10/06/2013 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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Coming up on the programme tonight: Incredible incompetence or wilful


corruption? The Social Development Minister reveals the Housing


Executive overpaid contractors by 18 million pounds. The scale of what


has been uncovered has been a scandal. Let's not forget this is


tax payers money. Ahead of the G8 summit this weekend, the First


Minister says the Executive is close to agreeing a financial way forward


with the UK government. We hope an announcement can be made in relation


to the economic pact later this week. And our Political


Correspondent, Martina Purdy, will be here with her analysis of today's


Eighteen million pounds - that's how much the Housing Executive overpaid


four contractors for planned maintenance work. The figure was


revealed by the Minister for Social Development in a statement to the


Assembly today. A review had already found that six firms were overpaid


for response maintenance contracts, but the Minister said that paled in


comparison to today's findings. We'll hear more from that statement


in a moment, but first our correspondent, Martina Purdy, is


with me. This is not the first time the Housing executive has been


making the headlines. No, this is the latest instalment. There's been


a series of problems around contract going back a few years which has led


to controversy and a BBC investigation and a damning report


from the public accounts committee. Basically, in 2011 Housing executive


terminated a �70 million contract with Red Sky amid allegations of


overcharging and substandard work. The Minister Nelson McCausland was


convinced this was not an isolated case and believed the problems in


the executive were widespread and he initiated a review. The findings of


the review are coming out today that there are problems around


maintenance contractors to the tune of �18 million has vindicated the


Minister and it will add impetus to his desire to see change at the


executive. The Minister will be more determined than ever perhaps to


transform the executive. Yes, and the Minister would like to scrap the


Housing executive but when the media speculated that was his intention,


he had to row back because he ran into difficulties with the executive


that it's fairly clear the plan is radical changes, breaking up the


executive, he wants to take the executive, stop it being a landlord


to the 90,000 houses and it would be in charge of waiting lists and


management and other bodies would look after the housing stock.


There's been some robust reaction to this financial scandal. There has


been considerable reaction, some of it is putting it back on the


ministers Department saying the department has questions to answer,


Michael Copeland said it was a catastrophic failure of the


Department to exercise appropriate Judah legend is and we heard from


Mark Durkan who said it is shocking in light of the housing shortages


and what would have been done with the money instead. Thank you for


now, Martina. We'll hear more from you later.


Let's hear more now from that statement by the Minister, Nelson


McCausland. The findings are extremely disappointing. Given the


scrutiny the organisation is already under for its management of response


maintenance contracts and I totally concur with this. The figure is


estimated to be some �18 million. Let me say that again, in case you


misheard. �18 million in overpayments to four contractors. I


have been advised by the Housing executive that the contractors are


PK Murphy, barn, mascot and Dixons. I am sure you are astounded at the


amount. And wonder at the level of incompetence within the Housing


executive that led to this state of affairs. The scale of what has been


uncovered has been a scandal. Let's not forget this is the taxpayers


money. It could have been used to build around 200 much needed social


homes. In type -- in tackling these issues I appoint a new chairman,


Donald Hoodless he was taken on a difficult job but is determined to


put in place clear governance and assurance -- systems to tackle the


issues and make the organisational changes that are required to bring


this organisation into line as to ensure appropriate services are


delivered to tenants, along with value for public money. What has


happened in the past must not happen in the future. As yet, it is not


clear if this is a result of incredible incompetence, or wilful


corruption. Time will tell. Would he agree there is a legacy here of


access pricing in contracts, a historic legacy of culinary trees


and this has been used as a factor -- paramilitaries. It is not a new


issue. Housing executive board shaken by contracts report, reports


recommended this system should be changed, a headline in the Belfast


Telegraph in 1978! So, more than 30 years ago there were issues about


housing contracts, it is not new. What we have identified clearly if


the scale and the scope of this, it's been identified �18 million and


bear this in mind, when you are dealing with the �18 million, that


is not spread evenly. In the case, I understand one of the contractors,


highest amount was eight or �9 million overpaid. That is the scale


of it. Can I ask, in view of this statement, he did say that there was


problems with the contracts for over 30 years. Somebody somewhere should


have seen what was happening and not allowed it to reach 18 million


pounds of public money going astray. Could the Minister Teller, is there


any possibility that somebody will be made accountable for this error


and criminal proceedings will be initiated so that some of the money


will be recouped on behalf of the taxpayer. We do need to get to the


bottom of responsibility here. did this happen, how did it happen


and people have two take responsibility for their actions. Or


inactions, as the case may be. With the Minister agree that those


elected representatives who made representation on behalf of East


Belfast Red Sky and who were pilloried in the press are doing


so, have now been completely ruined decay to -- vindicated. On the basis


of the report, there is really no doubt that the issues with Housing


executive contracts were not unique to Red Sky.


Indeed, it is clear there were significant contractors engaged in


similar practices. At the time that the Red Sky contracts were


terminated, it was argued by some people that Red Sky was singled out


and the motivation behind the decision was questioned. The


department received representations from a number of political parties,


as he knows from East Belfast, the DUP and ultimate unionists and


Alliance party. All of the parties spoke out at that time on the


matter. I have to say that the first point I made there, the other


contractors that were around when gauged in similar prayer forces.


That has been vindicated by the report. The Minister for Social


Development, Nelson McCausland. Joining me now from the Committee


for Social Development is Sinn Fein's Fra McCann.. What is your


reaction to today's announcement? There is a lot the Minister said I


could not disagree with. It is a scandal, a scandal that needs to be


dealt with. But I draw the line, it is easy to say there is an �80


million overspend but there is no flesh on the bones of how it


originated and where it came from and where the money was paid out and


who paid it out. Are you satisfied with the action the Minister has


taken, there will be an audit and a review and he says serious questions


need to be answered. I agree with that. I have no difficulty with that


but I would go further and I am on record saying what he needs to do is


include his own department in any review that takes place. When all is


said and done, his department is the governing body, the parent body of


the Housing executive and they have not picked up some serious problems


that existed in contracts and there are serious questions to be answered


and the buck stops with the Minister. He stood up today and said


people must take responsibility for the actions or inactions. You saying


the Minister is responsible? Minister has to be responsible for


his actions. And I think when you look at this scandal going back, it


originated at the time of the introduction of the contractors many


years ago, there are a number of ministers including his predecessors


who could have dealt with this over a period of time. You say the buck


stops with him, �18 million of taxpayers money, are you saying he


is responsible? Of course.He needs to have an independent enquiry, that


needs to include the role and lack of leadership by his department and


it leads to him. There needs to be flash put on the bones of what has


been said today, not only is �18 million overpayment, in the past two


or three years, there's been 25 million underspent. If he is found


to have taken his eye off the ball, what then? He needs to make a


decision whether his leadership or lack of leadership has to regular


lead to not dealing effectively with what has happened. It is serious.


�18 million, we are dealing with the longest waiting lists there has


been, my constituency is chock-a-block at hostels are full of


people trying to get houses, a �27 million underspent could have been


spent on housing. We leave it there. Peter Robinson is


hoping to announce an economic pact with the UK government. Pressing the


government for the devolution of Corporation Tax remains a key


protein. We are examining the actions that can be taken forward


now so a devolved rates could be implemented as soon as possible


after a positive decision by the UK government in 2014. We are


disappointed the Prime Minister does not intend to make a decision on the


devolution of Corporation Tax until 2014, the executive remains


committed to securing these powers to rebalance the economy, create


jobs and increased prosperity. Devolution will allow us to meet a


shared objection -- objective to rebalance the economy. The proposals


Karoly been developed as part of the impact will stimulate economic


growth and its intended the measures will be put in place pending the


Corporation Tax decision, we hope an announcement will be made later this


week. It's important to state the measures being discussed as part of


the economic pact are not sought as a replacement for Corporation Tax,


the executive will continue to push for Corporation Tax powers to help


provide stimulus to move the economy forward. We will consider the case


for an additional fiscal powers to assist incoming growth and we are


conscious of the implications for the grant and the Minister of


Finance is pressing the government to take action on issues like fuel


duty, short haul air passenger duty and VAT for the hospitality sector


and construction sectors. The key element in terms of the Friday of


this week, if that is the date we can get the pact agreed with her


majesties government, the key element is not just the commitment


they will definitely take a decision in 2014 but as important to us that


if that's a positive decision, it will be implemented during the term


of the coalition government. Could I ask him if he is aware of and


whether he has given any consideration to the roofing paper


is by Amnesty International, one covering child abuse and the other


about abuse in the Magdalen laundry institutions. In relation to the


abuse perpetrated by the clergy, that clerical abuse, it is no less


important, or no less a motive than the institutional abuse, and we are


mindful of the equally destructive impact that that abuse has upon


individuals. I have said in the house before, following the enquiry


into historical institutional abuse, it will be for the executive to


consider how to deal with abuse that does not fall within the enquiry's


terms of reference. In relation to the Magdalen laundry, I know there


is a question later on, can I say that anyone who was resident here


within the map: Laundries or similar institutions as a child, between


1922 and 1995, can go forward to the enquiry into historical


institutional abuse to relate their experience. They will be able to


talk in private about their experiences to members of the


enquiry acknowledgement forum, and the contact details are available on


the website. The Junior Minister Jonathan Bell.


There is clearly something going on with the distribution of energy


costs here - that's what the Enterprise Committee was told last


week when it heard from the Authority for Utility Regulation and


local business representatives. A report found large businesses face


some of the highest energy prices in Europe, as we can hear now in our


weekly look at committee business. The main findings of our work was


that domestic prices were around about the European average, which is


not a bad place to be, given where we are in the energy supply chain.


But we will come onto that later on. Also, the prices for small business


customers were around the EU average and they make up 70% of the total


businesses. For the remaining 30% of business customers, those using more


than 20 megawatt and, prices were among the highest. We in Northern


Ireland are challenged by our size and our isolation and our dependence


on imported fuels. When you add that all up, we are not in a fantastic


race to begin with. First of all, the utility regulator sets the


amount of money that they can charge consumers and you all know that that


issue, they did not accept the proposals for expenditure over the


next five years. That issue is now with the petition commission to be


resolved. We take the view that we scrutinised that long and hard and


we are trying to do the best we possibly can for consumers whilst at


the same time ensuring that we have the right level of investment in the


network to maintain long-term reliability and security of supply


for consumers. The other point is that, and it is the distribution.


This is a key point, the distribution of network charges


amongst different consumer groups. What is very interesting, when you


compare us to the Republic of Ireland, network charges on average


are 20% lower than they are on average in the Republic of Ireland.


What is very interesting is when you look at what large users are paying,


they are paying something like 20% higher. There is clearly something


going on in distribution. The distribution of charges has to be


significantly different and we can come back to that point that it is a


key finding. What I would like to say is I run a small Northern


Ireland company. We started off in Northern Ireland and we want to play


our part in Northern Ireland. We want to be part of the food and


Trent strategy. -- food and Trent strategy. -- drink strategy. Costs


are close on forcing us to move the part of our production that goes to


the mainland. We will save in some processes. We will save the guts of


100,000 on alert visiting and we will save the cost of 100,000 on the


transport -- we will save the cost of 100,000 on electricity. 100 staff


would go. That is how serious it is in this moment in time. It is now


four years since we first presented this problem to the committee.


During that for years the only policies we have seen our policies


which will make the problems worse, policies which will compound the


problem and increase cost. There is no policy whatsoever to address the


high cost. Bryan Gray from Manufacturing


Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein was accused of "fairytale


economics" by the Finance Minister today as he answered questions on


the devolution of fiscal powers. First up, however, Sammy Wilson was


asked how much his department has spent on flags and flagpoles in the


last five years. The department has spent �7 on flags


and flagpoles in the last five years. You can see that we get good


bargains for the flag in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister recognise


that by erecting flag poles in Belfast city centre, this could


potentially raised tensions unnecessarily and further to that,


was there consultation carried out by people before the decision?


see, this question amazes me. People who objected to the steps of which I


have taken, Mr Deputy Speaker, are actually responsible for the powers


which I have exercised. I am exercising my powers through the


flags and regulations Northern Ireland 2000 at it. What was the


origin of this act? The origin of this act was the Belfast agreement.


Who negotiated the Belfast agreement? Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and


to end all state? Who encouraged people to vote for it? So I could


almost say thank you to the members party for giving me the ability and


for encouraging people to give me the ability to direct flags on


government buildings in Belfast city centre. Many businesses have


expectations that revaluation will lead to a lowering of rates and this


is evident from the many radio broadcasts which we have heard.


I ask the Minister what action he intends to take to manage those


expectations? Some businesses will pay more because economic conditions


have moved in their favour. market has pushed consumers towards


certain types of businesses or areas. Some businesses will pay less


because either the areas that are in, or the locations they are, have


had a fall in the number of customers, footfall, economic


activity and therefore that is reflected in the relevant rents that


they pay. I think that is the first thing, to try and get this message


over. The same of -- same amount of money will began that so there will


be winners and losers. The Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson.


And Mr Wilson had a busy day as he presented details of the budgets for


the Stormont departments to the Assembly. More than eight billion


pounds were up for discussion. resolution covers the house and the


estimates are set up. The committee's scrutiny of the main


estimates focused on scrutinising the background for the allocations


for each department. The amounts of money is involved were significant


including a total of almost �100 million in resource allocations and


�313 million in capital allocations. The Minister did say rather


encouraging words in relation to the current economic situation. I would


hope that he would perhaps expand on that and give us even more


encouragement in relation to the economic situation. It does seem to


me that we are still in the doldrums. The current financial


climate remains challenging as the amount of money for public


expenditure in Northern Ireland continues. The Assembly wants those


public funds that are available to be spent wisely. The Assembly must


be able to hold to account those public oddities that have that task.


-- those public bodies. And so I thought a new vibrant opposition


party, NI 21, that there would be nothing for me to do today, but to


my dismay I discover that we now have to add the acronym a wall --


AWI OL to it. They must come forward and say with one voice, this is what


we intend to do, this is where we will allocate resources and where


there is clarity of vision, clarity of the way forward, we will provide


the necessary oversight and clarity of presentation? It is nice to see


that the new party of Northern Ireland is on a lead and that the


end of a lead is Jim Allister. of a sudden, Mr MacRae appears in


the chamber. I thought it was last Thursday, the 45 on Monday. There


are signs of growth. But let's be realistic about this. There are


still big chine just for us and since we plunged the very depths of


the recession, it will take a long time and growth will be very slow.


Even the predictions for the UK economy are for 1.5%. Going back to


the heights of where we will does where we were before will take some


time. Sammy Wilson. I'm joined again by


our political correspondent, Martina Purdy. It will be a busy week with


the G8 coming to town. We will have heard from Barack Obama. He will


begin a keynote address. I think you will talk about seizing the


initiative and keep on going. And what about the finance package?


that happen before the G8? The First Minister suggested that could happen


before Friday. Obviously, we were not expecting a big file --


obviously, we are not expecting a big pile of money. There are


enterprise zones which will create jobs and access to finance. It is


not just Arab Obama coming to town, it is a pretty -- it is not just


Barack Obama coming to town, it is a pretty impressive line-up. And there


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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