03/07/2012 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to the final Stormont Today of this session, as


MLAs take a break from the stresses and strains of life on the hill.


But before hitting the beaches ,they had plenty of business to do.


The finance minister has been addressing the crisis at the Ulster


Bank. They're talking about next week though they wouldn't say the


beginning or the middle of the week, simply that they hoped and it was


that they hoped to have it resolved by next week. With the holidays


about to start, has the culture minister given away her dream


destination? I think it's important the people like me from Belfast get


on the bus, which leaves Belfast every half hour, and go to Derry


because it has a lot to offer. look back at the year in higher


education Gerry Campbell from It's the end of term at Stormont


and while members will get some time off, one minister has had a


bit of a reprieve. The Department of Employment and Learning was due


to be scrapped over the summer, but it's unclear now what's going to


happen. So is it worth saving? With me, Gerry Campbell from the


umbrella group Colleges NI. Is it worth saving? Department of


employment an learning has been supportive of colleges across the


last 14 months that the minister has been in post. In terms of the


decision the executive made in January in terms of abolishing them,


we had asked that time be take ton look at the decision to be made and


take some views on board of various stake holders of where the


functions will transfer to. I'm pleased to say the members of the


executive have take than on board and have listed to my sector and


the various colleges who put forward reviews, along with other


key stake holders in terms of the CBI, the Federation of Small


Businesses, the Institute of Directors and a range of business


organisations and employers, who have said that there is a strong


role that colleges have to play in supporting economic development and


in helping to create jobs and innovation and entrepreneurship in


the economy. It's important then to look at the role that the colleges


play within a new sector and the sector colleges NI and the sector


have come out strongly to support moving to a new department of the


economy or a defpt similar to what Derry exists at the moment. Has the


uncertainty affected your sector? It's been business as usual ats the


moment. Colleges have continued to deliver at the moment. However,


we're now at a stage where a decision needs to be made sooner


rather than later in terms of what department or the functions will


transfer across to. The dainker is moving over the summer recess and


moving into the Autumn, is that there becomes uncertainty that


leads to difficulties within the sector. The sector employers,


students, learners all stake holders need to know where the


sector will move across. In the intervening period since the


announcement was made, the sector and colleges have made great


strides to engage with employers, students and lecturing staff,


engage with the Assembly committee and other political parties and a


wide range of stake holders. It's fair to say they've listened to our


reviews. We hope they would take that on board in terms of the final


decision to be made. Staying at employment and learning minister


Stephen Farry should have been facing his last Q&A session as


we've explained. We'll hear from him shortly, but first up today was


Caral Ni Chuillin and a question on the city of culture. Cot minister


outline the benefits of this funding for not just Londonderry,


but the whole of the North West? Absolutely and I thank the member


for that question. It is accepted that that region has been


underfunded for decades. Certainly in terms of the economy, it will


help generate the local economy, help provide employment and the


development of skills which will hopefully make local people


employable. It will be on the culture, when the culture, City of


Culture finishes. As well as that, you've got hotel beds, restaurants,


local companies involved in design and production and indeed, you've


also got tourism, transport, local transport as well as that. And


that's just the economic, you know, there's estimated well over 30


million euro has been spent. Goes from 30 million to beyond. You have


the annual convention as well, which will bring substantial amount,


the social legacy that will leave also is very important. Again, it


will help build and develop good relations from the people across


the city, but indeed across the North West region. It will feed


into the border counties in surrounding areas as well. I think


it's only but good. Certainly the executive's contribution to this is


quite substantial. I understand that the Culture


Company is still to secure �7.75 million for marketing and


programming. They hope to secure part of this through sponsorship.


If this is not secured, does Decal plan to make up the short fall? If


so, would the minister give assurance that further funding


required would not be as a result of a further pillaging of the


Ulster Scots museum budget? I'll take the last point first. The


budgets weren't pillaged. When people don't spend their money it


gets brought back into central fund. It is a disgrace that they didn't


spend their money. If that continues to happen, I'm going to


make future arrangements for that because that can't happen at all.


Will the minister agree with ewith -- with me that not only will this


have a great impact on employability but a longer laster


effect with cultural legacy? I do. I thank the member for his question


and the legacy is one of the important issues for the executive.


I suppose in response, the -- to the question raised, economic


legacy will bring investment to a part of the north, which has been


deprived of investment for decades. It will also bring local employment,


and employability skills, above and beyond, it will actually put a part


of the north, which has a brilliant cultural hub any way, it will help


promote that, but leave a richer and greater legacy. It is crucial,


even the one-day concert, which had something like 8,000 to 10,000


people attending, all of which attended and spent money, not all


of which were from the city of Derry. It's important that people


like me from Belfast get on the bus, which leaves every half hour, and


go to Derry because it has a lot to offer. Onto employment and learning


and does an Irish passport guarantee free tuition in Scotland


or not? Here's Stephen Farry. understand that some Northern


Ireland domiciled students are applying to Scottish universities


as European Union members. I understand it's too early in the


application cycle to say whether there will be issue for places for


such students. As this is a matter for the relevant Scottish


authorities, Northern Ireland domiciled students who hold non-UK,


European Union nationality are advised to contact the Scottish


higher education institution where they intend to study and the


students awards agency for Scotland to clarify their fee status and


eljablt for tuition fee support. thank the minister for his answer


and appreciate that in many ways these decisions are taken by the


Scottish Executive. But it does leave a lot of Northern Ireland-


based or Northern Ireland originating students in a degree of


limbo through a lack of certainty. Account minister give any


indication has the Scottish Executive given an indication as to


the time scale for a difintive answer as to how their applications


will be treated? I think this is an important issue. I certainly want


to give as much clarity as I possibly can from the Northern


Ireland's perspective. But ultimately, the best and I think


the only real advice that we can give to students is that they, on


an individual basis, need to talk to both the Scottish awards agency


and also the institution to which they are applying. I think there's


a danger in anyone drawing generalities from this or coming to


any assumptions regarding their personal circumstances that may


flow from what has happened with somebody else. Of course, this


situation has arisen from the fact that the Scottish authorities have


taken their own particular decisions around free tuition for


Scottish-based students. We have done something similar in Northern


Ireland with our freeze on tuition fees. This is an aspect in terms of


what happens under devolution, decisions that both have taken are


done with the best of reasons. There are anomalies that may arise


and distortions to student flows. We have to take actions to mitigate


those. I do understand that the Scottish authorities are looking at


various means by which they can address this situation and that


there may be discussions in the near future between officials from


the devolves regions and the department of business and


innovation and skills in London in the veneer future. One of the main


criticisms of this year's Stormont session has been a lack of


legislation. First thing this morning the junior minister


outlined a plan to introduce 26 bills next year. He made a point of


answering the Assembly's critics. Members will know that a bill is


the culmination of a lengthy process of policy development,


public consultation and expert technical drafting. Insofar as it


places duties and obligations on government, specific bodies or


private individuals, it must both be necessary and fit for purpose. I


think I can confidently speak for the executive when I say it does


not intend to promote large amounts of hasty and ill-thought out


legislation, nor to overregulate society for the sake of generating


activity. It is that which would be abysmal, not a failure to meet


notional numerical targets. I'd also suggest that a customary


extension sought by committees for the scrutiny of bills indicate that


they share the executive view that legislation is too important an


issue to rush, other than in compelling circumstances. None of


this is in any way to deny the central role that legislation must


play in what is, after all, a legislative Assembly. But that


wasn't good enough to satisfy the Assembly's harshest critic.


months in office before it produces a tentative legislative programme.


I can begin to see now why this executive will need every one of


the 161 staff and press officers to spin this as achievement. But could


I comment on the total absence of any subStantive measures to deal


with the bloated nature and size of Government. And is it the case that


even the one step in relation to Dale is now stalled in. An answer,


six weeks ago, the minister's department said legislation would


be interdeuced by July. Now we don't even have a commitment the


legislation, we have some form of words which says that ministers


will confirm their legislative intentions. Is there still an


intention to abolish Dale? If so when? That's been to the executive?


And can I finally reassure the minister his department is in no


danger of falling into rushed legislation, because so far, it's


been nil on quantity and nil on quality.


Let's hear from the minister This is still under consideration


and this is a very important decision for Northern Ireland. My


Department is a major economic department and it is a top priority


for the Assembly and we have to ensure that whatever read to, we


protect the important economic drivers around skills and we have a


coherent agenda that brings together sticky players, and


employers, on to one roof to move ahead in a coherent manner. -- on


the one roof. Jim Allister does not see this as a key department.


the past year, a lot has come through my department and we


announced a major scheme to address youth unemployment in Northern


Ireland and measures to address the needs and we have had a freeze on


tuition fees and a major departure from the rest of the UK and


devolution inaction and we have published a higher education


strategy and the skills strategy. We are doing a lot across a broad


range of activities to invest in the skills of the workforce and


create job opportunities. It is difficult, there has been


discussion that we are focusing too much and youth unemployment and


should be looking at the parents and keeping them in jobs to set a


good example? Unemployment is an issue across the board and we have


to address everybody's needs and we have programmes and place but


almost one third of unemployment falls within a very narrow six-year


gap between 18 and 24 or and in many cases many people who have


education and training but lack employable skills and that is the


intervention we're trying to achieve. We are trying to produce a


Budget that will be on a greater skill -- scale and comparative


schemes in the UK and we will invest in new measures to address


the needs and these are major achievements. Some people argue


that instead of these science and technology subjects, we are


training to many people because there are jobs at the other end?


have a report on the future skills needs of the economy and that has


shown that we will need more high- level skills and within that, more


people studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics and I


have completed a working group with an action plan for that sector and


there is a good footprint in ICT and the indications that there are


shortages and we cannot squander the opportunities by not investing


in the right skills. Corporation Tax is as far away as


ever. Gerry Campbell, do you think the department has done enough,


particularly for you sector? Over the last 14 months the Minister has


been a great supporter of the colleges and the work they do and I


think not only the department but the executive is to really


recognise the important role that colleges play as a linchpin in


delivering the programme for government and economic strategy.


Colleges are an important link between post-primary education


through to university and employment and the challenge that


we have ahead of us as a society is to win sure that we not only tackle


properly the needs issue for people between 18 and 24 but also to look


at adults who need to retrain and also this who are currently


unemployed to give them the opportunity to go back into


employment. There are challenges ahead if the Corporation Tax comes


on board and they need a requirement for the minister's


department to continue investment in colleges and in the right levels


golf professional, technical, vocational education and to make


sure the department works with other colleagues, particularly


education, to ensure that young people at the ages of 14 - 16 are


given the opportunity to make the right choices at that time. Are you


not concerned that in the Department of the economy, you will


get lost and not have the focus that you have now? Nor, we are the


key drivers for the economic strategy and with key links to


ensure that employers get the right levels of skills within colleges.


These are the key constituents in the charming be economically


relevant curriculum. The idea about getting people moving through post-


primary education, through university, and people will go


through apprenticeships, with 100 jobs and 100 days, so there is work


that colleges do. We will leave it there. The Finance Minister had


meetings with senior figures from RDS on the Ulster Bank over the


ongoing crisis which has left tens of thousands with little or no


access to their own money. In his third week and with little sign of


any resolution, the Minister had measured criticism for the


organisation. The one point that I made to Sir Philip yesterday was


that I believed the bank had probably done themselves sun damage


as well as raising problems for individuals by this drip-feed. It


will be fixed by Monday, Friday, next week. It would be better if


they had been up front and said this would be three weeks. I must


say, even after the conversation with Sir Philip, I am still not


clear as to win the problem will be sorted. It cannot be sorted this


week. They have made that clear. They're talking about next week,


although they would not say if it was the beginning or the middle of


the week. They hoped to have it resolved by next week. All of the


jumping up and down by the Finance Minister here and the Assembly, and


the intervention by the Chancellor or the Finance Minister in the


Republic, none of that will resolve what is basically a tactical issue


but I can only take the assurances that Ulster Bank and RDS have given


me. The reason for the sequencing is nothing to do with priority is


as far as who the most important customers are or what is the most


important market. The system failed in a certain way and then a certain


sequence and had to be repaired in a certain way. Since Ulster Bank


were at the end of that sequence, the They'll be the last to be dealt


with. Because of that, there is a bigger backlog of transactions that


has built up. Housing Executive is feeling talents and tax payers.


That is what the Social Development Bannister told the Assembly area.


Nelson McCausland men a statement following a report into multi-


million-pound maintenance contracts. He said he would introduce special


measures but warned that more radical change could be on the way.


On taking up the post, I expressed my concerns about the issue of


contract management, both on the briefing of the Government review


findings and under mentation and on the issues leading to the


termination of the Red Sky contract in 20th July 11. I wrote to the


chair of the executive board asking for assurance that they haven't


place robust and focused contract monitoring arrangements for all


contracts. I was assured that the monitoring arrangements for


response maintenance contracts were indeed very thorough. However, in


light of my continued concerns about the issues which led to the


termination of the Red Sky contract by the Housing Executive, that


might be present and other contracts which had not been the


subject of an a full investigation. It I asked that a forensic


investigation was carried out of a sample of Housing Executive


maintenance contracts to provide me with assurances in relation to the


other contracts, the quality of services to tenants and the proper


use of public funding. I have received, on 29th June, the draft


report in relation to the forensic investigation that I commissioned.


As this was on the receipt in the last few days, by officials need


time to consider this in detail. Nevertheless, I am very concerned


that the findings of the evidence clearly demonstrate that there are


considerable issues in relation to the Housing Executive's management


of Response maintenance contracts. I will be copying this report to


the Housing Executive for comment and will ask what they consider the


issues raised and respond to me by mid- August. I believe that a


Northern Ireland Housing Executive has failed to date to demonstrate


the required response to the known shortfalls and contract management,


either in a manner which recognises the importance and significance of


these issues, or which demonstrates an unequivocal demonstration to


address these matters with the necessary pace and urgency. Hyphae


that tenants and the tax payer are not getting the quality of service


that they have the right to. I do believe that there has been a


culture within the agencies and perhaps other departments that are


responsible we never seemed to lie with anyone and I want to assure


the Minister that whenever these reports are being worked through,


the responsibility right through from the agency and into the


apartment if need be, that we get to the bottom of that


responsibility. We're getting to the 0.4 we can see the overall


picture. -- to the point where we can see. We need to see how that


revealed within the Housing Executive for such a number of


years. I will want to know how that happened and we need to get to the


bottom of this and we need to see were the responsibility lies and I


will pursue that to the very opposite of my ability. This


Stormont a suitable place for children? MLAs thinks so. They want


to make it easier for school groups to come and visit. The issue was


raised to the Assembly commission. Would he consider through the


commission liaising with the Department of Education to ensure


that funding is made available to allow schools to get access to


Stormont? I thank the number for his supplementary and sometimes I


think that he is more parochial than I am, he mentions that also


quite a bit around you. The figures for Mid Ulster, incidentally, are


23 inward visits from your constituency with 711 participants.


That is in the last year. There were to agree to visits involving


126 per to some of its and obviously the Assembly benefits


from the enthusiasm of the individual member, such as Mr McRae,


who is enthusiastic about the service. There is a travel subsidy


available to visiting groups and within the commission, I am sure


you will appreciate that there is an atmosphere of diminishing


budgets. Having said that, it is a good idea that you should contact


and be in dialogue with the Department of Education about ways


and means of encouraging more and more schools to take up this


invitation and an informed at 95% of the school's have taken up the


education service in either of the direct way of coming here are


receiving them in their individual schools but that does leave 5% and


the Assembly commission is looking that -- looking at that. Those


schools that have not engaged, we want to look at that.


Environment Minister told the chamber today about plans for a


one-off payment to councillors who are leaving after decades of


service. As Mark Devenport told me, it is part of a plan to reduce the


number of councils from 26 to 11 councils. This is part of the local


council shake-up and that has been complicated. They will streamlined


best down to 11 and they expect some other veterans who have been


sitting through the years of the Troubles to buy out at this stage


and some of them say, well, after so many years, we deserve a pay-off.


Payments to politicians are always pretty controversial and I detected


some nervousness on the part of the Minister, Alex Attwood, about all


this but he did justify the play- offs in the following terms. There


will be some criticism about pay- offs to politicians and many people


would regard this in terms of recognition for unsung heroes.


says that what he is proposing is going to be less generous than what


had been previously envisaged in 2009 when people talked about a


scheme costing more than �4 million. He was unable to come up with any


overall cost, that depends on how many councillors and feel of the


scheme but he says these payments will be capped. At no more than


�30,000 for the longest serving. And to the MLAs and the TD's, we


have information today about this Inter-Parliamentary for them.


would ahead of the game because Martin McGuinness told you on the


Sunday politics that this was going to go ahead. Maybe some pay back


from Sinn Fein who have been keen on this for long. They made that


move with the Queen and we have some kind of agreement about to be


announced. There will be a meeting tomorrow involving Willie Hay and


his counterpart in Dublin and we would expect them at that meeting


to come out and give us a date for the North-South parliamentary forum


which in the olden days would have been rejected by Unionists as an


embryonic All-Ireland Parliament but nowadays there seemed prepared


to go along with this because in the new spirit, this is all about


practical co-operation. A final word, in terms of the recession,


high army being affected? Come Lodges are working with efficiency


savings and they have been giving efficiency saving go for the last


five years for -- over the last five years. Colleges are continuing


to deliver the same mind if not more to students but within this


diminishing budget. -- same amount. That challenge is maintaining that


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.