Back to School and Back to Work—Summer Recess is Coming to a Close

02 September 2021 - by Cris Cloyd

After record breaking temperatures, followed by sudden downpours, and COVID-19 cases peaking higher than we had seen before—our social media feeds are peppered with images of children in their uniforms and ready to start the new school year—summer is nearing its end.

September also sees the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly returning to business at Stormont to continue considering, debating, scrutinising, and tabling legislation before the end of the mandate, with an election scheduled on or before the 5th of May 2022.

With a quieter recess than we had seen over Christmas and Easter breaks, some committees returned for business to discuss healthcare workforce planning and COVID forecasting, and an update on the much-anticipated High Street Voucher Scheme. No doubt though that the most recent Lucid Poll Summer 2021 results are going to mean a positive return to the assembly for some (Sinn Féin remained steady in the lead, UUP and TUV seeing gains), and a defensive return for others (DUP and Alliance seeing loses).

Also released this summer was the Executive’s Building Forward: Consolidated COVID-19 Recovery Plan to rebuild from the pandemic. The purpose of the plan is to accelerate economic, health, and societal recovery in the short term with the goal to emerge stronger, to transform, and innovate for longer-term ambitions. The plan focuses on four pillars:

  • Sustainable Economic Development
  • Tackling Inequalities
  • Green Growth & Sustainability
  • The Health of the Population

It's an ambitious plan considering not only that our health service is grappling with the long-term implications of COVID-19, both in terms of the virus itself and the impact on our health care system, but coupled with the remaining gap of inequalities spurred by lockdowns. The local pressures are taking place against the global backdrop of climate change and geopolitical implications of America’s withdraw from Afghanistan.

While there is a sense that anything can happen, or that we’ve lost control of many aspects of our lives—it's worth reflecting on the plans and ambitions set out by the executive as we pave the way out of crisis.  

The recovery plan has been designed around the context of the outcomes-based Programme for Government (PfG) which has yet to be announced.

So how is this plan going to work? The area of focus stretches from the strategic to operational that include detailed interventions to describe what will need to happen to accelerate recovery and delivered with a cross-departmental approach. It ranges from interventions that include everything from apprenticeships, tourism recovery, investing in skills programmes, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, tackling underachievement in schools, multi-faceted response to health and wellbeing, reform health and social services, addressing symptoms of poverty, all the way to encouraging outdoor recreation—recovery will be a mountainous job to take to task.

With Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s messaging clearly focused on a May election, it will be interesting to see the extent of changes to the DUP’s team previewed earlier in the summer. The question remains, how will Sir Jeffrey secure his seat in the Assembly while balancing the ambitions and interests of his (Lagan Valley) colleagues? 

With the countdown on to the end of the current mandate, there is a vast amount of legislation that remains to be passed, we could be seeing a much different assembly and executive make-up come next election, but only time will tell.

Until then, enjoy the remaining days of summer.