4 December 2013

Question Time: Finance and Personnel 03 December 2013



Peter Weir challenged the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton to address Civil Service sickness absence during Question Time. The Minister stated that managing attendance and reducing sick absence remains a key priority for the Civil Service. Sickness absence rose to 10.6 days on average in the past year against a target of nine days. Departmental officials are considering a range of potential actions, including a stress survey and a follow-up action plan.

Daithí McKay told the house that there is a correlation between walking or cycling to work and fewer sick days and suggested to the Minister that health and well-being are key to addressing sick absence. Simon Hamilton agreed and stated that a healthier workforce is by far the best way to deal with this problem

In a response to a question from Alastair Ross on the work of the Public Sector Reform Division the Minister stated:
The director has been appointed, and he is currently identifying a small, multidisciplinary team to develop and progress a work programme of activity. That programme is being informed by researching best practice approaches that have merit from other parts of the world. Meanwhile, I and the senior staff within the public sector reform division have been engaging with industry, the community and voluntary sector and trade unions to listen to their views and thoughts on the opportunities for delivering reform in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, arm's-length bodies and local councils.
When challenged by Phil Flanagan to provide information regarding the country and regional analysis the Minister stated:
Spending per head in Northern Ireland was the highest in the whole of the United Kingdom at £10,900, which represents 124% of the UK average.
From this report, we see that, in Northern Ireland, we have £10,900 spent per head of the population compared with £8,500 in England, which is the lowest figure. That shows that Northern Ireland's people are getting an exceptionally good deal out of their membership of the United Kingdom.
Basil McCrea asked the Minister his assessment of the creation of a Commission on Devolution in Northern Ireland. The Minister responded:
The most important consideration for us is the devolution of corporation tax. Clearly, we want to draw on the findings, but I do not want to unduly delay this work. The economic pact commitment is to put recommendations to the Executive by autumn 2014, and I want to achieve that. Therefore, there are no plans at this stage to establish a commission for Northern Ireland.
When pressed further by Members, the Minister revealed we are in receipt of quite a large subvention from the United Kingdom which sits at £10·5 billion. Northern Ireland raises about £3·5 billion in income tax every year.

During Topical Questions the Minister revealed that he had held discussions with the Ulster Bank following recent glitches in its IT systems. He also stated that he was disappointed that the Narrow Water Bridge scheme has not been able to go forward. The Minister was then able to provide assurances to Phil Flanagan that he and his Executive colleagues will do everything in their power to try to retain the jobs locally.

You can read a full transcript in the Official Report.