Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 28 April 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr John O’Dowd
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr

Witnesses:

Mr Victor Hewitt ) Specialist adviser

The Chairperson:

The Committee welcomes back Victor Hewitt.

Mr Victor Hewitt (Specialist Adviser):

Thank you, Mr Chairman. By the conclusion of the Committee’s last evidence-gathering session, we had trawled through a great deal of information through oral presentations and written submissions. The purpose of the paper that I present to the Committee today is to try to trawl through and impose some order on that, particularly in classifying “unavoidable pressures” and “other pressures”.

If a Department is asked how important a particular pressure is to it, it will say that it is very important indeed. Therefore, there needs to be some criteria by which one can effectively say: “That is a totally unavoidable pressure.” The normal criteria that finance officers would use to do that is that it constitutes a legal or contractual commitment. That is the starting point. All other pressures have to be judged on other criteria, be they political or otherwise.

Therefore, the bulk of this paper is about trying to classify “unavoidable pressures” on that definition, and “other pressures”, about whose priority the Committee will no doubt wish to debate in due course.

The summary of pressures is in the form of a table in order to keep it compact, because there is a great deal of information floating around. This is still a moveable feast: the information keeps coming out, even since our last session. For example, another £20 million has come on the table as a backdated PSNI pension commutated cost for 2008-09. That figure was not brought out at any of the evidence sessions.

Another factor that is also a moveable feast is the low-pay claims for the Civil Service as a whole, whereby those numbers have essentially quadrupled. I do not think that people are quite aware of the size of those claims, which are now very large. Again, that is something that could continue to grow in the context of this document.

Using the “unavoidable” classification, the really big pressures are the hearing-loss claims; the equal pay claims; the cost of public inquiries, to which I will return; and legal aid. Other issues, such as the PSNI pensions, are being looked at with regard to switching them from being a pressure on the departmental expenditure limit to being covered under the annually managed expenditure heading, as would be the case in the rest of the UK. There would be some cost in making the switch, but that is not a cost that could be unsupportable.

I will just run down the list of “key unavoidables”. The PSNI hearing-loss claims are growing almost every time that we take further evidence on them, and their size increases. There is £131.3 million of claims, and that figure may well increase.

We have an estimate of £50 million over two years for the equal pay claims, which will be unavoidable. I have just referred to the overall bill for the Civil Service, which is growing rapidly, although the figures have not bottomed out yet.

There was also a claim from the NIO that its junior staff would not be affected by equal pay claims. That may or may not be so. The trade unions will certainly be pushing for junior staff in the NIO to come within the same remit as regards back pay, and I have no figures for that at the moment.

The other matters relate to public inquiries, which could be any amount of money, depending on the number of inquiries, and legal aid, which has been running at £30 million a year light on its budget year after year, and it has had to go back and fight for money from the Treasury. The public inquiries money has been funded by using up the end-year flexibility that the NIO had built up — unspent money that it has been carrying forward. It has, effectively, exhausted that as a source of money for public inquiries. That was a contingency, and unless that is rebuilt, the NIO will be unable to meet any of those other claims that are on the table. The inquiries are a key element of the package.

We ran across claims from the Probation Board — about £18 million — which is a good example of where we need to be careful about comparing like with like. The operations of the Probation Board in England are rather different from the Probation Board here, in that some of the things that are covered within the Probation Board spending in England are covered within the Department of Health, Social Security and Public Safety spending in Northern Ireland. We are not exactly comparing like with like, thus that £18 million is a little suspect on those grounds.

I do not want to go through all of the figures in detail, although I will pick up any questions members may have. The additional money for the dissident activity will be an unavoidable cost, but we expect that to be picked up as in-year costs by bids on the Treasury in the year in which they arise, rather than as an addition to the PSNI baseline going forward indefinitely. They are unavoidable: they are not of the same character; they are not a baseline issue, as opposed to an in-year pressure.

I will leave it there, Chairman, and take any questions members may have.

The Chairperson:

Mr Hewitt, can you clarify the pension commutation costs — the £20 million you referred to? My understanding was that the money came out in the evidence. I questioned the NIO on pensions, and those costs were fully funded. The commutation figure is £22 million: £11 million each year additional. That came out during the evidence and during the Policing Board’s presentations at some point. The ready reckoner shows a figure of £924 million, and often the figure talked about for the police budget is £1·2 million. However, I understand that the difference between the £924 million and the £1·2 million is that the difference — whatever the figure is — comes under annually managed expenditure (AME), which relates solely to pension costs.

We need to establish whether that £22 million of additional money, which was the result of an announcement made by the Home Secretary that affected the police service throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, comes under AME. I understand that the Government pick up any additional costs that would be involved. Is that your understanding?

Mr Hewitt:

Not from the evidence that was given. Members will recall that the Chief Constable expressed concern that his budget was being hit by those pension costs, which suggests to me that they are not currently covered by AME. I will go back and check that, because it is an important issue. According to the available evidence, the £22 million pension commutation was for the next two years. The additional £20 million that I mentioned was for the past year and was backdated.

The Chairperson:

That is what I wanted to find out.

Mr Hewitt:

That looks like an additional pressure. That will be covered in-year, so only the £22 million will have an effect on the budgets. Negotiations are taking place with the Treasury about attempting to switch those pressures from the departmental expenditure limit ( DEL) process to the AME process. I expect that to happen, but I do not have any further information about that at present. I will go back to NIO and check that.

The Chairperson:

Those figures will have to be clarified so that they are crystal clear.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Thank you for your draft report, Mr Hewitt. I have a three-point question. First, can you extrapolate figures that show the consequences of applying the Barnett formula on the figures that you have? Quite rightly, you said that there would be a widening of the gap between the need and resources and that those factors should be recognised. What does that look like in real terms, given the figures that you have?

Secondly, you do not appear to have mentioned the issue of the ability to reclaim VAT on the relevant services. Perhaps you have covered that elsewhere. If that were to happen, based on the figures that I saw, we would save somewhere between £150 million and £200 million. Can that be worked into the report? Have you looked at that possibility?

Last week, after the Budget, Shaun Woodward said that he had got some additional money for policing, and that it was a wonderful thing. I took that with a pinch of salt, because I was not entirely sure exactly how much money we got for policing, or into which cavity it was going. Have you been able to analyse his comments following the Budget statement?

Mr Hewitt:

I will answer those points one at a time. Under the Barnett formula, we receive what is known as a consequential — a population share of any comparable expenditure in GB. For our purposes, comparable expenditure would be spread between policing and local authorities that hold policing budgets. We have to sort out like for like when it comes to the underlying subprogrammes.

If we do not know what is going into those budgets in future years, we cannot calculate a consequential. However, we could calculate a consequential on the assumption that, within the most recent comprehensive spending review (CSR) period, we had been in a Barnett regime, and would therefore know what had gone into those particular categories in England. We could compare that consequential with the actual amounts of money that went into NIO at that time. The historical amount for the most recent CSR would give us an idea of the discrepancies between the two amounts.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

It would be useful to see those figures.

Mr Hewitt:

Yes, it would. We will have a go at calculating that consequential. I have the subprogrammes that are used for that purpose. It should not be difficult.

We did not address the VAT issue in the report because we expect that issue to be resolved. If a Northern Ireland Department takes on that responsibility, it will be able to reclaim VAT just like any other Department. It will not be a significant issue.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

If we are blowing our own trumpet should we not claim that responsibility and take ownership of it? It was this Committee that put that issue on the agenda.

Mr Hewitt:

If you are suggesting that where we pay VAT currently, we would simply retain that VAT payment and not have to make it, the Treasury would probably take the view that the Departments were funded because they needed to pay VAT, and if they do not need to pay VAT they are not funded for that.

That is how they currently treat the Northern Ireland block. In the funding rules there is a discount for VAT. That is certainly a debating point; however, I am not sure that it will carry the day. I have not gone over the Budget with Sean Woodward. Unfortunately, I was out of the country last week. However, I will certainly go back and look at that to see in detail exactly what they got. Budget figures are often sleights of hand, so we need to look at that carefully.

When considering what proposals you would like to make, the general issue of the Barnett formula, as I have said before, is that we are running an operation that is roughly twice as expensive, on a per capita basis, as in England. Therefore, whatever money you get through Barnett, over time, it is not going to be able to sustain that sort of lead. One of the ideas that you might want to explore, for at least a CSR period, is whether to look for a “Barnett plus” settlement. That would allow you to phase in whatever changes are going to be necessary to accommodate this — I would not describe it as a cuckoo, but it will become one — cuckoo in the nest, which will consume other resources very rapidly indeed.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you very much for the paper; it was a useful summary of the evidence to date. Our party is now considering it, and it is something that we will come back to in the future. The paper will be better informed when we address who is going to be responsible for the legacy issues. Therefore, we await the outcome of the ongoing discussion between the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the British Treasury. Is there an estimate of what the back pay will affect?

Mr Hewitt:

Which back pay claim is that?

Mr Hewitt:

The Civil Service back pay.

Mr McCartney:

The people affected are those who were, essentially, recruited into the policing bodies through Northern Ireland Civil Service recruitment procedures. As I mentioned, that is a claim which is growing very rapidly. I do not know what figure you have, but the figure that I have for a potential back pay claim is something in the order of £480 million.

Mr McCartney:

Is that across the Civil Service or specific to this?

Mr Hewitt:

It is across the Civil Service.

Mr McCartney:

Is there an estimate specific to this?

Mr Hewitt:

There is an estimate of around £50 million.

The Chairperson:

That figure could increase. Did you say that there is a possibility that the NIO could come under that claim?

Mr Hewitt:

The trade unions in particular will want to try to bring people in the NIO within the remit of any back pay claim. Whether that works or not will depend on the terms under which those people were recruited.

The Chairperson:

That could have a knock-on effect if it is not sorted out prior to devolution.

Mr Hewitt:

Yes, of course it could.

Mr McCausland:

On page 3, “historic” issues are mentioned, including the equal pay claims. You spoke about a figure over a two-year period. That money, I presume, is to pay money that is due to people because of issues from the past. Will all those issues be addressed over the course of two years?

Mr Hewitt:

There will be two elements to that. First, obviously, is a lump sum to compensate for earnings which they should have been getting and were not. Secondly, following that, the earnings level will have risen, and that will be an ongoing pressure into the future. At the moment, the really big money is in the lump sums.

Mr McCausland:

Will the lump sum issue be addressed inside the next two years?

Mr Hewitt:

It should be.

Mr McCausland:

On page 3, the other issue is that:

“Similarly the extra costs of dissident activity are too uncertain to estimate fully but are unavoidable”.

Later, however, the figure of £76 million is given to cover dissident terrorist activity over the next two years of the CSR. On the one hand the paper states that it is too early to estimate that cost, and on the other, there is a figure of £76 million given. Is that the Chief Constable’s estimate?

Mr Hewitt:

That is the Chief Constable’s estimate from his evidence of 24 March 2009. We view those pressures as being dealt with in-year, as is done with the monitoring rounds in our system. An additional £31 million a year will not be built into the baseline and carried forward for ever and a day thereafter, but depends on the level of the activity with which the PSNI will have to deal. When the Chief Constable appeared before the Committee, his best estimate was £76 million over the next two years of the current CSR period.

Mr McFarland:

I understand that a major review of the Barnett formula is taking place at Westminster. Is there any indication about where that might lead? If the basis of all our funding is likely to change, that is likely to have an effect on how we view the policing element of budgetary pressures.

Mr Hewitt:

An ad hoc committee of the House of Lords is considering the Barnett formula. It does not have a Government imprimatur behind it; it is not an official committee as such. The committee was across earlier in April 2009, and I gave some evidence to it. A paper containing our analysis of the Barnett formula is available on our website.

My experience of talking to that committee is that its chairman was keen on a procedure that is used in Australia called the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Australia has a federal system, and that body sits each year and allocates money to the states. I would not be surprised if the House of Lords committee recommended a move away from a formula-based system, which is adjusted at the margins, to a needs-based system, which is more akin to the Australian system.

My view is that the two systems are entirely different. Australia has a federal system in which tax availability to the states is equalised. Our system is not a federal one; it is concerned with putting devolved Administrations on a footing at which they can supply the same level of services, taking some account of the need level through the size of the population.

I do not expect the Barnett formula to be changed or abandoned in the short term. There is too much of an investment in that system, and not only in the formula, which is a simple one. It is embedded in a whole set of rules called the funding rules, which are available from the Treasury. One needs to see the workings of the formula in relation to the underlying rules.

For example, Northern Ireland lost £123 million in last week’s Budget because there were cuts in comparable programmes in the UK. That was done through the Barnett formula, but the funding rules would have allowed that to have been done as a straight, across-the-board cut. In the past, we have had interesting experiences in which a straight, across-the-board cut was made to programmes that were then selectively restored in England. The Treasury attempted to return the money to Northern Ireland through the Barnett formula, but, given that the across-the-board cut was much more than what Northern Ireland would get back through the Barnett formula, one must look at the entire range of the funding rules and how they operate. That is a rather long answer.

Mr McFarland:

It is worth keeping an eye on that issue. In 1999, OFMDFM did a study because there was a received wisdom that Northern Ireland would be better off moving to a needs-based system. When the number crunching was done, it was so frightening that it was decided that we should hold on to the Barnett formula if possible.

Mr Attwood:

Thank you, Victor, for your report. I am sure that your assessment that £400 million of budget pressures is unavoidable in the next two years of the current CSR period is hard to swallow and very stark. My questions may go beyond your responsibility.

You identify an additional pressure on the Legal Services Commission of £50 million in the next CSR period.

On the basis of the evidence, and independent of any other budgetary issues that might arise, did any other justice agency anticipate budgetary pressures in the next CSR period, similar to that identified by the Legal Services Commission and outlined in your report?

Mr Hewitt:

All bodies will face pressures in the next CSR period.

Mr Attwood:

As you say, it is unavoidable

Mr Hewitt:

The reason why we highlighted the Legal Services Commission pressure was because it has a systemic problem. It has been consistently underfunded, in relation to its base line for the costs of legal aid.

The Chairperson:

That is an issue that needs to be explored. By comparison to other parts of the United Kingdom, the costs of legal aid are much higher in Northern Ireland. It was explained to us that, for Northern Ireland, one has to multiply costs by a factor of three. Whereas in Scotland and England, one is represented by a single individual, in Northern Ireland, one is represented by three: solicitor, junior counsel and senior counsel. The system needs fixed.

Mr Hewitt:

Absolutely. Too many cooks spoil the broth. One of the driving forces here is the certificate issued by the judge. It authorises representation at some level: one counsel, two counsels or more. Once that is issued, there is nothing that the Legal Services Commission can do: it must live with the consequences of that. In this respect, autonomous bodies operate in this area, creating repercussions for one another. Primary legislation is required to clarify who decides what the level of representation should be and how it will be funded.

Mr Attwood:

The Legal Services Commission and the Court Service indicated that they were trying to reconfigure all of that. However, it will be 2014 or 2015 before a new arrangement will be in place. There will be many hangover cases from the current CSR period that will have to be funded under current mechanisms.

There are one or two areas of your draft report where there are potentially other unavoidable pressures. I will not go into detail, except to say, that the Public Prosecution Service should be restructured and its conduct reviewed. We heard evidence that, on recruitment of staff, it is approaching a critical-mass situation. Given that the administration of justice — how cases are progressed, how quickly they are progressed and managed — is such a big issue, politically and publicly, the Public Prosecution Service needs to recruit the staff that it has not recruited until now. Its representatives said that close to 8% or 9% of its staff complement has not been recruited: that is close to critical mass. There are one or two areas where there may be additional unavoidable pressures to be faced sooner, rather than later.

What you said about the regional rate is useful, but however we used that power — if we ever got round to using it — it will not fix the problem. It will deal with the margins of it, but not the big issues.

Your remarks about the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland are interesting. The time will come, over the next couple of years — before the British Government does or does not respond to the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past — when the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will have to get additional funding or they will be in breach of their obligations under European law with respect to taking cases forward. There could be a further pressure there, independent of what may or may not happen to the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past .

Finally, is it not the case that the additional constraints that last week’s Budget has placed on the Northern Ireland budget in the next CSR period have cast a huge shadow over this paper? We have anticipated what additional savings will be required in Northern Ireland in the next CSR period. Those calculations are based on the current budget and do not account for a justice and policing budget. I will not provide the figures, because they will alarm people. Whatever the unavoidable pressures are in the next two years, is it not the case that the pressures in the next CSR period will make some of this stuff look minor?

Mr Hewitt:

I will begin by answering your last question. The Budget estimates that I have seen look totally unrealistic, because they are predicated on rates of growth beyond next year, which no commentator will accept. If those rates of growth do not manifest themselves, the hole in the UK Budget will grow even larger, and, inevitably, the Government will have to look at their spending programmes. So far, they have avoided making major spending cuts; they have made changes to the taxation side. However, delivery on the changes to taxation requires a buoyancy in the economy, and that does not exist now.

If the Government are to keep the borrowing requirements, which are probably beyond bearable at the moment, within bearable limits, they would, almost certainly, have to cut major spending programmes. That would have major repercussions for us if those spending programmes had comparable components here. For instance, we would suffer if the Health Service was no longer going to be protected and had to make major savings. We are in the hands of the gods for the next few years.

Even on present plans, the overall public expenditure levels will grow by only about 0·7%. If we get everything comparable through the Barnett formula, we can sustain growth of about three quarters of that percentage. For every 1% growth in England, we can sustain about three quarters of a per cent, and that is not sufficient to sustain our existing programmes. Costs related to the inflation rate and such areas as health are massively beyond that. I know that everyone quotes the retail prices index (RPI) and so on, but the real rate of inflation in such areas as healthcare is massively above that. Therefore there will be enormous pressures on programmes here in the future.

I apologise if that sounds pessimistic, but that is the reality of the situation.

Mr Attwood:

I agree with your assessment.

Mr Hewitt:

My experience of the Treasury is that it will settle with us on what it can identify as being genuine and unavoidable pressures. The other issues, which they will see as day-to-day housekeeping, will have to be operated by ourselves, and we will have to decide what areas need a little bit more money and what areas can make do with less.

The Treasury will not give you an open-ended commitment to keep coming back again and again on those issues.

We devised a useful formula during the CSR period at the time when the Prison Service was being shaped. That formula stated that we would cover all foreseeable pressures and get that into the agreement as a statement of principle. That left the door open for claims to be made on foreseen pressures, in principle. However, the Treasury will not give you a blank cheque ongoing.

The Chairperson:

Does any other member have a question on the paper?

There is a number of questions to which we will require answers. There needs to be some discussion about the paper and about where we go from here, because work needs to be done. I know that Victor is going to raise some of the issues, but there are some questions that we need to ask.

Your paper refers to the “key unavoidables”. I would be reluctant in any final paper to have, as your paper states:

“Legal Aid [unlikely that HMT will fund?]”

We need to go down the route of saying that that is money that is required and it will be for others, particularly the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance and Personnel, to go to the Treasury or wherever to seek funding. We need to have a discussion about whether, at the stage at which we now are or when we get more answers, we need to have the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance and Personnel around the table specifically to discuss the Committee’s findings and, perhaps, to present them with a final paper to allow them to comment .

There is also the Heywood Committee, from which the Secretary of State indicated that he is expecting a report to himself and the Prime Minister around the end of the first week in May. There is a question of when the information from that will be shared. There is also the Ashdown Report, about which the Committee has just written to inquire about its financial implications. That report might make recommendations for policing and justice that have financial implications. There has been speculation about that, but we do not yet know. The report might well ease pressures on policing, but there is, obviously, always pressure on the policing budget from contentious marches and suchlike. The Committee needs to see the recommendations of the Ashdown Report in order to know that there are no possible major financial implications for the devolution of policing and justice.

There is no inkling of that report being published. The last time I inquired, I was told that it would be out in three or four weeks’ time, but it has still not appeared. As a result of a discussion at last week’s Committee meeting, a letter has been sent inquiring about its progress, and a copy of that letter is in members’ information packs. There are, therefore, a number of matters that the Committee needs to flesh out. Perhaps members might like to suggest what the Committee’s next move should be.

Mr McFarland:

Two areas could do with being refined. The first is to have rough agreement on the areas that the Committee would see as being historical, and, therefore, being reasonably left to the NIO, and how the situation would look if they were removed. The second is whether it is possible to change the legal system with regard to support for legal aid sooner than 2015. Members spoke about making changes in a number of areas that would improve things. It would be useful to refine some of those areas so that we know what can be achieved and in what timeframe. That might help us in our decision-making.

The Chairperson:

Is that possible, Victor? I know that you have been reluctant to do that so far in your paper, but is there enough information from what the police and others have provided about historical matters? The Secretary of State recognised that there were historical factors, and he indicated that he wanted an equitable policing and justice budget to reflect those. I suspect that it would do no harm to have that aspect separated, and a line or paragraph in the final report suggesting that there are historical areas that need to be taken out of the budget equation.

The Chief Constable always makes that argument. He talks about policing the here and now as opposed to policing the past. Given the resources and amounts involved, that has a fairly big effect on the police budget. It might be helpful to take that issue away from the main in some sort of silo.

Mr Hewitt:

It can be done. On paper, it could be moved to another category.

The issue should be left with the NIO to fight with the Treasury about the figure. It would no longer be a concern of the devolved Administration. I reiterate the practicalities of dealing with the Treasury: it dislikes intensely making open-ended commitments and much prefers to pay people off with a lump sum. However, we can put those legacy issues to one side, and say that the NIO, not the devolved Administrations, will deal with those matters in the future. Of course, there will need to be a mechanism for that. Some sort of board could be set up in the NIO to deal with claims against the police, which, at that time, will be devolved. It could cause some complication.

The Chairperson:

That point may be for others to argue. It is not our job.

Mr McFarland:

As the Eames/Bradley group recommended, it is time to establish a principle to deal with live policing from now on and leave the past in the past. I understand that the House of Commons Committee will report in early September and expects the Government to produce a statement on the Eames/Bradley report in September. That might provide more direction as to whether they accept that those matters should be packaged and separated. As the Chief Constable and the policing board have said, if we continue to be dogged with historical issues, the situation will be open-ended and could bankrupt the police in two or three years.

Mr Attwood:

Alan’s point about trying to differentiate between historical and current issues is useful. Putting all unavoidable issues into the historical section would be even more desirable. As the Chairperson said, in order to manage the paper, we need to have a conservation with either the Department of Finance and Personnel or the First Minister and the deputy First Minster soon. We have drawn up a paper, but half those matters — or, perhaps, none — may have been addressed in ongoing conversations outside the Committee. We do not know.

Therefore, given that OFMDFM said that it hoped to conclude budgetary issues by the beginning of April — presumably that has not happened — there is a risk that our paper could interfere negatively with ongoing conversations elsewhere if it is known that an Assembly Committee thinks that there will be £631 million of budgetary pressures in the next two years on justice and policing alone. That might scare some horses or jeopardise current negotiations. Therefore, given that we our draft report can be adjusted, we need to have that conversation as soon as possible.

It is six months since the First Minister and the deputy First Minister met the Committee. Therefore, their attendance would be timely. However, if they do not meet the Committee immediately, we might, potentially, go down some dead ends, make some mistakes, or be so unsighted about relevant conversations that we cause damage. All those scenarios have political consequences. Moreover, our parties, at some level, need to consider the draft report, because some of the issues are graphic. The report is detailed, and Committee members’ eyes are wide open about some matters.

Therefore, as regards general management, I believe that it would be useful to have a conversation with our own parties; certainly, with our party leaderships.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

There is a great deal of merit in that suggestion, not only because it would broaden discussion; it would create a stalling point at which we could ensure that we are absolutely clear on the competences of what we are engaged in and on what the thing should actually look like.

It would also be interesting to get a quick update or indication, whether it is from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister or from the Secretary of State, on where his Haywood Committee is at present, because, you are right; that argument could promote and accelerate the devolution of policing and justice: equally, it could stop it for ever. We need to realise exactly what the consequences are; to address those issues; and to ensure that all parties are content politically. Everyone knows where we want to be. Now, we need to ensure that we can get there.

The Chairperson:

Do members agree, therefore, that we suggest a round-table discussion with the specialist adviser? Clearly, there is more work to be done and questions that have already been discussed to be answered. Obviously, given the work that is ongoing, the meeting with the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and, say, the Finance Minister would be held in closed session.

I agree with Alex that there also needs to be discussion within parties. However, more work must be done beforehand. We are working from a draft document. Some issues need to be clarified. I have no doubt that parties will have their own discussions.

Mr McFarland:

Certain members who are present are also members of the Policing Board. My party’s two Policing Board members are not Committee members. It will be quite useful to have a discussion with them because they, like the Policing Board members who are present, will have a more in-depth knowledge of policing than, perhaps, the rest of us do.

The Chairperson:

I do not see a need to widen the discussion beyond Committee members. I am reluctant to bring in other MLAs.

Mr McFarland:

I am just saying that if we agree to talk to our party leaders, which we just have done, those parties who have Policing Board members on the Committee have a distinct advantage over me and Danny, as neither of us sits on the Policing Board. Our party’s Policing Board members are unsighted on all of that because they have not been included in discussion thus far. If other parties’ Policing Board members are included —

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Please do not bring Basil into the discussion.

Mr McFarland:

I do not mean that I will bring him to a meeting. I mean that I will talk to him, rather than bring him to the Committee.

Mr Hamilton:

He will bring the whole thing down. All progress will be reversed.

The Chairperson:

I am not getting embroiled in that particular discussion —

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Please, we beg you, do not bring Basil — for your own sake.

We should take it step by step. The first step should be discussion between Committee members and their party leaderships, after which we will come back to the Committee and start the process. We will not rule anything out.

The Chairperson:

Are we happy to go down that route? Do you want us to start the process and suggest that that might happen, subject to the diaries of the First Minister, the deputy First Minister, and the Minister of Finance and Personnel? Members can go off and have discussion —

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Should we not have the discussion first and come back to the Committee afterwards?

The Chairperson:

I am happy to do it whatever way the Committee wants.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Ultimately, the two parties that will have those discussions with their party leaders are those that will fill those roles anyway.

The Chairperson:

OK. Let us do that and come back. Victor, is there any other information that we might be able to assist in getting or are you relatively happy?

Mr Hewitt:

I am happy as long as the Committee is happy that I have discussion on an official level with DFP and NIO in order to keep on top of figure work, because, obviously, it moves around. That figure is roughly 10 days old, and may well have moved on in the meantime. Therefore, as long as the Committee is happy enough that I do that, I will proceed.

The Chairperson:

Do we put historical stuff into a silo on its own?

Mr Hewitt:

Yes. We will redraft it and I will have a go at the Barnett estimations, and so on.

Mr O’Dowd:

We should be conscious that although there are major financial obstacles ahead with policing, if we take the view that we should not deal with policing because of finance, we would not have devolved health or education either. By the end of budgetary period, we will wish to ourselves that we had not devolved any of those matters. We will all be up the Suwannee without a paddle because finances will be tight. Therefore, although financial considerations are important, they are not —

Mr Paisley Jnr:

They are not the be all and end all.

Mr O’Dowd:

That is correct.

The Chairperson:

We have been able to tease out some points that, perhaps, were not in the public domain at the start of the meeting. That is a scary figure. I appreciate what you have said, John. Certainly, it is not be all and end all.

Thank you, Victor, for your helpful presentation. I understand that you have to get your head around quite a lot of figures. We appreciate the work that you have done thus far. We will, undoubtedly, have further discussions in coming weeks. Thank you very much indeed.

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