28/11/2011 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. With the First Minister telling his


party conference he wants an end to the them and bus -- us mentality,


is it touchy-feely politics? glad to see I can still get under


the skin of Sinn Fein. And this statement... I believe the current


system of teacher training is neither affordable nor sustainable,


this is why I believe it is essential to carry out the study


and produce objective analysis of the financial stability of the two


university colleges. My guest throughout the programme is Sandy


Smith from Enterprise Northern Ireland. The Chancellor is due to


make his Autumn Statement tomorrow, that is on top of the discussion


about Arrow programme for government. Small and medium-sized


businesses are flavour of the month but how much will the measures


help? Sandy Smith, we had a discussion lastly, programme about


some criticism about the programme for government not emphasising


enterprise enough, do you think that is the case? We welcome the


programme for government and we would like to see something in it


about enterprise strategy. Our response to the programme for


government will be to help the assembly to put something in place


that will stimulate enterprise and that a bigger proportion of our


budget will go into specific issues. Will the fund not go a long way to


helping small and medium-sized businesses either expand or get off


the ground? It would be if that money did get his way to small


businesses, but under the current budget there is a very small


portion of the Budget that gets to small businesses to help them, both


in terms of capital to work with and in business start-up. The


programme we have been operating over the last few years is of the


order of a couple of million pounds, and what is in the budget currently


will be something of that order, whereas the overall budget is


something like 180 million so a very small proportion is spent on


stimulating small businesses. the government not emphasise and


put its eggs in the basket of foreign investment because they see


that as were the big job numbers come from? They do, but is that


where the big jobs come from? I suppose if you were developing a


business model, you would be saying out of the entire budget a third of


the money might going to growing businesses locally, and a third of


the money going into stimulating new business start-up. No economist


really has come up with a total solution to an economy like ours,


but if there are three possible ways of generating business, I


think a reasonable suggestion that at least something approximating


one third of the Budget should go into each of the three pocket.


with us. There was good news for mountain bikers and lovers of


nocturnal wildlife at question time today as the agriculture minister


Didier U-turn over closing forest at night, and the plastic bag tax


was back on the agenda. He was the new policy in response to Sam


Gardner. I wish to see forests used widely. Section 1 of the Forestry


Act creates a right for users subject to bye-laws. Those rules


should make clear to when these are suspended, for example when there


was a risk to health and safety. That Wright should also be


suspended when there is anti-social behaviour, when there is damage to


the forest, or officials are being obstructed. There is a need to


adopt a less restrictive by-laws and suggests most people behave


responsibly for their own safety but also their attitude to other


forest users. After consulting with the agriculture committee, I am


proposing to relax the restriction of night-time used by pedestrians,


to allow the continued use of forest roads after dark, and I also


intend to put cycling and other recreational facilities across as


much forest land as possible. ask her why she is proposing to


relax the situation, could she give a commitment to the house that she


will also be very happy to reveal with a view to increasing the


number of designated mountain biking and cycling routes within


forest parks? I have a meeting in the next few weeks with the


mountain biking Association. I have met them informally before just so


we can work in partnership more together. Our strategy set out that


we need to work in partnership more for recreational use, so that is


one of the issues I am actively working on. Egg producers have been


complaining the ban on battery eggs is not being complied with by many


other states in the EU so what is the minister doing to ensure a


level playing field? Many states are in a position to comply with


the ban on battery eggs. A legal production could adversely affect


stability and fairness in the sector which is important to our


economy. I have been working closely with ministers regarding


the implementation of the laying hens directed. We have pressed the


commission to agree a way forward on enforcing the new rules that


will protect our producers who are compliant from disadvantaged. There


is also an agreement that would allow eggs from legal cages only to


be processed in the state, and a plan to see how they will reach


full compliance. I have made it clear I want any proposal brought


forward by the Commission to have guarantees built in, and for any


legislative amendments to be brought forward as a matter of


urgency. The plastic bag tax is not as straightforward as it might seem


- it's actually a single use carrier-bag Levy, and the


complications don't end there. the minister does bring forward


this tax, could he tell the House how it would be collected, who


would be collected, the cost of administration of that collection


and how his department would be able to know how many bags


retailers were handing out? Could I thank the member, and those are


matters that do occupy my mind at the moment. The simple model in


terms of collection would be for her Majesty's Revenue and Customs


to collect on behalf of the Northern Ireland government. They


do so in respect of all other taxes including VAT at the point of sale,


and it seems to me that is the right model going forward. That


where you would be able to mitigate the bureaucracy and expense and the


upfront cost in introducing this levy on the single bag users. So


far however, HMRC have declined that offer, but I welcome the fact


that you have written to the Treasury to ask that they would


further consider putting into their IT systems a mechanism whereby this


levy would be collected by them. I hope they will accept that proposal


because the alternatives are either end in-house or out house model is


likely to be more expensive, more bureaucratic, reduce the amount of


income that would come to our own Exchequer arising from the single


bag levy. I hope the HMRC recognising that tax affairs are


changing, that administrations will look for flexibilities in the


future and they could use this particular intervention as a model,


adjusting their financial mechanisms and tax collecting


mechanisms in a way that helps devolved administrations going


forward. He would have thought the public administration would provide


light relief? Responsibility was handed out of the blue-eyed boys,


irrespective of their ability to carry out duties. Can the Minister


assure the House that in this new 15 member council that members will


in fact have the capacity training and will honestly earned the


additional money that they may receive? Because that is not what


happened in all cases in the past. Last time I looked my eyes were


green, not brown. It is only Margaret who thinks I am the blue-


eyed boy. Let's not go there! more serious note, a quick appeal


to Alex Attwood and Paul MLAs, please speaking to the microphone.


The employment and learning minister says there should be a


single teacher training system in Northern Ireland. He says there is


no reason why teachers should be trained in five separate


institutions and he told MLAs he remains committed to a merger


between strong mayor teaching College and Queen's University.


desire is to facilitate and agree a shared system of teacher education.


I'm not going to be prescriptive of the type of sharing and integration


that may be recommended by the study. Areas for consideration


should include services, facilities and teaching. This is regarding an


- issues like quality of access. I believe the current system of


teacher training is neither affordable nor sustainable. This is


why I believe it is essential to carry out the study and produce


subjective analysis of the financial stability of the two


university colleges, but I think it does also need to be undertaken an


informed debate of the funding in the future. I'm convinced the best


way forward is to develop a fully integrated education system


comprising an integrated system of teacher education. However, I know


I can't deliver this by myself and the views of others, including in


particular the stakeholders, are critical. Why it is this


announcement only about two and universities? Is the Minister


In April 2003 a joint study was begun by the Department of


Education into teacher education. It went out to consultation last


year and consultation closed a year ago today. I wonder if the minister


could tell us what is the future of that strategic review and why this


is not a joint review being conducted by his department and the


Department of Education? Does he not except that in page five of his


statement when he talks about Strang moors College managing its


affairs as best it can? At the outset of his statement he said


that he talked about the values and traditions of colleges. Can hire --


can I ask how he can guarantee that the unique heritage of that college


will be preserved in such a merger? With me is the chair of the


employment and learning committee. We are talking about them and us


politics and the debate sounded very much for them and us. Yes, it


was disappointing. The key point is that we are producing too many


teachers and we are going to have to rationalise. Sooner or later we


will have to put the three of them into one. Are you not guilty of


them and us as well by calling for the merger? For me it was pure


economics that if you are �2.5 million down and you do not have


any money you have to do something. The real problem is that only 10 %


of the teachers we produce our getting full-time jobs when they


leave. If you are producing and that many teachers, there is


clearly something wrong. Why not rationalise with the two colleges


merging and look at the St Mary's issue further down the line? There


is a concern that if you go down one brute that Rolls will be


changed. What is important in the society in which we operate is that


there should be one rule for everyone. You can look at the


balance sheet and say that you need to take action now. What has


happened with this decision is that strangles has been hung out to dry.


It will lose money and it will be difficult for the staff and the


students and I do not think it will be much better for St Mary's.


don't think this is a case so far as Sinn Fein and the lining up to


support St Mary's? At there are obviously tie is in this area but


that does not mean you can't rationalise the situation. More


dialogue would be better. I can say to you that we are taking a very


impartial point of view. As a party we have accepted that it is not the


case that strangles has a Protestant ethos, it takes students


of all denominations, and we are trying to get the best training for


our teachers. What about your committee? There seems to be a


state of some disruption there. You were off on your trip to Paris last


week and in your absence this decision was taken about when


stayed's strike and you returned it today. It has been claimed that


that was undemocratic. It certainly was not undemocratic. The way you


deal with things in any committee is that you publish the agenda and


if you have any minor bits you can deal with them in any other


business. Today's meeting was done properly. Notice was given in


advance, here is what we are going to discuss, everybody had a chance


to have their say and we had a democratic vote. Barry was being a


bit opportunistic, shall we say, when I was away, which is politics,


but I have made sure that the vote has been regularised. FE are you in


charge, given what happened in the sand by Diego trip? -- San Diego.


chairman is there to chair meetings. I only have two of votes.


Everything is done by consensus. The issue with San Diego as a


disappointment because I thought that was blown out of proportion. -


- is a disappointment. This was only a proprietary negotiation and


it was only going to go ahead if everybody agreed and I will be


showing two members of committee when we meet again is the


transcripts of the meetings at which they agreed to it. Thank you


very much. Sandy Wilson may have had them in stitches at the DUP


conference on Saturday but his comments have angered some Sinn


Fein members. My primary function is to


scrutinise the work of the minister. I found his remarks at the weekend


disgraceful, speaking as a former prisoner. I found that they were


demeaning to him as a prisoner and to the entire executive and I would


go as far as to say that they eat demeaned the audience at home.


Those remarks bear absolutely no relation to what he still got to


say. I am glad to say that I can still get under the skin of Sinn


Fein. It pleases me but I have the response from them but I do. --


about I have. -- that I have. The imagery her children being placed


in a long creche is not something I made up. They were the people who


called the nursery long creche. By simply followed up a bat in a jury


and I am sure many people across Northern Ireland will be amused. --


followed up goes comments. -- those are. I assume they agreed with all


of my comments about the former education minister. Staying with


the DUP conference, conferences are full of people trying to get their


case across the politicians. I met one campaign on Saturday he has


been highlighting the plight of patients with learning difficulties


trying to get rehabilitated into the community. A lack of resources


means that we will take some years for all of these patients to be


rehabilitated. You have more freedom in the community. You can


go to your local shop, the cinema, the opera house, you can visit


museums. So it is an issue of independence? Yes. A bit more


freedom to do things. People in -- what do you think people need?


need places where there is freedom to come and go but where they can


be looked after at the same time, where they get meals cooked for


them. That shows that everybody is looking for money for all kinds of


campaigns. What can you say to the government to prove to them that


you do a good job and you are creating jobs? All of the


performance indicators do we have met and that is very important. We


met with a group of MLAs today and we showed them what we have


achieved. The other interesting statistic is that for every small


business you start each one generates almost three jobs and


over the period of the last seven years of the programmes we have


been running we have generated almost 20,000 jobs. That is a very


important statistic and a very good use of the resources. If we had


more resources we could continue to produce those outstanding


achievements. What is in a name? Quite a lot, it would seem. What we


call things or people could have serious implications so what should


we call people over the age of 60? It is an issue that clearly matters


to 1 m l a, as we look at our regular look at the work of the


Stormont committees. -- MLAs. you adopt the terminology of senior


citizens instead of older people? Don't put those people down. They


don't want to be referred to as being old, even at 100 they are


senior citizens. We would not call anybody old. You talk about


services far older people. People are comfortable about being


described as that. There are mixed views on senior citizens, as long


as they are not called the LED -- the elderly! The old people's home


is probably something we should ban. It just shows how vexed our


language is. They resented. -- and they resent it. In terms of the


public perception, there is clear damage being done to the minister


and the Department and in terms of the perception of a lack of


transparency and this is not the first time that such an allegation


has been labelled against this minister, so it is very important,


if this committee asks the minister to appear before it, to get some


clarity on what is going on and how this process came about, where a


five-year licence to give one company be exclusive rights to


extract gas from 750 square kilometres of countryside included


a farm holding belonging to the minister's husband. I think the


committee should invite her to appear before the committee.


accusations are coming from Mr Flanagan but it comes no surprise


to those of us to have been watching his activities over the


past few months. Any opportunity he gets to have a go at the minister,


he has a go. It is very unfortunate that we, as a committee, are


hearing such wild accusations. he tells us that there is no


conflict of interest and there is nothing to declare, he can say that,


but we need transparency. Myself and the deputy chairmen meet with


the minister with a beauty trying to understand what his position is,


and also extending the invitation to attend the committee.


necessarily next week. I think the import is that she would attend


next week. That committee is due to meet again later this week and if


the minister is there we will bring you the highlights. Another appeal


to MLAs - please turn off your mobile phones so that we do not get


that buzzing. You can keep up with just about everything going on in


the Chamber by going to our democracy live page.


We heard earlier how Peter Robinson used his conference at the weekend


to call for an end to sectarian division but any end to them and us


politics does not seem likely if today's business is to go by.


At the weekend Peter Robinson's vision was for an end to them and


us politics but there was a lot of it around the building today. In


the teacher training to belt we saw the Alliance Party coming under


fire from both nationalists and Unionists as he tried to to work


towards a joint policy. If this is the problems about a single shared


education system, it is not a good omen.


There was more them and us about policing. There was never going to


be a meeting of minds about this. The nationalists were asking for --


former police officers to be compelled into co-operating with


investigations into past wrongdoing. The DUP effectively put a blocking


motion into place, meaning but the nationalists would need a cross-


community agreement. -- and meaning that. The support is very extensive


across Northern Ireland. We have expert access to bore facilities


for people wanting to start up businesses and there is a massive


support network for people with businesses. You can get space and


use workshops. Yes, and we would like to see new businesses coming


in to the areas available. More importantly, the expertise that


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.