07/02/2012 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. 200 years ago, one of English


literature's greatest authors was born. Happy birthday Charles


Dickens. With Great Expectations, let's see what's in the programme


tonight. The old curiosity shop will see its rates cut as a new


Bill speeds through the House. passage of this Bill through the


Assembly will lead to a timely implementation of the measures on


the 1st April 2012 and will go some way to reducing the disz


proportionate rating burden on small businesses. And, what has


been tickling the chamber's Artful Dodger. It's spreading around the


benches. The next we will have the member for North Antrim speaking


Irish. My guest tonight is Ian Coulter of the CBI. You'll probable


remember the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, caused some


controversy when he suggested that big business should pay higher


rates to help smaller firms. That Bill passed its final staged in the


Assembly today. Ian Coulter, you represent firms of all sizes. You


weren't in favour of this legislation? That's correct. We


went on record early on that we were against this measure. We


believe, the CBI believes, it's imperative you get the balance


between big and small business correct. We didn't think this was


the way to go about it. Given the big profits of Tesco, IKEA, some of


the stores mentioned, surely it is a fairer way to try to help some of


the smaller firms. We saw figures today that 1,000 shops, small shops,


have closed in Northern Ireland in the last year? Absolutely. Those


small retailers need help. The issue is how to do that? We've,


after having a number of discussions with different


retailers, all sizes and shapes, we are convinced putting a... At the


end of the day, a relatively small amount of money onto these large


retailers sends the wrong message to business. What would be your


solution then? I believe that the best way to do that would be to


look at planning. Understand and agree with the different retailers


around all of the different cities, what do we want in our townships


and city centres? Then plan it accordingly. Slapping tariffs on to


the larger businesss is not the way to do. It it sends the wrong


message. Many people would see the larger businesses as the reason if


they are out of town stores some of the town centre shops have closed


down? That is where the planning needs to come into place. If there


was dialogue with a lot of these retailers and space in the city


centres you could say, we want to fill this space shall how can we do


that? If we looked at the larger retailers we could say, there may


be certain goods you can't sell from these large out of town stores.


There are different ways of doing it. Going back to GB, to lot of


these boards and sending out the message we will charge larger


businesses. Not just retailers, large businesses generally, we will


charge extra amounts is a dangerous message at this moment in time to


send out. You don't think it will really put people off investing


here? I wouldn't underestimate it. When you take it in conjunction


with issues that large employers have at the moment with employment


legislation, procurement and planning processes, it's another


layer of difficulty and the message that those business cos say, is


Northern Ireland really open for business? Is it business-friendly.


At the minute that is very dangerous to do. You might think a


Finance Minister would want to get his hand on more tax raising powers,


but not our Finance Minister, as we'll find out shortly. We start


our look at ministerial questions with the issue of illegal waste


dumping. Alex Attwood, who reveals a little more than he was supposed


to. The Minister is aware of a disgraceful case of dumping in the


Downpatrick area which led to a prosecution just before Christmas


were those responsible were find �121,500. He could send out a clear


message to those involved to demand that those who did that, take every


brick, every stone, every piece of concrete, every oil barrel out of


that ground and process it through a licenced waste disposal site.


That would send a clear message out to the community that we will no


longer tolerate this irresponsible activity. Thank you. I'm aware of


that case as members will be. It is a very serious offence. 9,000


tonnes of illegal waste. Some of which came from the demolition of


Down Hospital. There was a very substantial fine. The member is


quite right, that is only part of the picture. It's half of the


equation. There is now the responsibility in (inaudible) to


clean up the wrong and crime committed in that regard. There are


discussions between the local council and the NIEA in respect of


how that situation is going to be rectified. And, when those


conversations are concluded, then I will advise the members of what the


outcome of those conclusions are. It is a difficult matter because


the irresponsible and criminal behaviour of an individual, of


dumping that waste, we have to remember that the haulier was also


convicted in court, the irresponsible and reckless


behaviour in dumping that waste was dumped near a water course, near a


loch. Therefore, given what might be in the ground. Given there might


be oil contamination a precautionary approach has to be


deployed in order to ensure that waste is disposed of appropriately.


Half an hour, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was at the front steps of the


Assembly where we were launching a Crimestoppers initiative in order


to encourage those who are aware of illegal dumping, be it fuel


laundering or otherwise, to report that to Crimestoppers. Because, I


welcome this, this is evidence beginning to emerge, Mr Deputy


Speaker, that people who are aware of ill legality are beginning, on a


confidential basis, to make that known to the appropriate


authorities including my environmental crime unit. The


purpose of that initiative is to encourage people to provide the


information to allow the government, DoE and the police to bear down on


those involved involved in crime. What does the Minister talk about


when he gets together with treasury colleagues in London, football,


music? No, it it seems not. I have raised a number of important


economic and financial issues with the Chancellor and treasury


ministers over the last six months. The issues raised have been wide-


ranging. They include corporation tax, air passenger duty, levy


credit scheme, bank lending, enterprise zones, the budget


exchange scheme and the Olympics. As a result of the engagement on


those issues, we have -- now have got the ability to carry money over


from one year to the next. �60 million to deal with pressures next


year. Something we didn't have this time available to us this time last


year. The Olympics funding issue has been resolved. We got money


from, that as did Wales and Scotland. The government is working


on the devolution of air passenger duty for direct haul flights from


Northern Ireland, which, of course, will have considerable bearing on


our ability to attract inward investment. I was wondering if the


Minister had further discussions with regard additional fiscal


powers coming to the Assembly bar the ones he outlined with regard to


corporation tax. It would be beneficial if we had a response of


any conversation? First of all, I think the range of taxation that


we've discussed is quite wide- ranging. Personally, I do not want


to see the devolution of a huge amount of taxation to Northern


Ireland. Two reasons, first of all because we are a unionist, I don't


want to see Northern Ireland separate from the rest of the


United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists Irish National lists


might want that. As a democratic unionist I don't want. It secondly,


there are good economic reasons for not seeking that kind of devolution.


Don't forget, the devolution of tax and tax raising powers to Northern


Ireland, then lumbers Northern Ireland with all of the uncertainty


in that tax revenue if things go well we benefit from the increased


tax revenues. If things go badly, we suffer from the reduction in tax


revenues. To try and plan any kind of public spending programme, with


that kind of uncertainty built in, would make life very, very


difficult and that's one of the reasons why it is important, I


believe, not to have that uncertainty built in through the


massive devolution of a whole range of taxes to Northern Ireland.


Thank you, very much, Mr Speaker, Deputy Speaker. Question Number 6


to the Minister? I see it's wearing off on the member... It's spreading


around the benches. The next we will have the member from North


Antrim speaking Irish if we are not very careful. The rates bill went


through today using what is known as accelerated passage. That means


it doesn't go to the committee stage. Here's the thoughts of the


Finance Committee's Deputy Chair, Dominic Bradley. Mr Speaker, on


behalf of the finance and personnel committee, I welcome the final


stage of the rates admendment bill, recognising that the passage of


this bill through the Assembly will lead to a timely implementation of


the measures on the 1st April 2012. It will go some way to reducing the


disportion nait rating burden on small businesses during this is


difficult economic climate. The department of finance and personnel


originally briefed the committee on the consultation proposals on the


large retail levy on the 8th June 2011, advising that it intended to


seek accelerated passage for the rates admendment bill. In


supporting the implementation of this bill, the committee continues


to be mindful of the recommendations it made regarding


the ongoing work to be taken forward by the department. The


department is to carry out an evaluation of the existing small


business rates relief scheme and will make any necessary changes to


the scheme in time for rates bills in 2012/13. In relation to the


ministerial amendments it will be important there is an evaluation of


the effectiveness of the measures, in relation to empty property


relief. An assessment also of uptake, the extent of any


displacement and whether it is proving to be effective, in terms


of getting empty shops back into business again. Looking back there


at what Sammy Wilson said about not wanting extra tax raising powers.


What do you think business people I think it is important to


distinguish be debate about corporation tax around that debate.


I think it is absolutely critical that we stay on message and on


focus in the debate about corporation tax and do not stray


off course and talk about other powers. I do believe the


corporation tax debate is the single most important issue facing


Northern Ireland and the economy today. What about Scottish


independence and then moved to a referendum? Do you think it will


put on a longer finger? I hope not. Every single Scottish business


organisation has come out against Scottish corporation tax being


devolved and reduced. I do not personally think -- I think


personally the Scottish economy is not the same as ours. I think ours


is a special case. Our negotiations should move forward and get a


decision this summer. His Sammy Wilson write about not having


further powers, that it would lead to too much uncertainty, that we


are better sticking with the big cheques we get an divvying bat out


as best we can? I suspect what he is doing is diffusing the argument


at this stage and doing what we should all be doing and focusing on


corporation tax. To be frank, the CBI is so focused on the


corporation tax issue, we are not looking at other issues.


A MLAs have called for a more joined-up approach to ensure that


roads and sewage systems are completed in new housing


developments. There are around 3,000 roads here which have not


been completed for the correct standard for the Roads Service to


take up ownership of them. Confidence in the system needs to


be re-established and residents who are at present suffering from a


flawed system need protection. As more problems are exposed, a do-


nothing approach is not appropriate. The whole system does not have to


be dismantled, but changes are needed to be made to make it fitter


for progress -- fitter for purpose. I think there is a lack of joined-


up legislation. The Roads Service have to wait a considerable time.


There seems to be this disconnect between the role of the local


authorities, the role of the Roads Service, the role of the water


service and this is causing massive frustration for the residents. As


other speakers have said, many residents are living on the States


for 10 or 20 years, the roads have still not been adopted and the Suez


have not been adopted. There is also a cross-departmental issue


because we have various departments. The roads system may be responsible


for the roads and so it but then you have the Department of


Environment and local government to enforce the rules and make sure the


different actions are taken so they can get the development correct for


the start of the development. aware that the committee for


regional development has established an inquiry into an


adopted roads and that the inquiry will include a review of the bond


system and how it works. I welcome, Mr Speaker, members who raised the


example of how the process works in the Republic of Ireland and other


jurisdictions and I agree that and suggest that this should be


included in the committee's inquiry. I also recognise the role of others


in any such investigation, such as the Department of Environment and


justice, local councils and the representative bodies. In


conclusion, I would not intend to carry out a separate review of


bonds before the committee inquiry has been completed, but as the


Minister for roads and water policy, I will ensure that my officials are


available to the committee in the process of this inquiry. I can


assure members that Roads Service and Northern Ireland Water will


continue to enforce legislation to offer as much certainty as possible


to new home owners who find themselves in this situation.


With me now is the DUP Jim Wells. After the debate today, do you feel


reassured that there will be some movement? I thought the Minister's


response was quite low-key but I think he is waiting until the


committee reports on this issue. We know there are thousands of people


in Northern Ireland marooned in the States tonight and some do not have


adopted roads or sewage systems. That is intolerable. We need to


spend some money to get the state up to standard. Would you like to


see a complete overhaul of the bond system? Something has to be done


because some of these have been outstanding for 20 years. In 1982,


the bond was taken out a one case, and it has not been used and that


is unacceptable. I hope the committee will recommend strong


changes in the legislation to stop this nonsense which has been going


on for far too long. How do get developers to bring the roads up to


the correct standards if they have run out of money? That is the


problem because a lot of developers have gone into liquidation because


of the credit crunch. You cannot redeem the bond if the work is


ongoing. There are estate in Downpatrick where there are three


occupied houses and 20 empty and and still that development is


completed, you catch justified as releasing the bond -- Until that


development is completed. The bond is kept in an independent source.


If the developer has gone out of business, the money is available


but that is a problem. People in all constituencies and All Party


seemed to have examples of this? Every part of Northern Ireland has


this problem. Tickly areas which have had a boom time in development.


There are some houses with no sewage system at all. The bond


system could not sort that out. I feel for people because their


houses are unsaleable. That is bad enough but they have also had the


dramatic drop in value anyhow. If you are going to deliver for people,


you have to do something about this issue. What about the speed of it


because if you go out now, as Danny Kennedy said, and have this inquiry,


it is putting it all a bit further on down the line? It is but the


inquiry will be quite quick in its reporting. The problem is, we have


to get it right because there are difficult technical issues to be


dealt with. I would like to think this time next year, we would have


had a resolution to this which would provide some relief to hard-


pressed families living in difficult circumstances. Should the


Executive Stepping and give some money to these developments,


particularly the ones you have mentioned which have been going on


for ten years? No, because of the Executive did this it would send an


at messaged irresponsible developers who would think the


state would step in and rescue the system. People who built these


estates, ultimately, the bond they have secured should be used to fund


the work. The state should not pick up the tab. While you're here, I


want to ask you about your former party minister, Ian Paisley. The


first and Deputy First Minister have issued a statement calling on


people to pray for Dr Paisley. would concur with that. The whole


country is concerned about his health. He has been a great leader.


We all hope and pray he will be back to health and strength. I


would concur entirely with what Peter Robinson said.


Thank you. Courts here recently secured the first conviction for


human trafficking. There are plans for wider powers to be introduced


by the Department of Justice to meet Annie Sempill director. Today,


MLAs got a chance to voice their feelings on the issue -- to meet


and the EU direct To. A recent estimate that there 88


brothels in estimation -- in operation across the North. The


trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation does exist in


our communities. It exists in our cities, towns and villages. It may


be concentrated in cities but let us be under no illusion, it happens


right across our rural and urban communities. Human trafficking is


the third most profitable illegal organised trade in the World Today.


It is a modern-day slavery which generate profits from human


suffering and represents a vulgar abuse of the fundamental human


right of freedom. Mr Speaker, I welcome the recent news of the


first conviction for human trafficking in Northern Ireland and


commend all those involved in the process which brought about this


conviction. I hope this serves as warning to all those currently


involved or facilitating human trafficking that they will be


pursued by the full rigour of the law and our society will not


tolerate such horrors. Human trafficking represents one of the


greatest evils our society faces. Five years ago, this issue was not


on the radar. Sadly, today, it is becoming more and more prevalent.


There needs to be a piece of work done to truly identify how serious


a problem this is. Last year, there were 23 victims rescued who had


been involved in human trafficking. Five of these had been involved in


forced labour and 18 of them had been used for sexual exploitation.


The majority of those who were arrested were from the Chinese


community and it demonstrates that the organised gangs that are


involved in this, some on local to Northern Ireland, but this is again


an organised crime gang on a global scale.


That motion was passed. Could the north coast and the Glens of Antrim


become a national park? Up until now, all the talk has been about


the words getting -- the Mournes getting the status. But the Glens


Heritage Trust came to showcase what it has to offer. There are


currently three areas of outstanding natural beauty or ANOBs


within its boundaries. The acting chief executive believes the


spectacular landscape along the north and east coast would make it


an excellent candidate. I think local authorities are behind the


concept of a national park but again, if there is no support, we


do not have to go for that. Of course, a national park would bring


a better foothold than a ANOB. The local people and think do see the


benefits in the concept of a national park. Farmers have to be


including the process in projects because they are the ones who look


after the landscape. The beauty of the landscape in Northern Ireland,


is, thanks to the people who work the land, is a living landscape so


they need to be part of the concept, they need to be reassured that some


of the issues they have will not affect them.


What else has been going up here? I caught up with Martina who said we


are a step closer to knowing what will happen to members' pay. There


is a three-person panel of experts looking at the issue. I'm told the


report is in the final stages. It will not be published until March.


Some of the proposals include bringing members' paid possibly


into line with regional assemblies. There are concerns looking at


issues of mileage. What about the Assembly Commission are for


Standards? When will we see that post filled? It looks like there


will be a delay in that. That post is there. Be new commissioner is


supposed to ensure that MLAs uphold the highest standard of integrity


in public life. There was an advertisement for the job and I am


told a dozen people applied and there was a short list of a few


names but they did not find anyone suitable so they will the advertise


it. And apparently they are upset with the media, what have we done?


Apparently it is not the coverage of the map marry a fair, it is the


fact that the media did not cover 21 gun salute at Hillsborough


Castle yesterday in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It is not


our fault because the media were not told about this so they had no


opportunity to cover it so it is a case of please don't shoot the


messenger. Let's go back at the issue of areas


of outstanding natural beauty and tourism. It is a big issue this


year? At the CBI annual dinner we are building the whole night around


the next 12 months and how businesses, when they are dealing


with their customers and suppliers, make them aware and give them a new


message to send out. Is that something we need to address? It


has not been talked about that match but customer-service. If you


want people to come, you want them to have a warm welcome but also


given a service that they deserve? Certainly, those in the hospitality


service would say customer-service skills have not been designated as


a priority service and a priority skill. If we are going to go after


tourism, customer-service is key. And opening hours, there has been


some criticism on a Sunday or the bank holidays, a lot of the shops


and other interesting places for people to visit are closed? I think


it is improving but I think if we are going to compete on a European


scale and European stage, we have to be consistent. Customers will


have an expectation and they will want to have that expectation met.


Are these long-term jobs? Yes, I think they are. The Irish model


have done well with tourism. I think there is great potential. We


are moving ahead and have done great things. The MTV awards were


first class. The events which have been planned for the next 12 months


of first class. Business has to get behind it. Thank you for being our


guest. That is it from Stormont tonight.


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.

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