Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Thursday, 17 January 2008

Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland: Transfer of Functions

17 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Mr Iain Greenway ) Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

The next item of business is the transfer of functions of the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (OSNI) by way of a statutory rule, or SL1. Mr Iain Greenway, chief executive of OSNI, is here to answer any questions that members may wish to ask. I refer members to the correspondence from the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. The transfer of functions order will make a statutory rule for the proposed transfer of OSNI from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to Land and Property Services, which is part of the Department of Finance and Personnel. The statutory rule will be subject to affirmative resolution. I will ask the Principal Clerk to explain that procedure.

The Principal Clerk:

Statutory rules are subordinate legislation made by Ministers, who are empowered by the related primary legislation. There are different types of approval. Most statutory rules are made by negative resolution. In other words, they are laid before the Assembly and become law after a certain time, whether the Assembly votes on them or not — although it is not required to do so. The Assembly can object to a statutory rule by a prayer of annulment; members may recall that a prayer of annulment was debated in the Assembly a few weeks ago. Affirmative resolution, however, is completely different: a statutory rule can become law only if the Assembly votes to approve it. That reflects the importance of the rule and the impact that it will have.

The Chairperson:

The statutory rule will be considered by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, which agreed to seek the views of this Committee and the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the SL1.

If the rule is to come into operation on 1 April 2008, the following timescales will apply: the last date for debate in the Assembly will be 11 March 2008; the last date for a motion to be made to the Business Committee will be 26 February 2008; the last date for Committee consideration of the rule will be 20 February 2008; the last date for the laying of the rule to enable consideration by an examiner before consideration by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister will be 4 February 2008; the last date for the consideration of the SL1 by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister will be 30 January 2008; the last date for consideration of the SL1 by the Committee for Finance and Personnel and the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure will be 24 January 2008.

I refer members to the letter of 23 November 2007 to Damien Martin, the Committee Clerk of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. The part of the letter regarding the consultation states that:

“There are staff concerns surrounding the changes that the merger will bring”.

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) wrote to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in June 2007 requesting assurances for staff. NIPSA raised concerns about the transfer of OSNI to Land and Property Services. There is a copy of the Minister’s response to NIPSA in the members’ packs.

Are members content that the Minister’s response addressed NIPSA’s concerns?

Mr Shannon:

I want to ask a technical question. I am aware of another agency whose financing depends purely on house sales. Regarding the proposed transfer of OSNI, how critical is it that the sale of maps and so on continues? Are such sales required to enable OSNI to provide its services?

Recent reports seem to suggest that house sales will decrease, which may lead to a decrease in the need for maps. If OSNI depends on income from the sale of maps, will it be able to deliver the same service? I am not sure whether that is an appropriate question, but it does need to be clarified.

Mr Iain Greenway (Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland):

Land Registers of Northern Ireland relies solely on income generated by house transactions, whereas perhaps 10% of OSNI’s revenue is related to the purchase of maps in such transactions. Therefore a small percentage change in the number of house transactions would squeeze OSNI’s budget a little, but it would not blow anything out of the water.

Mr Shannon:

You would still deliver your service.

Mr Greenway:

Yes. Such a decrease may affect the exact balance of financing from the centre, as opposed to direct revenue from the sale of maps. However, as members may be aware, OSNI is funded, in practice, by net funding. Therefore money that we do not get from sales is made up by the centre, which may alter the ratio slightly.

Mr Shannon:

That is fair enough.

Mr P Ramsey:

I take no comfort from the Minister’s letter to NIPSA regarding staff. As Jim Shannon said, in trying to retain the excellent service that OSNI provides, staff skills will be required.

The Minister states that he understands staff concerns blah, blah, blah. How many people will be transferred, and how many are in the system at present?

Mr Greenway:

OSNI employs about 180 staff. Assuming that the transfer is approved, all of them will transfer to Land and Property Services, which will employ just over 1,000 people. That includes staff from the Valuation and Lands Agency, the Rate Collection Agency, Land Registers of Northern Ireland and OSNI. Land and Property Services would employ roughly that number in the new agency.

Depending on the progress of rating reform and rating for vacant domestic properties, the number of staff required may increase in certain areas. Therefore the transfer will not affect the numbers of staff required to carry out OSNI’s functions. Valuation and Lands Agency staff collect information on housing; OSNI staff also work on the ground. By bringing them together, we can deliver a better and more up-to-date service with the same numbers of staff.

Mr P Ramsey:

It is reassuring to hear that there will be no redundancies.

Mr D Bradley:

NIPSA raised the issue of revenue that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) accrues from the activities of OSNI. How will the loss of that income affect DCAL?

Mr Greenway:

OSNI is largely self-financing; our revenues more or less cover our costs. Removing that revenue would be largely neutral to the Department. In the comprehensive spending review settlement for the next three years, the small amount of net funding for OSNI would be transferred to the Department of Finance and Personnel. DCAL would become a slightly smaller Department, but there would be no impact on funding for museums, sports, and so forth.

Mr D Bradley:

NIPSA’s letter states that:

“Indeed the revenue streams flowing into the Department from the business undertaken by OSNI is also significant.”

Without disregarding what Mr Greenway said, are those revenue streams of such significance that they contribute to DCAL’s other activities; or is OSNI — as it has been suggested — purely self-financing and, therefore, its removal from DCAL will not cause any financial hardship?

The Chairperson:

The Committee should ask the Department to supply the information for which Dominic has asked.

Mr D Bradley:

I propose that the Committee request that information from the Department.

The Chairperson:

Are members content with that proposal?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

If the Committee has no more questions, I would like to thank Mr Greenway for attending the meeting and helping us to understand the proposed transfer of OSNI to Land and Property Services.

Mr Greenway:

If further questions emerge, I will be happy to answer them.

The Chairperson:

The Committee will maintain its interest in OSNI. Committee members should note that neither an equality impact assessment nor a regulatory impact assessment was necessary for the reasons given in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the response of the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to Damien Martin. Are the members satisfied with how the matter has been conducted?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Are there any further queries?

Mr P Ramsey:

Dominic asked about a possible loss of revenue to DCAL, which is an issue on which the Committee should have an opinion.

The Chairperson:

Yes. It is a negative development.

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