09/02/2016 Stormont Today


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

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Two big pieces of legislation dominated proceedings in the chamber


- the Budget Bill and the Employment Bill.


Mervyn Storey brought his budget one step closer to becoming reality -


and Stephen Farry made his position clear on zero hour contracts.


Eye-watering sums of money are discussed in the chamber


as the Finance Minister brings forward the Budget Bill...


15 billion 770 million and of ?704,000 from the Northern Ireland


2016, Consolidated fund 2016,


A complete ban on zero hours contracts is ruled out


And I'm joined with his thoughts on today's money matters


It was the last business of the day, but perhaps the most important


as the Finance Minister opened the debate on the second stage


The legislation, which has already been granted accelerated passage


to make sure it's completed before the end of this mandate,


will cover the Executive's finances for the next twelve months...


the purpose of the bill is to authorise the issue of 15 billion


and 70 million and of ?704,000 from the Northern Ireland Consolidated


fund in 2016, 2015, 2016. The amounts for each department are


detailed this is ?359 million more than the authorised in the June


estimate. This cash is drawn down on a daily basis as needed from the


Northern Ireland Consolidated fund which is managed by my department on


behalf of the executive. The bill also authorises the use of resources


by departments and certain other around ?389 million more than


authorised in the estimate. The bill also authorises 2017 vote for cash


of resources of this is to allow the flow of cash and resources to flow


into public services of 2017 until the main estimates are approved in


June later this year. There amongst the business community and local


economy for the executive to take hold of, further fiscal levers.


Outlined is figures relating to the powers of revenues, in terms of


spent. Across the water you had Smith, Kalman, silk so to the suite


of fiscal levers that the Scottish and Welsh administrations have. We


have not have that in Belfast. The life story of this budget was the


disagreement over welfare. We think to in gauge with reasonable


proposals, not all you would have agreed with, but the failure to even


engage with those amendments, the rejection of the ideas of other


parties during the talks process, then the presenting with about half


an hour of parties like ours, the fresh then this budget that followed


and it to the money going but there is a talk about mandates and the use


wipes out and ignores the mandates of the other parties. In the budget


report, we have a reference how they which comes from and I think I


trotted this out about a month ago. Is 9.2 billion and I would think


that taxes generated in Northern Ireland are less than that. I do not


know whether it is their to ask the Minister how close that is to that.


My own feeling is it is light years away from 9.2 billion. The Alliance


that was the time when there was still an opportunity for an


alternative to be agreed. Now that these democratic decisions have been


taken for better or worse we have a duty to support the measures that


have put in place the finance for our government departments and


agencies. We recognise that 2016 and 2017 is transitional and it will be


followed by a four year budget and I have some hope that when the


rationalised apartments are in place and a new programme for government


is agreed that we will see a regard for


displaying at this regard for Judith Cochrane - and the economist


John Simpson is with me now... There were some enormous numbers


there from Mervyn Storey, it is a large sum. The difficulty is


breaking down the prove. It is at a standstill budget, the first budget


after the new government elected at Westminster and in real terms, after


you allow for putting money across for welfare reform, it is a budget


that is broadly speaking, do you think they have got the way in which


it is to be they have kept on the mechanism from the previous year. It


is there will be significant. The budget has been reduced not just in


monetary terms but in real terms. We to the election. We will now watch


and what they will promise after the election and one of the things I


will be looking at, we know the amount they will have, the two


parties have agreed they will live within the Westminster allocation of


the Barnett Formula. You know what the ceiling is, now if you're


proposing to change bending, you not only had to say what more you want


to do, but you will have to say what you're going to take out a more you


will make savings. That is the challenge. The legislation is last


year we were talking about a fantasy budget and now about a compromise


budget. The parties have said we have to get the show on the road, we


need to get a fresh start, the show is now rolling through a process in


which there will be many things that can go wrong. An interesting point


you make, it is a budget for one year, Judith Cochrane referred to it


as a transitional budget, it is not the way ideally you would plan the


finances of the country. No, after the last British election we were


told what our Barnett what are these parties


going to suggest coming up to the election? You know what you have to


live with them, that that is unlikely to I would like the economy


but there to be high-profile but there


Thanks John - we'll hear more from you later.


Another big piece of legislation in the Assembly today


was the Employment Bill and during the debate Stephen Farry


told MLAs that a complete ban on zero hours contracts would lead


to the loss of the thousands of jobs here.


The bill covered a variety of aspects of employment law


but the main arguments centred on the sometimes controversial


The Employment Minister told the house that more professions


than you might think work under similar circumstances...


indeed there are some immediate risks that could arise from an


outright ban. Once any measure became law employers would be faced


with changing the nature of employment contracts, that may not


be feasible in every situation particularly where flexibility is of


a premium. Therefore there is a prospect of an outright ban leading


to the loss of thousands of -- my understanding is that this could be


construed as zero hours contracts. There are also over 10,000 names on


the substitute teachers register who can be regarded as being on these


contracts together with a number of contracts in further an outright ban


of that was to be adopted would be to create chaos in both the health


how can people get a mortgage on the zero hour contract? When the


minister brought forward proposals on how to tackle this, one of the


issues along that are in low paid jobs and their ability to access


benefits and working tax credits and the ministers are us that there are


department and the Department for social development were working on a


joint approach to tackle out. No update on how the benefit system is


going to be changed to meet the flexibility of employees who may be


one week get 30 hours and for the next 34 weeks do not get any hours


per because that is the case, they do not get benefits. We have a


responsibility as a community to try and create appropriate implement


opportunities and to have those presented in such a way that those


young people are treated early and that they can at least, even if they


are on a relatively low salary, that think what would happen if we


could encourage They have no idea what their order


sheet will be like months in advance. They very often take an


order on Monday for that weekend, so they depend on a short term order


book. Zero hours contracts allows them to take that work knowing they


have a list of people who can come in at short notice and help them do


that catering job. We all know what zero hours contracts looked like,


but I don't think an outright ban is appropriate. It has allowed me to


prioritise something that was more important in my life whilst being


able to work and earn something to pay for any bills that I had.


And the Sinn Fein amendments on zero hours contracts fell.


There was no rest for Stephen Farry who also faced Question Time


The Employment and Learning Minister was asked about student


accommodation being built in Belfast city centre and,


first of all, the expansion of the Magee campus


The oversight and stewardship of the business case always going to be


critically important in the uncertain context of moving from one


department to a new department. Can the minister give the house


assurance that the same team will be working on the business plan?


Starting from the back, the same unit as transfers into the new


department on this, there may be some change of personnel as is the


case with every aspect of Government, but there will be no


more or less continuity than anything else. I do take issue with


the point around the false dawns. I haven't been involved in. Is around


this. I support the expansion of Ulster University, it is clear that


we do need to be producing more graduates, particularly those


identified as needed by our economy. But we cannot expand the University


of Ulster at ID unless more resources are allocated towards


higher education. I welcome his continuing support for expansion of


Maghee. We have already been down this road, and it was raised in what


we produced in the summer of last year. It took quite some time before


the revised business case came back to the department, so whether this


is the final stage of the process that we are now in, or whether we


have to go through another iteration depends upon the tick killer point


around scrutiny, but the issue isn't one about the capacity of the


Council of consultants or the university to produce a business


case. The answer the of whether Maghee will expand is how it will be


resourced by the executive, and they will have to be done in a way that


is sustainable. In relation to student accommodation in Belfast


University students, with the minister like to comment on what


appears to be a frenzy of planning applications in relation to student


accommodation, both in North Belfast and also in south Belfast? And the


fact that it appears that the universities are simply allowing


these applications to develop in a free market without any plan or


control? In terms of accommodation, we are seeing different approaches


depending on which of the universities we are talking about.


Obviously Queens have moved ahead with their own projects in terms of


their own managed accommodation, and Ulster University is adopting a


situation where the private sector is responding. I wouldn't say it is


fair to say that there is no control in that regard, but there is


controlled by planning in terms of land use and the recommendation of


individual applications, and Belfast City Council is the lead authority


with the responsibility. The council goes through their own processes.


Stephen Farry on the challenge of providing adequate student


As we come towards the end of the mandate there are a lot


of T's being crossed and I's being dotted.


Today it was the turn of the Environment Minister,


He brought the final stage of a bill to simplify environmental


Aristotle is credited with saying that even when laws have been


written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered. Currently


Northern Ireland environmental regulators operate under some 230


pieces of environmental legislation. This has produced a complex and


unwieldy legislative landscape which is difficult for the regulated to


understand, and for the regulators to enforce. This is clearly a system


which should no longer remain unaltered. The environmental better


regulation Bill aims to harmonise and simplify aspects of this body of


environmental legislation. Better environmental legislation will mean


a cleaner, safer environment for all. The committee recognises that


as environmental legislation has developed, it has become complex


with different rules and regimes, making it confusing for businesses.


The committee is aware that the bill is one aspect of a wider regulatory


transformation programme aimed at reducing the burden of regulation on


business. Mr Speaker, the bill is in essence a Skeleton Bill, meaning


that the real operation of the act would be made entirely by the


regulations under it. 20 pollution incidents have occurred in five


years, decimating fish stocks, and yet only half of these resulted in


prosecution, and such incidents happen across Northern Ireland, with


the Paul Cook continually going unpunished -- the culprits


continually going unpunished. We would like to use additional


resources to swiftly bring them to justice. It will be less burden to


businesses, but it is key when we bring it forward before the


regulations that we talk to businesses, engage them and through


the scrutiny process bring forward some suggested amendments for


consideration stage is brought forward by the Minister, and that is


to be welcomed. The Department of the Environment will be subsumed and


divided into three parts, but it will continue to exist, and in


successive departments, and it is very important that we in dealing


with the environment set the proper regulatory and legal basis for it to


continue its good work. The Bill sounds well-meaning, but is


undoubtedly liked an actual detail in terms of new policy direction.


Having read the committee report, I realise that the Bill is what is


considered enabling legislation, and I therefore wish the new department


well in its efforts to reform and modernise our new regulatory


framework. Alastair Patterson making his first


contribution to a debate in the chamber - and here's a little


more of his maiden speech... Representing Fermanagh and South


Tyrone, an area of outstanding natural beauty, where tourism is


extremely important, I pledge myself, Mr Speaker, to working with


all members of this house to promote when and whatever we can Northern


Ireland has to offer. Especially in this year of food and drink. I


appeal to this house. We must ensure that we promote hospitality to all.


I have to confess to having a vested interest in this area of hospitality


as my wife, Olga, as chair of hospitality Ulster. Trust me, Mr


Speaker, going home doesn't bring about quietness as I have often


lobby Dominique Gisin the hospitality industry, and I will be


pressing our health Minister on the need for more resources, in


particular for the South West acute hospital, which sadly doesn't even


have full-time doctor cover at weekends, which is extremely sad, it


seems that you are not allowed to be sick at weekends. I wanted to be


clear to all members of this house that I will extend the hand of


friendship to all members to work for the benefit of all the people.


Alastair Patterson, keen to forge friendships across the House.


The Enterprise Minister was on his feet at Question Time


The old faithfuls Corporation Tax and the EU referendum not


surprisingly made an appearance, but Jonathan Bell also had


to respond to a question from the Ulster Unionist,


Ross Hussey, about recently published statistics


We have experienced growth in three of the last four quarters, with an


annual increase of 1.6%. Despite those positives, the figures for the


latest quarter were negative, and these findings are disappointing. I


think most economists that are advising me say don't get too


fixated on just one single quarter's data. There are relatively small


quarterly statistics and can be volatile. If you look at quarterly


figures, I do see concerns. I take the advice to look at those but also


to note the volatility, Inoha look at the annual change, services were


1% at a manufacturing output were 2.9% up, and construction output


were 3.7% up. This change in corporation tax is described as a


game changer. Why did it not change the game in my constituency by the


large companies who are leaving our shores at precisely the time when a


reduction in corporation tax will come? I spent time with the Michelin


management and I asked them if there was anything more the Government


could have done, and they told me know. But what I can tell members is


there is a huge interest in Northern Ireland. When companies come to me


and say, we came for the costs, we stayed for your people. When other


companies like City come to provide hundreds of jobs, they now provide


somewhere in the region of 2000 jobs. When we see the large


companies tripling their profits and talking about what they could do


into the future, I think of we present that collective message of


low-cost low tax and excellent work forced, we have a winning message


that the economy of Northern Ireland. Perhaps you could outline


for us and tell the House the representations that you have


received from business and industry about their concern of the negative


impact of an exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. I made a


mistake last week and talked about the nature of the quest, and I


should have said the nature of the terms, I will correct that record.


Business has spoken to me, not exclusively with one voice. There


are differing approaches that are being made. What I have tried to do


is say to people that we have commissioned Oxford economics to try


to provide the best information for people to examine against what may


or may not come next week. First supplementary. Minister, with the


first Minister leading towards out, is it likely that you will be the


only enterprise minister in the United Kingdom who is an TEU, and


will be leading the charge against business and industry in Northern


Ireland? -- who will be Tabac to? I support the position that has been


adopted 100%. What I have asked people to do is to look seriously at


the information that we are commissioning from Oxford economics


on the range of options, and to examine it against the terms that


come through. Jonathan Bell suggesting it's better


to wait and see when it comes for discussion in the chamber


on an almost daily basis - with the House pretty divided -


what way do you think any For the United Kingdom, I think


there is a real doubt about which way the vote will go, but I will say


it looks to me as if the Scots will vote quite clearly to stay within


the European Union. If the English, and I use the word meaning England,


if they vote to come out, that is the equivalent of saying they are


allowing the United Kingdom to break up, because the Scots will then go


for a new referendum, and I have no doubt they will win it. I was


frightfully worried about the referendum. Never mind that. In


terms of Northern Ireland, I am quite clear in my own mind the right


answer for Northern Ireland is to stay within Europe and reform it


from within. To step outside and try to reform from outside seems to me


to be a waste of time. There are significant voices within the DUP


which are very Euro-sceptic I think it is fair to say. They believe that


Northern Ireland does not benefit from its membership of the EU. You


don't see it that way? I don't agree with that conclusion. I think there


is a debate about, if it is just in terms of loads of money, Northern


Ireland does quite well. If it is about flows of money for the United


Kingdom, the United Kingdom contributes to the prosperity of the


rest of Europe, but it is not about money. It is about what we think is


to be gained by operating on a corporate and cooperative European


bases, on the short answer is there is more often something to be gained


and lost, and unfortunately this debate about where we are in terms


of European Union is now turning into something I am sorry to say is


becoming emotional rather than rational. And a final word on


corporation tax. Where Ari with that -- where are we with that? It is


coming, but the one thing that can damage it is that it creates


uncertainty. Will the American investors think of Northern Ireland


in the same way if we are out of the European Union? No. Will they have a


chance of going to the Republican said of coming to the North? Yes. It


will be a fascinating debate. Thank you very much for having you on the


programme. And that's it for tonight,


but I'll be back with an extra edition of the programme tomorrow


night at the slightly later time Until then, from everyone


in the team - bye bye...


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers 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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