ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 22 September 2011

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting began at 10.05am in open session.

1. Apologies

None

2. Draft Minutes of Meeting 15 September 2011

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 15 September 2011 were agreed.

Ms Pam Lewis joined the meeting at 10.05am

3. Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson reminded Members that the Committee was holding its Informal Stakeholder Reception in the Long Gallery immediately after the Committee meeting.

The Chairperson advised Members that he had a meeting on 21 September 2011 with representatives SABMiller in respect of their response to the DSD/DHSSPS consultation on the minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

4. Matters arising

The Chairperson reminded Members that at its meeting of 15 September 2011, the Committee agreed that it would consider a draft of its response to the Housing Benefit Reform – Supported Housing Consultation.

Mr Mark H Durkan joined the meeting at 10.06am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the Committee response to the consultation to the Department.

5. Budget (2011-12 and 2012-15) – Departmental Briefing

The Committee received a briefing from senior Department officials on the Budget (2011-12 and 2012-15). This was followed by a question and answer session.

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.10am:

Ms Heather Cousins - Deputy Secretary of Resources, Housing and Social Security Group; and
Mr Stephen McMurray - Director of Finance

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.11am

The Committee expressed concerns in respect of the planned reduction of up to 500 staff in the Housing Executive over the 4 year budget period. The Committee also expressed concern in relation to the 25% reduction in funding to infrastructure support organisations, in regard to a community development reduction. Officials agreed to provide follow-up information on both subjects, including cuts in urban regeneration funding.

The Committee queried the length of time the audit issue regarding Helm Housing has been on-going.

The Chairperson highlighted that when the Committee specifically requests information on important issues that the appropriate officials from the Department should be present in future to provide the information.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 10.34am

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would write to the Department to seek further information and clarification on the following:

  • The reduction of up to 500 staff in the Housing Executive;
  • The 25% reduction in funding to infrastructure support organisations, in regard to Community Development reductions, and the impact on Neighbourhood Renewal funding;
  • Cuts in urban regeneration funding, including what is being done in this are in North and West Belfast;
  • The small pockets of deprivation and areas at risk programmes;
  • The Child Care Fund;
  • Information on the number of applications wanting to buy Housing Executive stock under the Co-Ownership Scheme in the last financial year compared to funding available.

Michael Copeland left the meeting at 10.35am

6. Fuel Poverty Strategy – Assembly Research and Information Services

An Assembly Research Officer joined the meeting at 10.35am.

The Committee received a briefing from the Research Officer on a paper on Fuel Poverty.

Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 10.38am

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek further information on not for profit energy suppliers involved in fuel poverty in the UK. The Committee also requested further information on specific energy efficiency measures in protected tenancies.

The Chairperson thanked the Research Officer for the briefing.

7. Fuel Poverty Strategy – Departmental briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.47am:

Mr Jim Wilkinson, Director of Housing;
Ms Eilish O’Neil, DSD; and
Mr Oliver McHugh, DSD.

The Committee received a briefing from the officials on the progress on actioning the new DSD Fuel Poverty Strategy and other information which the Committee specifically requested.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would write to the Department and request the following:

  • More details on progress with and the implementation outcomes of their new Fuel Poverty Strategy for Northern Ireland “Warmer Healthier Homes”; and
  • More information from the Housing Executive on the Energy Efficiency Certificate.

The Committee requested that the Department provide regular updates to the Committee on its new Fuel Poverty Strategy.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.20am.

8. Statutory Rules

8.1 SR 2011 No.293 The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee received a briefing from Department officials on The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 11.25am:

Anne McCleary- Director, Social Security Policy and Legislation;
Michael Pollack, Social Security, Policy and Legislation; and
Richard Worledge, Social Security, Policy and Legislation.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their briefing.

Following discussion, the Committee divided as follows on the motion: “That the Committee for Social Development has considered The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 (SR 2011/293) and recommends that it be annulled by the Assembly”:

Ayes 4; Noes 2; Abstentions 1; Not Voting 4:

Question put and Agreed:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered The Housing Benefit (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 (SR 2011/293) and recommends that it be annulled by the Assembly.”

The officials left the meeting at 12.11am.

Michael Copeland left the meeting at 12.11pm

8.2 SR 2011 / 305 The Occupational Pension Schemes (Contracting Out) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011.

Question put and Agreed:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule 2011/305: The Occupational Pension Schemes (Contracting Out) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report has no objection to the Rule.”

9. Correspondence

Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 12.13pm

9.1 The Committee considered correspondence from SAB Miller requesting an opportunity to brief the Committee on its response to the DSD/DHSSPS consultation on minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to SABMiller to advise that it has noted its response to the consultation and will await a briefing from the Department on this consultation before deciding if it wishes to receive a briefing from SABMiller.

9.2 The Committee considered an invitation from Disability Action to the Chairperson to participate in the panel discussion as part of its Welfare Reform event on Thursday 20 October 2011. The Chairperson advised the Members that the Deputy Chairperson will attend.

9.3 The Committee considered correspondence from the Department in respect of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s Report ‘An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment for Northern Ireland’.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek a briefing on this Report and the “Call for Evidence” from the Department in advance of the closing date.

9.4 The Chairperson highlighted a report from Citizens Advice Bureau on Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland.

9.5 The Chairperson reminded Members that the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition is holding a fuel poverty conference on Friday 23 September 2011 at the Millennium Forum in Derry-Londonderry.

9.6 The Committee was content to note the remaining items of correspondence.

10. Forward Work Programme

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the draft Forward Work Programme for September – November 2011.

11. Any Other Business

The Chairperson reminded Members that the Committee’s informal Reception will take place immediately after the meeting in the Long Gallery.

12. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 29 September 2011 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings at 10.00am.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.15pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
29 September 2011

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