28 January 2015
Street Lighting was the main talking point during Oral Questions to the Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy.
Mr Ross MLA, Mr Brady MLA and Mr Kinahan MLA all asked the Minister what proportion of street lighting is currently in need of maintenance. The Ministed answered with "Following the Executive's agreement to meet my Department's bid in the January monitoring round for additional funding to repair street lights, I can confirm that I reinstated the use of external contractors on 19 January 2015 to carry out street lighting repairs to supplement my Department's internal resources. Last week, some 4,359 job cards were issued to external contractors and, together with internal resources, I estimate that my Department has already reduced the backlog of outages by some 3,000. Currently, the total number of street lights out is around 20,000.
Members will be aware that, due to pressures on my Department's resource budget, I had to suspend the use of external contractors or routine street lighting repairs on 8 August 2014. My Department continued to bid for that money at every possible opportunity. Although my Department's staff continued to fix as many street lights as possible, a backlog of defective lights has been developing since last August.
Members should understand that it will take time to catch up. Nonetheless, I am committed to having the backlog cleared as quickly as possible. Contractors have been on the ground since early last week. I want to make it clear that the funding provided in January monitoring is for this financial year only".
The Minister was also asked for hiss assessment of the outcome of the January monitoring round for his Department, the Glenmachen Sewer Project and will the Minister introduce road safety measures in Ballyholland, Newry.
The 15 minute period of Topical Questions to the Minister started with the Minister being asked about Winter Weather and what resources are available to him in face of the bad weather that is predicted for Northern Ireland in the next few days. The minister stated, "The displaced Arctic polar vortex is likely to have an impact on Northern Ireland in the coming days. The southerly position of
the jet stream will pull colder Arctic air over the United Kingdom. There is the prospect of up to 10 cm of snow tomorrow, even at some lower levels. On higher ground, there is the risk of strong winds causing drifting and even blizzards.
I have been advised that commuters and travellers are likely to face winter hazards. Therefore, my available fleet of over 120 gritters is available to salt the 7,000 kilometres — 4,300 miles — of main roads in just over three hours, which is a massive logistical exercise that costs over £80,000 each time. Almost 51,000 tons of salt have been used so far this season. At the same point last year, just over 35,000 tons had been used.
That is the forecast, but I hope that we will not see the full impact of the Arctic polar vortex".
The Minister also had to answer questions on Grit Box Replacement and the Rail Newtowk Expansion Plans.
Alban Maginness and Sandra Overend asked for Justice Minister David Ford’s views on the campaign to see minor offences, committed before the age of 18, to be removed from criminal records. Mr Ford met with NIACRO, who launched the campaign, and described their case as “compelling” but warned that “it is a complex issue that requires the careful balancing of public protection with the need to ensure that young people are not stigmatised for the rest of their life because of a single poor choice”. The Minister expressed his sympathy in certain cases and highlighted his commitment to the issue by pointing to the steps he has taken to find a more balanced approach to Access NI filtering (what is/isn’t disclosed on a person’s criminal record). As part of the Justice Bill the Minister intends to introduce a review of filtering “that means that people will be able to ask for an independent review of their case, even after the application of filtering, if they believe that the disclosure of the information is disproportionate.”
Roy Beggs also asked the Minister what assessment has been given to the value for money of Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSPs) grants to the community and voluntary sector. The Minister said that “the recent Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) review of PCSPs highlighted the need for a post-project evaluation to be made against a recognised baseline of agreed measures. While there were some examples of successful projects that represented good value for money, inspectors noted the lack of evidence of value added by others and recommended the development of baseline measures against which projects can be assessed.” The Department and Policing Board want to ensure that PCSPs have a positive effect on local policing and safety issues and plan to review the CJINI recommendations and propose a joint action plan by mid-February.
The Minister also answerd questions on ‘injury on duty’ awards for the PSNI, community policing budget, staffing levels at Maghaberry prison and the transfer of Michaela McCollum from Peru to Northern Ireland.
27 January 2015
At the start of Oral Questions to the Health Minister, Mr Jim Wells was asked what he is going to do to address the shortage of GPs by Ms McCorley MLA.
The Minister shared with the House that there are currently 351 GP practices with over 1,215 GPs providing primary care medical services to a population of 1.8 million. The Minister stated " I am fully aware of the issues around recruitment and retention within general practice. As a result, under the remit of the regional workforce planning group, whose role is to take forward the Transforming Your Care (TYC) recommendations relating to workforce issues, a medical workforce planning subgroup was established to develop a suite of medical workforce plans, including for GPs, for the five-year period 2013-14 to 2018-19. The GP medical workforce group included representatives of the board, the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency, the Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee, the Royal College of GPs and my Department. In addition, the Health and Social Care Board has undertaken further work specifically examining potential initiatives aimed at improving the recruitment and retention of trained GPs.
No final decisions will be taken until the Department has considered the findings of those reviews. Increasing the number of GP trainees would, of course, require increased funding, and any decisions would need to take account of the overall financial position of my Department.
The Minister was also asked for an update on the progress of the vision for good nutritional care strategy for adults in all care settings in Northern Ireland during Oral Questions time.
During the 15 minutes of topical questions to the Minister he was asked about Plain Packaging smoking, banning smoking in cars and to explain how he can justify the cost of court cases in relation to the ban on blood donations from the gay community.
Fears around the budget set aside for education were put to the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, during today’s Question Time with Members keen to learn what consideration the Stormont House Agreement affords schools and learning. The Stormont House Agreement provides up to £500m of new funding over the next 10 years to support shared and integrated education. The Minister conceded that “whilst Northern Ireland has a very good education system and that many come through it with the highest of qualifications and can convert those qualifications into a good university education, university degrees and into well-paying jobs, there are some who unfortunately slip through the net” which is why he is so delighted that he was able to boost the education budget by £63m and the Employment and Learning budget by £35m.
Members were also interested in finding out more about the upcoming devolution of corporation tax and what it might mean for the Northern Ireland economy. Mr Hamilton welcomed the plans as positive news and revealed that “research conducted by Ulster University's economic policy centre suggests that, if a reduced rate of 12·5% were implemented from April 2017, productivity would be 5·9% higher by 2033 than it would otherwise have been. In addition, the economy would be 11% larger, and 37,500 net new jobs would be created.”
During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on Departmental staffing and, during the Topical Questions period, on social housing, government contracts and waste energy.
23 January 2015
With the Secretary of State’s announcement on corporation tax powers being devolved to the Assembly in 2017, we are now beginning an Inquiry to consider the implications of a reduction in corporation tax on Northern Ireland businesses, the wider economy and jobs.
Reducing the rate of corporation tax is one element in improving the economic climate in Northern Ireland. However, it is not the only one, and it is these other factors that our Inquiry will address. We have two years to maximise our potential to attract investment, help local businesses and create jobs before we receive the powers to reduce corporation tax.
Our Inquiry will be wide ranging and we will engage with a range of key stakeholders and businesses—both large and small, indigenous and those which have come to Northern Ireland—to identify the factors which help or inhibit growth. Part of our Inquiry will be to provide recommendations to the Executive that address any barriers to investment, and how these may be rectified in both the short and long term to maximise the potential to our economy.
In particular, the Committee will be focusing attention on those business areas that have the greatest potential for economic growth, including the agri-food, life sciences, financial and creative sectors.
We will also be addressing the important issue of regional balance; ensuring that all parts of Northern Ireland share in an improved economy. It is important that the Executive provides the appropriate environment and incentives to promote and develop a balance of inward investment locally across the region from Strabane to Strangford and from Ballycastle to Belleek.
I would encourage any organisation or individual with an interest in providing evidence to the Committee as part of the Inquiry to contact the Committee by emailing email@example.com. The closing date for submissions is Tuesday 10th March 2015.
We will be updating the public on progress of the Inquiry through the Committee’s Twitter account @nia_ceti.
Listen to Patsy McGlone MLA talk about the Inquiry: