Session: 2012/2013

Date: 19 November 2013

ISBN: Only available online

Committee: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Remit and Powers

The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental Budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Membership

Committee Members:

Chairperson Mr Mike Nesbitt

Deputy Chairperson Mr Chris Lyttle

Mr Leslie Cree

Mr Colum Eastwood

Miss Megan Fearon

Mrs Brenda Hale

Mr Alex Maskey

Ms Bronwyn McGahan

Mr Stephen Moutray

Mr George Robinson

Mr Jimmy Spratt

In the period from September 2012 to August 2013, the Committee held a total of 36 Committee meetings.

Primary Legislation

The Ombudsman

A large part of the Committee’s work this year has been to develop legislation to update and reform the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman .

During the 2012-13 session, the Committee made a number of decisions in relation to the policy content of the proposed Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO). The Committee undertook a targeted consultation on its proposals during the 2012/13 session and also sought advice from the Assembly’s Legal Services in relation to the legal implications of some decisions.

In June 2013, the Committee agreed a Report on its proposals for the NIPSO. The Report will be debated in Plenary in September 2013, with a view to drafting a Bill in the 2013-2014 session.

Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill

The Committee stage of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill commenced on 26 June 2012. The Committee sought written evidence on the clauses of the Bill and received a total of 19 submissions. The Committee took oral evidence from a number of those stakeholders that had made written submissions, including Sir Anthony Harte, Chair of the Inquiry Panel, the Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA).

Following consideration of evidence, the Committee wrote to Ministers to request that they bring forward an amendment to the Bill to replace 1945 date to 1922, which would extend the remit of the Inquiry and allow investigation of abuse that occurred in institutions pre-1945. Ministers issued a Written Ministerial Statement in October 2012 containing and amendment to the Terms of Reference to reflect this change.

The Committee published its Report on the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse on 24 October 2012. In the Report the Committee acknowledged the victims and survivors that fall outside the scope of the Inquiry and continues to liaise with the Department on this issue.

Subordinate Legislation

The Committee considered a number of statutory rules in the 2012-13 session. The Committee considered the statutory rule in relation to the Rules for the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse and took evidence from the Department and from the Chair of the Inquiry and were content with the statutory rule.

The Committee considered the regulations to introduce gender neutral insurance benefits and premiums. The Committee took evidence on the regulations from the Department and from the Equality Commission.

The Committee also considered the Fair Employment (Specification of Authorities)(Amendment) Order 2013. The Committee also took further evidence in relation to the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which passed in the previous session and looked at the cost of extending legislation to cover all nationalities. The Committee’s work in this area continues.

The Committee considered a Legislative Consent motion in relation to the UK Antarctic Bill which included a provision to make the regulation of activities in the Antarctic an excepted matter.

Scrutiny

The role of the Committee in scrutinising the Department was at times impacted by the lateness of papers from the Department, delays in receiving briefings and delays in responding to the Committee’s request for information. The Committee raised this issue with officials, the Head of the Civil Service and the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Budget

The Committee scrutinises in detail and advises on the Department’s budget in relation to allocation, expenditure and reductions. The Department also consults the Committee whenever its monitoring rounds are completed. The Committee closely examined budget readjustments and reclassifications that were proposed by the Department throughout the 2012-13 session. The Committee also received regular briefings from the Department on governance within the Department and Departmental Savings Plans.

Programme for Government

The Programme for Government was a key priority for the Committee in this session, especially in relation to how the Department monitors progress against commitments. In March 2013, the Committee received detailed briefings on the progress of OFMDFM in achieving its key commitments. During these briefings the Committee scrutinised in detail the actions and progress that has been taken and identified key areas where further progress was needed.

Following that briefing, the Committee agreed to seek regular briefings from the Department on its progress. The Committee was then briefed at the end of June 2013 by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, who provided an overview of the Programme for Government. This was followed by a detailed briefing from officials on the progress of OFMDFM’s commitments.

The Programme for Government will again be a key priority for the Committee in the next session, as the Committee continues its scrutiny of the Department’s progress in achieving its PfG commitments.

Children and Young People

The Committee received 2 bi-annual briefings from junior Ministers on the work the Department is undertaking to address issues facing Children and Young People. The Committee monitored the work of the Department in fulfilling its duties in relation to the Child Poverty Act and indeed one of the briefings from junior Ministers included an update on the work the Department is carrying out in relation to a child poverty outcomes model. The Committee welcomed the announcement of the 6 signature projects in relation to Delivering Social Change.

During the session the Department undertook a consultation to establish a way forward for a new Childcare Strategy and the Committee provided the Department with a response which highlighted a number of issues that the Committee wanted the Department to consider. During the process, the Committee took evidence from a number of stakeholders in the sector.

Regeneration of Sites

The 2012/13 session saw the establishment of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation and in January 2013, the Committee visited the Maze/Long Kesh site and was briefed by the Chair of the Corporation on plans to develop the site. The Committee also held a Committee meeting at the Balmoral Show on 15 May 2013 on the Maze/Long Kesh site. The Committee received bi-monthly update reports from the Department on development at the site.

In June 2013, the Committee also held a meeting at the Ebrington site and was briefed by the Ilex Urban Regeneration Company and by officials on progress at the site and work in relation to the UK City of Culture.

Other issues considered by the Committee

In relation to the establishment of the Victims and Survivors Service, the Committee sought briefings from officials and the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors on the work of the Service in delivering funding to victims and survivors. The Committee was also briefed by the Chief Executive of the Victims and Survivors Service on the work it was undertaking to ensure delivery of funding to victims and survivors.

The Committee also met with the Commissioner for Older People to discuss her work and looks forward to considering the draft Older People’s Strategy in the new session. The Committee also received briefings from the age sector in relation to delays in bringing forward legislation to extend age discrimination legislation to the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The Committee sought briefings from the Department on a number of occasions throughout the session on the progress of the Social Investment Fund and the structures put in place to make decisions and administer the funding. The Committee again will be scrutinising the roll out of the Social Investment Fund to ensure that money is targeted to those areas most in need.

In May 2013, following the announcement by the First Minister and deputy First Minister of the Together: Building a United Community document, the Committee was briefed by junior Ministers on the content of the document and on the projects that were announced as part of the strategy to improve community relations in Northern Ireland. While the Committee welcomed movement on the strategy, the Committee will be considering the document and projects in greater detail in the 2013/14 session to ensure that the programmes deliver measurable benefits and opportunities to young people and delivers improved relations across all of Northern Ireland.

During the session, the Committee was briefed by the Electoral Commission and the Northern Ireland Electoral Office on voter registration in Northern Ireland and the accuracy of the register in Northern Ireland. The Committee was also briefed by the Parades Commission on the work that it undertakes.

Europe

The Committee scrutinised the Department’s and the Executive’s work in Europe and considered and responded to the Executive’s draft European Priorities for 2013 and the Committee awaits the publication of the 2013 Priorities by the Executive. The Committee also scrutinised in detail the Department’s Programme for Government commitment to increase the uptake of competitive EU funding across all Departments by 20%, the Committee is waiting for further information in relation to the contribution of Arms-Length Bodies.

In January 2013, the Committee undertook a visit to Brussels to attend the Bringing Divided Communities Together Conference, which was organised by the European Commission in conjunction with the Special EU Programmes Body. The Conference highlighted some of the work being undertaken by community groups in Northern Ireland with the help of EU PEACE funding. While in Brussels the Committee met with a number of stakeholders and pressed the importance of a PEACE IV fund. The Committee met with the Chair of the Barroso Taskforce to discuss the work of the Taskforce and engagement by Northern Ireland in the European Institutions. The Committee also met with the Northern Ireland Desk Officers and were briefed on the work that they are undertaking to improve outcomes and increase engagement.

Over the 2012-13 session the Committee engaged with a wide range of European stakeholders at all levels.

In November 2012, the Irish Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD, attended a meeting of the EC-UK Forum hosted by the Chairperson, in Parliament Buildings, at which she briefed the Chairs of the UK and Ireland EU Committees on the plans for the Irish Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2013. In February 2013, the Committee also hosted the Irish Minster for European Affairs, when she briefed the business sector on the Irish Presidency of the EU.

In May 2013, the Committee hosted an event for MLAs, which highlighted some of the work undertaken in Northern Ireland through the EU PEACE Funding. Also in attendance at the event was the UK’s Minister for Europe, Rt Hon David Lidington MP. Following the event, the Minister gave evidence to the Committee on current EU issues.

The Chairperson with the UK Minister for Europe, Rt hon David Lidington MEP, the Chief Executive of SEUPB, Pat Colgan and Teya Sepinuck from Theatre of Witness

From November 2012 – February 2013, the Committee took evidence from Northern Ireland’s Representatives in Europe, including MEPs, members of the Committee of the Regions and members of the European Economic and Social Committee. The Representatives provided further information on current issues and highlighted forthcoming issues that the Committee may wish to consider.

In the 2012/13 session, the Committee produced 2 European Reports. One report highlighted the work that statutory committees had undertaken in the 2011/12 session and the second report highlighted statutory committees’ European priorities for 2013. The Committee also established a pilot process in relation to monitoring of possible issues of subsidiarity. The Committee liaised with a number of other statutory committees and committees in the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scotland and Wales to highlight concerns in relation to a number of EU proposals that would affect Northern Ireland.

Committee Members at a planning meeting

Committee Members at a planning meeting

Forthcoming Priorities  

At the Committee Meeting on 11 th September, the Committee agreed the existing work streams and strategic priorities to be taken forward in the 2013-14 session.

The outcomes of these discussions are detailed below.

Existing work streams

  • Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) Bill
  • Budget scrutiny
  • Programme for Government scrutiny
  • Committee EU priorities for 2013 and selection of priorities in 2014
  • Subsidiarity monitoring

Strategic Committee Priorities for 2013-14

  • Programme for Government Commitment 15
    • Develop Maze/Long Kesh as a regeneration site of regional significance
  • Programme for Government Commitment 31 & 32
    • Provide £40 million to address dereliction and promote investment in the physical regeneration of deprived areas through the Social Investment Fund (SIF)
    • Invest £40 million to improve pathways to employment, tackle systemic issues linked to deprivation and increase community services through the Social Investment Fund (SIF)
  • Programme for Government Commitment 33
    • Publish and implement a Childcare Strategy with key actions to provide integrated and affordable childcare
  • Programme for Government Commitment 34
    • Deliver a range of measures to tackle poverty and social exclusion through the Delivering Social Change delivery framework
  • Programme for Government Commitment 67
    • Publish the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy to build a united community and improve community relations (Together: Building a United Community document has been published)

ANNEX A

Committee for Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Expenditure for the period 1 September 2012 – 31 August 2013

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of committee visits to:

  • Londonderry – Committee meeting
  • Brussels – EU PEACE Conference
  • Washington (2 Members)
  • EC-UK Meeting - Cardiff

and 2 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings – including Balmoral and Londonderry

£8608.76

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

  • Report on Ombudsman
  • Report on EU Priorities
  • Report on EU Actions by Stat Committees
  • Report on HIA Bill

£3029.87

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

£0

Consultancy support - the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the committee and commissioned research, also the cost of drafting Standing Orders

Specialist adviser to the Committee on [issue/inquiry to which the advice related]

£0

General expenses

Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, gifts provided by the committee during visits and conference fees for members.

£1430.02

Total Expenditure

£13068.65

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