COMMITTEE FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
Thursday, 1 MAY 2008
ROOM 135, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Mr Martin Wilson (Bill Clerk)
The meeting opened at 11.04am in public session.
No apologies – all Members were present.
Draft minutes of the meeting held on 17 April 2008
Agreed – The draft minutes were agreed.
i. Post Office closures
Mrs McGill declared that she knew someone who owns a Post Office.
Agreed – The Committee agreed its response to the current consultation on the proposed Post Office closures. It was also agreed that a copy of the response should be sent to the Clerk to the Ad Hoc Committee on Local Postal Services.
ii. Committee visit to Dublin
With regard to the Committee visit to Dublin to see the three best practice areas identified in the research paper on affordable and social housing, the Chairperson informed the Committee that it was intended that Members would travel to Dublin on the afternoon of Wednesday, 11 June 2008 and travel back on the afternoon of Friday, 13 June 2008.
The Chairperson asked Members who wished to go on the visit to contact the Clerk by close of play on 6 May 2008.
Statutory Rules laid in the Assembly
The Committee considered the following Statutory Rules which are subject to negative resolution and have been laid in the Assembly:
SR 2008/169 – The Social Security (Work-focused Interviews for Partners) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2008
Question put and agreed:
“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule 2008 No. 169 The Social Security (Work-focused Interviews for Partners) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2008 and has no objection to the Rule.”
During consideration of the above Statutory Rule, the Committee expressed concern as to how lack of appropriate childcare provision in Northern Ireland would impact on the implementation of this Regulation.
Agreed – To write to the Minister seeking her views in relation to this matter.
SR 2008/178 – The Occupational Pension Schemes (Employer Debt: Apportionment Arrangements) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2008
Question put and agreed:
“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule 2008 No. 178 The Occupational Pension Schemes (Employer Debt: Apportionment Arrangements) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2008 and has no objection to the Rule.”
SR 2008/179 – The Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No.2) Regulations (NI) 2008
Question put and agreed:
“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule 2008 No. 179 The Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No.2) Regulations (NI) 2008 and has no objection to the Rule.”
Briefing by Permanent Secretary on DSD Corporate Plan
The Permanent Secretary, Mr Alan Shannon, joined the meeting at 11.18am, accompanied by Barney McGahan, Deputy Secretary – Resources, Housing & Social Security Group.
Mr Shannon briefed the Committee on the Department for Social Development’s draft Corporate Plan for 2008 – 2011 and the draft 2008 – 2009 Supplement. This was followed by a question and answer session.
Ms Lo joined the meeting at 11.24am.
The issue of increasing fuel costs was raised, and in particular, the recent increases in the price of gas. Members noted that a representative from Phoenix Gas sat on the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Advisory Group and expressed an interest in the contribution made by Phoenix Gas to the work of the Group. The officials agreed to provide the Committee with information on the matter.
Mr Hilditch joined the meeting at 11.39am.
Mr Cobain joined the meeting at 11.41am.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.
The officials left the meeting at 11.47am.
Research paper on Town Centre Regeneration
The Committee considered a research paper prepared by Assembly Research and Library Services relating to the inquiry into town centre regeneration.
Agreed – It was agreed to invite representatives from Strabane Chamber of Commerce, Strabane 2000 and Strabane District Council to give joint oral evidence in relation to the inquiry. It was also agreed to invite representatives from Cookstown District Council and Town Centre Forum to give joint oral evidence in relation to the inquiry.
The Clerk drew Members’ attention to the Boston Main Streets Programme, referred to in the research paper as an example of best practice in the USA and highlighted in evidence given to the Committee by the Federation of Small Businesses. As well as providing an excellent example of urban regeneration, the Boston Main Streets Programme was also relevant to the Committee’s consideration of the Semple recommendations.
Agreed – It was agreed that a Committee visit to Boston, possibly in September 2008, should be undertaken. The Clerk was asked to take forward the arrangements for the visit.
7. Briefings on the Carer’s Allowance Bill
The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 11.51am:
John O’Neill – Director, Social Security Policy & Legislation Division
Gerry McCann – Social Security Policy & Legislation Division
Janis Creane – Social Security Policy & Legislation Division.
The officials briefed the Committee on the Carer’s Allowance Bill. This was followed by a question and answer session.
The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.
The officials left the meeting at 12.24pm.
Mr David McNarry MLA joined the meeting at 12.24pm and briefed the Committee on his Private Member’s Bill in relation to payment of Carer’s Allowance. This was followed by a question and answer session.
Agreed – The Committee agreed to obtain from the Department a breakdown of the estimated £38.6m per annum additional gross expenditure that would be generated if the Assembly were to pass the Bill. The Committee agreed to forward the information to Mr McNarry when received.
The Chairperson thanked Mr McNarry for the informative briefing.
Mr McNarry left the meeting at 12.49pm.
The Committee discussed the line the Chairperson should take when speaking on behalf of the Committee during the motion on the second stage of the Carer’s Allowance Bill, scheduled for debate in plenary on 6 May 2008.
Mr Burns left the meeting at 12.55pm.
Agreed – In light of the ongoing review of the National Carer’s Strategy, it was agreed that it would be premature to consider this matter further before the outcome was known. The Committee noted that the findings of the review were due to be published in early June 2008. The Committee agreed with the general thrust of the Bill but recognised the problems that the Bill would pose, including the very significant cost implications and impact it could have on the current funding regime for social security which is based on the maintenance of parity.
Mr Cobain left the meeting at 1.05pm.
Mr McCann left the meeting at 1.05pm.
i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister explaining the delay in finalising the procurement strategy for social housing.
Mr Brady left the meeting at 1.06pm.
ii. The Committee noted the Minister’s response to its request for further information on the impact of recent developments in relation to the Co-ownership Scheme on her new housing agenda.
iii. The Committee noted the Minister’s response to its concerns in relation to the monitoring of progress of economic appraisals and other documents submitted to the Department of Finance and Personnel.
iv. The Committee noted the Department’s response to its request for an update on the position regarding Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships where funding was due to end on 31 March 2008.
v. The Committee noted the Department’s response to its request for updated information on the extent to which other government departments had taken Neighbourhood Renewal into account in the agreed Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy 2008-2011.
vi. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department updating Members on progress in relation to the Strategic Business Review of the Social Security Agency.
vii. The Committee considered correspondence from NIPSA expressing concern about the plan to shed 450 Housing Executive jobs under the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the wider impact on the social housing programme.
Agreed – To forward the correspondence to the Department for Social Development for comment.
viii. The Committee noted a letter from eaga – who administer the Warm Homes Scheme – thanking the Committee for its support, particularly during the Budget consultation period.
ix. The Committee considered correspondence from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) requesting to brief it on its latest report,‘Nightmare on Every Street’.
Agreed – As the report was relevant to the inquiry into town centre regeneration, it was agreed to invite NIIRTA to give oral evidence to the inquiry.
x. The Committee considered correspondence from t he Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, inviting Minister Ritchie and this Committee to submit written evidence on the inquiry into Credit Unions.
Agreed – It was agreed not to submit evidence to the inquiry, but to be kept informed of progress. It was also agreed to forward the letter to Minister Ritchie.
Forward Work Programme
The Committee noted the Forward Work Programme.
i. The Clerk updated Members on preparations that were being made in advance of taking oral evidence from representatives of Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships and Departmental officials on the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy. The Clerk informed Members that the evidence sessions would be held on Thursday, 5 June 2008 from 10.00am to 1.30pm in the Stormont Hotel, Belfast. Members were content with the timings and venue for the meeting.
ii. The Chairperson informed the Committee that four Members (Mr Brady, Mr Craig, Mr Hilditch and Mr Maginness) had agreed to meet the Chief Executive of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Mr Andrew Hind, on 5 June 2008. The
Chairperson explained that this date was no longer suitable as the Committee would now be meeting in the Stormont Hotel on 5 June 2008. As Mr Hind was still available to meet Members on the afternoon of 4 June 2008, the Chairperson informed the Committee that the assumption would be that the Members who had previously agreed to meet Mr Hind (except for Mr Hilditch) would be available on this date. The Chairperson asked any other Members who wished to meet Mr Hind to contact the Clerk by close of play on 6 May 2008.
Committee Stage of the Charities Bill
The Committee considered a number of proposed technical amendments to the Charities Bill as a result of the introduction of the Companies Act 2006 across the UK. The Committee noted that all of the proposed amendments were of a technical nature
and did not impact on policy.
The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed amendments to the following clauses and schedules:
27, 32, 45, 46, 57, 66, 67, 69, 70, 92, 93, 99, 100, 102, 103, 107, 108, 114, 146, 180, and schedules 6, 8 and 9.
At the meeting on 10 April 2008, the Committee agreed that it was content with Clause 104 as drafted. This clause was now not necessary given the amendments to the Charities Act 1993.
Agreed : “that the Committee recommend to the Assembly that Clause 104 be removed from the Bill”.
The meeting moved into closed session at 1.23pm.
The Committee considered the draft Report on the Committee Stage of the Charities Bill paragraph by paragraph. The Committee agreed the main body of the report:
Introduction, read and agreed
Consideration of the Bill, read and agreed
Clause-by-Clause Scrutiny of the Bill, read and agreed
Executive Summary, read and agreed
The Committee agreed that an extract of today’s Minutes of Proceedings should be included in Appendix 1 of the report and was content that the Chairperson agrees the minutes to allow them to be included in the printed report.
Any other business
Date, time and place of next meeting
The next meeting will be held on Thursday, 15 May 2008 at 11.00am in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.