COMMITTEE FOR FINANCE AND PERSONNEL
Minutes of Proceedings
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Room 152, Parliament Buildings
Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Chairperson)
Simon Hamilton MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Stephen Farry MLA
Fra McCann MLA
Jennifer McCann MLA
David McNarry MLA
Declan O’Loan MLA
Ian Paisley Jnr MLA
Dawn Purvis MLA
Peter Weir MLA
Shane McAteer (Assembly Clerk)
Colin Jones (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Vivien Ireland (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Paula Sandford (Clerical Supervisor)
Chris McCreery (Clerical Officer)
The meeting commenced at 10.03 am in open session.
Apologies are detailed above.
Agreed: that the evidence sessions on agenda items 4 and 5 will be recorded by Hansard and the finalised transcripts will be published on the website.
2. Draft Minutes of Proceedings of 5 November 2008
Agreed: for publication on the Assembly website.
3. Matters Arising
The Committee noted the outstanding requests for information from Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP).
Dr Farry joined the meeting at 10.05 am.
Mr McCann joined the meeting at 10.06 am.
Ms McCann joined the meeting at 10.06 am.
Members noted the Committee’s response to the Minister of Finance and Personnel on the Budget Stocktake. The Committee is currently awaiting a reply from DFP on this issue.
Members were advised that an initial draft Committee submission on the Budget Stocktake had been prepared and that this will be developed further after the forthcoming DFP briefings and once responses are received from other statutory committees.
Members considered a second draft terms of reference for the Committee scrutiny of public procurement practice.
Mr Hamilton left the meeting at 10.18 am.
Mr Hamilton returned to the meeting at 10.21 am.
Agreed : that further amendments will be made to the draft terms of reference for further consideration at next week’s meeting. It was also agreed that, once the terms of reference is approved by the Committee, it will be copied to the Federation of Small Businesses and Edward Quigg for information, as they are due to give evidence to the Committee on 26 November.
Agreed : that the Social Economy Network will be added to the list of key stakeholders to be consulted as part of the scrutiny of public procurement.
Agreed : to commission a research paper on public procurement, which will help inform the Committee’s initial deliberations.
Agreed : that the Committee’s approach to its scrutiny of public procurement will be to invite written evidence from key stakeholders and then it will decide on which organisations to invite for oral evidence. It also agreed that, given the cross-cutting nature of public procurement, it will seek the views of the other statutory committees on the issues covered in the final terms of reference.
4. Presumption of Death Bill Committee Stage: Evidence from WAVE Trauma Centre
The Committee took evidence from Sandra Peake, Chief Executive Officer, WAVE Trauma Centre and the following family representatives of ‘the disappeared’: Anne Morgan, Patsy McAteer and Kieran Megraw. The session was recorded by Hansard.
Mr McNarry left the meeting at 10.45 am.
Mr Weir left the meeting at 10.46 am.
Mr Weir returned to the meeting at 10.55 am
Agreed : that a copy of the Hansard transcript of the evidence session will be issued to DFP for a response to the issues and suggestions raised both by the witnesses and by members. The DFP response will the be copied to the WAVE Trauma Centre for information and the Committee will follow up on the DFP response when it takes evidence from departmental officials, which is presently scheduled for 26 November.
Mr Weir left the meeting at 11.04 am.
Mr Paisley Jnr joined the meeting at 11.05 am.
5. Report on Relief for Full Time Education Students, Under – 18s, Young People Leaving Care and Cost of Rating 2nd Homes: Evidence from DFP
Mr Weir returned to the meeting at 11.07 am.
Mr O’Loan left the meeting at 11.07 am.
Mr O’Loan returned to the meeting at 11.10 am.
The Committee took evidence from Brian McClure, Head of Rating Policy Division, DFP; Victor Hewitt, Director of the Economic Research Institute of Northern Ireland and Gary McLeod, Farrell Grant Sparks (FGS) McClure Watters, Management Consultant. The session was recorded by Hansard.
Mr Paisley Jnr left the meeting at 11.15 am.
Mr Paisley Jnr returned to the meeting at 11.29 am.
Agreed : that DFP will send the Committee a final report from FGS McClure Watters on the review of the scheme that provides relief from domestic rates for those persons in full-time education and training, young people leaving care and ratepayers under the age of eighteen. It was also agreed that DFP will advise the Committee of the consultant costs in respect of this review.
Mr Weir left the meeting at 11 .40 am.
Mr Weir returned to the meeting at 11 .43 am.
Agreed : that the Committee will advise the Committee for Employment and Learning of its concern at the potential implications from the review recommendations for support for students.
The Committee received a verbal update from Brian McClure, DFP on the cost of rating second homes.
Agreed : that DFP will provide the Committee with a written report on the cost of rating second homes.
Ms McCann left the meeting at 11.45 am.
The Committee noted the following correspondence:
- DFP: Sickness Absence in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) – NICS Taskforce Report;
Agreed : that the Taskforce Report will be forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC);
- DFP News Release: Dodds reaffirms commitment to cut Civil Service Sick Absence;
- Annual Report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency: Analysis of Sick Absence in the NI Departments 2007/2008 and DFP memorandum of response to the PAC Report on Sick Absence in the NICS;
Agreed : that the report will be circulated to the other statutory committees and to PAC.
Agreed : to request regular progress reports from DFP on the recommendations contained in the reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General, PAC and the NICS Taskforce and to arrange an oral briefing from DFP officials in early spring in this regard.
- DFP News Release: Dodds introduces new Voluntary Rates Deferment Scheme;
- Advice NI: Invitation to attend Wiseradviser Training Programme 2009;
- DFP: Minister of Finance and Personnel response to Committee request for quarterly meetings;
- Land and Property Service: Response to Committee queries raised at 22 October session;
- DFP: Progress report on phases 1 and 2 of NI Direct Programme;
Agreed : that the Committee will consider the progress report at next week’s meeting.
- Committee for the Environment: Research Paper: Regulation of access to the countryside in GB and Europe;
Agreed : that the research paper will be sent to DFP as requested.
- Special EU Programmes Body Annual Report and Accounts 2007.
7. Committee Work Programme
Members considered the current draft of the Committee work programme until Christmas recess.
Members were advised that the DFP briefing on the policy aims of the Draft Rates (Amendment) Bill on 19 November will need to be rescheduled to 3 December.
Agreed: that the amended programme will be published on the website.
8. Any Other Business
The Committee was advised that the Chairperson will address a Building Control Convention on 13 November and that this address will be based on the outcome of the Committee’s scrutiny of the Building Regulations (Amendment) Bill.
Members were advised that an analysis of information previously provided to the Committee showed that 75% of the 200 Senior Civil Servants in NICS received bonuses in 2007 and that this amounted to over £1m. This is in the context of the Committee’s ongoing concerns with the performance of the Senior Civil Service in certain key areas, including financial management ( especially the history of high levels of departmental underspend), sick absence management and in achieving business targets generally.
Agreed: that the Committee will issue an urgent press release indicating its intention to investigate this area as discussed.
Members noted the DFP statistical press release on the Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin.
Members discussed the current economic climate, including the downturn in the construction industry.
Agreed: that information will be sought on whether DFP is considering diverting additional funds into social housing as part of the Budget Stocktake outcome.
Ms McCann returned to the meeting at 12.05 pm.
Members discussed the recent cut of 1.5% in the base interest rate.
Agreed: that both the Consumer Council and representatives from the main banks in Northern Ireland will be invited to give evidence as soon as possible to the Committee on a range of issues, including how the recent cut in the base interest rate is passed on to customers and the current loan charges.
Agreed: that information will be requested from DFP on whether it has issued any advice to departments to accelerate the process for paying suppliers, as a 10-day rule appears to have been introduced for Whitehall departments.
Mr McCann left the meeting at 12.07 pm.
Mr McCann returned to the meeting at 12.09 pm.
9. Date, Time and Place of Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 at 10.00 am in Room 152, Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.10 pm.