11/06/2013 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in tonight's programme:


The Health Minister outlines the way forward for the Northern Health


Trust. You have to do better. We will do better. That is why we are


continuing to make differences here and challenge and change and we will


get there, with the Northern Trust. Despite recommendations from a


review panel, the Education Minister refuses to withdraw extra payments


to small schools. I can assure the Assembly that where there is the


case that small schools that have been identified as strategic


important will receive the resources they need to provide the best


possible education for the children they serve.


We'll have reaction from the Chair of the Education Committee to that


announcement. The Health Minister has revealed


that a report into the Northern Health Trust says it is in a poor


position and requires extensive support to improve.


Edwin Poots told the Assembly in a statement that the review team he


brought in last year has made five recommendations to improve the


organisation. I have now received the report from the turn around team


detailing the findings of phase one of the review. The report addresses


the term of references comprehensively. I'm grateful to the


team for significant work in taking this forward. Given the needed to


reduce waiting times, in relation to unscheduled care, the review


examined performance, including quality and safety of services,


outcomes and patient experience, at the Trust's emergency departments


and identified specific areas and aspects of the work of the Trust and


its relationship with ovide providers of health and social care


were improvement in is required. It report provides team's assessment of


leadership capacity at the Trust and the changes necessary to improve


performance. The report makes five distinct recommendations. They are -


to enhance the leadership capacity at the Trust and empower clinicians


to lead change. Ensure support to deliver an improvement plan in three


phases. Gain assurance that is governance and quality systems are


robust. Gain assurance that mortality data is robust. Put in


place performance framework that will ensure delivery of the


improvement plan and contains clear consequences for non--delivery


alongside incentives for delivery. The analysis identified that the


northern health and social care trust is in a poor position and


requires intensive support to improve. It is reassuring to note


that the team concluded that the Trust can be turned around. That is


essential to improve the patient trust and experience it at the


Trust. However, support needs to be provided to enable it to do so. In


relation to the Causeway Hospital the report signals the need to


remove any sense of uncertainty in regard to its future management


arrangements. I'm Dean remove that uncertainty. I told the House on


19th March that TYC consultation had indicated significant sfor for the


action, as set out in the Vision to Action document. I asked officials


to begin work to take forward an options appraisal. Whether it should


remain within the northern trust or transfer in the near future to the


Western Trust. Work on the options appraisal has been begun. Also


ommend recommendations the issue of mortality data has come up are you


indicating there has been doubts about how the data was collated and


if so what impact that had? What does it mean for the future?


terms of mortality there are multiple ways of calculating


mortality. The Met old that the northern trust uses doesn't give any


particular concern. However, just to be absolutely certain, the report


suggests running another methodology such as that of the Dr Foster


organisation to provide maximum assurance. So we are not saying


there is any risk there, but we want to double up there to ensure that we


have that. Could the Minister tell us what are the monitoring and


evaluation techniques to be used to ensure delivery of the


recommendations and the time frame of achieving the same? Well,


certainly, on some of the recommendations, I would want the


time frame to be almost immediate. I would want to see improvement at a


very early point. That is certainly something that we are looking at.


The longer term is that we would be looking for the phase one


improvement to be actually completed within six months. My view is that


the public have to get better. They deserve better. We have to do


better. We will do better. That is why we are continuing to make


differences here and challenge and change and we will get there with


the northern trust. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots.


With me now is Janice Smyth, the Director of the Royal College of


Nursing in Northern Ireland. What do you make of the Minister's statement


today, first of all? I think there will be a huge sense of relief that


we have got a report that records the issues that have been raised now


for some time. I think that certainly nurses and other


healthcare professionals working there, and the public, will, I


think, shy a huge sense of relief that the concerns have been taken


seriously. That we have got recommendations. We have an action


plan and a phased implementation process. I think that the Minister


has been frank and honest today. the problems have been identified


and there is a plan in place to deal with them. Yes.Have confidence that


plan will be implemented and the shortcomings will be dealt with?


Well, the College has confidence that the Department recognised,


albeit some might say late in the day, we had significant problems in


that Trust, there were issues being raised by many people including the


Royal College of Nursing. What I would say to you today is that Royal


College of NursinGordon Brown will certainly beholding to account those


who are responsible now for getting on with that actually making it


right because this is the last opportunity to do that. It's really


important that we get that right. We will do all we can to support people


to make sure it happens. Is very important. One of the things the


Minister mentioned today was this plan will give more power to


clinicians to lead change. Is that sensible, in your view? I think it's


really important. I think there is plenty of evidence that nurses and


other healthcare staff were raising concerns about some of the things


that were happening. Were making suggestions about what might make it


right. Those were falling on deaf ears. If we want to make a


difference to how we care for people, we need to empower the


people who are responsible for delivering that care to get on with


the job and do it. The Minister said the public deserves better and will


get better from the Northern Trust in future. Do you believe him?


believe his commitment to it. I believe that there is a plan to do


it, but I think that people will say that proof of the pudding will be in


the eating. Let us watch and see what happens. We will keep a close


eye on what is going on in terms of the nurses and nursing. Thank you


very much. A proposal that would have saved �28


million a year has been rejected by the Education Minister.


The recommendation to cancel extra payments to small schools was put


forward by an independent review panel, but John O'Dowd said he won't


be implementing it. Withdrawing the money could have led


to the closure of hundreds of small schools.


The Minister made his position clear during a statement to the Assembly


today. The review panel's views is that the current means of funding


small schools does not (inaudible) the panel recommended that I remove


all small schools factors from the current funding. However, it has to


be recognised that small schools would in that scenario have to be


supported with funding outside the new formula to deliver education for


the pupils. There has been much concern expressed with this


recommendation, while I'm accepting the recommendation in principle, I


am not implementing it at this time. I can assure the Assembly that where


there is the case small schools that have been identified as


strategically important will receive the resources they need to provide


the best possible education for the children they serve. The difference


from the current position is that these small schools will be planned


and approved. They will not be there just because they have always been


there, but because they represent the best solution for young people


in that area. The review recognised that the issues schools face in


overcoming barriers created by social deprivation are significantly


increased with children from less affluent backgrounds. The panel


recommended that funding for sow Yeo economic deprivation should be


weighted towards schools with significant concentrations of


disadvantage. It will be no surprise to members to note that I accept and


fully endorse these recommendations. It is my intention to apply the same


elgentleman blt criteria for free school meals. The post-prime


t-primary pupils will have free school means in the same way as our


primary pupils. The Minister clarify how to the House today what is his


definition of a strategically important small school and how will


that be determined in the light of his announcement today? I do fear


that while reference was made to surpluses in some primary schools, I


trust that this is not an attempt to rob the rich to pay the poor?


that has to be done we are going to do it. All the evidence points to


the fact that young people coming from socially deprived backgrounds


face a greater challenges in education than those coming from


more affluent backgrounds. If the evidence points in that direction we


have to deal with it. Now, I think what I have done, the way I'm


setting out the common funding formula, ensures that all schools


are treated fairlied and equally. The Minister signalled today an


investment of �10 million into the school budget next year, could the


Minister outline if there will be investment further in targeting


social need in the year ahead? you. I estimate it will cost


approximately �30 million over the next twole financial years to fund


the additional funding in the formula for targeting socialal needs


and to allow pupils attending post-primary schools to be elible


free school meals and free school uniforms as well. Why is he


attacking the voluntary schools when he seems to be using one. Examples


that how good they well work and why doesn't he look at adopting all the


things that show voluntary schools work extremely well for everyone if


we could sfeed through? I don't accept that I'm attacking voluntary


schools. I attack the social engineering that takes places in


relation to how they allow pupils to access their schools. The question


that I have for the Minister, it does follow on from free school


meals as an indicator, it is recommendation 20 say there is will


be a further examination of other factors that might well be taken


into account. I'm sure the Minister will be aware that many people who


find themselves described as the "working poor" 1p income above Ella


blt what investigation, how will that be taken forward? When might


the Minister draw... Reach a conclusion on that analysis? We have


actually, my predecessor, expanded the Ella blt for free school meals.


We have further expanded. There will be 15,000 more pupils in


post-primary schools entitled to free school meals as a result of my


announcement today than if I would Minister's statement is the Chair of


the Education Committee, Mervyn Storey. Are you satisfied with the


Minister's position on the funding of small schools?


The Minister has not moved according to the recommendation to remove the


small schools factor but what needs to be clearly identified for those


teachers in schools listening to the programme is that what the Minister


said in a document released at the same time as a statement, it said,


we are not removing it yet. Clearly, the Minister bottled out today in


deciding to announce publicly that he was going to remove the small


schools factor, but he intends in the coming weeks and months to look


at a way whereby the factor will be removed.


Why would he have done that today when he had the cover of the


recommendation from this report to go down the road of closure?


He has been under immense pressure. There is huge concern around the


future of small schools. He said on one hand he was going to do this --


was not going to do this, he then rejected out of hand having a small


schools policy, but in a statement, he said he was going to abide


further information and criteria in relation to how you define what is a


strategically important small school. There were mixed messages


from the message -- from the Minister today because he is feeling


the heat around the immensity of this problem.


Just to deal with one of the eye -1 of the wider issues. It is his


Roache the socio- economic issues and protect some schools, perhaps at


the expense of others. -- his Roache.


Free school meals and using socio-economic criteria of blunt


instruments to determine the allocation of funding and while free


school meals is an issue in potent particularly in working class a


distant areas, there has been a row take and we need to ensure that is


maximised rush artist and areas. So that young people do benefit. -- in


Protestant areas. But there needs to be provision for pupils on an


educational basis because many pupils falls short of the free


school meals criteria. You asked specifically if he was going to have


to rob the rich to pay for the war and he said, if that has to be done,


we are going to do it, did that surprise you? -- to pay for the


poor. No, he is happy to attack the successful who benefit the


unsuccessful, and I think the Minister needs to be clear that


schools that even financially prudent should not be penalised in


the process of distributing funds. Mervyn Storey, thank you very much.


Following yesterday's approval of departmental budgets, today, the


Finance Minister was back in front of the House, this time with the


second stage of the Budget Bill. And the Minister warned the Bill must


receive Assembly approval before summer recess, or departments and


other publics bodies could have difficulties accessing cash.


The Budget Bill is admittedly technical and on the surface it can


be hard to translate the figures it contains into real-world public


services. But it is important to emphasise that every doctor,


teacher, road improvement, hospital, indeed, every public service


provided for under the authority of the Assembly is affected eye this


will and requires its legislation to operate legally -- is affected by


this bill. So perhaps it appears dry and the figures are surreal, but it


is a crucial piece of legislation for public services.


At a strategic level, more effective Assembly input and scrutiny of


expended chat will help to further demonstrate that devolution is


making a difference to deliver an efficient governance in the North.


-- scrutiny of expenditure. In terms of the immediate business today, on


behalf of the Finance and personnel committee, I support the general


principles of the bill. With unemployment and youth


unemployment all remaining stubbornly high, we must ensure all


resources are used affect degree. At the outset, I remain particularly


concerned at the latest economic outlook for Northern Ireland which


showed we are slipping behind the rest of the United Kingdom in almost


every economic indicator. We must therefore question whether this


budget is strong enough to reverse that trend.


We are together building a united government, I will as I go on


probably appear script -- appear sceptical about this document, but


at least it is a recognition that bringing our people closer together


is a vital priority for social reasons and for sound financial and


economic reasons. It is concerning so little detail is available in


terms of cost or whose budgets will be affected. It is not reassuring


but a proposal to remove all peace wars in Belfast within ten years


should be brought forward without reference to the Minister of


Justice. -- wars. I cannot form an opinion on this bill because like


everybody else, I do not have sufficient information. This is a


sham, this is going through the process of pretending to deal with


the issues when we are not, so I put this challenge to the Minister who


normally does not bother to respond to me because he thinks that is the


way to go and do politics. I am absolutely happy to take an


intervention! Order, please, the member will


resume his seat. I would remind members and ministers that you


should not crowd -- you should not shout across the chamber.


I have no difficulty with scrutiny of the budget and I think it is


essential we have good scrutiny of the budget. Not only scrutiny of the


budget as it is presented, but also on an ongoing basis. I will let the


member get in front of the TV! Do you want me to speak for you?


We are a regional economy. We are dealing with a global recession. We


are also dealing with a world wide banking crisis. I do not think that


I, as Finance Minister, have ever claimed, nor would I ever be silly


enough to claim, that our budget, even though there is �18 billion


involved of spend here, that that is ever going to be sufficient to


reverse all of the weight of the global economic pressures.


The Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, and the second stage of that Budget


Bill was passed. And the second stage of that -- and the second


stage was passed. There is not long to go now until the G8 Summit in


County Fermanagh, and today, the Justice Minister faced a barrage of


questions on how much it will cost, though David Ford refused to be


drawn on an exact figure. And the Minister also faced a query about


the PSNI re-hiring retired officers. I would like to ask the Minister, is


he aware that PSNI has engaged in this practice in recent times to


rehire retired police officers and not advertise well paid jobs? Would


he agree that open doors for newcomers, the PSNI needs to shut


the revolving door? His question -- I thank him for his


question but I am not aware of this. The issue of the appointment of


agency staff is a different issue from the issue of rehiring and I


refer to that as being subject to an enquiry and I look forward to the


report. The PSNI and departmental officials


continued to work on the forecast cost of the policing and security


operation associated with the G8 Summit. The cost will not be known


until sometime after the summit and some costs such as compensation


claims and legal aid will be incurred after and will depend on


the level of unrest. I welcome the report to the policing board last


Thursday, where it was advised a letter of assurance had been


received from Danny Alexander had been written assurance that the


majority of cost to the policing operation will be met by the


government. PSNI will bear the cost of purchases and developments


already built into policing spending plans, some of which have been


accelerated as part of the G8 operation.


The Justice committee look for answers to this last week and the


official refused to tell us the in -- tells the information. What is


the estimate of the overall cost associated with the G8 and what


proportion will be carried by the Department of Justice and the PSNI?


Well, Deputy Speaker, I thank my committee chair for his usual


inquisition. I cannot give a forecast of the overall cost.


Because there are many undetermined factors which will not be determined


until significantly after the conference is over. What I can say


is that a sum of money will fall to PSNI and to the Department of


Justice related to expenditure. For example, a variety of capital


programmes have been at -- have been accelerated to enable the policing


operation to function well, those are issues on which we would have


been spending money otherwise. But as I said, we have now seen the


letter which has been sent by the chief secretary to the Chief


Constable and that makes clear the expectation that the funding other


than that for accelerated spending will fall to the UK Exchequer and


not to the Department of Justice. Can the Minister give some


indication of the quantum in terms of the capital costs associated with


staging the G8 and can he give an assurance there will be no revenue


difficulties or the police moving forward?


-- for the police. I am always reluctant to say there will be no


revenue difficulties for policing costs. We look at the events that


could happen, we do not know what it will cost for the policing of the


number of special events happening this summer and the issue of


parading. So I would be cautious to say there is no pressure on the


police in that respect. I am assured that the key additional costs of


being fully funded elsewhere but we will ensure as we look at a


difficult financial situation that we get the best value for money.


The Justice Minister, David Ford. The number of farmers involved in


organic farming here has fallen by almost 40% since 2006. The


Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill, who was sounding a little


under the weather today, gave the details during today's Question


Time. First up, though, she was asked about the recently unveiled


Agri-Food Strategy Board's action plan.


I welcome this proposal and I believe that such a scheme would


improve productivity and efficiency at farm level, prevent them --


dividing the necessary funding can be secured. I believe we can deliver


such a scheme. But we have only recently taken our seat at the


report and are carefully considering each individual recommendation


before we bring forward final proposals on this and other


proposals to the executive. I thank the Minister for her


response. As a Minister -- as the Minister has a substantial


underspend on the development programme, what plans do she have to


use this money to help achieve the targets set within this report and


to increase profitability across farms across Northern Ireland?


The member will be aware that I have a major programme of work going in


terms of potential underspend is and I am committed to making sure that


by the end of the programme, not 1p will be handed back to Europe and


the European money will be spent to the best benefit of our communities.


But I believe the rural development programme will be an excellent


vehicle to bring forward a lot of initiatives recommended in the


report. Through adequate government


assistance, the quantity of organic produce will be increased and would


be of great benefit to farmer and consumer. Can I ask if the Minister


can indicate what additional initiatives her department plans to


introduce to strengthen the organic sector?


Given that the fact that we have higher commodity prices in recent


years, it has resulted in the premiums for farmers so that has


been a disincentive for farmers to get involved in organic farming


practices. In 2006, there were 224 farmers involved in organic


actresses and in 2012, that is down to 139, and that is down to the fact


they were not at acting a premium so it is not attractive to a farmer


trying to sustain an income. So there is a weak market but there is


a niche market for organic products. I am committed to making sure that


through the development work we are doing, the fact we still run an


organic farm, farmers can look at it and if it is something they are


interested in, that is the work we can do. But it is something that is


very much market led. I would like to thank the Minister


for her answer and I wish her a speedy recovery. I would like to ask


the Minister what has been the uptake in support for organic


farming? The scheme itself, the organic


farming scheme, supports farmers who want to convert to organic


production methods and is funded through a programme. There 31


participants this scheme currently and a farming about 1100 acres of


land under organic management but that scheme is currently closed to


new applicants. It opened in March last year and 33 applications came


forward but only six progressed through to agreement. But the scheme


itself within the countryside management scheme provides support


to a further six participants of organically certified land under


management, so there is still a small number of farmers involved in


organic farming, but it very much depends on the market and all the


costs associated with being an organic farmer.


The Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill.


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.