06/03/2012 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 Stormont Today. And it's Super Tuesday in the


United States as Republicans choose their candidate to take on Barack


Obama. But every tuesday is Super Tuesday on this programme - even if


it feels like Groundhog Day in the Chamber. I think this is the third


time we have the NEETs discussed in this chamber in a short period of


time. We have no action plan yet. And is there a new Chuckle Brother


here on the Hill? Someone's been tickling ribs. That concludes a


highly entertaining question times. And with agriculture booming but


with reform on the horizon, my guest is John Thompson of the


Tonight, we're looking at the CAP and why perhaps it no longer fits.


That's the Common Agricultural Policy and how efforts are being


made to green it. It's being proposed, for example, that around


a third of farm payments will be linked to green goals such as


diversifying crops. A top official from the European Commission


dealing with the issue was at Stormont today as the guest of the


Agriculture Committee to answer questions from farmers and others.


So, did he reassure them this wasn't just more bureacracy from


Brussells? I'm joined by John Thompson,


president of the Ulster Farmer's Union. Welcome to the programme.


You attended the seminar to a yacht owned concerns. Remind us what they


are. I think the new proposals... We are certainly worried about the


proposals involving more bureaucracy. We are concerned about


the whole transition period, about the green issues and about activity


and what the definitions are. Certainly, we see these proposals


being complicated and very difficult to understand from a


farmer's level right up to the elders and I think we need a lot


more clarification. Did you receive any assurances from the official?


He's certainly given us the proposals and spelled it out why


they hope going down the lines they are going down -- why they are


going down the lines. From his presentation, a lot of the areas


targeted are central Europe where there is very little biodiversity


and hedgerows. We already meet a lot of those requirements and I


think the commission recognises that. I think he also recognises


that every farmer has to be seen to do something and although the Bar


is fairly high already in Northern Ireland, he would still like to see


them do more. What is your solution as the Ulster Farmers' Union's


President? You are not opposing reform, you recognise their needs


to be some measures taken. There is basically a new scheme. The old


scheme, the single farm payment was based on historic payments of


cattle numbers, sheep numbers. This is... Certainly, I think there is a


big transition period. Agriculture is important to the Northern


Ireland economy. I think people need time to move from the current


system to the new system. We will have to leave it there. Thank you.


Something has happened to the Regional Development Minister Danny


Kennedy. Often his question time session is a little dry, but then


roads don't provide many laughs. But today, the minister amused MLAs


with his quick wit. But before the chuckles begin, let's begin our


look at question time with justice and David Ford on the rather


serious issue of redundancy plans for prison officers.


Will the Minister confirm that it is lawful, ethical and desirable


that his department in set as a condition of severance that prison


officers will be awarded generous and schemes -- that those awarded


generous golden handshakes will not be able to reapply for jobs? Will


he bring further legislation to prevent this happening? I note his


concern and indeed the concern of other members. I can simply advise


them that the legal advice that I received was that it would have


been discriminatory to prevent any of those leaving from applying for


the new jobs which were advertised and closed last week. I can however


confirm that in the face of a very significant potential recruitment


not one of the 151 officers who will be leaving service on 31st


March will -- were among the 5000 applicants for the near post.


the new post. Following the departure of the director general,


can you outline how that will affect the staff exit scheme and


take the opportunity to explain how you intend to mitigate the loss of


the person setting up the entire reform of our prison service?


answer to the question of how his move to Edinburgh will affect the


scheme is not in any way at all. He played a vital part in setting the


foundations for the reform programme which the House will know


follows row under the old a programme, building on the


recommendations of the report. I simply want to pay tribute to date


to the work that he did in establishing that the fact that he


was serving so well that he was selected for what is effectively


the second most senior post in prisons within the United Kingdom


to return to the Scottish Prison Service, a service three times and


80 -- three times bigger than ours, that should come as no surprise.


There is another team available which also contains those doing


work. It was not entirely driven by one man. I have no doubt that when


I discuss the arrangements for a new director general, we will


ensure that the post is filled as soon as possible to enable the


current team to continue working. Crime and the fear of crime. What


does the Minister seek as the best way to tackle the issues? Would the


Minister agree that the possible closure of rural police stations


could impact on fear of crime? think what members of this have so


need to do is address the rail -- reality of rural crime. It is not


dealt with by having police officers sitting behind desks. It


is addressed by the where the chief constable has done by putting 600


officers are out on the street in response teams and neighbourhood


teams. That is the best way of achieving it. The sick -- decision


as to which stations are required is a decision for the chief


constable. Does the Minister not recognise that the present proposal


for the wholesale closure of rural police stations is very much


sending out the wrong message, a message of encouragement to the


perpetrators of rural crime and a message of discouragement to their


victims? Having officers stationed behind a desk 20 or 30 miles away


is little comfort to those who are the subject... Could we have the


question, please? Does he not agree that having officers stationed


there to Mars away behind a desk is a source of great annoyance --


stationed 20 to 30 miles away. think the greatest comfort we can


have is what I highlighted earlier. The chief constable putting 600


police officers out on the streets. Onto the new joker in the assembly


pack. Danny Kennedy. Here is the first joke of the day. Can I ask


the minister if he has any plans to review criteria for all traffic


calming measures in built up areas? Am thinking of villages. That


village has a severe problem... In that it has the honour to be


represented by the minister. Rural crime again. This time, cable


thefts. A serious issue. I can inform the House that road service


has introduced a range of measures aimed at combating this crime.


Among the steps taken to date, it has changed the way new street


lighting cables are laid. That is in order to make them more


difficult to steal. In addition, cables at certain locations have


been marked with special smart DNA Greece that allows stolen cables to


be identified. Road service has also investigated the possible use


of CCTV monitoring and remote alarm systems to protect cable


installations. However, these options have proved to be


prohibitively expensive for widespread use. My officials will


continue to engage with the... To prevent further cable thefts was a


can ask the Minister to give us a geographical breakdown of these


deaths? I think you mentioned 76. I could probably take you to 76 lamp-


posts in Derry that have been attacked. We will not ask what a


DNA read-out for the member... That is a joke by the way! Such


seriousness did not last long. Order. That concludes our highly


entertaining question time. Nearly 50,000 young people here are


classified as NEETs - that means not in employment, education or


training. It is not a statistic to be proud of. And MLAs are fustrated


by the lack of progress by the minister Stephen Farry. The DUP


today called for a working group to be set up to tackle the problem.


is my contention that although much work has been done by various


agencies and educational institutions, the time has come for


a more joined-up approach to tackle the barriers that exist today for


hour-long people -- young people contributing effectively to act --


our economy. There have been many reports about the nature of the


barriers our young people face when attempting to fulfil their academic


and vocational potential. The reason for disadvantages and low


achievement of buried ranging from poverty and deprivation to being in


our care system and getting involved in crimes. It is therefore


important that all agencies in an interest with addressing these


issues are involved in creating any possible solutions. I think this is


the third time we have the NEETs discussed in the chamber within a


short period of time. We are not seeing any action plan coming out.


I think the minister needs to... He may say later on that, I needed to


discuss it with the executive first. I think the minister needs to come


to the house and explain to us all his intentions. We have over 40,000


young people across Northern Ireland who are not in education,


employment or training. With the welfare reforms coming in, Mr


Speaker, there is going to be a tsunami of further young people who


may be caught in the culture of benefits and forced us to seek


employment or education or training. What is to be done? What I cannot


stand is parochialism. This emphasis on one sub-regional


college, I cannot stand it at all. At least the Alliance Party


amendment try to tidy up one aspect of the original motion and it made


reference to all of the further education colleges. But still no


reference to the Department of Education when it strikes me as


very obvious that there is a major role for the Department of


Education in this matter. It would appear that in the sub-group of


ministers that the proposals envisaged to join have our eyes


only for certain colleges. Definitely the Department of


Education needs to be represented. While I welcome the suggestion, it


would be premature to establish the second group dealing with an area


that is an integral part of existing and planned future


structures. In conclusion I have listened with interest the members'


views on this extremely important issue. I particularly welcome the


acknowledgement that the problems being encountered by young people


as they make a transition from school can't be solved by one


department alone. It is incumbent on us all, working within service


deliverers and stakeholders, to a line of our services in the best


way to support every young person on their journey from school or


college into the world of work. discuss the problem, I am joined by


Basil McRae who chairs the employment and learning committee.


Much hand-wringing, but why has it taken so long to Agate progress?


That is where the committee are so disappointed. Not just with needs,


but also with the skills agenda for young people. Youth unemployment


soaring. We don't seem to be getting much progress. We've said


repeatedly to the minister and the department that this is a matter


that is really urgent and the need to take action. Is this the failure


by the minister? He is ultimately responsible. Although we have


cordial relations with him, it is simply not acceptable that we have


almost 50,000 that we are not doing anything for. The way youth


unemployment is going, one in five young people. It is simply


unacceptable for us to do nothing. We need to sort something out.


this a matter solely for Steven Farrer? We had some mention in the


debate that other ministries should be involved, perhaps the Department


of Education should be involved? what was interesting about the


debate was the emphasis on F E colleges. They have a good pastoral


care system where they check whether you have been to college


and if not, why not. They make sure young people turn up. If it happens


earlier, in school, the key statistics are that people drop out


between 14 and 16. Nobody picks it up and it can go even earlier.


People that are known to the police or people a nursery school. The


problem with the system is we run into difficulties at every stage


and yet nobody picks it up. Do you support the call for a Working


Group? What we thought... The motion was a bit awkward in trying


to put in all sorts of people. What is clear is you need a co-ordinated


response across multiple agencies, multiple departments, and you


probably need one department to take the lead. The Department of


Employment and learning is about to go so what difference will that


make? Will it end up in the Department of Enterprise or the


Department of Education? department going has not helped. If


the department does, the issues will still remain. Wherever they go,


will they have the same priority? We do think these issues do need


priority, they are probably the single most important issue the


executive and the assembly can tackle. We are removing the one


department looking at it. We also have welfare reform coming down the


pipeline and we heard Pat Bradley are talking about a tsunami of


people looking for jobs. Are we prepared for this? It is a tsunami


and I don't think we are prepared. I don't think we are doing enough


and in three or four years, people will look back and say why did you


take so long? They will point the finger rightly at the executive and


the assembly and say you did not done enough. What is the


committee's next move? We are bringing the minister in front of


us. We want to ask him in detail. We have already demanded his


officials turn up, but we want to see the minister and he will get a


fairly rough ride. Healthy eating seems to be less


likely that more money you have. That link was a concern for the


health minister as he reported back from a North-South meeting. He


expressed his concerns that skills were being lost through the


generations. One of the concerns we have associated between food and


poverty is that many people who don't have a lot of income are


spending it in them -- on the wrong types of food. Very often they will


go up to the supermarkets or the pound shops and they will buy the


wrong sorts of food. That contributes to obesity and ill


health. We do need to encourage people to get back to basics.


There's an awful lot of skills that have been lost in the last two to


three generations. As a consequence of that, people don't seem to know


how to go to the local greengrocer and buy good quality vegetables, to


actually buy some of the cheaper cuts of meat and prepare that for a


nutritious dinner for their family. To me, there's a course of work


that needs to be done, training and educating young people in providing


good quality food within their own homes. Unless we get this through


to young people, we will be defeated because the skills are not


being passed on within the homes any more. Therein lies the


challenge. There's a challenge there. Back-to-basics. Is there a


gap in the market the farmers' union should be encouraging the


health minister to speak to the farming minister? I think the


minister has a point. A lot of people have got into the habit of


using convenience food. Sometimes that is a lot more expensive. It is


handy. It is easy to prepare. But if they bought local produce and


made up their meals, it would work out quite a bit cheaper, maybe 30


to 40% cheaper. He has a point. sells like you might be talking


yourself into a scheme to promote local produce. We have every right


to remote local produce. It is excellent quality. I would


encourage everybody to use it. Returning to the issue of the


reform. What impact do you think those changes might have on food


prices when you are encouraging farmers to think more about


diversity? With our system in Northern Ireland, about a third of


our land... Not being allowed to plough, not being allowed to seed,


we will lose productivity and the ability to produce. That will


decrease the amount of production we can obtain. Thank you.


Many schools are now under stress according to the Department of


Education. Figures released today show 8.4% of secondary schools are


experiencing difficulties with either the quality of their


education, budgets or enrolments.35% of grammar schools


and half of primary schools are suffering the same fate. Stephen


Walker asked the Education Minster what action he was going to take.


My job is to put in place a plan to ensure we have a sustainable


schools system where parents can be confident their children are being


taught in schools to a very, very high level. When it comes to


educational criteria, there is a huge gulf between the controlled


sector and the maintained sector. Presumably you find that worrying?


It is. But there's good and bad in each sector and sometimes these


figures hide the good and bad. In the controlled sector, there's been


an ongoing debate about educational under-achievement, particularly in


working-class communities. The report highlighted that. I would


like to see the debate continuing, I want to hear the voices of the


community from all sectors coming forward and the debate around


education. In many ways, there is working-class communities that have


been left behind in this debate. You haven't ruled up school


closures. Does this report reinforced this view? This isn't


about school closures, it is about ensuring young people receive


greater education. If I have to make a decision around the future


of a school based on the needs of young people, I will close that


school. You have said you want swift action, but when will we


start to see action? You've seen the results of the audit. I will be


writing to the managing authorities of a number of schools, asking them


what immediate action they are taking to protect the education of


young people. We currently have a plan which will see a sustainable


schools estate going into the future with high quality education


at the centre of that. You talk about hastening it. I know you say


it is not primarily about closures, but is it likely that in the next


two to three years we will see schools merging, closing? Yes. That


is the way forward in terms of the direction this report is pointing a


sin. It's an action which the modern curriculum is pointing a sin.


Let's ensure we do that. Schools have history, there's an emotional


connection with schools and those things go with it. But the school


is a building and it is to provide education to young people. If that


building is no longer fit for purpose in terms of size or if it


is not attractive -- attracting enough pupils to make it


educationally viable, let's move on. Let's ensure we have an education


system which is fit for purpose going into the 21st century. That


will mean amalgamations in some instances, and also closures.


The Chair of the Education Committee said the findings of the


report are worrying. Mervyn Storey said more needs to be done to


address educational decline. What it does is it gives us a picture of


the crisis there is a cross our schools. Both primarily in


educational terms, because while it is very easy to look at the numbers


and whether schools measure up to the intake and all of that, the key


issue for educationalists surely has to be the quality of education


to children are getting. Clearly this report is saying there are


major problems in the educational outcomes in some schools. That is


very worrying and the question is, what is being done to address that


educational decline? What I would encourage parents not to do is go


through this audit and look for their school and come to the wrong


conclusion solely on the basis of the figures as they are presented.


The figures have to be presented in some context around the school. I


would encourage parents to support their local school, to ensure their


school get all the support it can. In some places, and I'm well aware


my own constituency of particular problems and particular issues, we


have to find a different solution. That solution is not simply just


about rubbing this call-out and starting over again. We have


recently produced figures that clearly indicates there is minimal


savings to be had if you just close schools. Let's concentrate on


educational outcomes and let's put the resources up. This is a time


for more teachers. Now to Cafe Recess, where Stephen


Walker, who usually hangs out with our MPs on the terraces at


Westminister, has been filling me in on the latest talks on


corporation tax. I asked him if we can expect anything dramatic when


they get round the table at the Treasury tomorrow. This is a


routine meeting, a meeting between Stormont ministers. Basically it is


an opportunity to get down and talk about the nuts and bolts of


devolving corporation tax, the timescale and exactly how much it


would cost. One DUP source has told me this is routine, they are not


expecting anything dramatic. Another DUP source there's an


element of frustration creeping in because we've been talking about


devolving corporation tax for some time now and there is a feeling


from the DUP quarters and perhaps from the Sinn Fein quarters that


people want to see a bit of action now. How significant is Scotland in


this? People in the Treasury are looking over their shoulder at


Scotland and wondering if Northern Ireland gets these tax-raising


powers and the ability to vary the rate of corporation tax, clearly


Scotland will want to. People from Scotland are looking to Northern


Ireland. It has muddy the waters. It will be a busy day in London


because the DUP have secured a debate dealing with the issue of


promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. The DUP get an


opportunity to hold debates. They can choose debates on any topic. On


this occasion they have chosen the topic of Northern Ireland and they


are using the strap line, our time, our place, 2012. They want to


showcase Northern Ireland during this debate and tried to encourage


people to come to Northern Ireland and use Northern Ireland as a


tourist destination. You'll see reference to centenaries and the


Titanic, the Ulster Covenant. From the DUP point of view, it is an


opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland and they see it as a debate.


You have news of the special visitors to storm of later this


week. Stormont get a lot of visitors and very often in Stormont,


politicians like to regard themselves as being the people that


get all the attention. On Thursday there is going to be a lot of


attention here. Terry George, the Oscar winner and his daughter, are


coming to us Stormont. There will be a lot of attention on them. And


a little golden statuette. And like many American visitors to


these shores, Oscar has Irish roots - his designer Cedric Gibbons was


born in Dublin. So there you go. John, Stephen was talking about


tomorrow's meeting on corporation tax in London. That is something


the farmers union has been encouraging, but it doesn't sound


like Scotland is making things even more complicated. With us having a


land border with another member state with a different rate of


corporation tax, we feel it is a disadvantage and veena -- in these


times we think we are competing in a lot of the same markets. If we


had lower tax, nearer the level they have, it would be to our


advantage. We're disappointed it is not moving quicker. Be seen as


Scotland is a fly in the ointment. Yes. Alex Salmond has pushed for an


independence vote and that is one of the issues. Thank you.


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.