11/09/2012 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 the next 30


minutes: the Finance Minister warns that austerity measures could


extend to the year 2020, and tough decisions could be on the way.


have even had people here talking about us selling off the family


silver, et cetera. If they're assets that we have that we're not


either using or fully using that we dispose of those to bring in


additional revenue - there may as well be hard decisions to be made


about additional revenue strings that we need for the future. Find


out what mistake this MLA claims was designed, modelled and made


here at Stormont. This isn't something which some in this House


would be very quick and very glad and very eager to blame upon direct


rule. This was a mistake in this House. This was a faux pas made in


Stormont. Also: the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell on why his party


wants Sinn Fein support for a motion of censure against the DSD


During yesterday's proceedings, members were treated to a quick


economics lesson from the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson. Today, he


was on his feet again as he was grilled by his fellow MLAs in


Finance Questions. The Minister began by answering a question from


Sinn Fein's Boylan. The first thing I would say is our


budget is protected for the period up to 2014-15. However - I have


made this clear to the Assembly time and time again - that we do


have to prepare in the longer run for what we can do to restructure


the way we spend money, and I mean, almost every week in this Assembly


there are demands for more money to be spent on one thing or the other.


We can't, and the first thing we should not be doing is making


commitments which are unfunded for the future because that puts


further pressure on budgets which are a bit uncertain anyhow.


Secondly, we have to look - and this will require very, very hard


economic decisions, I think - we have to look at some of the


restructuring we need to do - for example, what do we do with some of


our public services where currently we can't bring in private sector


money or pension fund money or other additional resources to do


some of the infrastructure work because of scores against Adele,


and that may well mean that we've got to make hard decisions about


the structure of some of the public organisations that we currently


have in Northern Ireland and which cannot draw in at present private


money, and lastly, of course, we've got to ask, well, for many of the


assets that we have - and I mean, sometimes people defend them. We


have even had people here talking about us selling off the family


silver. If there are assets that we have that we're not either using or


fully using that we dispose of those to bring in additional


revenue. There may well also be hard decisions to be made about


additional revenue streams that we need for the future. Thank you very


much indeed, Mr Speaker. Given that the dogs in the streets of


Whitehall have been barking all summer about the fact that there is


a further crisis in public expenditure ahead of us, maybe the


Minister could give us some good news and inform us that he has in


fact successfully concluded the negotiations around the transfer of


corporation tax powers to this region and give us a date which we


can expect to get that power back in our hands. I wish I could give


that kind of news, but of course, the transfer of those powers is


dependent upon not just the willingness of the Executive to


have the devolution of those powers, but also the willingness of the


Government at Westminster to make that devolution, and as I have said


to the Assembly time and time again, and in fact, it ties in very well


with the question that the previous questioner made - if we're going to


make commitments for the future, for example, on the devolution of


corporation tax, then I think that this Assembly would expect me and


the rest of the negotiating team from the Executive to ensure that


that comes to us with the least possible cost, especially if there


will be further austerity measures and further pressures on the Budget


in the future, and for that reason, we'll continue to fight with the


Treasury over the cost of devolution of corporation tax. We


know we're going to have to pay a price, but we want to make sure


that that price is fair. It's reasonable, and it's a realistic


assessment of what the true cost would be. I have met and spoken to


Ulster Bank on a very regular basis since the whole problem occurred


with the computer system, and, indeed, a couple of days before did


compensation scheme was announced, I was in communication with Ulster


Bank to talk about the detail of the scheme and also give them some


advice from my experience as to what I believe should be included


in it. I thought that many people might well regard this as derisory,


but I think it's got to be - so I'm not going - it was a decision which


Ulster Bank had to make. They made it in concert with the Financial


Services Authority. It's a part of a package, of course, because


there's not just the refund. There's also the reimbursement, and


where there was reimbursement, there will be a 20% top-up on top


of that to a maximum of �100 I think it was. There was also the


reassurance to customers about credit rating, and there was also a


recognition, you know that there had been difficulties caused by


individuals. I suspect that at the end of the day that there will be


many people who, despite what Ulster Bank will do to compensate


them for the problems that there were will still be very, very


unhappy, and I note in discussions with Ulster Bank I had indicated to


them that in some cases - especially some of the cases I had


heard that really money would not be the way in which you compensate


people anyway, because they went through a horrific time, and I


suppose the important thing now I am looking forward to is the


financial services have demanded a review of what happened, why did it


take so long to sort it out, and I am looking forward to seeing that


report. Can the Minister tell us why many of those revenue-raising


initiatives didn't reach the level predicted in that famous draft


Budget speech, which I am sure every member of this House reads


nightly after their evening prayers, of course. Must say, the member


leads a very sad life if he reads the Budget statement nightly, but I


think the important thing is, if one looks at it - I mean, I don't


know which particular measures the member is referring to. As far as


the capital receipts are concerned, we actually exceeded the amount we


raised - I think it was 170 million as opposed to 142 million, which


was the target. The - there are so much that haven't been realised yet.


The Department for Regional Development is working on the money


- the �40 million we intend to raise from the Harbour


Commissioners, but given the fact that was in the last two years of


the Budget, the - that money wasn't to be realised by this time anyway.


The money from the housing associations - we've already raised,


and housing associations, by changing - by changing - well, yes,


in fact. As I am reminded, despite the scepticism that there was, the


housing associations are quite happily working along with that,


and realising the money for that, and the money from the regional


rates increase, of course - we're realising as well, so, I mean, I'm


not too sure which particular measure the member is referring to.


The Finance Minister Sammy Wilson. I am joined in the studio by the


chairman of the CBI here, Ian Coulter. How concerned are you,


first of all, at what the Minister eluded to - this idea that the


future might hold even more tightened purse strings in terms of


public finances in the medium to long term? I think he's right. I


think we're secure until 2014-15, but I think after that, there is a


recognition - and I think we have to grasp the reality - that at the


end of the day, there is going to be significant cuts following that,


and I think it's hugely important that Government and business now


start working together to create ways and create opportunities for


the growth of the private sector off the back of that. There was


also some discussion in the chamber about corporation tax... Sure.


Whether the new Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, is going to pick


up where Owen Paterson left all. Do you think now he's gone this is a


dead duck? No, far from it. I think it's important we stay focused on


this point, because to me this is the single biggest issue facing


Northern Ireland today. Teresavilleier, if you look at the


speech she's made in the Republic of Northern Ireland, the tax cut on


this economy, very, very positive about it. I also think it's good we


have Owen Paterson still as a Minister around the Cabinet table,


so hopefully what we hope to achieve is to have two Ministers


who understands the issues and are in favour of it. The cost


potentially could be �700 million. It's a gamble at the end of the day,


isn't it? I disagree with the cost amount, and I also don't think it's


the correct question. If you go back to the Treasury paper of March


2011, if we follow the formula and the footpath set out in that the


cost is significantly lower. 700 million is the figure the


Minister is quoting. Sure, but I don't actually think - again, we've


got to go back to what the Treasury released, which was a carefully


considered and constructed paper by them. We have to go back and say,


these are competely different figures. It's quite a game of


shadow boxesing going on between executive Ministers like Sammy


Wilson and Treasury officials at the moment. Ultimately the point I


come back to on this is, what is the cost of this if we don't get


it? I think everyone in Northern Ireland if we don't get it, will be


looking for jobs in the next ten years or members of their family


will. This is the issue that's going to determine this and how


easy it's going to be. One issue that is never too far away from the


political agenda at the moment is the Executive's strategy on


retailing and rates. There are a lot of businesses here who are very


unhappy that the rates are as high as they are, and they say that up


to a third, some people would say, of retail units are actually empty


at the moment. Do you think the Minister needs to be doing


something more about that? I think if it would be possible, it would


be a great thing to do. I - the problem isn't all of us. I think on


the vacant units, certainly we need to look at something there.


Certainly, when you look at - there are other issues around this


baseline - planning as well, making that system easier. Vacant rates


are a burning issue. Is that that something you would want to pick up


with him? Absolutely. Stay with us because we're going to talk to you


later. For now, Ian Coulter, thank you very much indeed.


The Health Minister was in the chamber this afternoon to address a


range of issues, including the contentious matter of future child


cardiac services at the Royal in Belfast, but first, let's hear the


latest on the ongoing debate about the future of services at the


Causeway Hospital, in particular, I am aware of concerns of the local


community. I am advised that the northern Trust has no plans to


reduce maternity services. Indeed, services have been enhanced by


providing... I acknowledge that plans to do make reference to


maternity services. In the future, a review of maternity provisions


will be carried out to identify the needs of the local population and


to develop more choice for women. Such a review would be subject to


local consultation. Every Chad deserves the best possible start in


life. -- every child. A focus on the spectrum of maternity services


is required if we are going to improve outcomes for mother, baby


and partner. I will not be making any decision on congenital


paediatric services until I am satisfied that there has been full,


open and transparent consultation. My overriding concern must be that


the service we provide is safe and sustainable. The review panel did


not find any immediate safety concerns, but they did not that


paediatrics in general in Belfast is not sustainable and the


potential risks should be addressed within has six months. I have asked


the Health and Social Care Board to develop criteria of to identify


future delivery of the service in Northern Ireland. This group


includes patient representatives, parents. There will be a full, open


and transparent consultation on the criteria, it service specification.


I expect a consultation to begin in October 2012. The responses will


help inform the way forward in terms of defining a preferred


service model for children in Northern Ireland who require


specialist cardiac care. This is a regular item for discussion that


North-South council meetings. I met with the minister recently and are


discussed our mutual wish to fully explore the potential for services


in an all island bases. -- all Ireland basis.


I thank the Minister for his response. Can he assure the House


that Pierret representatives will play a full role in the working


group that he has established and that their voices and concerns will


be heard? As I indicated, the Health and Social Care Board would


do just that and ensure that parents are represented on that


board. For many people, the quality of care is the number one priority.


Families very often have other children and in terms of trying to


work and retain some income during the child's illness, this can be


very stressful, particularly if they have to go to England for the


treatment. In all of these things, we will give due consideration to


these issues and the concerns are raised by parents. I would speak of


a nephew who has received life- saving care in Belfast. This house


and parents and mothers in the community demand from you absolute


assurances that you would do your best to ensure that Belfast and


Dublin fully co-operate to develop equipment and services as good as


or better than that of Birmingham. I can give that assurance.


Edwin Poots. In the stomach, the magic number is 30 if you want to


force a debate on the floor. And that is what is being aimed in an


attempted to have the social must - - social minister censored. You


have signatures of your for team members, but the 13th you need 30.


Are you going to get any more? have opened it up to other parties.


We had a good meeting with Sinn Fein this afternoon. The public is


that Nelson McCausland his way out of line on this and he has to come


back into line. If a Belfast city councillor be made in the way that


he has behaved, they would be reprimanded. We cannot see why an


MLA and a much for senior position -- in a much more senior position


should behave in this way. What has angered you so much in what Nelson


McCausland has said? He said that he had totally condemned violence.


He explained, justified condoned atrocious behaviour of their Young


Conway Volunteers are 12th July. -- on 12th July. Then he justified and


encouraged the breaking of the law around Black Saturday. He says


about there is an issue of civil disobedience here. It is not civil


disobedience. The Parades Commission, and we have worked with


the Parades Commission four years to deal with contentious parades,


90% of them are now dealt with. The Parades Commission the rulings of


we do not like them sometimes, but we tolerate them. We reserve the


right to debate individual cases with them. But Nelson has are


problem with the Parades Commission and he was encouraging these people


to break the Parades Commission ruling. But he is not supporting


violence. He has clearly condemned violence. Where do you think he has


broken or preached at their Ministerial Code? -- breached. He


has encouraged people to behave in a sectarian and very nasty way.


has refuted that. Nelson's pledge is to uphold the law and promote


good community relations. stated operating in R way conducive


-- in a way conducive to promoting good committed to the relations.


Nelson, instead of teaching these guys to behave themselves, we all


have to put our next on the line sometimes and tell them to stop, he


says it... He says he is trying to articulate the frustration in


Unionist quarters and he has totally condemned violence. He is


encouraging these people. If people do not see that, we had been on a


dated -- we have been inundated. The SDLP has not asked for these


parades to be stopped or blocked or interfered with. All we have asked


for is for a wee bit of respect. Nelson McCausland has made it clear


that he is not encouraging people to break the law. Will it you get


these additional signatures or is this political posturing? There is


no political posturing, Roper to the heat on Sinn Fein. The people


out there are angry at the way Nelson has behaved. -- no putting


the heat. I am very hopeful that after our discussions at this


afternoon, they are on at the same page as us. I would be very hopeful


and very positive. We will find out in due course. We will leave it


there. The regulation of charities was


back on the agenda here for. There was an attempt to deal with this in


2008, so why was the issue being visited again now? The claim is


that's dormant messed-up by not defining what constitutes a charity.


We have to acknowledge how wrong it was caught. And who got it wrong?


Who were the advisers? What was the department doing to get it so


wrong? The present Minister was not then that Mr, I acknowledge that. -


- was not bend the minister. But it was the same department. Expert


advisers in the department brought forward legislation which was


supposed to be considered, supposed to be thought out, supposed to be


precisely addressing what was seen to be the legislative need. And yet,


patently, getting it wrong. Perhaps a win there Minister comes to


answer, he can begin to explain it. How was it that the department got


it so wrong? Why is it today that we have to pick up those pieces?


And why is it in the meantime we have had the work of the Charity


commissioners stymied and unable to complete a register of charities in


Northern Ireland. This would be something that people would be glad


to blame on direct rule. But this was a mistake in this house. This


was a full part made in at Stormont. The charity advisory group in


Northern Ireland, it was the organisation that recommended a


hybrid approach, taking the best of public provisions and blending them


together. That approach was agreed through public consultation.


However, legal counsel opinion was that this approach was open to


challenge and I was satisfied that the amendment was a required to


achieve certainty for the sector. The social development minister


Nelson McCausland. As many students are prepared to return to


university, the deployment and Learning Minister launched his


access to success strategy, aiming to encourage more students from


disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education. There remains


some stubborn pockets of under representations. That is why my


department has been leading on the development of a new strategy for


widening participation a higher education in Northern Ireland. The


strategy six in to assist individuals with the greatest need


by targeting resources to where they will have the greatest effect


and impact with the focus set for May on the least likely. The


strategy it will target groups 5-7, students with a disability,


individuals from all parties should but -- individuals from a low


participation communities. There is evidence that personal circumstance


can have significant effect on participation in higher education.


Almost three times as many young people with appearance in


professional positions will attend university as young people whose


parents are in lower-paid occupations. Research shows that


the lack of role models in Egham person's life can lead them to


never consider higher education. -- In a young person's life. My vision


of widening participation is about raising aspirations, challenging


stereotypes and empowering those who are most able but least likely


to enter our universities. Widening participation in higher education


is not about dumbing down. If we are to expect the next generation


to compete in the world, there can be no reduction in academic


standards. We have to ensure that Northern Ireland has a ready supply


of suitably qualified young people, equipped to take advantage of


higher education. My department will give funding to expand the


rate of participation. All institutions offering higher


education courses will be encouraged to offer of reach


programmes designed to raise their educational aims of young people.


My department will encourage a higher education institutions to


develop and pilot a reasonable standard for the most disadvantaged


applicants. The learning and development


minister. Is he right to be focusing on to bigger and people


from disadvantaged backgrounds in education for as long as possible?


I think it is a worthwhile subject matter. The one I was more


interested in is the apprenticeship area. I think that is where he has


got it bang on from an. Employer's. Back of view. -- from an employer's


point point of view. When you talk to members in the CBI, a large


number of a managers have come through apprenticeships.


But there is a sense either you cannot get on without a degree.


With their employers, that is not their point of view. The CBI have


been pressing quite hard to lobby for apprenticeships. It is up to


this this to respond to that. kind of work he is doing on all of


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.