15/11/2011 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Prison reform was yesterday's


debate, but it's today's news as the First Minister threatens to


bring down the assembly. It will not happen on my watch, let's make


it very clear up. This is a matter which, if they attempt to bring it,


I will resign and I will take this matter to the electorate.


And has the quality of debate reached rock bottom in the chamber?


I have listened to some rubbish in this house in my day, and I have to


say that this morning probably comes close to beating it all.


And joining me throughout the programme, Frances McCandless, the


head of the Charity Commission. There has been plenty of criticism


of the assembly for a lack of legislation since the election in


May, but one piece of legislation that was passed during the previous


mandate is now bearing fruit - the creation of a Charity commission.


With me is its Chief Executive, Frances McCandless. We certainly


had many years of calling for an Charity Commission, what difference


t think you have made? We think now we are here the public have


somewhere to go if they have concerns about a charity or want to


find out who is or is not a charity. Eventually we will have a register


of all of the charity is who, under law, qualify as being a charity. If


you are approached for money or time or a donation or whatever and


you want to find out if the organisation is bona fide, you can


check on line. All that work is getting up and under way. There is


a problem with the registering, what is the delay? We have had a


delay with the legislation. When a decision is made, that will go back


through the assembly and we will begin registering the organisations


that want to be charities. We will have a clean register and build it


up from scratch, in the meantime we are getting on with work and have


put a temporary piece of legislation in place. All


organisations that were given a charity number for tax purposes are


now deemed to be charities and all under our jurisdiction so


regulation is up and running. When we get legislation in place anyone


can go on to hour website and check that list and find out if the


organisation currently is or is not deemed a charity. Had he been able


to take action so far? We had a number of complaints. Some more


serious than others. The ones we have managed to close are the ones


we were able to take quick and easy action. For example, if an


organisation is doing something or not doing something, not thought


malevolent reasons but from oversight will they did not realise


what they were supposed to be doing, such as not publishing accounts, we


are able to go to them, give advice about had to put it right and not


use stronger powers than that to fix a situation. Now they are more


serious situations than that. can talk about those later.


Everyone wanted to talk about salmon today, it featured on the


canteen menu and also on the question time menu served up to the


culture minister. More on that in a moment, but we start with social


development and welfare reform coming from Westminster. One of the


key elements of welfare reform will be the transition towards universal


credit and where there are undoubted benefits in one single


payment, there are also risks involved with one single allowance.


I wonder if the minister has any plans of how he may mitigate these


risks, which will see people receive all their benefits in one


go as the title suggests and therefore could lead to further


debt and poverty, particularly given the lack of financial


capability strategy here? I was discussing the issue of financial


capability earlier on this morning. It is something that is not


forgotten. The change to a single payment will bring change, no doubt


about that. I think that part of the thinking that is behind this is


to actually increase responsibility, financial responsibility, and that


is a good thing in itself to teach people how to manage money. On the


other hand, there are particularly vulnerable people, and I am sure we


can all think of vulnerable sectors where the arrival of a single


payment may lead to many not being used in a way it was intended,


again a single payment means it is all coming to one person in the


family and quite often enough family, I know in my case my wife


looks after all of the finances, and in a lot of homes are a thing


that happens. Who the payment is made to, all of these are a cause


for concern. Moving on to alcohol controls and


the cocktail lifestyle is not something the minister is normally


associated with, but perhaps some other members of. I thank the


Minister for his answer. I find myself somewhat edgy making a


supplementary. Would the minister also agree that the fight against


the misuse, if that is the right word, of alcohol should also take


into account what are called cocktail jugs which can contain


anything between a litre and 1.5 litres of generally none describe


spirits which are sold in family type restaurants and nightclubs?


The person who buys it has no indication of the amount of Algol


contained and the effects of drinking it, I am told, are extreme.


I don't know whether the member has a greater expertise in this field


than I could possibly have. The issue of minimum pricing is simply


one aspect of this, the other aspect is clearly around the


promotion of, the sort of promotion of cheap alcohol in night clubs and


so on. This type of thing is clearly irresponsible.


Irresponsibility is the other problem that we do have. I think,


in terms of looking at the overall package of measures that will come


forward, that sort of thing should be taken into consideration. Salmon


stocks are under pressure and members wanted to know how the


culture minister would protect them. I wondered, could you detail for us


why the wild Atlantic salmon stocks are in such a state of decline?


There are a few reasons for it. The scientific evidence so far would


indicate that the decline in numbers of salmon, particularly


returning to our rivers, is consistent with international


evidence which points out that things like Habitat migration,


pollution and balancing predator prey relationships, ecosystems and


recreational and commercial exploitation. There are concerns,


also, on their own stocks regarding the survival rate during the Marine


phase of the salmon going back into the rivers. It is the focus of


research which aims to better understand the reasons I have


outlined. In regard to the continuing use of the net south,


the drift-net which are in use, particularly on the County Antrim


coast, why is it that there has been success by up -- successful


buyout everywhere else, there seems to be rabid of this box by the


existence of the drift-net on the north coast? When is the Minister


going to take action? I thank them member for the supplementary. As I


pointed out to John Dobson, the issue in 2001 was that there were


55 commercial fishermen, there are now sick speak. What I would say to


the member and any other member, if he has any specific information and


that was outside of the conditions of the licence that was given, I


would expect the member to bring that forward so I can pass that on


because these licences are regulated. If there is any sign of


abuse or misuse, it is important to bring the information forward.


Frances we have had examples where many has been donated to charity


which has then been spent on something else, how can the


commission and step in in that situation so that people can feel


confident that the money they are donating goes to the place it


should be? I can't comment on that example not having seen the details,


but in general, the Commission has powers to ask a charity to give


that information and if it is not forthcoming, demand it. We can look


at their accounts, see where resources are going and check that


they are being put to charitable purposes. The special thing about


charity is that it attacks -- attracts tax concessions. The


reason it is regulated is to make sure that the resources which are


charitable are going in the same direction. So a charity must use


its resources for a charitable purpose and we can ensure that they


Jim Allister really put the cat among the pigeons yesterday when he


asked David Ford about possible changes to prison emblems and


titles. In fact, it prompted fury from the DUP with the First


Minister threatening an assembly election. Here's what he told Mark


Devenport. A I have had a series of meetings


with the prism of the Duke. I have seen their report, there was no


mention in any meeting I have had with them nor any mention in the


report that there would be any change to either been named all the


batch, so this came completely out of the blue. David Ford has never


mentioned it to me so let's be very clear, he is badly advised if he


thinks that this is something that can be done in an operational


manner. The whole system that we built up, he might have got off


with it on -- under the Belfast Agreement, but after St Andrew's he


cannot get away with it because the system was set up to make sure any


controversial matter would be put in the executive. I don't think


anyone would question this is a controversial matter. It will not


happen on my watch, let's make it very clear. If they attempt to


bring this, I will resign and take this matter to the electorate and


they will have their say. So you will blockade under any


circumstance? It will be blocked. It is simply not on the agenda. If


David Ward applies this to his present reform, something that is


an inescapable part, then he will damage his whole project. If he


does not want that to go down the toilet in is to reconsider. What


would you say to those that say that when the police service has


reform there was a change of emblem, a change of bad patch and uniform


and therefore it is a natural part of anywhere formation of the Prison


Service. By a posted them as I would oppose it now. They were


wrong then just as this is wrong now. I think Peter needs to calm


down. A whole issue of prison reform is of vital importance. That


is one of the reasons why Anne and her team were involved in looking


at why the presence this damp and coming forward with important


proposals that will fundamentally change the whole system of present


and how we administrator presence in the future. So, let's be


sensible about this. Let's be very calm about how we deal with it. I


think they should be no knee-jerk reactions. Do you think a major


change? I support the proposals that have been put forward by Anne


and her team. I think they understand that there is a problem


within the service and that the Prison Service has to be a service


that is accepting of everyone. Of all of the cultural and, you know,


political aspirations of the community. It is to be


representative and I think that as we go forward we have to deal with


proposals in a very sober, calm and sensible way without any joking.


Everybody knows that there has to be fundamental change and there is


no stopping at. I think all of us Have the committee's soured badly


in their relationship. Could the committee be failing in their


material? Here is a weekly look at the work of the committees. We were


copied in with regards to Letters to the Speaker and leeks on


documents. The original letter to the first minister. That was the


last piece. The last piece of correspondence. The first and


Deputy First Minister wrote to the Speaker to stay there increasing


concern about classified documents coming to the public domain. And


they go on to refer to the needs for a climate of trust to allow


productive business relationships to flourish. And also they refer


took the leak as not assisting committees and assisting their


statutory duties in the development of their policies. I had let this


go to a certain extent, been given the tone of the letter, and the 10


months it took to get access to the documents to which they are


referring, that they were leaked, that did not help us in getting a


climate of trust or fulfilling a statutory role. That is why I ask,


because it has been pretty pointed from the committee and I don't


think they included the people who had it. In fairness, the speakers


responses robust. Three weeks passed and a lot of other people


could have leaked it. There is a danger of conflating two issues. I


would very much support due if the first and deputy first minister say


they need to have good working relationships, maybe this is an


opportunity to write back and say that one way we could improve this


is by speeding up the delivery of information. Assuming this goes


well and we recruit new officers, I predict he will have tens of


thousands of applications. Because obviously there are very few


opportunities I can think of, maybe next building work on the South


Down, because there are opportunities, but can we have an


assurance that that recruitment exercise will be done entirely on


merit rather than positive discrimination. You can have an


insurance that it will be done on merit. There is no proposal on any


other way and I think the minister has been clear on that. A standard


recruitment exercise? In will be a standard recruitment exercise


following best-practice of the Civil Service. Obviously the basis


of this is to reinvigorate the Prison Service in get new staffing,


but also savings in the long term. What is the break-even point? How


many staff do you need to leave for this to become cost neutral?


Ideally, we need 360 to leave it to allow us to start for the


recruitment process and refresh the organisation. Over the 10 years of


the business case we estimate the scheme will save us �180 million,


so in terms of investment it will cost �60 million and it is good


value for money for the taxpayer. We are looking at around 360 as the


break-even point. That committee obviously sat before yesterday's


controversy unfolded. Is there some sort of "chill factor" stopping


young protestants going to university here? The DUP and the


TUV think so and want the Higher Education Minister to do something


about it. An attempt by the Alliance Party to widen the scope


of the debate, and get the Minister to address barriers to higher


education in general, failed to win support. More on that in a moment,


but first here's a taste of the debate. In terms of all enrolments,


students that are domiciled in Northern Ireland, two and a half


1,000 of them attended universities in Liverpool a loan. And nearly


1,500 attend universities in the Glasgow region alone. Of course,


there are multiplicity is attending other universities, Dundee,


Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen. And throughout Wales and the north-east


of England but when you have 4,000 students just in those two main


urban conurbations of England and Scotland alone, we begin to see the


scale of students leaving Northern Ireland. I have to say this morning


comes close to beating all the rubbish I have ever heard. Just


listening to Tom saying there was no evidence that the Department of


Employment and learning had taken steps to counteract this so-called


disparity yet no matter where we live today there is no evidence of


the disparity of a cold house for Catholics or a chill factor for


Protestants, even in the University of Ulster or Queen's University.


The reality is that there are many complex and diverse reasons for


students going to university of their choice. As a Unionist I think


it is could that students actively partake in university through the


United Kingdom. I would like to see them go and I would like to see


them come back. He is wrong for people to underline the religious


divide in the education sector. This can only have a damaging


effects on the higher education sector. The message we must send


out is that we are focused on having a world-class education


training system in Northern Ireland that is open and accessible and


this is critical if we are to have world-class economy is that, like


we all deserve. Way you disappointed it did not come


forward? We did not do anything to address the disparity amongst the


Protestant students in Northern Ireland and the figures simply do


not support that. There is a more fundamental issue which is the lack


of Protestant working-class males a university, and in terms of


educational under-achievement, that is a fundamental issue that the


assembly needs to address and address with executive action. We


need a Child poverty Action Plan and childcare strategy and see the


Minister of Education bring forward an early years education strategy


to tackle this at its root. So you were not impressed by the quality


of debate and it fell on predictable lines. Unfortunately, I


would agree with Michelle left. It was a missed opportunity to get


into the detail causes of the problem of a lack of representation


of Protestant males. How we offer support and insure that is open to


everyone who can benefit. It is all about statistics, and one in five


Catholics is likely to go to university compared to one in 10


Protestants, so it's to be expected there would be fewer Protestants at


universities then. The wider population of the age group is


reflected at university but there is a particularly persistent


problem of working-class Protestant males gaining access to university


and achieving at post primary level. That has been well-documented in


the past and unfortunately the executive is still failing Tabard


joined-up approach to tackling the problem. Do you think it will be


put on the long finger? I will be using the committee to commit to


Child poverty Action Plan. And my colleagues in the education


committee will raise the issue as well. While you're here, I hope


that the facial look of the changes we see our for charity reasons.


Strictly charitable purposes, fund- raising for Men's Cancer awareness


and you'll be glad it will be gone by the end of November. Quite a few


cropping up around the chamber. We are trying our best. With rising


fuel prices and winter weather just around the corner fuel poverty is


becoming increasingly common. Eight government departments are getting


together to see what the assembly can do to help those struggling to


pay the bills. Unfortunately there's seems little chance of any


extra money, but Alex Maskey told me it's more than a talking shop.


You can have the danger of falling into decline, but we hope that is


not the case. We hope they are issues with payments that people


are entitled to a man but we argue for those to be extended and


increased. But that is only a short-term measure and there are


other issues which are more long- term, but I can assure the


listeners and viewers that this initiative taken by ourselves is to


ensure joined-up government and scrutiny of how government delivers.


We have come into this with the mandate and the big focus is the


need to deliver for people out there. Sure this not have been done


in September when you first came back so the measures could be going


to people with winter just a few weeks away? We are obviously


putting a spotlight on the issue. Some of the measures flowing from


the discussion, some of them are under way. And we are very aware


that there will be no quick fix. And some of them are longer term


work which we are determined to see through. The finance minister,


Sandie Wilson has talked tough to the big retailers like Tesco and


Ikea. Where is the strong message out to the power companies whose


profits are running to over 30 %? agree with Ian and I am not


speaking for him because it is made up of all the ministers and


different parties. The committee could send out a message. We have


done and we have been clear that it is not acceptable that so many of


us up unable to heat our homes, so almost like a monopoly of one fuel


source, so we have to look for alternative sources as we move into


the future. We have made it clear that a lot of these energy


providers should be looking at how they make a contribution because


everybody here is suffering. We've already heard from the First


Minister about prison reform, but the TUV leader, Jim Allister, who


unearthed the controversy in the chamber last night, has gone a step


further, as our political correspondent Martina Purdy told me


earlier. He has tabled a motion of no confidence in the justice


minister, and to get that past he would need cross-community support


and there is no chance of getting that. But if he can try and get


members of the DUP and other Unionists to sign ahead of his


annual conference this weekend. are one day closer to the long


awaited programme for government. That is right. We have heard it


will be a marathon late-night session tomorrow, starting around


7pm. That programme for government has been much awaited and drafts


have been bouncing around various departments and one leaked in


September talk about jobs and investment being a priority. As


well as finishing the programme for government may have to finish the


investment strategy and there will be changes to that in light of the


A five roads project been cancelled. If they can get that together as


expected then the assembly is going to meet on Thursday to discuss it


and so far we have had no indication that that meeting is


going away and it is scheduled for Thursday. Fuel poverty, will be


executive Dick we heard about that, so will the executive committee do


anything? There was the prospective fund to direct money to direct


money to needy families and develop Minister could bring forward a


paper, and we understand it has not been put forward but it is only an


issue for the government and it is one they will be looking at.


Compared to some of the other commission since the Good Friday


agreement you do have a slightly different role. We are a regulator


who have been brought in to do a specific task which is to list the


charities and monitor them to make sure they are acting properly so we


can prop up confidence and so the charities can get on with their


work. We have a targeted at specific job but has been


successful across the political spectrum but also by the charities


themselves. They are very happy to have scrutiny to prove the work


they are doing. Thank you for joining us. That's it from Stormont


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