Minutes of Proceedings
Date: Thursday, 13 June 2013
Venue: Coleraine Borough Council
The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 9.54am
The Chairperson thanked Mr David McClarty MLA for taking the time to welcome Committee Members to Coleraine Borough Council despite ill health, and offered Mr McClarty the Committee's best wishes.
Apologies were as indicated above.
2. NIHE Maintenance Contracts - Briefing by Chair of the Housing Executive
The following officials joined the meeting at 9.56am:
• Donald Hoodless, Chairperson, NIHE
• John McPeake, Chief Executive NIHE
The Chairperson welcomed the officials and thanked them for attending the Committee meeting at short notice, following the Minister's announcement on the Housing Executive's planned maintenance contracts.
The officials briefed the Committee, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation and the importance of transparency and a quick resolution – hence the proposed independent review into the matter.
The Committee noted that the Minister stated that DFP's Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU) would work on the contract management processes and asked what exactly they had been called upon to do. The officials clarified that work by PEDU is to commence in September and that DSD are in the process of drawing up Terms of Reference.
Members of the Committee queried whether it was fair for the Minister to refer to four of the contractors in public due to the significant potential for reputational damage, particularly given that the figure of £18m of overpayments referred to by the Minister in his statement was an estimate. The officials stated that the Chair of NIHE had informed the Minister of the broader implications of this issue but that it had ultimately been the decision of the Minister to make this statement.
Mr Fra McCann MLA joined the meeting at 10.05am.
Ms Judith Cochrane MLA joined the meeting at 10.06am.
The officials acknowledged that the recovery of payments remained unresolved, but that they were determined to progress this – by legal action if necessary, but preferably through constructive discussions with the contractors involved.
The Committee reiterated that that the public naming of contractors was inappropriate and that the overall issue was the sustainability of maintenance contracts.
In relation to the announcement that another NIHE contractor, MDC, had gone into administration the officials replied that a process was underway to transfer relevant MDC staff to the DLO and that PK Murphy had been drafted in to fulfill some contracts temporarily.
Mr Michael Copeland MLA joined the meeting at 10.12am.
Members expressed concern that the Committee needed more detail than it had been given regarding where the figure of £18m had come from. They asked for clarification as to whether overpayment referred to work that was paid for and not carried out or work that had cost more than expected.
The officials replied that the sort of overpayment issues related to those on project price lists and whether the work was done in accordance with these. They acknowledged that sometimes variations inevitably occurred in work and that these cases would fall under approved additional expenditure rather than overpayment. The officials noted that the estimate provided in the report needed to be refined with contractor input and that this had been sought through adjudications, but that information had come from contractors too late to contribute to the figure.
The Committee asked whether the independent consultant was then brought in after adjudications failed. The officials responded that this was the case and that they had felt strongly that it was important to test that they had gotten to the bottom of the issue. The chairperson of the Executive noted that, when he first assumed his current post, that response maintenance and planned maintenance contracts were dealt with by separate people, resulting in internal dis-functionality. The officials stressed the need for restructuring to put all maintenance under one contract.
Committee Members noted that most people would want to know the extent of overpayment and queried whether money recouped would go back into the public purse. The officials noted that this was an option and would be discussed by the NIHE Board next week.
Members asked whether it was correct to say that the current situation has been gestating over a four or five year period and officials confirmed that this was the case. Members asked when the scale of the problem had become apparent. The officials responded that the issue had become apparent in 2011 and had prompted follow-up work, but that it was only in the last several months that it has been possible to produce an estimate. The officials acknowledged that mistakes had been made – specifically that the Housing Executive allowed contractors to work on an 'in trust' basis and that this had been naïve on the part of the NIHE. They stated that they were attempting to address these appropriately.
Members asked who had responsibility for monitoring the contracts from the period of 2008 – 2011 and officials stated that the Review would seek to determine this.
Members made reference to the officials' written submission that stated the independent review visited every housing executive office and asked the officials to expand on this. The officials clarified that all district NIHE offices were visited and an attempt made to speak to all relevant employees, with the ultimate intention of changing the system to a 'new normal'.
Members asked whether the procurement process in place meant that contracts always had to go to the lowest tender. The officials stated that this was not the case – that the system is in place looks more broadly at the quality of work offered and value for money. They acknowledged that the procurement process had previously been applied too lackadaisically.
Members expressed the need for reassurance that there would not be a backlog of maintenance work as this was an issue of significant concern to constituents. The officials stated that every attempt would be made to fulfill contracts in a timely manner as they recognised the importance of serving tenants in this transitional period.
The Committee also asked for the Terms of Reference and a timeframe for the report. The officials agreed to forward the Terms of Reference to the Committee and that the review was due for completion in early September. The Chairperson noted that the Committee would look forward to commenting on the review in September.
The officials left the meeting at 10.56am.
This session was recorded by Hansard.
Following the meeting with Housing Executive officials, the Committee agreed for a Press Release on the issues discussed to be issued with some minor amendments.
Ms Paula Bradley MLA left the meeting at 11.02 am.
3. Draft Minutes of the Meeting 13 June
Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on 13 June 2013 were agreed.
4. Chairperson's Business
The Chairperson proposed that the Committee hold an 'Away Day' on 5 September
instead of the regular meeting, at which Committee Members can discuss the programme
of work for the next session – issues the Committee should discuss and how outcomes
could be achieved strategically. The Committee agreed schedule an 'Away Day' as
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that, following its meeting on 27 June, a visit
is to the Work Capability Assessment Centre at Royston House has been scheduled, at
which the Committee will receive a tour of the Medical Examination Centre and receive a
briefing on the role of Atos Healthcare.
Ms Judith Cochrane MLA left the meeting at 11.07am.
5. Matters Arising
5.1 The Chairperson drew Members' attention to a letter and briefing paper from the SSA regarding Discretionary Support. The Committee received a briefing regarding Discretionary Support at its meeting on 23 May. The Chairperson advised Members that the Committee response to the consultation must be sent to the Department following the Committee meeting on 27 June, so Members should forward comments to Committee staff by 24 June.
5.2 The Chairperson drew Members' attention to a Press Release regarding today's afternoon visit to see regeneration projects in Coleraine and advised that it would be issued today. The Committee approved the Press Release and agreed for it to be issued.
5.3 The Chairperson informed Members that the Committee received an email requesting that it holds its meeting of 28 November at the Conference of the Isles event in the Everglades Hotel in Derry~Londonderry. The Committee agreed to hold its meeting at the conference and suggested that the Committee could play a role in the conference, especially as this event is important in terms of housing. The Chairperson said that it would be important to look at how the Committee could contribute strategically to the conference.
6. European Regional Development Fund – Sustainable Urban Development – Departmental Briefing
The following officials joined the meeting at 11.11am:
• Mr Stephen Duffy, DSD
• Mr Tony McKibben, DSD
The officials briefed the Committee on the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – Sustainable Urban Development and the proposals for use of the fund in Northern Ireland.
Ms Paula Bradley MLA returned to the meeting at 11.13am.
Ms Judith Cochrane MLA returned to the meeting at 11.18am.
The Committee noted that this funding, although limited, is vital as 70% of people in Northern Ireland live in urban areas and asked what range of innovation was expected. The officials replied that about 50% of the ERDF went into urban areas and that issues of sustainable urban development needed to be considered holistically and underpinned by a robust urban strategy. They emphasised the importance of linking cities, noting that, although an innovative approach may be taken in one city, that this was not then disseminated to others. They stated that ideas for bids for development money needed to be both innovative and transferrable.
The Committee noted that the officials stated that DFP questioned the 'added value' in setting up Integrated Investment areas or local delivery through Community Led Local Development because of the size of Northern Ireland and the available funding and asked if the officials could outline the Department's opinion on DFP's position. The officials stated that they looked at the proposed delivery mechanism on a case-by-case basis.
Members asked how the ERDF , PEACE IV and other funding initiatives would link in with the Social Investment Fund (SIF) and Urban Village initiatives put forward by OFMDFM. The officials replied that there are issues around duplication and complexity when different funding streams are involved. They noted that it was important to ensure that SIF was complementing work being undertaken with different funding streams. They indicated that in terms of different European funding streams was ensuring that they were employed in an integrated manner – the Integrated Territorial Investment is intended to aid this. This is also why the Department supports the Barroso Taskforce and has staff present in Europe.
Officials also noted that Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) would assist in channeling European funding for neighbourhood renewal programmes and that they were encouraging initiatives for urban-rural linkages.
The officials left the meeting at 11.40am.
7. Town Centre Regeneration – Briefing by Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA)
The following officials joined the meeting at 11.40am:
• Mr Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive, NIIRTA
• Mr Colin Neil, Chief Executive, Pubs of Ulster
The officials briefed the Committee on town centre regeneration initiatives and priorities.
The Committee asked, given the importance for a joined up approach between Departments, whether NIIRTA welcomed the increasing input from DOE, DRD and DSD into regeneration. The officials replied that this was a positive move, but that ultimately they would envisage a merged department for strategic development for greater effectiveness.
Members of the Committee lauded NIIRTA for proactively seeking solutions for issues around regeneration, rather than lamenting existing problems and asked if there would be a problem over the next five or ten years that some retailers would simply see themselves as continuing to carry our business as they always had done. The officials acknowledged that the biggest problem was in the mindset of the traders themselves as many continued outdated practice. They explained that NIIRTA's role was to try and get businesses to embrace change and modernisation, citing town centre apps as an exciting and positive technological development. They also stated that crisis is often a good instigator of innovation and that recently initiatives such as 'click and collect' have been good for getting people into town centres and emphasised the continued need for parking improvements in town centres.
Mr Gregory Campbell MLA left the meeting at 12.07pm
The officials expressed the need for connectivity, rather than just development in the city centre and praised Belfast Council for placing retailers on arterial routes into the city. They also expressed concern over the need for more independent retailers and about the number of 'painted-on shops'.
Ms Judith Cochrane MLA left the meeting at 12.09pm.
Mr Michael Copeland MLA left the meeting at 12.10pm.
Mr Fra McCann MLA left the meeting at 12.12pm.
Some Members expressed the opinion that a generic planning system may not encompass relevant issues in individual constituencies and that councils should be able to make better informed decisions.
Ms Paula Bradley MLA left the meeting at 12.15pm
Officials commented that the reputation of Northern Ireland had been enhanced since the G8 Summit and that elements of the recent 'Backin' Belfast' campaign had the potential to be used in other town centres.
Members asked what the Committee could do to assist in the regeneration of town centres. The officials noted that their greatest concern is with red tape, particularly as there are expenses tied up in this.
Ms Paula Bradley MLA returned to the meeting at 12.25pm.
The officials left the meeting at 12.25pm.
8. Statutory Rule – SR164/2013 The Emergency Grants (Eligible Tenants) (Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013
The Committee considered the following Statutory Rule:
SR 164/2013 The Emergency Grants (Eligible Tenants) (Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013
Question put and agreed:
That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR164/2013 The Emergency Grants (Eligible Tenants) (Amendments) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 and, subject to the Examiner of Stautory Rules' report, has no objections to the Rule.
This Rule is subject to the negative resolution procedure.
9. Statutory Rule – SR167/2013 The Social Security (Croatia) Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013
The Committee considered the following Statutory Rule:
SR 167/2013 The Social Security (Croatia) Amendment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013 – Statutory Rule
Question put and agreed:
That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR167/2013 The Social Security (Croatia) (Amendment) Regulation (Northern Ireland) 2013.
The Rule is subject to the negative resolution procedure.
10.1 The Chairperson drew Members' attention to a letter from the Minister in relation to the delay in the implementation of the landlord registration scheme IT system, advising that the Department is working with NI Direct to deliver a new approach to the registration system and advising that new regulations are to be introduced in coming weeks. The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing on these matters in early September.
10.2 The Chairperson drew Members' attention to a letter from the Minister regarding call for evidence on the Internal Market: Free Movement of Persons. The Department of Work and Pensions expressed a particular interest in hearing evidence from Northern Ireland due to its unique position of having a land border with another Member State. The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing from the Department on this matter.
10.3 The Committee agreed action on the correspondence as per the Correspondence Memo.
11. Forward Work Programme
The Committee was content with the proposed Forward Work Programme.
12. Any Other Business
There was no other business.
13. Date, time and place of next meeting
The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 27 June 2013 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.30.
Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development
27 June 2013