16/01/2012 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. We are back for a new year and a


new political terms with MLAs raring to go. We even saw a new


piece of legislation on the order part -- Order Paper. We look


backwards to the event that the enterprise minister believes could


turn the tourist trade around. A one is in a lifetime opportunity


for us. The story of Titanic is known worldwide and it is now time


to place Titanic as the daughter of Belfast. And the Ministry of


Justice. My need people say I am doing reasonable job. I would want


to stay for personal reasons but there are fundamental issues about


how an alliance minister would fit in. If the alliance entitlement


that has given us is taken away. And that future of our healthcare


system. We got the Compton report before Christmas and now MLAs got


their say. Patricia McEwan gives us her view.


Since before Christmas, we have had the chance to digest of the review


into how our health service should be shaped in the future. But Russia,


you said that some of the decisions had already been made. Yes, even


before the review was put together. We suspect the review might be


political cover. I still feel that way. I think the people on the


review team were genuine and they were trying to do a very good job,


but before they ever started they were constrained by the Budget, and


they were constrained by decisions the minister already had taken. It


was spelt out in the terms of reference. So it was not that open,


transparent, let's start from a blank piece of paper tiger review


that was needed. His there anything you do like or think that is a good


idea. I think the problem we are facing is the changes needed to


transform the kind of health care system we have got into one that


centres on public health needs real investment. And that is at the core


of any changes that need to be made. And while there was an attempt to


make small amounts of investment coming out of that review, it is


nowhere near what is needed. You have got to put that money in order


to save on the big money in the future, but you also have got to


really start to think about how decisions are taken, and it is not


just about the Department of Health and the health service. It is about


everybody else as well. Let us hear what the Health Minister had to


sate in the chamber today. We have to learn to live within our


means. We have to spend money more wisely as opposed -- as opposed to


looking for more money constantly and then subsequently wasting it.


As some people seem to recommend. Mark Durkin expressed his concerns,


and I will seek to ensure that all staff are treated with respect and


that they are made aware and a properly consulted. So there will


be changes. Some staff will see some change, others will not. It is


important we talked to them and work with the staff in terms of


changes. Many will not be predicting negative changes, but


there will be changes nonetheless. Are you reassured by what the


minister said? It is there in meaningless. One of the things the


review attempted to do was look at the current structures, how the


health service is run. Those structures are bad, not fit for


purpose. We need to take some serious decisions there. We really


need to start bringing healthcare back to local level. We need to


bring the management of the system back down to local level. One of


the problems we face at the minute is it has been reorganised at such


an impersonal and high-density type of level so that nobody is looking


after all of those bits of the health service at local level that


you and I see when we look for that kind of service. Would you prefer


the model talked about in England at the end of last year that GPs


should have more of a say? Absolutely not. One of the reasons


we have some problems is too many GPs. They don't refer people


probably rather than taking decisions themselves. There is a


great deal of work to be done about that. If we go back to the kind of


work done a long time ago on the Maurice Hayes report, for example.


It talked about health circles. We retained trusts, and wants to


return -- retainer Independent employers in the health service,


you have got people looking after of the empires after -- instead of


a co-operative type of service. We got rid of too many people. There


is no actual manager in charge of hospitals. When those posts got rid


of, things deteriorated. During very so us, there was no shortage


of political activity with talks about the future of the department


of employment and learning. The parties had until 5pm to submit


ideas about the way forward. I caught up with the justice minister.


We spent the afternoon in meetings with the other parties putting


forward some of our ideas how to solve three can shoot -- three


connected issues. These present anomaly of having to reliance


ministers and the issue of reform in departments in total. Has there


been clarification of where the Department of Justice would go if


you didn't we nominate? There is a presumption it would remain as


currently is with the minister elected by cross-community vote,


but it doesn't say who the minister will be. You want to retain the


justice ministry post, personally? When you believe you have been


doing a good job, and a number of people have said to have been doing


a reasonable job, and a number of things have come back which I


initiated, I want to stay for personal reasons. There are


fundamental reasons or issues how or the Alliance minister would fit.


how would history mind the Executive down to eight posts?


how are you? We should try to expedite it. It would have to be a


significant reform, which might take a considerable period of


discussion internally and externally, so it is not something


happening in the next few months, but it is an issue which we need to


address, to streamline the Executive. Would you prefer it to


see the status quo maintained? you accept it is going to be split


up? If we were moving speedily, it should remain for the medium term.


It should not continue into the indefinite future. We are certain


we need a solid department for the economy which would combine two


departments at the present time. There are aspects which -- of other


departments which would come into this as well. It is a step in the


right direction, but it could be a backward step if greater reforms


were needed down the line. Is that likely to happen considering what


has been said so far? They did listen, and they were taking some


letters of what we were saying, but it will be up to them to consider


their responses from the other parties, and see what further


proposals they are make. I hope you are all fans of Titanic, the ship.


If not, you might find the next few months tedious. The centenary of


the disaster is the jewel in the crown of this year's programme of


tourist attractions. Here are highlights of today's question-time


starting with the enterprising minister. As 20 12th marks the


centenary of the Titanic's maiden voyage and sinking, it provides a


once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. It is known worldwide and it is


time to plays Belfast as the home of Titanic. A two-week festival


will mark the opening of Titanic Belfast on 31st March and this is


an amazing opportunity for all of us across Northern Ireland and I


trust we will grasp it. I would like to thank the Minister for our


answer. Is she focusing too much attention and resources on to this


project? Will she be spreading those across? I don't accept that a


battle because Titanic is a worldwide brand. It is not just


going to help Belfast, it is going to halt the entirety of Northern


Ireland tourist trade. I want to say to the member it is wrong to


say we are just focusing on Titanic although I will readily say it is a


key -- Key Plan in what we are doing in 2012. There were seven


international events we were planning for this year, which is


now up to eight with the arrival of the Irish Open golf at the end of


July, or end of June. As well as Titanic Belfast, we have the one-


day concert in Londonderry, the land of giants in Belfast, the


Clipper Maritime homecoming Festival, the peace camp, the flags


at the Giants Causeway, and we have the 50th Belfast Festival, all


international events, bringing people into not just East Belfast


but to the whole of Northern Ireland, and that is key to all of


this. Will the Minister reassure the house, and there has been


public ventilation of this, that there has been an application for


European funding. And will she reassure the House that if that


funding is not forthcoming, it will not in any way impede the


development of this wonderful building and asset for the tourist


industry in Northern Ireland? content to confirm that is the case.


If the EU does not accept this grant application in respect of


Titanic, and we have no reason that they will not, but given the advice


we have been given by our own legal advisers, then other projects can


be put forward. The Titanic signature project is not at risk.


The financing of it is not at risk. I really do get frustrated when I


listen to some commentators that would try to play this up, instead


of playing up the importance of this to our tourism industry. I


have to say that the negativity surrounding the Audit Office report,


which, if you look at the detail in the Audit Office report, is talking


about visitors coming to the Titanic signature project, which is


of the same level as those visiting Belfast Zoo. If we cannot maintain


that, we shouldn't be doing the Titanic signature project, because


we must raise our game, have some confidence in ourselves and sell


Belfast across the world as a place for visitors to come to and have a


tremendous experience. Environment, and the thorny issue of double-


jobbing. Alex Attwood is determined That is why the consultation that a


shortly to conclude, indeed, did conclude an 16th December, in


respect to my proposal to reduce the allowances for MLAs to remain


as councillors, I intend to bring forward in the near future and as


members will be aware, the Executive, whilst they didn't


Executive, whilst they didn't Executive, whilst they didn't


endorse my best advice about a number of matters, they did endorse


my recommendation in November that in the forthcoming local government


legislation, there should be a ban on double jobbing when it comes to


on double jobbing when it comes to MLAs and councillors. Good a remind


people that in this House, there are 33 members who are still


members of the council? -- could I remind people. Could a press you


further to be more precise about the timing of the cutting off of


the funding stream? Undoubtedly, that is the action which will deal


with this issue because there are many members of the House who are


drawn down the extra 10,000 as a councillor. It does not end there,


they draw down money as a chairman or as members of outside bodies and


many of them inflates their family -- their salary to way beyond 50%


of their already generous salary. Perhaps those who were intervening


on those who are -- have most to account for. Allow the member to


continue. Can we expect that tap to be turned on -- turned off to bring


an end to this matter? There is an end to this matter? There is


sympathy and a lack of sympathy to sympathy and a lack of sympathy to


the remarks. Local representatives, it is a long time before you choose


to join our ranks, and serve the to join our ranks, and serve the


people of the North of Ireland with people of the North of Ireland with


very limited income, at some risk, and very often with a degree of


hostility across constituencies in the north. I value the service of


local councillors, going back over the last 20 or 30 or 40 years. That


is why this chamber was right to put into law and opportunities for


councillors to get severance. Social Development Minister has


been telling the Assembly that he is trying to recoup some �700,000


from the biggest social housing organisation here. It follows a


report released today that shows the company breached guidelines and


did not stick to its own procedures. Nelson McCausland went on to detail


a list of failures by the former management team. The report


highlights a number of significant failures of control and breaches of


compliance across all business areas. Those are the areas subject


to inspection. Indicating significant and substantial


failings by senior management within the association. Also, a


failure by the boards to affect an adequate challenge function to the


decision-making process within the association. This statement is


qualified by an inspection team's awareness that on occasions the


board had either not been fully briefed by the senior management


team or had been misinformed by them. Some of the main issues


identified were procurement procedures are not being followed,


breaches of statutory approvals, incorrect use of consultants, and


correct procedures for procurement of land, non-compliance with


housing association guides and that the use of middlemen or site


finders. Because of the nature of finders. Because of the nature of


finders. Because of the nature of the issues especially within


property development, and that accounts for the provision of new


housing stock, the inspection team carried out a detailed examination


of a significant number of development schemes to determine if


the housing association grant had been improperly claimed. The


outcome of this work confirmed the extent of the non-compliance.


However, it also established that with the exception of four schemes,


the grant was used for the purpose for which it was intended, namely


to provide social housing with the Northern Ireland. The amount of


grant which falls to be recovered his �669,000, of which �142,000 has


already been recouped and discussions are ongoing about the


recovery of the balance. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge


the response of the housing association to these findings. The


board has acted with openness and integrity throughout the inspection


and subsequent discussions and has demonstrated a keenness to address


all the issues raised. Gerry Kelly joins us now. The current


management said today that procedures are in place and this


procedures are in place and this could never happen again. Are you


satisfied? Never say never. The difficulty is that this was


substantial. To put this in context, this is �9.7 million, bought and


sold in the one-day at a profit of �3 million and the middlemen were


involved and developers and site managers were involved. The


Minister described it as significant, a significant failure.


In procurement and other aspects. I'm glad the investigation has


taken place and I listened to members of the committee, including


the chair. There are still questions to be answered and I


asked the Minister about the middle man and what sort of regulation


there was involved. He said that that has been looked at. I suppose


we come out of this saying that we do not want it to happen again.


they have put enough measures in place, as the Assembly but robust


measures in place to make sure that they are more closely monitors?


of the key issues -- one of the key issues is the oversight by the


Department of Social Development. That is the question which the


Minister has to look at. But we should not be in this position


again and there was something like �600,000 which has to be returned


to the Executive. The proof is in the pudding. We know what the


problem is now. It has been identified by all accounts, from


the committee. It was a fairly thorough investigation. The


challenge to the Minister is what will sorted out? Are you reassured


that there was nothing fraudulent and the company manager today said


that people got carried away in the boom and the people who made the


mistakes are no longer there. are huge mistakes and I think


people had to move out of their jobs because of that. To put this


in the context of North Belfast, we have a waiting list of some 2000


people. People are being denied housing because of the mistakes


here. People run hostels, who should not be in hostels. There is


overcrowding and there is a waiting list which could have been averted.


There is another issue, lasting for a considerable period of time, or


Nelson Street, across from the site. We have been fighting to try and


get these things sorted out. In fairness to the Minister, he said


that the report is happening now, but we look at that again and we


will look forward to asking him further questions. That it is out


in the open, public and accountable, that is important. We need to make


sure the accountability measures stay so that we cannot have a


disaster like this again. Thank you very much. Yesterday, saw the


launch of a new programme, Sunday politics, on BBC One each week.


Starting at noon. The local show Although it is new, it has already


got us noticed. One MLA 1/4 the report on bureaucracy in the


building industry. -- quoted our report. Ministers have noted the


questionnaire on the BBC yesterday. What is he doing to survive the


process? I did not listen to the whole of the programme, just a


snippet of it. That was enough of. As far as the criticisms made


yesterday, I have seen reports of them, and I think that some of them


were ill-founded. I see Mr Michael Owen is in his place, and for a


member of this Assembly who fully understands the way financial


arrangements work, to suggest that the Executive is withholding


contracts until the final year of this Assembly so that it looks like


we're spending more in the final here in the run-up to an election,


shut -- that shows a rank misunderstanding of public finance.


He knows full well that we cannot carry over huge amounts of capital


from one year to the next. In fact, we are only allowed to carry over


�50 million worth of capital from one year to the next so we could


not have possibly done what has been suggested. Some of the


criticisms are unwarranted and, really, anybody who makes them


should hang their heads in shame at the lack of understanding of how


this place works. One of the other point made was about qualification,


and how difficult it was, and the amount of work that was involved.


We have been working with the construction industry to simplify


the pre- qualification requirements and the documentation, and they


think that many of these suggestions, indeed, all of the


suggestions brought to us by the industry have been implemented by


the department. I recognise that we want to reduce the amount of


bureaucracy. Good to see we're helping the debate. Going back to


the housing issue, you also announced it -- organise the staff


to work across a housing associations. Is there a feeling of


sadness among some of your members that something so horrendous has


gone wrong? Undoubtedly. Our experience has been since the


establishment of the housing association, so there have been a


host of problems. Most of them are related to how they are run, and


how they managed. It is an area, when you are engaged in this kind


of micro commissioning, and transferring public functions into


a sector like that, you really have a big obligation as government to


make sure that the real systems are in place, for the Protection of


everybody, not least public money. And clearly, they were not.


seems to be the outcome. I would hope that there would be a hard


look at how this is being handled, because there has not even been


consistency approaching the associations themselves, and how


they are established. The Secretary of State, or Owen Paterson, played


host to that Taoiseach today. Together with the Secretary of


State, he was at Stormont Castle today. They were not keen to answer


any questions about the just as business that you have been hearing


about. They say that is a devolved matter. -- justice business. They


did say that they had agreed, together with the First and Deputy


First Minister, to make a bid for another tranche of European peace


money. Mr Gilmore explained that could be quite significant,


something like �200 million worth, if they were to get that from the


system. In relation to the size of this money, it is in the order of


200 and -- �330 million over a number of years. We would like to


see something of the same size being continued. Obviously, we have


to first of all have an assessment of the third piece, and the


projects that were undertaken under it, and see what proposals can be


brought forward for the next stage. That work is being undertaken to


progress that. We await the outcome. You were there for all the action


on Friday at the British Irish summit. What did you take away from


it? Fascinating to be at a summit where there is a bone of contention


about the state of the UK but it is not anything to do with Irish


republicans. Martin McGuinness had a walk-on part although he made the


best joke with the business of peace talks being undertaken at


Stormont Castle. Instead, all the conversation was based on Scotland,


and Nick Clegg. We could talk about a hypothetical, what could happen


if the independence referendum works out. But at the weekend, it


was interesting that Peter Johnson, chatting to me, said that he was


concerned that the pursuit that stuck -- that Stormont has for some


time of extra towers -- extra powers of corporation tax, that


that could get mixed up with the top of extra taxation powers, the


school autonomy or keep maximum devolution. That is a concern that


many politicians have here, that it might delay things. And another


issue today, fast food outlets near schools. Yes, interestingly the


talks on justice which took place at Stormont Castle were fuelled on


the basis of 26 fish suppers sent out during the talks, but if you're


a fast food retail outlet, you might want to get your planning


application in quickly because we noticed a question from the Green


Party's MLA, Stephen Agnew, about whether the Health Minister would


support any change in the law if a fast food outlet was going to be


located next to a school. Broadly speaking, Edwin Poots said that he


would be in favour, potentially, of changes in the legislation, and


that is part of the healthy policy towards school children.


One final word from you, obviously, all over the Christmas period it


has been well publicised, the difficulty at some of hour accident


and emergency departments. Is it a season -- seasonal blip or is it a


sign of things to come? It is a dose of honesty that we need. We


probably sound like we around the same mantra all the time, -- We are


all on the same mantra all the time, but we represent the people in


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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