Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 18 October 2007

Libraries Bill

18 October 2007

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 Paul Maskey
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Edwin Poots ) The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Mr Colin Jack ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Ms Irene Knox ) proposed Northern Ireland Library Authority

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I welcome the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Edwin Poots, to this morning’s Committee meeting to discuss the Libraries Bill. I do not think that Mr Poots plans to make a statement. Is that the case, Minister?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr Poots):
I have a speaking note.

The Chairperson:
The session will take the form of questions after you have made your introductory statement. I welcome your senior colleagues, Mr Colin Jack and Miss Irene Knox.

Mr Poots:
I thank the Chairperson and members for inviting me to address the Committee on the Libraries Bill. Officials from the Department spoke to you recently, and since then I have passed information on to the Committee. I am aware that you have some outstanding concerns, and I hope that some of those concerns can be addressed today.

The deliberations of the Committee have caused us to look carefully at the legislation and our approach to it. It is worth noting that I remain convinced that this is the best model for the Library Service. The public Library Service is not one of the big beasts of public expenditure — schools, hospitals, roads and social security fall into that category. Nevertheless, it is a key service that has the capacity to contribute significantly to quality of life. It differs from much specialised public provision at this time; it is universal and not targeted; it is driven by the user and is not monetary; it is free at the point of use for its core services; and it can be adaptable and flexible, modifying services to meet new demands or changes in modern society. Despite being a relatively old service, those attributes make it acutely modern and useful in these changing times, and puts it in a position to support a range of other priorities — economic, educational and community development.

A good public library service is the mark of a civilized society. How it is run and the he quality of a library service says something about the values of the society it serves. The amalgamation of Northern Ireland’s five library services into one service is primarily about improving the quality of the service to the public.

A single library service is in a better position to establish partnership arrangements with other bodies to ensure relevance. I can ensure equity of provision across Northern Ireland; that should enable the transmission of best practice, so that all areas come up to the same level, namely the best. The library service should be able to raise its profile and market itself appropriately.

The library authority and its board will have sole responsibility for the library service alone, ensuring that it is focused and undistracted by other matters. Compared to other services in the UK and Ireland, this is an innovative idea, which has excited interest elsewhere — as the Committee will know from some of the evidence that has been presented to it.

I want to address the timing of the establishment of the library authority. The extension of the Committee Stage of the Libraries Bill now makes establishment impossible to achieve by April 2008. I have been considering the implications of that in a new timetable. I have also listened to the views of stakeholders in the education and library boards, who recognise that the two services, education and libraries, are separating, and though their preference is to move at the same time, they accept that that may not be possible. Their chief concern is that the processes for the transfer of staff are common and developed at the same time in order to minimise disruption to the boards and ensure that all staff are treated equally.

My Department has taken those considerations on board and is working closely with the education and skills authority (ESA) implementation team and the Department of Education to ensure commonality of approach. A mid-year start poses practical difficulties for the library authority in the 2008-09 financial year, not least with corporate and financial issues and reporting. I have, therefore, decided to put back the date for the establishment of the new authority to 1 April 2009. That is a later start than I had intended, and there will be some cost implications as a consequence, but it reflects the views expressed to me about the technicalities of moving ahead.

I intend to proceed with the appointment of the board of the library authority as soon as possible after the passage of the legislation so that it can operate in shadow mode from the middle of 2008-09. That would allow the authority to prepare fully for the transfer of powers and ensure the board’s full involvement in the preparation of the authority’s first corporate plan.

I am happy to listen to the views of the Committee and answer questions.

The Chairperson:
Thank you, Minister. Some interesting news has been brought to the table this morning.

Lord Browne:
I welcome the Minister. Clause two of the Libraries Bill deals with the duty of an authority to provide a library service. Many people have expressed considerable concern that the standards expected of an authority in providing such a service have not been specified in the Bill. In particular, they have pointed out that the words “comprehensive” and “efficient”, which are used in the current legislation, do not appear in the new Bill at all. The Minister’s officials have already explained to the Committee that they did not regard the words “comprehensive” and “efficient” as meaningful; in their opinion it would be unusual to legislate for efficiency. However, the Committee is generally agreed that those words should be included in the Bill. We feel particularly that efficiency should be made clear in this piece of legislation.

What are the Minister’s views on this matter?

Mr Poots:
I am happy to consider your suggestion. Terms such as “comprehensive” and “efficient” add meaning, so the Department will be happy to examine that. The Committee Stage of Bills is about identifying those kinds of issues. The Department will examine that, and we will come back to the Committee on it.

Mr P Maskey:
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I wish to ask some questions on efficiency savings. As you have said, you intend to postpone the establishment of a library authority until April 2009. How will the efficiency of the library service be monitored, and who will monitor it? Will it be monitored by an independent body?

The Committee recognises that it would be inappropriate to include standards in the legislation, because if the Department wanted to amend those standards it would have to go through the entire legislative process again.

However, is there some way in which the legislation can provide for the Assembly to have a role in approving changes made to performance standards set for the library authority?

Mr Poots:
Ultimately, the library authority will have a chief executive who will report to the Department’s accounting officer — who is the permanent secretary. The permanent secretary will report to me, and I will report to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, on behalf of the Assembly. Those are the normal accounting mechanisms that are in place for a public body. I am satisfied with those mechanisms, without going out to an independent body. If you find that accountancy procedures are not working out, people may be asked to come before the Public AccountsCommittee, something which has been done in the past. Once again, that is provided for in the current Assembly. That is a fallback position for dealing with those who do not adhere to good financial strictures. I am satisfied that we do not need to have an independent body over and above the current arrangements.

Ms Irene Knox (proposed Northern Ireland Library Authority):
With regard to standards, the ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ policy framework currently contains standards. Standards must be continually reviewed. What is appropriate now may not be appropriate in a year’s time or in two years’ time. One of the things that I would like to lead, in the new library authority, is a continuous improvement process. I am happy to liaise with the Committee with regard to standards that have been established for the current Library Service, and standards that we will need to look at in the future. There is a role for the Committee, the Department, and consumers of the Library Service to determine throughout that process the standard of performance to which the Library Service should adhere.

Mr P Maskey:
Therefore, the Assembly has no role in approving changes?

Ms Knox:
There is a role for the Assembly, through the Committee. I will report on standards and the Committee will comment on whether those standards are appropriate or not. Standards would then be revised as a result of discussion and consultation.

Mr Colin Jack (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
The current policy framework for the Library Service was drawn up in 2006 after quite a lengthy period of consultation on a previous document. We expect to update and revise the policy framework and standards every few years. As part of that process, the Department will be working for the Minister. We would expect the Minister and the Department to bring proposals for any revised policy framework to the Committee for consideration. That is the way in which the framework for accountability will work in the future.

As well as that, I expect that once the library authority is established that the Committee will be in a position to call the chairman of the library authority to account — accompanied by the chief executive — with regard to their corporate plans. Therefore, there would an opportunity for direct accountability between the Committee and the library authority.

Mr P Maskey:
I do not want to labour the point. However, is there any way that that process, as you have described it, can be strengthened through legislation. It is OK to say, at the present stage, that there will be an opportunity for direct accountability between the Committee and the library authority. However, the Committee could be by-passed on any decision that has already been made. It may be all right for us to request a role, but it does not mean that our request will be granted. The Committee wants its role in the process to be strengthened, somewhere in the legislation.

Mr Poots:
I ask the Committee to be cautious about what they are asking for, in that instance. If the Committee want to put the process into a legislative framework, it will bind the flexibility of the process. We have a system whereby, if changes were to be introduced, the natural thing — and the way in which the Assembly operates — is that those changes are reported to the relevant Committee by the relevant Minister. We engage in discussions such as those and try to reach a common sense approach, working with each other.

If the process is put into legislation, the Committee will have to bid to enter those processes. It must be remembered that the current Assembly is in an early stage, and that there is not much legislation on the table as yet. I have no doubt that in two or three years’ time we will be wading our way through a pile of legislation. As a consequence of that, the Committee may want to see changes being implemented quickly. However, if the Committee has to bid to get into the legislative process for fairly minor changes, then real difficulties will be created in the flexibility of the process that we have.
Mr McCausland:
I want to pick up on the fact that there is no national library and that it would be unrealistic for a small place such as Northern Ireland to have one. However, my concern is that material relating not only to life in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster but to the Ulster diaspora is not available for a range of reasons. The Northern Ireland Publications Resource was mentioned, but I understand that it collects only locally published material.

Many books about emigrants from Northern Ireland, who have gone around the world and done various things, were published elsewhere and are not available here. People have to travel to a London library to access those books and make arrangements to borrow them. Could it somehow be included in the legislation that there should be a strengthened collection of material with specific relevance to Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster, regardless of where it has been published?

Mr Poots:
I am not sure whether that would come under legislation or policy, but perhaps Irene can brief us on that.

Ms Irene Knox:
I take on board Mr McCausland’s point. There is an onus on the library authority to collect material that is relevant to Northern Ireland. The difficulty with including something such as that in legislation is that it is not always possible to identify material unless someone points it out. Therefore, the authority could be placed in a difficult position should it miss a publication.

However, the library authority will have a stock policy and a collections policy. Bear in mind that it will also have to develop a range of policies that are Northern Ireland-wide, and beyond. Mr McCausland’s point could be taken on board in the stock policy. It could include consideration also of how to make sure material is available, without always purchasing necessarily, for instance by collaborating much more closely with others to ensure the availability to people here of the materials that they need. Such collaboration could be with the Linenhall Library or Trinity College Library Dublin, which, as national library, collects a great deal of relevant material. Any such policy should ensure that there is no duplication but that there is access to whatever materials people need.

Mr McCausland:
I accept your point about collaboration with other libraries. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow is another that comes to mind, and other libraries in Scotland should also be considered. However, I am thinking about some form of words that would not necessarily tie the library authority to strengthening its collection, but allow it some flexibility and still serve as a constant reminder of the need to do so. In the past, when I raised the issue with various librarians, action was not always taken. It would be good to have a general phrase to stress the point, and perhaps something could be considered on that basis.

Ms Knox:
I am sure that the Department would be happy to consider it.

Mr D Bradley:
As an example of what Mr McCausland mentioned, part of the stock of the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh is being stored in the basement of library headquarters and, therefore, is not readily available to the public. Furthermore, that library is on the lookout for the type of material that Nelson mentioned earlier. How can we be sure that, under the library authority, such material will still be collected and readily available to the public?

Mr Colin Jack (The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
Should a specific aspect of collections policy be included in the legislation, it would tie the library authority to it. Potentially the library authority could find itself in court due to a failure to collect a particular piece of material. However, you would expect the strengthening of collections to feature strongly in the policy of the new authority and in any policy guidelines issued by the Department. We will reflect on the matter and see what we can come up with.

Mr McCausland:
Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with a form of words to emphasise and focus on the issue without being prescriptive.

Mr Jack:
For example, the new library authority will want to work on that aspect in its mission statement and through the development of its first corporate plan. Those are all ways that we can consider.

Mr McCausland:
We should reflect on the terminology that was used in the old legislation on museums. They were to collect or have material relevant to the region. There is a growing emphasis on that in tourism and cultural connections around the world, even through Tourism Ireland. It is from that material that many of those ideas can be generated.

Mr Poots:
I am aware of the issue that Mr Bradley has raised, because it has been raised locally with me. There is an excellent stock of literature that is not being made publicly available, and we must look into that.

Mr McCarthy:
My question is about clause 6, and charging for core services. Many of the witnesses, if not all, were concerned that the current wording of clause 6 does not guarantee free core services. Your officials said that they would be prepared to consider amending the clause, and they asked the Committee to put forward alternative wordings.

The Committee proposes the following wording for clause 6(1), which was originally suggested by SELB:
“The Authority may not make any charges for any library services provided by it”
— and this is new —
“including the borrowing of books and free access to information, except for —
(a) those services specified in a scheme of charges approved by the Department and published by the Authority; and
(b) the charges are made in accordance with that scheme.”
First, what are your views on that form of wording?

Mr Poots:
This is the first time that I have heard that form of words, so I can give no commitment on it. In essence, it does not appear unreasonable. However, we will have to look at all the ramifications. We will take that away, consider it and come back to the Committee.

Mr McCarthy:
To follow on from that, clause 6(2) permits different charges for different persons, circumstances or localities. In relation to the question of locality, the Committee has considered the idea that there should be some thought given to producing a standard set of charges, which would apply throughout Northern Ireland. What are your views on that? Do you foresee any difficulties?

Mr Poots:
One of the reasons for introducing a single library authority is to have a service that is consistent throughout Northern Ireland, so that the user gets the same service in Castlederg as in Coleraine, and the same in Belfast as in Enniskillen. That is what we are aiming for. In my view, there would be no benefit in having different charges in different regions or parts of Northern Ireland.

Mr McCarthy:
Again, in relation to different charges for different persons, your officials explained that that referred to current practice, whereby children and senior citizens are not charged for late returns, whereas adults are charged. The Committee is aware of educational colleges who say that they cannot give a reduced rate to senior citizens as that is incompatible with legislation on ageism. Can you assure the Committee that the provision for making charges for different persons is within the law?

Mr Poots:
We cannot give you that assurance. We would have to get the relevant people to look at that aspect on our behalf. One of the disadvantages in pushing the whole issue of ageism may be that some of the benefits that older people enjoy at present may be denied to them in the future.

Mr McCarthy:
However, you agree that this is a very important question?

Mr Poots:
Yes, it certainly is.

Mr D Bradley:
I would like to comment on that. The issue that the Minister has just mentioned has come up with respect to provision of evening classes in colleges of education. In some cases, the privileges enjoyed by older people have been withdrawn on the basis of new legislation, which is supposed to protect them.

When you are looking into the question, Minister, will you raise that issue with the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister, with a view to retaining the protections that older citizens currently enjoy?

Mr Poots:
I am certainly happy to look at that. I must point out, however, that some of the wealthiest people I know happen to be over 65, and they do not necessarily need to have financial support to do those things. Others, who are younger, might have greater need.

I am happy to discuss the issue, but we must bear in mind that it does not necessarily meet all the equality regulations that we have. In addition, there are probably older citizens who do not receive benefits and are, therefore, deprived of opportunities. It is not my Department’s responsibility, but perhaps we need better means of identifying people’s ability to pay for services. Some older people would not miss the money, while other people who are not on benefits might struggle to pay for some of the services.

Mr Shannon:
Minister, the Committee is asking for consideration to be given to the matter. I am aware that the Library Service in my constituency is mainly used by elderly people. They are not affluent people or millionaires with big houses; they are mostly people on benefits and income support, and money is not a luxury that they have.

Mr Poots:
Absolutely. People whose incomes are just above the level of entitlement to income support miss out on everything. That is an area that we really must look at.

Mr Shannon:
Kieran McCarthy is 63 at the minute, but he is chasing 65.

Mr McCausland:
He is a very wealthy man.

The Chairman:
Let us move on to one of the more youthful Committee members.

Mr K Robinson:
Thank you, Chairman. The brown envelope is on its way to you.

Thank you, Minister, for your presentation. I noticed that, in your opening comments, you referred to the Library Service as being a key service that is universal and user driven. You said also that the society that it will serve will be reflected in its provision and that there would be equity of provision across Northern Ireland. Although I welcome those comments, the Committee has concerns about the number of members on the library authority board, about how that board will reflect society, and about the geographical spread from which members will be drawn.

The Bill suggests that the board might have seven to 14 members. The Committee thinks that 20 or 21 might be a more realistic figure, based on the evidence that has been presented to it. We feel that that number would provide a better reflection of urban and rural areas and give a better social and geographical spread that would represent every section of society, whether they have or do not have money, such as those people on the Ards Peninsula to whom Jim Shannon referred.

The Committee is concerned that local representatives — especially when the RPA creates new super councils — ought to be included in the new board. We are grateful that, under the education and library boards, local representation was well reflected and seemed to work well.

Minister, will you review the number of board members? You referred only to audit and finance committees, but, if the board comprises only seven members, by my calculations, three and a half members will be on each committee. That is not an ideal situation. More committees and subcommittees will be required to enable the new authority to operate properly, but there will be too few members. Will you comment on that?

Mr Poots:
The original proposal for seven to 14 board members was based on advice given to the Department by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which makes recommendations for the appointment of boards. That advice indicated that there is strong evidence of greater efficacy of a smaller board. Therefore, it was thought that a figure between seven and 14 would be the best model. I am open to the Committee’s views on the matter, particularly on how we might bring in the local-authority dimension and how we deal appropriately with that issue.

There are questions about whether we should have people from local authorities on the board, which would not reflect the current trend in public appointments, whether we should go down the route of community planning, with special responsibilities associated with the new councils, about how closely the library can be linked with community planning, and whether there is another option.

There needs to be further work carried out in order to identify whether there should be a number of councillors on the board. If there are to be seven councils, that would require seven more councillors. If there are to be 11 or 15 councils, every council would not be represented on the board. Therefore, those issues also have to be taken into account.

The matter is still open for discussion. However, there should be a proper consideration of the community-planning responsibilities that district councils will have, and how that may feed into the library process in local areas.

Mr K Robinson:
We are mindful of the situation some years ago when local councillors were removed from the health boards. We are all aware of the disaster that eventually turned out to be. Therefore, that was one of the reasons behind our thinking that the board should have local political representation in order to give them a better steer.

The Committee supports the merit principle, and we think that that is the way to proceed. However, the new library authority is in danger of becoming a rarefied body, in which all the professionals will be knowledgeable in their own particular subject areas, but may be oblivious to the comments that you made in your opening remarks about serving the wider society.

Mr Poots:
I am aware that local councillors, in particular, will bring a dimension to public bodies that no one else can — interactivity with the public. Public bodies are supposed to serve public interests, and I am aware of the role that public representatives, and particularly local public representatives, can have in bringing those public interests to mind.

Mr K Robinson:
The Committee is keen that the new library authority is structured in such a way as to allow it to operate and engage at a local level in a meaningful way — and it stress the term “meaningful way”. The chief executive designate of the education and skills authority (ESA) has presented its operational structure to the Committee for Education. Will the Minister provide this Committee with a copy of the proposed operational structure for the library authority? Furthermore, will there be a library board or a library committee — subregional, presumably — in each council area under the review of public administration (RPA) proposals?

Mr Poots:
Perhaps Irene could update us on that issue.

Ms Knox:
Work is currently under way to produce that draft operational structure. It is important that the people on the ground — the chief librarians, assistant chief librarians and other staff — who will need to have buy-in to this new authority, are involved in that process. I am working through that at the moment with them.

I do not envisage that I will be in a position to bring that draft to the Committee until the middle or end of November. However, at the stage when I have a draft that has been discussed with the staff, I am happy to come to the Committee, via the Minister, with proposals for the operational structure of the new authority.

Mr K Robinson:
Thank you for that answer. I also thank the Minister for reviewing the timetable. That is helpful to the Committee, and I hope that it will be helpful to the new authority also.

The Chairperson:
Ken, you might agree that in a previous evidence session, the Committee did ask the question about the size of the board. There was no evidence presented that suggested that a smaller board would be more efficient.

Mr Jack:
We have an article that was written earlier this year by David Nicholl, who is head the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) in Northern Ireland. It rehearses the arguments regarding the size of boards and makes a strong case for a board having a maximum of 12 members. We can make that article available to the Committee to allow it to consider that point of view.

The Chairperson:
I welcome that.

Mr K Robinson:
If there is a board of 12 members and a subcommittee of probably six members — and it has to be considered that one or two members could be struck down by illness — how many members will be required to make a quorum? That figure would have to be extremely low. If that is the case, would it have the required representation?

Mr Jack:
The quorum would be likely to be low in comparison with the size of quorums of the much larger boards that exist in some bodies in Northern Ireland. However, the quorum would be expected to be approximately half the membership of the board.

Mr K Robinson:
I am concerned that people from Belfast area, for instance, would have to travel through Dungiven to get to the new board headquarters in Omagh or Londonderry. Adverse weather conditions, illnesses, and other factors could result in the board being inquorate at that stage.

Mr Jack:
One of the issues that Mr Nicholl raised in his article is about the onus on the board members to attend. If there is a small board then there is more of an onus on members to attend.

Mr K Robinson:
That does not account for adverse weather or illness. That has been pointed out to us in other places. In fact, the Scottish Executive, as some of us found out recently, have to make special arrangements to make sure that they are quorate for certain bodies.

The Chairperson:
We will welcome a copy of Mr Nicholl’s paper.

Mr Brolly:
My question is complementary to Ken’s. It is about geographic spread of representation, which raises some concerns. Your officials explained that the way in which the advertisement for the recruitment of board members is framed will be crucial in ensuring that appointments are based on merit, which is good, and that the recruitment documentation will be drawn up in such a way as to attract applications from a wide range of people. There should be something in there about the need to have a good geographic spread of people on the board.
There is no guarantee that we will get people from all areas, and it seems that there is too much reliance being placed on the wording of an advertisement. Will the Minister consider stipulating in the legislation that the board must contain a good mix of people from different areas?
The second question is about accountability prompted by Irene’s mention of consumers, who are a very important part of this. Will there be some mechanism for consumers to feed their views back to the library authority on the library service? Will the Minister consider setting up a users’ forum for the library authority?

Mr Poots:
With regard to geographical spread, I think that it comes down to appointment of members. If you do it on merit alone you run into problems, because you have to look at other issues. As far as geographical spread is concerned, that is where liaison with the local authorities or with the representation from local authorities may bring some benefits.

In fact, I had to re-advertise the most recent appointment of new members to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland because, in terms of geographical spread, we did not get further south than Lurgan. There was some representation from Londonderry, but the south and west of the Province was wholly unrepresented, so I asked for those positions to be re-advertised, because of those concerns. Hopefully, applications will come in from those areas, but if they do not, we may have to re-advertise again to ensure that there is some equity across the Province and that things do not become city-centric. People in rural communities remain unrepresented on many of the boards across Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure that we need legislation. We can have very clear guidelines and principles on a lot of those issues and identify the way forward.
On the suggestion about a users’ forum, I think that that goes back again to community-planning issues that local authorities will be doing. I will be honest with you: I am not sure that we fully understand what community planning means. There are many different interpretations of what community planning might be. It is something for the Department of the Environment (DOE) to tie down, as part of the review of public administration, what community planning is going to mean exactly. I would have thought, Mr Chairman, that the issue that was being referred to with the end-users’ forum it something that is ideally fitted for community planning. That would be the best place for that to come from. I am open to the Committee’s views on that in due course.

The Chairperson:
Jim, you had a related question?

Mr Shannon:
Mr Chairman, I just want to make one point to the Minister. It is in relation to the number of board members. The reason that the Committee has asked for 20 members is really to do with the practicalities of calling a meeting. No matter how good you are, you can take sick or you can have family engagements. There are distances to cover and weather conditions to contend with. Is it not more sensible to have a committee structured around 20 members so that you can use the councillor-level representation as well as having a geographical spread of representatives, as Francie has said? That would ensure that you have a good mix of people to deliver the services. From a practical point of view, it is more sensible to have 20 members rather than seven or 14. If three people cannot attend, where are you then?

The Chairperson:
Nelson, I expect you to stand up for rural areas too.

Mr McCausland:
I was going to stand up for equality. What strikes me about representation on public bodies is that the only two bodies that are required by law to be reflective of Northern Ireland society are the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission, which does not speak very well for the requirements of the legislation, as neither body is particularly representative.

However, there is merit in considering wording that says that the board should be reflective of Northern Ireland society, particularly as it is a cultural body, which should reflect our cultural diversity. Although that has not worked in the two cases I mentioned, I believe that it could work.

Mr Poots:
In relation to Mr Shannon’s point, it is fairly clear that the Committee wants to move to having a greater number than the one that is currently in the Bill. That will be looked at, but there are issues around having a bigger board.

The old Fire Authority for Northern Ireland, for example, used to have a board, and perhaps the current Fire and Rescue Service Board still does, of around 19, so I will have a look at some of those boards and see how well they operate. I suffered the effects of a large membership when I was Chairman of the Committee of the Centre. A few people thought that, because that was the largest Committee, they did not have to pull their weight. Sometimes in a smaller group people are more focused and determined about the work that they have to do, whereas with a large group people think that someone else will do a job, and it end ups that no one does it.

There are benefits in having a larger group, such as ensuring a quorum. However, I remember, quite often, at 2.00 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, at meetings of the former Committee of the Centre — with a membership of 17 — waiting for five people to turn up so that we could start proceedings. When I sat on the Committee for the Environment there were 11 of us, and it always started on time. People do not always take their responsibilities as seriously when there are others to share the load.

The Chairperson:
You could not accuse this Committee of not taking its work seriously, Minister. Wallace, you were going to make a related point.

Lord Browne:
It was on the equality issue. This Committee, being all male, is not reflective of females. Will there be any mechanism to ensure that they are equally represented?

The Chairperson:
Would you like to put your question about tenure of chair while you have the floor?

Lord Browne:
My next point is on the tenure of chair. This Committee, along with the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), believes that the chair of the board should only be able to hold the post for a maximum of two terms — serving one term and then being re-appointed for a second term. Your officials agree with that, but it is not in the legislation. It is dealt with under the rules of operation of the board. Will the library authority draw up its own rules on the operation of the board, or should that be included in the legislation?

Mr Poots:
I thank bachelor Browne for his interest in the fairer sex on the issue of equality. [Laughter.] He obviously wants to keep in with them.
It is probably better if we can set out very clear policies, as opposed to introducing a lot of that into legislation. I personally believe that legislation is not a very manoeuvrable beast; it is a large ship that requires a lot of turning. If policy documents are agreed through a system like this one, with a Minister reporting to a relevant Committee, that introduces a great deal more flexibility. Therefore, if changes happen in the future — and I do not think that there are any prophets in the room — you can address those changes and meet the challenges as they come along, whereas you cannot do that if everything is buried in the legislation..

Mr McNarry:
I welcome the Minister. Although it falls to me to say the following, my views are shared with the general consensus of the Committee.
I want to deal with the staff transfer scheme in schedule 2 and then, separately, with start-up costs. Before I begin, I have to say that it is clear that we needed to have a discussion this morning, as well as questions.
You appointed a chief executive designate who is, in turn, appointing designated staff. At the time, I said that that appointment was premature. You now inform us that the new authority will operate in shadow mode, as things have been put back until April 2009. It seems that my case is being made for me. It also appears that you are floating on the issue.

That action introduces more uncertainty. Although it is good to identify issues now, it also explains why the Committee has found itself floating in an atmosphere of uncertainty about where we are going. Perhaps you will deal with our concerns about those shadow arrangements, because we need to know more about them.

At this stage, I will not question your competency — you will make the decision. However, those decisions are bound to involve costs, and you are already frittering away money on a chief executive designate’s salary, and so on

On the issues arising from schedule 2, Minister, your people asked to see the legal advice that we received, and we gladly passed that on. Following a delay, we were informed in a letter from your Department that, despite having received the legal advice, on the basis that the Department was unable to ask for it directly, your people had written to John Corey to request a copy of NIPSA’s advice on schedule 2 from its QC. The Department is now seeking a meeting between the Department’s and NIPSA’s legal advisers in order to discuss the differences in opinions. What possible differences in opinion do your people expect to find between the legal advice that we passed on and that which the Department is requesting now from the same QC— or is that just a delaying tactic?

The letter continues that, until the Department has received the requested information and a follow-up meeting has taken place between NIPSA’s QC and Noel Kelly from the Department, and Noel Kelly has then reported to the Committee, you require more time and will not be able to respond to the Committee’s deadline. That was not really a deadline. It was a simple request, made last week, in order to have the information for today. You have not provided the Committee with any information. How do you expect us to proceed if we cannot investigate what we have identified as a potentially serious issue? Letters such as that cause us to be even more suspicious.

The issue that we have flagged up is a serious contention that if the Bill were to proceed in its current form — and a senior counsel has told the union that is employing him that it would be flawed — there is every likelihood that that union, and perhaps others, will be in the courts.

The Committee is very reluctant to accept only clear and concrete legal advice that we are not going to be agreeing to a Bill in the secure knowledge— or even in the doubting knowledge — that in taking it through the Assembly, it would be walking the Assembly, the Department and everybody into court because of the flaws in the Bill.

It seems to us that this is a very serious issue. Also, Noel Kelly told us that he was right and therefore everyone else was wrong; he is an excellent person and I am not challenging his ability, but that is a concern. The Committee urgently needs to know the Minister’s take on that, in order to decide which legal opinion it accepts — Mr Kelly’s, that of the eminent counsel employed by NIPSA — or if it needs to hire, with public money, an independent legal opinion to explain the situation. That is a very important issue, which I ask the Minister to respond to.

Although the Minister cannot respond to what he calls our deadline, when does he intend to respond to us on the issue, and how does he see the situation between the legal eagles and this Committee panning out? Many witnesses mentioned that there may be problems in categorising the current education and library board staff either as library authority staff or ESA staff because currently some staff salaries are part funded by DCAL and part funded by the Department of Education. How does the Minister intend to deal with that issue? Is it a major issue? Is it a serious issue? Can you expand on that for us?

Mr Poots:
I thank the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for his questions; he always adds to the colour of events and it is good to hear from him. Shadow boards do not operate in shadow mode, in the same way that the RPA spoke of putting shadow councils in place for a year. Shadow boards will deal with all the issues put before them and smooth the way so that whenever full responsibilities are transferred to the new board, it should be a seamless operation.

I cannot be accused of creating uncertainty; I was aiming for 1 April 2008. I am no longer aiming for that date is because this Committee has extended its scrutiny process to eight months.

Mr McNarry:
So it is our fault?

Mr Poots:
I am making it very clear that I was aiming for 1 April 2008, which is now impossible because of the Committee’s decision to opt for an extension and take eight months to go over the legislation.

Mr McNarry:
Are you denying that the reason for the Committee needing more time is because of a failure to supply information by the Department, which has led to uncertainty over the legislation?

Mr Poots:
The legislation could have been dealt with more quickly — I have laid that fact on the table.

The Chairperson:
Minister, are you not being disingenuous? You said that the timetable had slipped prior to the motion for extension, and that it would appear some time between April 2008 and April 2009. You were not proscriptive or specific, but you did suggest that the timetable had slipped prior to the extension motion.

Mr Poots:
I certainly had not changed the date from 1 April 2008 at that time — I said that I would consider it. The extension of the Committee Stage from four months to eight months made it impossible for me to proceed before 1 April 2008. I am not taking any responsibility for any additional costs.

Mr McNarry:
The Minister should take responsibility for the appointment that he made, which was premature even for April 2008. That is the point that he fails to grasp.

Mr Poots:
The appointment was not premature. If you want to go into an operation in a seamless way that does not lead to a staff being undermined, adequate preparations must be made. The Deputy Chairperson may think that it is possible to build a house without any plans — that is not a wise thing to do.

We were putting the plans and processes in place so that we could move forward smoothly and seamlessly, and in a way in which would cause fewest problems to the public and the people who provide the services. As a consequence of the new arrangements, we cannot not now proceed according to those plans. I could have footered around and perhaps suggested a vague date, say in July or October or another time. Instead, I have been very clear and definitive. I have said that the library authority will not be set up in April 2008, but that the date will be moved back a full year until April 2009, and that we will be ready to proceed in April 2009. That may present a challenge for the Department of Education; will it be ready to move with my Department? I remind members that it was the Department of Education that pushed the date back from April 2008 in the first place. However, we will be ready, and a board will be in place. That board will not cost a great deal of money to establish because shadow boards are not expensive to run. Thus, we will be ready to move ahead. I am not delaying or holding back.

As regards the legal advice that was received, Government operate on the basis of legal advice that is provided to them by the departmental solicitor’s office. We have to work within those confines. I have confidence in the departmental solicitor’s office and in the advice that it gives to us. Often, we find that those in the legal profession have differences of opinion with one another. Half a dozen lawyers could be asked for an opinion on a particular case, and half a dozen different opinions would be given. It seems sensible to me to put the unions’ lawyer and the Department’s lawyer into one room to see if they can agree on a position — if that is possible to achieve. That is what we are doing. If an agreed position is reached, we will be in a good position to move forward, and we will report back to the Committee at the earliest opportunity.

The Chairperson:
David, are you satisfied with the Minister’s answer?

Mr McNarry:
I will not argue too much with him, but I am pleased to hear him say that it seems sensible to put the two lawyers in a room. It is a pity that it did not seem sensible to him a month ago. The problem seems to be that people could not even lift a phone to one another to say that they have a difference of opinion. Instead, an erroneous type of protocol had to be followed. The Minister talks about plans and business management and so on, but there is something lacking in a system if people cannot even lift the phone to talk to one another. Perhaps that is just how things are done.

I also want to take the Minister up on another issue and defend the Committee. This morning, Minister, you announced your decision on the date of the establishment of the library authority. However, when the Committee asked the Assembly for an extension of Committee Stage, it was felt necessary to inform you that the Committee would report as soon as possible; we were informed that you wanted to hear that. Nevertheless, you have not waited for that. Since that day, you have given the Committee no further opportunities to see how it could move the programme on. You have now said to the Committee members that it is OK. Therefore, you have relieved us of the time pressures that were placing on ourselves. We said to you that we would report as soon as possible, but you have made your decision and you were obviously not prepared to wait to see how soon as soon as possible might be.

Mr Poots:
I do not assume that the Deputy Chairperson is going to tell me how long a piece of string is.

Mr McNarry:
That is an erroneous comment. The phrase “as soon as possible” was recorded in the Hansard report, and you should have allowed us the opportunity to at least try to improve on the matter, which is what we were trying to do.

Mr Poots:
I can set definitive dates only on the basis of the last definitive date that was given to me.

The Chairperson:
I want to focus Committee members’ minds on start-up costs and estimated savings.

Mr Shannon:
Minister, you have given us the start date for the library authority, which is 1 April 2009. Is it fair to assume that now that that date has been confirmed and you have a timescale to work towards, you have some idea of what the predicted savings would be? I appreciate the reply that you gave to the Committee, but it by no means ties down the figures. It refers to a figure over or under £670,000. The Committee is concerned that some of the savings could be made by reducing management-level staff at the boards. I am not sure how that would work. Have some backroom staff perhaps already been paid off? That is a matter of concern to the Committee.

The witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have indicated that redundancy savings are not normally realised for two years.

If that is correct, can you give a more comprehensive figure on what is going on? It has been intimated to the Committee that corporate services will be an ongoing additional cost for the new authority. With all those figures in the melting pot, the Committee deserves and needs an answer on the costs involved. The Committee has written to the Department seeking a breakdown of the estimated savings. Considering that the estimates are not based on specific costings and the amount of savings and staffing structure are unknown, can the Minister inform the Committee of the costs that will be involved?

Mr Poots:
The Department stated that it was seeking to achieve savings of £600,000 for 2009-10 and £1·2 million for 2010-11. Mr Shannon is right to state that there is an initial cost to achieving those savings, because redundancy packages usually amount to more than the individual’s annual earnings: a more attractive package will encourage people to consider redundancy. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure can apply for year-end flexible funding, which allows for one-off bids. Therefore, while there are real pressures on this year’s resource budget — and all Departments are finding it difficult — there will be opportunities to introduce funding to the Department through the end-year flexibility, and that money can be used for staff redundancies, for instance. There will be additional costs at the outset, but they will lead to savings in the longer term, and that is what we are looking to achieve.

Ms Knox:
If we are to make long-term savings in the administration of the Library Service, we must look at an invest-to-save approach — we must find money through the process that the Minister talked about. The Department must also have the funding required to release the staff at senior levels in current boards who wish to take voluntary redundancy, and that will, therefore, release funding in the longer term. I want to reinvest in front-line services. The whole point of having a single library authority is that we can streamline the administration and release funding into the front line. In order to do that, we must take an initial invest-to-save approach.

Mr Shannon:
When do you hope to have more concrete figures? Ms Knox, are you saying that you will not be able to provide us with accurate figures for some time?

Ms Knox:
There will have to be consultation with trades unions when the organisational structure is developed, because the new structure may well impact on current staff. Following that process, we will cost the structure, examine what savings can be released and consider how to do that and establish what initial investment will be needed to achieve longer-term savings.

Mr Shannon:
I asked my question because the Committee is not convinced that there will be savings: that is our worry. It has been intimated to us — right down the line — that there will be savings, but, from what I hear, I am not sure that there will. We would like to think that there will be.

Mr Poots:
The Department of Finance and Personnel has already agreed to the figures that will be involved if we go down that particular route. If we were to move away from those figures, it would only be with the agreement of the Finance Department. I assure the Committee that once the Finance Department thinks that it has got something, it is not keen to return it. Ultimately, savings have to be made, and they cannot be made in front-line services — they must be made through administration. I will be honest: it will cause difficulties, particularly for the people who work in administration, and I have no doubt that the unions will have difficulties with that. However, we, as public representatives, are running the country, and we will have difficult decisions to make. The unions are entitled to make their cases on behalf of the people that they represent, but if there are savings to be made, they will be made in administration and personnel. That is harsh, but it is the reality.
The Chairperson:
Does that mean that you will change the explanatory memorandum, Minister?

Mr Poots:
In what respect, Chairman?

The Chairperson:
I refer to the start-up costs that appear in the explanatory and financial memorandum. Would you like to take up that point, Mr McNarry?

Mr McNarry:
Will the explanatory and financial memorandum be changed to reflect more realistic start-up costs? Having heard about the new date, I assume that the staff involved will be aware of that as soon as possible, if they are not already. It will also affect their plans. It will have a major effect, particularly on those who face retirement or are thinking about it. I am sure that their concerns are uppermost in the Minister’s mind.

Mr Poots:
Yes.

Mr McNarry:
Has the Minister informed his Executive colleagues — in particular, the Minister of Finance and Personnel — about the new date? What bearing will shifting the date have on the start-up costs with regard to Budget bids, et cetera? The Minister has made an announcement to the Committee, which has come as a surprise. Until now, the Committee has worked on the basis that it had reasonable time to catch up with the Department.

People who have given evidence to the Committee have referred to the Deloitte & Touche report’s estimate of start-up costs of £965,000, which goes against the Department’s original estimate of £670,000. The Committee still does not know where the estimation should sit. In fact, even the Department is not sure whether its original figure is an overestimation or an underestimation. Where will that estimation bounce to if the start date is April 2009? Where does the current bid for £550,000 for corporate services now sit? Surely the Department cannot spend the money, but must it still bid for it?

To return to the point that the Chairman made; it, therefore, seems reasonable that the financial and explanatory memorandum be amended to provide a more realistic estimation of the start-up costs. Can the Minster tell the Committee that it will be amended; that the Committee will be advised about that; and that the Department will do so quickly? The matter is crucial to the Committee’s deliberations. I understand that the Minister’s announcement has given the Committee more time. However, it must still work at its own pace.

Mr Poots:
I informed the Executive that the Committee Stage of the Libraries Bill would be extended by four months and that that might have implications for the introduction of a single library authority on 1 April 2008. Therefore, Ministers are aware of those implications. After the Committee, I will inform them of the current situation. I will ask the chief executive designate to inform the chief librarians immediately, so that they can inform their staff forthwith. My reporting responsibilities are to the Committee and the House. Therefore, I gave due courtesy to the Committee by making the announcement here.

With regard to the £550,000 for corporate services, those costs will be elongated as a result of the process. The costs include the salaries of the chief executive designate and her current team and the accommodation exercise. However, there are other appointments that the Department would have made earlier in the process that will now be delayed due to the change of date. That figure will, therefore, be different for those reasons. The Department has taken the decision to change the date this week. It will, therefore, need time to work on some of those figures before it can provide the Committee with more concrete estimations.

Mr McNarry:
I must press the Minister again about whether he will amend the explanatory memorandum.

Mr Poots:
The Department will still aim to make the savings that appear in the memorandum unless it negotiates different figures with the Department of Finance and Personnel. At present, however, I cannot amend it.

If we find that those figures are stretching things a little, we will have to go back to the Department of Finance and Personnel and indicate that there are no savings to be made.

Mr McNarry:
When we move to the Budget discussion and the consultation process, will those figures remain the same?

Mr Poots:
We are working to those figures. If we find that they are unreasonable and we cannot work within those figures, we will seek to have them amended.

Mr McNarry:
Will you inform the Committee of any change?

Mr Poots:
Yes.

Mr P Ramsey:
Minister, you are very welcome. It is always good to see you at these discussions. The Committee is uncertain about the way forward. I have missed some of the presentations to the Committee, but, at every meeting that I have attended, the utmost concern has been expressed about the value of a library authority. Are you persuaded that a single library authority is the best way forward to provide services that will match the existing services? Officials from one board told us that the start-up costs are £1·5 million, but someone else quoted a different figure, so David’s points are valid and consistent in terms of the agreement that members have reached.

When witnesses address the Committee on the matter, we find that six more questions need to be answered by the end of it. Hansard provides a report of the meetings and representatives from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure attend the meetings, therefore, one would imagine that the Committee would have a better way of getting answers, rather than getting the Minister to attend to ask him the questions. A series of questions have been raised, but the answers could be found in an easier way. Your time is precious, Minister, and the Committee’s time is precious, therefore, there must be a better way of giving the necessary comfort and responses to members. Morale and motivation will be low now, as the introduction of the library authority has been postponed by a year. Again it is all about savings.

What are the redundancy costs? What will be the branding of the new organisation? What is the cost of establishing a new regional office or subregional offices? The subregional facility has been talked about, but none of us knows what it means. We do not know whether it be coterminous with the new local authority. We need to question the validity of the library authority and settle arguments in order to be convinced to move forward and take ownership of a new single library authority, because, at the moment, too many questions remain unanswered.

This is not directly related to legislation but, under existing arrangements, there is a formula to ensure that each area is guaranteed appropriate funding in targeting social need. Will that continue to be the case? That has not been discussed. In the present Library Service we have potential to access external funding, such as European peace moneys. Some senior librarians may be encouraged to leave the Library Service if they are offered a good lump sum, so we may lose those specialist skills and capacity.

The Library Service is an excellent resource for providing lifelong learning and early years programmes. It also assists the Department of Education to deliver targets in literacy and numeracy skills. I have raised this question continuously with the boards: will there be joined-up thinking and a separation of the library authority from the schools section? Economies of scale enable the Library Service and the Department of Education to operate collectively, but what will happen when they separate? Will there be costings involved? Will there be separate buildings? Will there be a continued role for the Department of Education in the early years programme? For months, the Committee has had questions and been uncertain about it. There is good reason to extend the consultation period, so that we can be certain and support you in bringing forward the legislation. At the moment, I do not think that anyone in this room is certain.

Mr Poots:
I thank the Member for that. The review of public administration will create uncertainty across virtually all of the bodies that are affected by it. That goes with the territory. Those who have vested interests will come to the Committee and they will not want to change anything or do things differently, because they are protecting their own interests. However, I have to take a more global look at it.

There are three options: first, to allow libraries to stay with education and, rather than becoming the education and skills authority, have them become the education and library skills authority instead. In my opinion, that would mean that libraries would play second fiddle to the big players. Libraries would be the tail of the dog, and they would not get a fair crack of the whip.

Libraries have a much better case with a single library authority than with the education authority.

The second option is for local authorities to have responsibility for libraries. Having spoken to people who work in libraries and people from the main union, NIPSA, there is total opposition to that. One trade union with a substantially smaller number of members would consider a move to local authorities. Overall, the people who work in libraries are clear that they do not want the local authority scenario. It would result in seven, 11 or 15 bodies overseeing libraries and would multiply, instead of reducing, the number of people that are involved in administration.

The third option is the creation of a single library authority.

Those are the three options. Doing nothing is not an option, because the education and library boards are going. Of the three options, I am convinced that a single library authority is the best option for libraries and for staff. It would mean the creation of a public-service body, which would have a clear and definitive role for libraries in Northern Ireland, and which would be accountable to the Department and the Committee. That is preferable to the responsibility for libraries being buried somewhere else, or a multiplicity, rather than a reduction, of administration.

I am acutely aware of the problems that uncertainty creates among staff. That is why I did not change the decision to set up the library authority in April 2008 at an earlier point. I have now decided on April 2009, and I will stick to that rather than pick another date during the year and then find that there are additional problems. The extra year leaves adequate time to deal with the changes, and staff know that they can work to the April 2009 date with some comfort.

Mr P Ramsey:
I asked a number of questions to the Minister, and I do not suggest that he will have all the answers today. In light of the information that he has already given, can the Committee have a more detailed response to those questions?

Mr Poots:
I am quite happy for a more effective system of communication exchange to take place. If you are telling me that there has been a fall down in communication, I am happy for questions to be posed directly to the chief executive designate. I expect to see the questions and responses so that I can keep my finger on what is going on and so that the Committee does not have greater knowledge than what I have. I am happy for a better form of communication to take place.

The Chairperson:
We might discuss the detail of some of Mr Ramsey’s particular issues.

Mr D Bradley:
Minister, you did not say whether or not you would amend the explanatory and financial memorandum to take into account the adjusted start-up costs.

Mr Poots:
I am not saying that I would not do that, but I am not in a position to say that I will. The Department will have to identify whether the proposed finances are reasonable and can be delivered. If the finances are reasonable, I will not amend the explanatory and financial memorandum; but I will consider doing that if the finances cannot be delivered.

Mr D Bradley:
How far are you from final, complete and reliable costings? What external studies have the Department commissioned to help you formulate the costings?

Ms Knox:
DCAL is working on the final, complete and reliable costings, and I am not in a position to consider that. However, I have had discussions with the Department about the likely implications of a delayed start date. As the Minister said, he only made that decision this week. DCAL is working on the cost implications of that.

Mr D Bradley:
Do you have any figures?

Ms Knox:
I do not have figures; perhaps Mr Jack has figures on that. The Deloitte report, of which members have copies, is an external study that was commissioned by the Department to help it formulate the costings.

I have looked at that report, tested some of its assumptions about external costs and spoken to the Department about the costings in order to find out if there is flexibility.

Mr Jack:
We will need to carry out more work on the detail of the costings. The main impact of the change to the timing is the period that the chief executive designate and her immediate team need to be paid for as the designate, rather than the affirmed chief executive and senior team of the substantive library authority. The main costs are for salaries and premises for that additional year.

Having said that, the corporate services costs of the full library authority will be incurred later; however, the significant costs of setting up the corporate services and the new organisation are of a one-off nature. Those one-off costs will not differ because of the change to the timescale, so the main impact will be that some elements of salaries will be required for a longer period, and others will be delayed. As mentioned earlier, it will take time for savings to be realised: to an extent that element is delayed. We have some more detailed modelling to do. It is a complex exercise to work out what the staffing structure of the new authority will be. We are working constantly to refine the figures. So far, the main basis that we have for estimating the costs is the Deloitte report, and it is simply about looking at how changing the timing changes the phasing of the figures in that report.

Mr D Bradley:
What timescale are we talking about for the final costings? Will it be three months, or six months?

Mr Jack:
That will be heavily dependent on the new structure that the chief executive designate will draw up.

Mr D Bradley:
What intrigues me about this is that the costings for the Bill are far from complete. Therefore, I am surprised that the Minister came to the House on Tuesday and rejected the Irish language legislation, which is further down the legislative schedule than this Bill. He rejected that legislation largely on the basis of costings, so why is it taking so long to cost the library authority when the Irish language legislation was rejected in a much shorter timescale? The consultation stage had hardly been finished.

Mr Poots:
Well, I —

Mr D Bradley:
Please allow me to finish, Minister. It appears that there is a contradiction in the Department’s actions, and a lack of consistency in approach. On the one hand, there is a Bill that is going through the Committee Stage, which has not been fully costed even with external professional help, and on the other hand there is a proposed Bill that has not even reached the Committee Stage, but has been rejected largely on the basis of costings, and without any external professional help.

Mr Poots:
I thank the Member for his questions. First, we are working on assumptions in relation to costs of the Libraries Bill. Irene must identify how she is going to set up the structure, and, hopefully, we will reach a more definitive point in considerably less than six months. I would like to see that completed in closer to three months, by the end of this year.

The other issue is not on today’s agenda. I asked for assumptions on cost to be made for that as well, and I asked that that should be done at a high level. Therefore, the assumptions that were made will give a reasonable indication of what those costs would be. In addition, I gave the costs exclusively for the Civil Service, and I did not cover education boards, health trusts, councils or other bodies for which there would be a cost issue.

I will never apologise to the Committee or the Assembly for seeking to save money on administration. I believe that public money saved on administration can be directed towards front-line services. That is key to what we, as public representatives, do, and the public will hold us accountable for the delivery of those services. Northern Ireland has a poor level of front-line services across a whole range of Departments, and we would do well to seek to put as much money as possible into those front-line services — the casualty units, the sports facilities provided around the country and the libraries, many of which fall short of standards that we could be proud of. We should go forward and see how money can be saved, so that it can be distributed to the public in the most effective way.

Mr D Bradley:
I am not asking the Minister to apologise for anything. He is entitled to make savings, and we would all support him in that. We must be sure that the figures that we get are accurate. Will the Minister not accept my point that there is a lack of consistency in approach between those two pieces of legislation? The Department should be consistent in its approach. The Minister said earlier that he would welcome an improvement in the exchange of information or communication between the Committee and the Department. However, some members of the Committee knew the previous week the content of the statement that the Minister made on Tuesday morning, and he did not come to the Committee. I believe that the Chairperson asked to meet him. There are issues around communication.

The Chairperson:
Mr Bradley’s point is noted. We will have one or two final comments on the Libraries Bill.

Mr McCausland:
The difficulty for the Committee, and the Minister in many ways, has been that the legislation started under direct rule, and the Assembly became involved in the middle of the process. Many of the earlier stages were badly handled under direct rule. However, things have improved dramatically under devolution.

Can I have clarification of the timeline? Legislation will be passed and we will know how many members a shadow board will have, and then it will have to be constituted. There will then be the process of recruitment to the board, and it will then kick in. What is the timescale for those procedures?

Mr Poots:
I would hope to have the legislation through by the summer recess, and if that is the case we could go ahead and appoint a shadow board in the autumn. We aim to appoint the shadow board in October, so the chief executive would, to some extent, be reporting to the board in shadow mode.

Mr McCausland:
So it would be mid-financial year, roughly?

Mr Poots:
It would, and then it would move forward in the new financial year. Setting up such a board or authority in mid-year would ensure that the financial impositions and corporate governance standards would immediately apply for the full year, but you would only be getting a number of months out of it.

Mr McNarry:
I thank the Minister for coming. I want to emphasise that the Committee has great doubt about his figures stacking up. The evidence is to the contrary from every source that we have looked at. If the Minister can show that his figures stack up or, indeed, if he can come clean and say that they are wrong, then the Committee could get to grips with the issue better and quicker. Will the Minister let the Committee know as soon as possible if there are any changes in his figures or assumptions? The Committee thinks that the figures are way out.

Mr Poots:
That remains to be seen. Assumptions have been made, and I cannot say that those assumptions are wrong. If Mr McNarry is talking about the figures being way out, and the difference is £200,000 of savings instead of £1·2 million savings, then the figures are way out. I would not anticipate that the figure will be £1·2 million exactly. I am sure that there will be some difference. Nonetheless, as soon as I have those figures, and as soon as we can move from the basis of assumptions to something more definitive, I will be happy to keep the Committee informed. However, we have not yet reached that point.

The Chairperson:
I thank the Minister and his senior colleagues for appearing before the Committee this morning to discuss the Libraries Bill.

Minister, do you intend to make a brief statement on the Budget?

Mr Poots:
Budget issues are still being discussed at the Executive Committee. There will be further discussions today about ISNI. It has been a difficult negotiating round. I have fought hard for this Department and will continue to do so. Year 1 is a difficult year for all Departments. Years 2 and 3 will also be difficult, if we decide to ignore the recommendations of Water Reform NI. Years 4 and 5 will be difficult for capital development, if we do not examine what the Government have land banked and offload some of the assets that we do not currently use.

In all of this, difficult decisions must be taken. My duty is to fight for my Department. I will try to obtain the best possible result for the service of culture, arts and leisure over the incoming year.

The Chairperson:
I thank the Minister, Mr Jack and Ms Knox.

Mr Poots:
Mr McNarry is away. I did not get an opportunity to thank him for the opening rounds. I am going to see Noel Thompson, so it was good for a warm-up.

The Chairperson:
Members, having heard the Minister’s evidence on the Libraries Bill, are there any issues on which further clarification is required from any of the witnesses? We can write to the Department.

Mr K Robinson:
I wish to make a general point. There was a point in the Minister’s presentation when he appeared to be a bit peeved with the Committee. I hope that, by the end of the exchange, he realised that the Committee has had real difficulties. We are not dragging our feet. We have been dropped into the middle of a process, and we are trying to establish where the firm ground is, so that we can build it up and get it right. It is not just a matter of getting it done. That is what seemed to be coming through at one stage. We are trying to get it right; and that is a difficult process. I hope that the Minister realised that from the questioning.

Mr D Bradley:
I would like further clarification, if possible, on what conversations the Minister may have had with the Department of Education about possible synchronisation of the establishment of the library authority and the education and skills authority. Also, I would like clarification on how links between the public library service and the schools’ library service will be maintained and developed and what type of service level agreement there will be and what issues it will cover.

The Chairperson:
It is agreed that the Committee will request that information.

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