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Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 26 January 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting opened in public session at 10.05am.

1.       Apologies

Apologies were as indicated above.

2.     Draft Minutes of Meeting 19 January 2012 

Agreed:  The minutes of the meeting held on Thursday 19 January 2012 were agreed as amended.

3.    Chairperson’s Business

The Chairperson advised Members that he is unable to attend an event hosted by Clanmil Housing regarding the future Housing Strategy for NI.  The Chair also noted that it is perhaps a little premature to give the Committee’s view on the future Housing Strategy when it has yet to have a detailed discussion with the Department on this issue.

The Chairperson also advised that he has accepted an invitation from NICVA and the Law Centre NI to speak at an event scheduled for March 6th on the future of Welfare Reform.

The Committee agreed to hold its scheduled meeting of the 16 February 2012 in the offices of NICVA.

4.    Social Fund Reform – Departmental and Social Security Agency Briefing

The following officials from the Department and the Social Security Agency joined the meeting at 10.08am

Mr Will Haire, Permanent Secretary, DSD

Mr Tommy O’Reilly, Chief Executive, SSA

Mr Brian Doherty, Working Age Services Director, SSA

The representatives briefed the Committee on Phase 1 of the Social Fund Reform.

Ms Judith Cochrane joined the meeting at 10.14am

The Committee agreed that there was a clear need for the Social Fund but Members expressed concerns about the future funding arrangements and the anticipated reduction in the amount available and were therefore in favour of ring-fencing of funds.

Members acknowledged that the system has served people well but that there was an opportunity through this Review for the Department to be innovative and make improvements to develop arrangements specific to the needs of Northern Ireland.

Members also acknowledged that the success of any new arrangements would depend on the excellent staff of the Social Security Agency who have built up good expertise over the years.

Members questioned the statistics provided in the briefing, in particular why there was such a clear disparity in the levels of claimants who are successful.  Members also queried how the SSA defined a ‘successful’ applicant.  Members recommended that some work should be carried out to investigate the disparity on the success rates of applicants.

Members clarified the proposal that the small amounts of interest generated for loans to potentially be recycled to provide further funding.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 10.44am.

5.   Corporate Plan/Programme for Government – Departmental Briefing

The following officials from the Department joined the meeting at 10.45am:

Mr Will Haire, Permanent Secretary, DSD

Mr Stephen McMurray, Director of Financial Management, DSD

Ms Karen Robinson, DSD

The officials briefed the Committee on the Key Strategic Themes of the Draft Corporate Plan for 2012-2015.

Members had discussions around these key themes.  They highlighted the potential impact of Welfare Reform on the themes and noted that the Department needs to take a holistic approach to future strategies and policies to mitigate the worst effects of these reforms.

Members also highlighted the finance Minister’s recent announcement that there will be a review of departmental allocations for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 and that this might impact positively on the Department’s ability to deliver on its themes.

Members acknowledged that the Department is undertaking the final Programme for Government discussions and formulating its operational plan but that there is still an impetus to take forward and develop the themes highlighted by the Department.

Members questioned, given the current economic circumstances, whether the number of jobs that are being created is sufficient to accommodate the number of people who are looking for work.

Members highlighted the need to increase the supply of new modern efficient housing.  Members recognised that there are on-going discussions about the use of the private rented sector.  Members expressed the need for substantial amounts of money to be made available for maintenance.

Mr Michael Copeland left the meeting at 11.00am

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

Mr David McClarty left the meeting at 11.01am

The officials left the meeting at 11.01am.

6.       Pensions Bill

The following officials were in attendance:

Mr Gerry McCann, DSD

Mr Seamus Cassidy, DSD

Ms Anne McCleary, DSD

The Chairperson advised Members that the Pensions Bill was introduced on Monday in the Assembly and the Second Stage is scheduled for 31 January.  The Chairperson also advised Members that should the Bill pass Second Stage it will be referred to the Committee which has 30 days to consider and take evidence on the provisions of the Bill, and report to the Assembly.

Members were content with the draft signposting notice.  Members were also content with a deadline of two weeks for receipt of submissions from when the signposting notice is posted.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to move to an additional meeting each Thursday afternoon over the course of the Committee Stage to deal specifically with the Pensions Bill.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their attendance

The officials left the meeting at 11.07am.

Mr David McClarty re-joined the meeting at 11.07am

7.       Statutory Rules

The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011

Following discussions the Chair put the following motion:

“That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR 2011/291 The Social Security (Loss of Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland)  2011 and subject to the Examiner of Statutory Rules’ Report recommends that it be confirmed by the Assembly”

The Committee divided as follows:

Ayes 5; Noes 4

The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Work Experience) (Amendment) (NI) 2012

Question put and agreed:        

That the Committee for Social Development has considered Statutory Rule SR 2012/14: The Jobseekers Allowance (Work Experience) (Amendment) (NI) 2012 and recommends that it be confirmed by the Assembly”

8.       Correspondence

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department providing clarification on the implications of breaking parity in not introducing the Statutory Rule ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions for Failure to Attend) at the same time as the DWP.

The Committee noted departmental correspondence regarding the Committee’s        concerns relating to the Housing Executive’s Homelessness Strategy.

The Committee noted the Department’s response to the Committee regarding its      concerns around the Regional Infrastructure Programme.

The Committee considered correspondence from the Belfast Butterfly Club.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward this item of correspondence to the           OFMDFM Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed for the remaining items of correspondence to be dealt with as per the proposed next steps in the correspondence Memo.

9.       Forward Work Programme

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to note the draft 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 on Thursday 2 February 2012 in Room 29 Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 11.23am

Mr Alex Maskey
Chairperson, Committee for Social Development.
2 February 2012

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