PUBLIC AUTHORITIES (REFORM) BILL
EXPLANATORY AND FINANCIAL MEMORANDUM
1. This Explanatory and Financial Memorandum has been prepared by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. It does not form part of the Bill and has not been endorsed by the Assembly.
2. The Memorandum needs to be read in conjunction with the Bill. It does not, and is not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause or schedule does not seem to require an explanation or comment, none is given.
BACKGROUND AND POLICY OBJECTIVES
3. Public Authorities Reform legislation arises out of decisions by Peter Hain, then Secretary of State, to make changes to a number of small public bodies, either through dissolution or a transfer of functions.
4. When issued originally for consultation as a proposal for a draft Order in Council from 24 January to 20 April 2007, the legislation contained provisions for abolition of the Fisheries Conservancy Board, Disability Living Allowance Board and the Northern Ireland Housing Council as well as a number of public appointments provisions and repeals of redundant legislation. As a result of the consultation and a review by the devolved administration following restoration of the Assembly, the provisions relating to the abolition of the Housing Council and public appointments have been withdrawn.
5 The provisions of the Bill include implementation of Review of Public Administration decisions on public bodies requiring primary legislation for which there is no other suitable legislative vehicle at present. Details are as follows:
The Fisheries Conservancy Board – Transfer of functions to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
This body is responsible for the conservation and protection of the salmon and inland fisheries of Northern Ireland other than those which are the responsibility of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission.
On 5 November 2007 the Assembly approved a motion that legislation to abolish the Fisheries Conservancy Board and transfer its responsibility to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure should be brought forward as a matter of urgency.
Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board – Abolish
The role of the board is to advise the Department for Social Development on such matters relating to Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance as it refers to the Board, including advice to the Department’s medical officers on specific cases or questions. The Department will continue to have access to independent expert advice in relation to these two important benefits as legislation will be brought forward to extend the remit of the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board in Great Britain to include provision of advice to the Department for Social Development.
This will provide a single source of advice to both the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in Great Britain and to the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland and bring provision of advice on these allowances into line with the other two statutory bodies in the social security field. It is not anticipated that there will be any material difference in the quality or timeliness of advice.
Legislation to extend the remit of the Great Britain board will take effect simultaneously with commencement of the Public Authorities (Reform) Bill provisions to abolish the Northern Ireland board.
Repeals of Primary Legislation
In some other cases (Enterprise Ulster and the Pig Production Development Committee) it has been possible to implement Review of Public Administration decisions by subordinate legislation and, in these circumstances, the Bill carries a number of repeals of primary legislation, relating to the organisations, that are no longer relevant. The Laganside Corporation has also been dissolved by subordinate legislation although it was not included in the announcement of the decisions on the Review of Public Administration on 21 March 2006. This decision was taken earlier as the Corporation had achieved its statutory remit as set out in the Laganside Development (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to secure the regeneration of Belfast’s riverside and waterfront areas. However, as with the above bodies the Public Authorities (Reform) Bill carries a number of repeals of primary legislation, that dissolution of the organisation renders redundant.
6. 22 responses were received to the consultation on the proposal for the draft Order in Council, 15 of which opposed the abolition of the Housing Council and 9 which opposed the public appointments provisions. A total of 4 comments were received in relation to the Fisheries Conservancy Board, 2 of which expressed opposition to the provisions and 1 of which recommended amendment to the provisions covering the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) regulations. Comments concerning the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board totalled 3 - 2 of which opposed the provisions.
7. Having considered all of the comments it was, as indicated above, decided to remove the Housing Council and public appointments provisions but retain the Fisheries Conservancy Board provisions amended, to address the issue of TUPE raised in the consultation, and retain the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board provisions.
8. Following restoration, the main options considered were either to take forward the remaining provisions of the proposal for an Order in Council as an omnibus Assembly Bill promoted by OFMDFM or leave it to each of the Departments with policy responsibility to bring forward their own Bill separately (or add the provisions to some other suitable legislative vehicle in due course). It was concluded that the most appropriate method of dealing with the remaining legislative requirements was to retain the omnibus approach and OFMDFM lead.
9. The Bill consists of 8 Clauses and 3 schedules. The key areas are:
- Transfer of functions from the Fisheries Conservancy Board to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure;
- Abolition of the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board; and
- Repeal of primary legislation in relation to the dissolution of public bodies.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Comments on individual Clauses follow as appropriate. Comments are not given where the wording is self explanatory.
Clause 3: Northern Ireland Pig Production Development Committee
Separate subordinate legislation has been used to wind up the Committee and this Clause lists the primary legislation provisions to be repealed as a consequence.
Clause 4: Enterprise Ulster
Separate subordinate legislation has been used to dissolve Enterprise Ulster and this Clause lists the primary legislation provisions to be repealed as a consequence.
Clause 5: Laganside Corporation
Separate subordinate legislation has been used to dissolve the Laganside Corporation and the Clause lists the primary legislation provisions to be repealed as a consequence.
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL
10. Financial effects are as follows:
- Transfer of Fisheries Conservancy Board functions to the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure – There will be savings to central government in that departmental payments to the Board for services received and grant in aid will no longer apply. Also, receipts currently going to the Board from, for example, licence sales, will come to central government and there is potential for savings due to economies of scale. However, there will also be an increase in the programme and running costs of the Department when the Board functions, and associated staff, transfer.
- Remaining provisions – no additional costs or savings anticipated.
HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
11. The provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention on Human Rights.
EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
12. The individual elements of the Bill have been screened for equality issues and it is considered that there are no equality issues in relation to the proposals.
SUMMARY OF THE REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
13. A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been prepared as the provisions of the Bill will have no, or negligible, impact on business, charities, social economy enterprises or voluntary bodies.
14. The First Minister and deputy First Minister had made the following statement under section 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998:
"In our view the Public Authorities (Reform) Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly."