Pam Cameron asked the First Minister, Peter Robinson, about the impact that the delay in Welfare Reform will have on the Stormont House agreement during today’s questions to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Mr Robinson revealed that the Stormont House Agreement implementation group (comprising the five party leaders) has continued to meet every Monday in an attempt to work toward agreed objectives and timescales but “unless an agreement can be reached on welfare reform, the other elements of the Stormont House Agreement cannot be implemented. The Secretary of State has made clear the repercussions of such a failure: corporation tax will not be devolved, despite the Bill having passed its Final Stage in the House of Lords last week; there will be no funding for the public sector voluntary exit scheme, which could have created a potential saving of up to £500 million per annum; and the planned reduction in Departments and reduction in the number of Assembly Members will not go ahead. ” The financial impact is also of great concern. Having already been fined £100m by the Treasury another fine of £114m is on the way. There is also the issue of how social security and tax credit payments will be made when the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs close their legacy IT systems, which we are presently using.
Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, also discussed the implementation of the Child Poverty Strategy. The Child Poverty Act requires the Executive to review the Strategy every three years. The last review was completed in 2014 and the delivery of a child poverty strategy is one of the key components of the Delivering Social Change programme. A child poverty advisory group with representatives from the Departments was established to oversee the development of a new outcomes-based child poverty strategy. That new strategy will allow us to assess and review the action taken and is due to be published shortly.
The First Minister also addressed Members’ concerns on St Patrick’s Barracks, racial equality, on-the-runs letters, the recent trip to the US and the Delivering Social Change literacy scheme.