City of Culture 2013.

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