11 December 2013

Question Time: Social Development 10 December 2013

Once again the issue of maintenance contracts in the Housing Executive featured in Question Time to the Minister for Social Development.


When asked by Mike Nesbitt to explain whether he intends to to apologise to the the four contractors which he publicly claimed had overcharged the Executive by an estimated £18 million the Minister stated:
The latest investigation by Campbell Tickell, the report on which was released on 21 November, reports that there are overpayments estimated to be in the region of £9 million to £13 million. That is still a substantial overpayment. As far as I am concerned and as I have said before, it would not matter whether it was £5 million, £10 million, £15 million or £20 million — it is too much. Let us not forget that this is taxpayers’ money that could have been used to build much-needed social homes. Therefore, in answer to the question, no, I have not apologised nor do I have any plans to apologise.
Peter Weir wanted to know what action will be taken by the board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The Minister had this to say:
The board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive accepts the findings of the Campbell Tickell report and regrets the failure to resolve the issues raised at the time when they were first discovered. The Housing Executive board has also agreed that the failing to recover overpayments over the period 2009-2012 was unacceptable and that it needs to be confident that adequate controls are now in place to prevent overpayments in future contracts.
Pam Brown was interested in finding out of the levels of fuel poverty for people aged 60 and over. The Minister provided the following:
The 2011 house condition survey shows that fuel poverty affects 42% of households — about 295,000 households — in Northern Ireland. The survey recorded that there were 135,170 households in fuel poverty where the householder was aged 60 or over, and that represents 46% of all fuel-poor households. Some 83,190 — 52% — of the householders aged between 60 and 74 are in fuel poverty. Some 51,980 people — 60% of householders aged 75 and over — are in fuel poverty. It is quite clear that, as folk get older, there is a higher level of fuel poverty.
Paula Bradley challenged the Minister to outline the number of people on the social housing waiting list in North Belfast and queried whether media reports that the majority of those on the list where from the nationalist community. Nelson McCausland stated:
When people register for housing, they can self-identify as Protestant or Roman Catholic, or, indeed, they can choose from a range of other options including none, refused, unknown, mixed or other religious group. 
The figures for those in North Belfast who self-identify as either Protestant or Roman Catholic are, in many ways, quite similar. For example, there are 1,479 people from the Protestant community and 1,489 people from the Roman Catholic community on the waiting list in North Belfast as of 1 December.

The needs in the two communities are almost exactly equal.
During Topical Questions, the Minister covered topics including the Pledge of Office, Public Realm Works, Welfare Reform Bill and insulation.

You can read the full transcript on our website.