21/11/2011 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. Welcome to Stormont Today. While phone hacking is dominating


the news again with a movie star ranting against the tabloids, life


is equally gripping up here on the hill.


Jim Allister showed off his softer side. It was in the Queen's library


I first asked my wife to go out with me. It was the turn of the


SDLP to play bad cop. Here we are, speaking on cleebing rivers when


there are more -- cleaning rivers Money and how to make more of it is


the driving force behind the executive's programme for


Government. Would you give the executive a loan,


based on their programme for Government? There is a dispute in


terms of the success of the last one, was it 50 or two-thirds of the


programme. It was delivered. I might charge a high interest rate


for that. It is risky. Speaking of interest rates, one of their big


pledges is to have this loan, this money available to small and


medium-sized businesses. Of course the banks have had a particularly


hard time, justifiably so many would say. This is the Government's


answer then, to take business away from the banks? We will see how it


works. I with speak as someone from a bank who has not taken any


taxpayers' money. It is risky out there. We have to be very


responsive to our shareholders in terms of how we lend. Obviously the


Government will see the dilemma for us. They will have to be cautious


with the taxpayers' money and the type of loans they make. Could you


do more though? Could the banks do more to help our smaller


businesses? Certainly we have a programme, Let's Talk Business,


which the bank has run for a time now.Vy been part of that myself,


looking for good business propositions. That is our own bank


at the moment and how we try and bring things forward. You have to


recognise that the business climate is difficult. There is high


uncertainty out there. The global, the national environment. Risk is


high. There is high uncertainty. More to talk about later in the


programme. Stay with us. Academic underachievement among working


class boys dominated questions to the Education Minister this


afternoon. Before him the Agriculture Minister was asked


about recent poor weather and the effects it has had on the potato


crop. That is where we start with Mr McAllistte,.


- McCallister. Our department likes to call itself


a real champion. We need to see action. Could she detail why she


accepts a case for flooding in urban areas, but not in rural areas,


particularly in relation to potato farmers. I think I am a rural


champion. I will work with the farming community to do all I can.


We have to be very careful. When it comes to flooding people's homes,


that's one issue. Then, people have their crop damaged, damage to their


business, effectively is a separate issue. You cannot say one is more


deserving than other. Some issues we need to make sure is that


farmers have insurance to cover this event. I am happy to work with


farmers in terms of advice in terms farmers in terms of advice in terms


of what my department can do. Given much of the crop has been


lost through flooding. It's not practical to put a thatched roof


over the fields, has the minister made any reputation to supermarkets


to ensure at least they'll get a fair price for their crops?


recently had a meeting with Sainsbury's. I intend to meet the


other major supermarkets also. When we get the ombudsman, I think that


will be a good help to farmers, obviously not at this stage, but in


the future. We need the ombudsman to have proper teeth, to make sure


farmers from every level get a fair price for the product they produce.


Is this problem of education underachievement in Protestant


communities now undercontrolled? Is it decreasing and therefore


improving? Can he tell us the level of the work there still has to be


done? Could he quantify what his department is doing for dis


advantaged Protestant communities, regarding the work we are talking


about? Well, I don't wish to get into an argument with the members


as to which community is suffering the most in terms of educational


underachievement. I will say this, neither sections of the community,


in its broadest terms is doing well. Particularly those young people in


working-class areas, particularly those young people in areas of


multiple depravation, regardless of their creed or colour. What affects


them is their class. That is the thing we need to tackle. My


department, from a predecessors, through to myself, have developed


policies which are designed to celebrate success and challenge


under-achievement. That is what we are doing. We are seeing an


increase in the number of young people from all backgrounds leaving


our school systems with recognised qualifications. It is up to 3,000


from 2006. Our policies are beginning to bite particularly.


Policies on their own will not simply work. I think that the


school system has embraced the educational output. Teachers and


classroom assistants, they have all embraced this and moving forward. I


will also say this, until we open up all our schools to all our


people and we have the previous question of education, I think


crossing the barrier will be achieved. The difficult one and the


challenge which faces us all, we cross education across the divide.


That is a challenge. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could


I ask for his response to allegations that he used the launch


of the programme for Government to effectively bury the publication of


a report on literacy and numeracy, which found wide dispartiy for


pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? No. I was the person


who insisted we had a launch of the report into numeracy and literacy.


I believe it is so important... I could have signed off in that


report. I was the one who asked for a public launch. It is unfortunate


it clashed with the programme for Government. I can assure you there


was no conspiracy. I believe my department and my party's history


in the department. There is a defensible set of policies in place.


It is now showing results. 3,000 more young people leaving school in


the last term with recognised examinations than there was in 2006.


That is a result. Is it good enough? No, it's not good enough.


We intend to bureau down on under- achievement. Celebrate success and


challenge under-achievement. There is no conspiracy on this one.


Everyone has had time to digest the programme for Government. There's


been praise, but some criticism too. I asked the enterprise minister if


it will have to broaden its remit to create the 25,000 jobs the


programme talks about. We are in a different situation


than we were in when I took this job on in 2008. As well as re-


balancing the Northern Ireland economy we have to re-build the


Northern Ireland economy. That is what my economic strategy talks


about, re-building and re-balancing. We will look at the medium to


longer term measures to help us have higher productivity and close


the gap in relation to standards of living the rest of the United


Kingdom, we must recognise we have to re-build as well. The re-


building around the jobs fund, that �t0 -- �90 million is something I


have encouraged Invest Northern Ireland to do. You have seen them


do it around their business programme, which talks about


increasing the number of exports, increasing the number of jobs. That


is something they have to deal with for the short-term problems we find


ourselves in. You mention the jobs fund. How many jobs has it created


so far? Around 400 jobs. We have 1300 jobs approved. They have not


just been announced yet. I hope to make announcements in the near


future. What about the lick quitty fund? �50 million. At the end of


How can you convince us it is a good risk? These companies will be


a good risk? I don't see it as a risk. I see it as filling a gap


which has firmly been identified for us. When we look at statistics


which came out recepbtdly in relation to small and medium-sized


enterprises, 92% of those companies were having finances from


mainstream banks. That has dropped back to 65%. That does identify the


people having to look elsewhere for funding. We need to help in


relation to that package. That is why we've put together this, what


we call "the growth loan fund." It will help businesses looking to


grow, but having difficulty getting that finance. Of course there will


be safeguards in and around that money. We will not just hand out


any money to any company that comes forward to us. There is a need to


fill that gap. That is what people have asked me to do. That is why we


came forward with this proposal. When it comes to the number of jobs


you want to create, we have job losses, 33,500 in the last three


years, if you take on top of that the welfare changes how will you


get 114,000 on benefits into work by 2015? Sh There has been a


misunderstanding about that figure. One of the strengths of the


economic strategy is it does not just sit with me, but my other


executive colleagues N the economic strategy you have targets put


forward about 8,000 more affordable homes. Just like the minister


putting forward that he will take 114,000 people off benefits and


into training and employment opportunities. Actually, something


which has been missed in the last programme for Government, the


target was 90,000 and that target, ass I understand it, was met. There


is a need to be challenged and a need to work ahead on that. That


114,000 is not related to the welfare reform. We will have a


discussion at the executive about how we deal with all those issues.


That work around 114,000 is what they are doing in their every day


work at present. Angela, corporation tax - it looks as far


away now as ever. How important is it for us to have those powers to


reduce the rates? Well, I am a big supporter of the corporation tax.


We have, certainly, we have forecasts from Oxford Economics in


terms of where the economy will grow in the years to come. Really


without some.... We talk about a silver bullet, it is not the silver


bullet, it will not work in isolation. We need skills for it to


work. We need something as a small regopbl economy we need something


extra -- regional economy we need something extra. When you look at


what we are competing 100 miles down the road in the Republic of


Ireland. It is hard to attract them to pay a higher level of


corporation tax. As Northern Ireland paid the


penalty over farming subsidies? The Department of Agriculture made


mistakes in implementing the single farm scheme. Members wanted


assurances that farmers would not have to wait longer for this year's


payments. How well this impact on the current wave of farm


inspections for a single farm payments as the department has been


slow up to this very day it? tried my best in that very lengthy


statement to clarify my position. I have clearly said it is �80.6


million. DEFRA holds 11 million. I cannot be any clearer than that,


that is the figure that has been audited. It is clear for everybody


to see it. Could I ask the Minister who is to blame for this issue? Is


it the Department, the commission, farmers or a combination of all


these stakeholders. I thank the Member for his question. It is very


simplistic to blame anyone for this situation. That is not to say the


various parties are not at fault. In relation to the Department's


responsibilities, some of the issues are very technical. The


department had issues in terms of the maps they issued. The


commission delayed the whole process and it made everything a


lot slower and harder to deal with. Some farmers had not legitimate


land. You need to look at it in the round and those areas need to be


considered. The that has to be recognised, that the department was


at fault for the delivery of the system. Discrepancies found buried


EU Audit -- auditors were generally very minor. If your department has


created a minor errors that has enabled you to ecru 80.6 million, I


would hate to see if your department was making major errors.


As I understand it there is more coming down for the inefficiency in


regarding the Forest end of muscles. Where will it stop. Northern


Ireland's pubs are a major tourist attraction, but times are tough in


the local tavern and rates relief could help. At least that is what


members of the finance committee have been told. Here is our weekly


look at the work of this dormant committees. It's his key to our


tourism and culture and has been around for an off a long time. The


majority are owned by families who have passed it down through the


generations. We ran a very responsible industry and provide a


lot of employment, particularly in rural areas where you do not have a


mobile workforce. Our rates is the early business rate based on our


turnover and we pay 30% more than any other commercial body. To be


honest, that has evolved as a social levy because we sell alcohol.


But the supermarkets sell the majority, but they pay the standard


rate. We are small businesses, we are spread right across the


province. It is where people meet, it is where the cohesion comes from.


I have a village where I live close to and church groups use it, it is


where people moving into the area meet the locals and become part of


the community and were the cornerstone of the tourism industry


is. 70% of tourists eat in a pub and it is the number one thing to


do when visiting the province. All the hotel rooms in the province you


can have as you like, and we are part of that fabric. The future


growth of tourism and the economy means we are a key in that. I have


been in touch with a large number of prison officers, both current


and past. They were offended by the manner in which it was handled and


I am asking upon reflection, do you think that is an issue that he may


regret and what would you say to those officers and families? It


caused them heard. I believe what I said reflected the reality of that


position, although I accept my phrasing was a bit clumsy. If


people were offended by what I said, it was certainly not my intention


to cause offence and I regret any offence was caused. Clearly we are


now in the position we have established the different levels


which the issue will be dealt with. The issue will have to know be


dealt within a way which takes account of all the views around the


Executive table. We have made our position very clear that if it does


come to the Executive table, we will not support it, so I would


suggest it is not worth considering by the Prison Service. Can I come


in? I understand you are a member of the DUP and you have a party


position, but you are also the chair of this committee. The chair


of any committee, and I had done this in my capacity as chair of


other committees, I believe the chair should maintain where


possible a non-partisan position. If there are contentious issues


arising I do not think it is appropriate for you to be active as


a spokesperson for the DUP on such a sensitive issue. The other


colleague could quite properly raise such issues. I beg to differ


in terms of how I should conduct myself as chair.


The SDLP were firing on all cylinders this morning because of


the lack of legislation coming to the floor of the House. Dolores


Kelly made her attack during the debate on a cleaning our rivers.


She said there were much more pressing issues the Executive


needed to take action on. Once again we start another week in the


absence of Executive Business other than the Minister's statement this


morning. It is disgraceful. At a time when youth unemployment is at


its highest ever, one in five young people in the north are unemployed,


over the weekend and today there is a plea from small retailers for the


Executive to do something to help them. We have not seen any business


coming through that is going to do that, nor any suggestions from the


Executive. There is no imperative bide his Executive to deliver.


why do you think there is such a delay in getting legislation


through the House. It has not just been this time around, it was the


same over the last four years. If any of the issues were not agreed


on, they are still sitting in the in-trays. Peter Robinson said


clearly last week that his Executive would be judged on


delivery and that is a message we are putting strongly to Sinn Fein


and the DUP. They have to start looking at their parties and


constituency interests and look at the needs of all of the people of


the North. You are on the Executive, you minister is there, could the


Minister of their environment not be doing more? He has eight pieces


of legislation which are going through various processes, such as


the climate has changed bail. He has written to the first and Deputy


First Minister about their responsibility in terms of the


Social Investment Fund and the social protection fund. Each has


�20 million allocated this year and will not be spent. These funds are


supposed to be targeted at the most vulnerable. He has also written


about the fuel poverty initiative and nothing has been agreed on


those with no movement on any of these fronts. He will try to


delayed their a form of public administration. He wants 15


councils and everyone else has said 11. He has not been delaying it, it


is the DUP who has shifted position. We agreed 15 as the preferred model,


but Sinn Fein wanted to go for seven. Alex Atwood has an


intelligent argument in terms of the 15, one that can show that


money can be saved even more so than with the 11 model. But


unfortunately Sinn Fein and the DUP are too busy interfering in his


department rather than managing their own. On a slightly different


issue, you were a judge at quite a controversial contest last week.


Tell us a bit more about that. was one of my local constituency


businesses that sponsored the event. There were 14 young women who went


through to the MS Ulster finals. The successful winner fortunately


came from my own constituency of. She won not only a modelling


contract, but she is also going to get onto the front page and various


other prizes. But there was a letter put into each pigeonholes


say it should not have taken place at Stormont. And as some people


said it was demeaning. They were not tripping up and down in bikinis,


it showcased their talent. It showcased the talent of many of our


young women. They are graduates anywhere or at university. I do not


think it was demeaning in any way. What is demeaning to our young


people is the fact so many of them or face the prospect of


unemployment, no training and many are having to leave our shores to


look for work elsewhere. The local library is many things to many


people, but a dating service? That is what was revealed today in the


Chamber by an incurably romantic MLA. I also have a soft spot for


the library and maybe I should declare an interest, but it was in


the Queen's library I first asked my wife to go out with me. Enough


sentiment about that. She did end up as a librarian. She was a


student at that time. Enough sentiment. Dolores Kelly, we saw a


different side to Jim Allister. all have our own personalities and


people should get to know as as a person rather than a politician on


the TV box. There are many facets to each of us. We spent a lot of


time waiting for it and now we have it and will spend as much time


talking about it. Earlier, Martina told me about the general reaction


to the programme for Government. There is a broad welcome it is


finally out and there is a mixed response. Some people are saying


the 23rd 1000 job target is ambitious. One of the targets that


is a talking point is this notion of 114,000 people coming off and


employment and into jobs. One Executive soars, not a minister,


thought this was bizarre because they said there are 60,000 people


unemployed, the Executive has pledged to create 25,000 jobs. How


can you get 114,000 of unemployment? Aisling Foster batted


back from the Department. programme has finally settled on 11


councils, is that right? That is the figure that has been agreed.


The environment -- environment minister is not happy. One thing


that did come up today was that the council's collectively, 26, 0 more


than �400 million in loans to the Department of Finance. It is


worrying if you are trying to finance a shake-up. Some councils


are quite heavily in debt. 25 million for Belfast. But when you


are start pushing them together, the ones that do not owe so much


will be resentful of having to take on some of the debt of the others.


It does not leave much leeway for council's borrowing. This week the


Assembly is opening up its doors to the Arts Council. The work of 24


local artists is being showcased and the Arts Council is excited


because it is the first time this is happening. The public will be


able to look at the art work. One of the pieces getting lots of


attention is a helicopter made out of yellow will. That is by Brendan


Jamieson. There are lots of other artists as well. The Department of


Employment and learning said the 114,000 target is measured in terms


of the number of people who will go off benefit and into work by


employment support programmes. Angela, we are a small business


economy, is there enough in the programme about enterprise?


that is simply the answer to that question. It is great to have the


economic strategy, but it falls down in two key areas. Enterprise


is hardly mentioned. You cannot have economic growth and the


service new sectors without small businesses coming forward. It falls


down in education. Our targets are not nearly as ambitious as they


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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