The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 23 May 2013

Venue: The Braid Ballymena Town Hall

The Chairperson declared the meeting open to the public at 10.22am.

The Chairperson began by thanking Ballymena Borough Council for hosting the Committee and invited Mayor McAvoy to the table.

Mayor McAvoy joined the meeting at 10.22am.

Mayor McAvoy welcomed the Committee and thanked the Committee for holding its meeting in Ballymena.

Mayor McAvoy left the meeting at 10.24am

1. Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above

2. Chairperson’s Business

2.1 The Chairperson gave a brief overview of the visit to Ballynafeigh Community Development Association which took place on Thursday 16 May 2013.

2.2 The Chairperson informed the Committee that he met with the Association of British Insures to discuss a proposed Mesothelioma Bill.  The Chairperson advised the Committee that the Department is considering laying a Legislative  Consent Motion so that people here can benefit from the scheme and suggested the Committee writes to the Department for further information.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department for further information on this issue.

3. Draft Minutes of the Meeting 16 May

Agreed: The minutes of the meeting held on 16 May 2013 were agreed.

4. Matters Arising

4.1 The Committee considered a draft response to the Department’s draft Housing Strategy Action Plan. The Committee discussed Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) and suggested that the draft response should be amended to include the need for more regulation in respect of HMOs.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the draft response as amended.

4.2 The Committee agreed a draft press release for the visit to Ballymena.

4.3 The Chairperson reminded Members that, following the Committee meeting on Thursday 30 May, there will be an informal meeting with RNIB. 

5. Consultation Discretionary Support – Briefing by the Social Security Agency

The following officials from the Social Security Agency joined the meeting at 10.32am:

  • Brian Doherty, Director, Working Age Services
  • Leonora McLaughlin, Project Manager for Social Fund Reform

Mr Sammy Douglas joined the meeting at 10.33am

Mr Mark H Durkan joined the meeting at 10.34am

The officials briefed the Committee on the outcome of the Discretionary Support consultation exercise.  This was followed by a detailed discussion on a number of important issues.

The Chairperson began by commenting on the 32 responses to the consultation.  The Chairperson felt this might be quite low for such a big issue.  The officials assured the Committee that this was not a concern as the quality of the responses was very good.

The Committee acknowledged that each claim should to be treated on an individual basis and that Agency staff are required to exercise discretion.  The Committee asked if the guidelines for Agency staff will allow for discretion and flexibility.  The officials advised that the guidance will come from the regulations and agreed to share the draft guidance with the Committee. 

The Committee felt that currently there is a dependency on the Social Fund and the Discretionary Support Scheme needs to move away from this.  The Committee highlighted that some claimants of this fund were turning to payday loans because benefits and the minimum wage are too low.

The Committee expressed concerns around the Community Care Grant aspect.  The Committee highlighted that there has been gross abuse of this in the past. 

The Committee was also concerned about the quality of goods purchased i.e. poor quality goods could increase the costs of the scheme as a result of having to be replaced more frequently; and accidents in the home caused as a result of cheap goods.

The officials acknowledged the potential dangers with cheaper goods but advised that a white goods pilot scheme is currently being developed and lessons will be learned from this. They also advised, as noted by some stakeholders, that the purchase of any goods should come with a minimum warranty to ensure replacement, without additional cost, if the product should fail.

The Committee asked if there is any flexibility or discretion for a claimant who might be sanctioned or is not able to claim for the same good within 12 months and the flexibility to address damage caused by ‘disasters’.  The officials advised that there would be exception in the Regulations for a ‘disaster’ which would allow flexibility and discretion.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.

The officials left the meetings at 11.01am.

This session was recorded by Hansard.

6. DSD High Street Taskforce – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 11.02am:

  • Walter Hutchinson, DSD
  • Antony McDaid, DSD
  • Tony McKibben, DSD

The officials briefed the Committee on the DSD High Street Taskforce report.  This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Committee discussed the possibility of relaxing ‘Use Class’ regulations to allow for more variety of land use in town centres.  The Committee felt that relaxing these regulations does not sound like an easy task to undertake.  The Committee asked the officials how efficiently and effectively do they think a relaxation of these regulations could take place. 

Ms Paula Bradley joined the meeting at 11.11am

The Committee noted the need for a joined-up Government to ensure that various relevant Departmental policies are complementary.  The Committee asked if there was any scope for the Taskforce or ‘Town Teams’ to take the role in directing, or advising, Departments on how best this approach could be realised.

The Committee acknowledged that one of the biggest issues for businesses is the amount they have to pay in rates.  The Committee asked if any discussions had taken place with the Department of Finance and Personnel on whether there could be a reduction of rates for town and city centre businesses.

Mr Michale Copeland left the meeting at 11.26am

The Committee commented on the number of Masterplans that have been before the Committee over the years and suggested that the Department should bring together all relative Departments and agencies, including the Department for the Environment, when developing such Masterplans, or strategies for town centre regeneration.

Mr Michael Copeland re-joined the meeting at 11.35am

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance at the meeting.

Mr Sammy Douglas left the meeting at 11.36am

Mr Fra McCann left the meeting at 11.36am

The officials left the meeting at 11.36am.

This session was recorded by Hansard.

7. Business Improvement Districts – Briefing by Ballymena Borough Council

The following officials from Ballymena Borough Council joined the meeting at 11.38:

  • Mayor P J McAvoy;
  • Anne Doherty, Chief Executive;
  • Cllr Maurice Mills, Chairperson, Economic Growth & Development Committee; and
  • Aidan Donnelly, Co-Director of Development, Leisure & Cultural Services

The officials began by briefing the Committee on the importance of Ballymena town centre as an economic driver for the Borough and highlighted the continuing work which is being carried out to sustain growth in the future. 

Mr Fra McCann and Mr Sammy Douglas re-joined the meeting at 11.41am

The officials brought Members’ attention to the research currently being conducted on a UK-wide basis where Ballymena represents Northern Ireland as a research model for local authority town centre assets.

The Committee acknowledged the £4m funding recently announced by the Minister to develop public realm schemes.  The Committee also acknowledged the EU funding which the Council has secured to develop BIDs and partnership development.

The officials provided the Committee with an overview of partnership and explained how a partnership approach is essential for success and economic growth.  The officials explained the importance of BIDs to Ballymena and highlighted some of the successes resulting from BIDs e.g. 30 minute waiting times for parking, marketing and street champions. 

The officials explained how voluntary BIDs are not sustainable and therefore commended the Minister and the Department for bringing forward BIDs legislation.  The officials asked that the Department implements this as soon as possible.

Mr Sammy Douglas left the meeting at 12.31pm

In going forward for the preparation of BIDs, the officials highlighted the importance of a number of issues including: creating a limited company status, securing EU funding; and formal partnerships.  The officials offered to share their experience with other councils and advised the Committee that Ballymena is well placed to act as pilot as mentioned in the DSD Taskforce report.

Ms Paula Bradley left the meeting at 12.37pm

The Chairperson thanked the officials for a very informative briefing and commended Ballymena Borough Council on its approach to the BIDs concept. 

The Chairperson also thanked Ballymena Borough Council for hosting the Committee.

The officials left the meeting at 12.40pm.

8. Correspondence

8.1 The Committee considered correspondence from the Minister regarding his recent visit to housing associations in Liverpool and Manchester. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to return to this issue in the future. 

8.2 The Chairperson advised Members that the Minister had forwarded, in confidence, a summary and a draft of the upcoming Pavement Cafés Bill. The Chairperson also advised that, pending Executive approval, the Committee will receive a briefing on this Bill on 13 June.

9. Forward Work Programme

The Committee was content with the proposed Forward Work Programme.

10. Any Other Business

There was no other business

11. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will take place at 10.00am on Thursday 30 May 2013 in Room 29, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 12.44pm.

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development
30 May 2013

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