12/02/2013 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 on the programme... In a


special joint committee session, MLAs Appledore horsemeat


controversy 0.2 fraudulent activity. - -- MLAs are told the horsemeat


controversy points to fraudulent activity.


We will hear reaction from chair of the Agriculture Committee Paul Frew.


And the Finance Minister has a warning for those who want more


fiscal independence. There is discussion of breaking away from


decisions made at Westminster, but he's actually ensure we are better


Showing a united front in dealing with the meat crisis, Stormont's


Health and Agriculture Committees held a joint meeting today to


examine how horsemeat got into the food chain. Members heard from the


days experts, including the director of the Food Standards


Agency. Gerry McCurdy said horsemeat was not on his


organisation's radar until late last year when authorities in the


Republic began to test by it. when you look at the price


associated with horse meat against beef, it does then become obvious


that a horse going into the system, that fraudulent aspect is


definitely present. Paul Frew chairs the Agriculture Committee


and joins me now. Thank you for joining us. Why do you think


horsemeat was not on the radio are off the Food Standards Agency and a


late last year? They have said to us that their main element is food


safety. They do not necessarily test for species of meat. I suppose,


because we have such a traceable and good system in Northern Ireland,


which has world-class and second to none, I suppose it was not on their


radar. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems so blindingly


obvious that should have been. and as far as I know, tests were


done in the past with regards to meat exported to America. So it has


been done to a certain degree, but this has caught everyone unawares.


It needs to be investigated. That is why I was keen to investigate


and interrogate the information on the investigation currently going


on, the extent of that, who is being investigated, what is being


tested, and what the results will be. Did you get a degree of


reassurance today from those experts, who wear before that.


Hearing of the committee, were getting to grips with finding out


what was happening. -- who were before that joint hearing of the


committee, were getting to grips with finding out what was happening.


Everyone will have to inspect their meat which they currently have. I


was keen to find out how that would be input into the FSA and what


determinations will come out of this. What will we know? We need to


know the truth, all of the truth and we need to see how we repair


the damage. Repairing the damage is important. As far as we know, this


is not a food scare? None the less, it is an issue of consumer


confidence. Yes. What you say to people who have real concerns about


buying some of the products which have clearly been affected by this


controversy? I am keen to separate the issues. The produce farmers


grow in their fields is traceable, from gate to plate, very good


produce, grass-fed, fresh meat, there is nothing wrong with it. It


is fully traceable and accountable. Separates that from imported


processed meat. And the meat contained within convenience


packaging. That is absolutely right to distinguish those two, but


because you mad does not always know which of those two options he


or she is purchasing, particularly in ready meals. It is all to do


with Labour leader. What does it say we are eating on the label? --


it is all to do with the label. That is why we should be reassured


to go to bridges and ask where the meat is from. Any butcher should be


able to tell you. That is the answer? As far as I am concerned.


But other issues you will want more detailed answers on. You'll want to


hear from these experts again? has to be ongoing. We need to make


sure we know exactly what is on everybody's plate in the future. We


cannot have another situation like this. The industry will recover and


we will get through this all right. That is because of the traceable


system and how good produce and our system is. But we must not go back


to the unknown. All through, we leave it there. Thank you. -- Paul


Frew. The Employment and Learning


Minister outlined changes to the scheme which supports students to


stay on at school. Stephen Farry told the Assembly that the


Education Maintenance Allowance will be better targeted to those


who really need it. This means that payments of �10 and �20 will be


scrapped and instead a single payment of �30 per week will be


paid to students from low income households.


The EMA scheme was jointly introduced in September of 2004


from the Department of Employment and Learning and the Department of


Education. The main Papiss Cisse to encourage young people from lower


income backgrounds to remain in education at school or college. EMA


supports a key programme for Government priorities to close the


gap in educational under- achievement in those who are least


that most disadvantaged and improve the participation of young people


in education. At present, it consists of weekly payments of �30,


�20 or �10, depending on household income. And bonus payments


totalling �300 per annum. Findings from a recent joint review of the


highlighted the scheme was not as effectively targeted as it could be.


Over 60% of students receiving it indicated they would have remained


in education even if they had not received it. On the other hand, the


review identified two cases where EMA made a real difference in terms


of pretension. I think it is important to say that, from the


outset, we were committed to the retention of this EMA and were


determined that young people from lower income families would


continue to be assisted to stay in education and training.


Nevertheless, good governance meant that we had to address the issue


concerning how effectively the current scheme was targeted. A


number of key findings emerged from the review and consultation. The


majority of respondents wanted EMA retained in some form and were in


favour off of a single tape -- of a single payment of �30 per week.


They should be better targeted to more effectively support families


most in need. To that end, it has determined that the �20.10 pounds


bands should be withdrawn and be replaced by a single band of �30. -


- that the �10, �20 bands should be I am disappointed to receive the


statement in this manner. There is no record that the committee can


find that we have received a summary of the consultations that


were provided back to the committee, as is normal practice. I am quite


sure the committee would have wanted to talk about this matter in


some detail. It is certainly a matter of public interest and I am


frankly shocked that it should be brought to this Assembly as


accomplished. This is not the appropriate way to go about making


major changes of financial implications for the people of


Northern Ireland. The committee should have been properly consulted,


would have consulted properly, would have engaged, and I suspect


members your present would be disappointed in the way this has


been handled. This is a decision by the Executive. The decision was


taken last week at the Executive, which we are reporting to the House


today. As such, this is the first opportunity we have had to report


one of the decisions that have been taken in terms of an executive


decision. It is appropriate that it come to the Assembly to make that


announcement. We are happy to be here and to answer questions on the


particular issue. There was a public consultation on this issue


during the course of 2012, which ran for 14 weeks. At no stage did


the committee express any view on that consultation or seek to give


any views to the committee. The chair of the committee, I suppose,


is probably the least person in this chamber who would wish to take


direction from anybody, least alone those in his own party. This is


good news for students and young people in Northern Ireland. We


should not forget that. Employment and Learning Minister


Stephen Farry. More than 200 road signs were vandalised here in the


last year, the Regional Development Minister told the chamber during


question time this afternoon. Danny Kennedy said the money spent


repairing signs could be used for improving road safety. First, he


took a question on future responsibility for parking. Are you


still keen to see off street parking devolved to local councils?


You made reference to something I am not keen to see happen. Are you


keen to see off street parking devolved to local councils? I thank


you for your supplementary question and confirm I am indeed keen to see


off street parking. I think local Government and councils, in


whatever shape, could perform a very useful duty and service on


behalf of local ratepayers to manage it. And it would give their


councils the authority to decide on thorny issues like charging and


rates of charge and penalty Charge Notices. I am very interested in


that. And I will continue to have discussions, not only with the


Minister for Environment, but also local councils. I can confirm that


have been 244 reports of road signs being defaced within the last 12


months. Sufficient evidence available, where that is available,


we shall seek prosecution. I am also sure that the member showers


frustration that my department has to devote valuable resources in


terms of expenditure and staff time to deal with this issue, when that


could be used profitably in other activities. Many of which are


safety related and would provide great benefit to the people of


Northern Ireland. Can you undertake to the House that, where there have


been repeated instances of vandalism, whatever type,


particularly on main routes where tourists of others who are not used


to the travel journey, that the possibility of replacing them with


higher located signage, to make it more difficult for the offence to


be repeated, would that be considered? We look on an ongoing


basis I best, not only to protect existing signs, but to ensure that


they become less easy to attack. The situation is that there are


some people out there who make determined efforts to vandalise


signs. I know it is an issue of concern to many members.


Londonderry signage seems to be a particular target. I was advised


that 34 incidents of road sign defacement over the past 12 months


in that particular area. And whilst we do not keep details and records


of how sounds are defaced, but we estimate that that vandalism or


cars approximately four to six times per year. They are serial


offenders out there. I do wish they How many flags have been reported,


and what action is being taken? don't have the specific detail


available at this point. I am happy to respond to her. The member will


recognise, as with the issue of road signs and the defacing of road


signs, it is a delicate and sometimes difficult matter to


police. Would the Minister accept that there is a perception out


there among the small business community and small contractors


that in fact, there is a sort of cartel operating around public


procurement costs, and it is counter-productive to growing a


small business, particularly in the construction sector? That is his


perception. I hope it is not the reality. I am keen to hear first


hand at examples that he may have. If he has such examples, we will


investigate them can satisfy ourselves that it is not the case


that we are in any way discriminating against small


business. The Regional Development Minister.


The meat controversy we discussed earlier is not at the only issue on


the agenda for the agriculture minister. During Question Time,


Michelle O'Neill also had to deal with missing fields and job


creation at her planned department headquarters. But first, the issue


of confidence in farming. Go there is a lack of confidence within the


agriculture industry, certainly with the horsemeat issue at the


minute. Will the Minister accept that within that confidence is the


confidence of young people to go into farming, which has been a


family heritage it, and what will the Minister do to encourage it? We


do need to instil confidence and we need support in place to attract


young people to either stay into farming -- stay in farming all come


in to farming. There are targeted streams of the common agriculture


policy which we can use to attract young farmers. There are avenues


that allow us to support young people. But if we are to have


sustainable farming, we need to continue to get young people


involved in the industry. I will continue to work with the young


farmers' organisation. A combination of those efforts will


attract young people into the industry. Can the minister outlined


if there is any possibility of an expansion of research and


development at the proposed new headquarters at Ballykelly, given


the prospects for employment in the catchment areas there in Coleraine


and Londonderry? Go I can assure the number that the headquarters


relocation project is on target. I recognise the benefits there are in


terms of employment, the construction industry and the


building in the area. In terms of research and development, it is not


being considered at this stage. But it is a great side which other


departments may look to in the future. He is there any other help


out there to help farmers with their 2013 claims? As I explained


earlier, all our officers will be open during the single application


form period to provide support to farmers making their application.


Members raised concerns about delays about making the


appointments, and I am happy to explore that. But in general,


farmers can go in and ask inquiries in relation to their applications.


Amendments will also be accepted during that period. So whilst


farmers will once again be able to apply online, this year an


additional new feature means that not only can they viewed these maps,


but they also been able to measure eligible features which will help


them fill out their application form. But this is a two-way process.


Farmers must get in touch with the department so that we can get these


right. Given that farmers are soon to receive their 2013 forms,


farmers are concerned about the level of inaccuracies contained in


their new maps. Yesterday, one farmer contacted me with 30 fields


missing from his map. Another had a 35 fields missing. In light of the


unacceptable level of inaccuracies, does the Minister agree that the


delivery of the maps has been diabolical, and will she update of


the House on how such errors have arisen? I don't agree with the


diabolical statement, but I care should remember that the first two


patches were received positively by farmers. Now that we have had the


final batch of maps going out, we have had a positive feedback, but


farmers have also contacted me in terms of concerns around missing


fields. That is something that is under investigation. It looks like


it is not a result of incorrect mapping, but more resistance issue.


So hopefully it can be resolved. I do not agree with it being


diabolical, but I do agree that it is a two-way process. I take my


role seriously in terms of of what we produce, and the farmers must


take it seriously in terms of getting it right.


Today's second reading of the Budget Bill heard interventions on


many aspects of government spending over several hours. But at the


heart of the debate was a difference of opinion over whether


Stormont should have more physical powers. We expect the public sector


economy to lead to a general economic recovery, we will be


waiting a long time. In dealing with those issues within the


private sector, many of those are beyond the reach of this assembly.


Even in terms of the role of banks and supporting local enterprise, we


have to live with the reality that the accountability mechanism does


not reside here. Representatives of the major banks are acutely aware


that they are not accountable to this assembly. It can be


frustrating to get the outcomes that give hope to our existing


business. The economy in this part of Ireland is in a free for.


Private enterprise is melting away and jobs are being lost at a


phenomenal rate. It is clear that this executive is doing its best to


grow the private sector and rebalance our economy, given the


fiscal limitations facing it. Since this assemblage was established,


the primary objective has been to grow the private sector and


rebalance the economy. But this target has not yet have been


achieved. It is my view that the debate around the future of fiscal


levers we have needs to happen. Any attempts to start the debate have


been countered with a reference to an over estimated deficit between


what we conjugate in taxes and what we receive to run administration


had. This price tag is always prone out, and the case for greater


fiscal powers dismissed. But little or no assessment has been made of


the potential benefits. To have a rational debate on such a matter


costs nothing. We are prepared to engage in that debate. We are not


in a position economically where any of us should be giving


ourselves a pat on the back, but we have to accept, with the benefits


that devolution has brought, there are regularly trade missions going


out on behalf of the minister for enterprise, trade and investment,


first and Deputy First Minister, who are going out there and


encouraging businesses to invest in Northern Ireland. Have your UK-


based in Northern Ireland. We can't ignore the fact that Belfast and


Northern Ireland are considered for the second favourable location for


foreign direct investment only to the City of London. That is an


incredible achievement. My do McLoughlin raised the issue -- Mr


McLoughlin raised the issue today and yesterday. I know they will


keep coming back to the issue of additional fiscal powers and the


way in which that could help for future budgetary times. On both


sides, there is a political motive. Of course Sinn Fein want greater


independence from the rest of the UK, even ignoring the economic


impact that would have. As a Unionist, I do not want to see that


economic independence. There are occasions when it is the cry of


thing to do. But this "let's break free of the fiscal restraints


because of ideological reasons", I think is not a desirable way


forward. Mr Flanagan has a political point to make. It is an


inconvenient truth that we are dependent upon the rest of the UK.


He says we have to break away from these decisions that are made at


Westminster. Well, these decisions made in Westminster ensure that we


are �10.5 billion better off than we would be if decisions were not


made in Westminster. Listening to that is the economist


John Simpson. Quite a significant part of that debate was around


whether Northern Ireland needs more fiscal powers. How big an issue is


that for the executive, or should it be? For the executive as a whole,


it is not a major issue. There is an issue of not paying any extra


taxes. We are always try to minimise what we paid the Treasury


in air passenger duty and a carbon tax. In the queue, we have to cope


with the corporation tax change. If we get the corporation tax


concession, the Treasury will not give it as a gift. We will have to


make up the money some other way. As Sammy Wilson was putting it,


this is not an easy begin to get a better answer for Northern Ireland.


Sir it is a high risk strategy? is a high risk, because the more


concessions you get, the more likely you are to be paying and not


getting any benefits. San Wilson said -- Sammy Wilson said he had no


idea -- no problem with the idea of examining policies. Some parts of


the economy are struggling. How much of an examination needs to be


taken about where we are getting it right and where we need to do


better? That was the failure of the type of debate we have today. It


was a debate in which 20 or 25 members or said something different


that they would like about government spending. And Sammy


forcefully said, not many of you talked about how he would raise the


money to do it. But ultimately, we do need a debate about where we are


going with government spending in the next couple of years. We are


halfway through a four Year period. We have a budget approved for next


year, and we are going to go very much good as it is now. I wonder if


that needs to be looked at again. And finally, the hoary old chestnut


of water charges? That was brought up and it is an example of whether


we should be looking at what we are doing and the consequences. Sammy


Wilson, in his reply, congratulated Stewart Dickson in raising this


issue and gave what I thought was a hint that this is an issue we will


now have to think about. We are spending a couple of hundred


million pounds a year or water investment. If this were in England,


that would come from private sources. Because of how we arranged


here, it comes out of money that should go on something else. It is


expensive. Last week's Enterprise Committee


heard warm words for the investment pledge to promote Belfast following


the recent flap protests. Joan Dalton from the Chamber of Trade


said the impetus provided by the money now needs to be built on, as


we can now here in our weekly look at committee business.


It kicked off on 3rd December. lot of members rely on December


being the harvest month. That is the month that encourage them for


the other 11 months of the deer. For a debate to happen in a council


and the resulting civil unrest that happened and the downturn in


economic trade that happened was very difficult. We applaud the


Council for stepping up and giving us money to put into the campaign.


The breakdown was significant. We got 600,000 from the Assembly and


400,000 from the council and 500,000 from the private sector.


That is 1.5 million to promote the city. And it has worked well. But


we can't rest on our laurels. have been worst days, and we have


survived. Belfast has moved forward. There has been huge investment,


much to the detriment of cases like Bangor and so on. A lot of people


work and shop in the Belfast area. Belfast has had it good for a long


time. The images of Northern Ireland in the last two months have


been very negative. The media have certainly exploited it. They have


used it and abused it. It is important to remain positive.


we say to the committee is not what we portray in the media. Is it not


the case that you have to park your car or get a bus, and there is


quite a distance. The success of Victoria Square is at the detriment


of other places. If you move on and go to John Lewis, there will be


further displacement. Victoria Square has given food for, it has


not displaced it. It has skewed where the shopping centre of


Belfast is. There is some merit in that analysis in that you get


people shifting from one retail destination to another. That is why


the chamber's view is more holistic. We have to get all of Belfast city


centre regenerated. And regeneration is often retail lead,


because the that allows things to stack up from a financial point of


view. But we need to get people living back in the city centre. We


have to get entertainment on a broader perspective than just bars


in the city centre. It has to appeal to lots of different


elements to make the city attractive. We would hold the view


that Victoria Square is a positive asset, because of it is housing


retailers that don't exist anywhere else, and it helps form a unique


shopping destination for. Last week's Enterprise Committee


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.