Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 06 November 2008

Budget Stocktake Return

6 November 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Edgar Jardine )
Ms Linda Wilson ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Hazel Campbell )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I welcome Mr Edgar Jardine, the deputy secretary at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and his senior colleagues Ms Hazel Campbell and Ms Linda Wilson. Ms Campbell is the Department’s acting director of sports, museums and recreation, and Ms Wilson is its director of culture.

I believe that Edgar will deal with the finance-related matters first.

Mr Edgar Jardine (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

If you are agreeable, Chairperson, that would be a logical way in which to deal with the issues. The Committee had asked for some further information on the stocktake, and also on the forecast out-turn table, which was provided at the Committee meeting on 23 October. Work on the stocktake is currently ongoing in the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), which is analysing returns from the various Departments. The Committee reviewed the document that we provided at the previous meeting and requested a re-examination of one particular issue — the proposed Ulster-Scots academy. That issue was discussed with the Minister in the interim, and he asked us to review the expenditure profile, and to seek to accelerate it where possible. The result of that review is that the proposed easement has been reduced by £0·5 million in year one, and it has been removed in year two. Although the establishment of an Ulster-Scots academy will undoubtedly be a challenging programme, there is a degree of momentum behind it now, which will allow for more optimistic expectations of the spend on the programme.

As I said, DFP is processing the stocktake, and no outcome is expected from that until early in the new year. It is unclear yet as to whether any adjustments will be made to the budgets for 2009-10 and 2010-11 as a result of the stocktake. In the context of the 2009-10 monitoring returns, it is also unclear as to whether that work will be done. That is the position on the stocktake; I am happy to answer any questions that Committee members may have.

Mr McCausland:

I welcome the reduction in easements for the Ulster-Scots academy, which amount to £1·25 million over two financial years. I also welcome the assurance that a degree of momentum is now behind the project. Those two aspects are important, as well as being interconnected — it was the lack of momentum that was creating the difficulty. I may not entirely agree with some details in the action plan, but they can be discussed at another time. They key point today is the deputy secretary’s welcome statement of commitment.

Before the Halloween recess, I raised the issue of libraries, and I will raise it again. The resource bids for 2009-10 state that £1·2 million extra is now needed to meet redundancy costs; £1·555 million to offset irrecoverable VAT; and £0·769 million for Northern Ireland library authority (NILA) establishment costs. That amounts to more than £3·5 million for the coming financial year.

If all the implications of creating a new library authority had been spelt out at the time, people may have had a different view of the desirability, and the advantages, of having a single library authority, as opposed to other alternatives. We knew that substantial costs were already associated with it, but now we discover that an extra £3·5 million is required.

I appreciate the fact that, as was pointed out on 23 October, someone had not picked up on the issue of the irrecoverable VAT. Nevertheless, I am concerned that issues are emerging down the line rather than being discovered at the time. Someone should have known something about basic issues, including irrecoverable VAT. Experts, consultants and senior staff work on those issues, yet some still slip through. Does that not set alarm bells ringing?

Mr Jardine:

A marker bid is required to deal with the issue of the irrecoverable VAT. The education and library boards can recover VAT. We anticipate that, in time, the new library authority will be able to recover VAT, but we do not yet know for certain. We hope that that money will not be called on, but should the library authority be unable to recover VAT, it is prudent to include it in our resource bids.

In order to make long-term efficiencies, redundancy costs are inevitable when five organisations are being amalgamated into one and the senior staff complement is being reduced. That is a one-off cost. I will ask Linda Wilson to pick up on the issue of establishment costs. I suspect that some of those costs would have accrued anyway, even if we were not establishing the library authority. Extra costs would have been generated, for example, had the Belfast Education and Library Board taken on the Belfast strategic-partnership agreement.

Ms Linda Wilson (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

The bid for establishment costs was placed because it covers a number of costs for which boards have bid. We may have expected the boards to manage those costs within their own baseline. The bid in question was made in order to try to give NILA the best possible chance of success. If costs were to arise from the strategic-partnership agreement or from completed job evaluations, NILA would not have to struggle with them in the first few years of its existence. If the bid is not successful, NILA will have to deal with those costs, but the boards would probably have made the bid in any case.

Mr McCausland:

How many new library buildings will be covered by the costs associated with the Belfast strategic-partnership agreement?

Ms L Wilson:

It is based on DCAL’s share of the contract-management cost, which is calculated on the basis of the estimated usage of the contract. When we entered into the agreement, we knew that there would be a contract-management cost.

Mr McCausland:

It is not based on any particular number of libraries?

Ms L Wilson:

It will be based on our expected usage of the contract, which will cover a £50 million deal flow for a big library in Belfast, plus other libraries that are forecasted to be in the Belfast area for the life of the contract.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you for your presentation. The strategic stocktake 2009-11 briefing paper gives details of the money that will be reallocated from the multi-sports stadium to the sports budget. Has that money been allocated in advance to particular projects or will it be used for new bids?

Mr Jardine:

It will not be possible to spend the money allocated to the multi-sports stadium next year to any great extent. Other areas of the sports budget, such as elite facilities, will require more money, but we do not quite know how much will be available, because the outline business cases are not due in until the end of this month. The sports-budget line has an odd configuration — it is quite high this year and goes down next year. That does not help the people who must manage a capital programme. Therefore, it is an attempt to even out the budget and to try to respond to some pressing needs.

Lord Browne:

At the end of the financial year 2007-08, Sport Northern Ireland reported an underspend of some £1·6 million. Based on analysis of the net resources, one of the main reasons for that was the slippage in the Irish Football Association (IFA) soccer strategy. Can you provide the Committee with any update on that? Were any moneys lost to the IFA because that strategy was delayed?

Mr Jardine:

No. The IFA resources formed part of the £8 million package. Work continues on that, albeit not at the pace that was expected initially. The IFA knows that the resources are subject to proper governance procedures.

Mr Shannon:

I am sorry that I missed your presentation, and I apologise if some of my questions touch on issues that have already been addressed.

The Chairperson:

How many questions do you have, Jim?

Mr Shannon:

I have two, but I will probably think of more.

The Chairperson:

Yesterday, the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Danny Kennedy, pulled up a member who asked four questions every time he spoke.

Mr Shannon:

The Chairperson did, however, allow another member to ask four questions. [Laughter.]

First, is the amount of money that has been set aside for the World Police and Fire Games 2013 enough to ensure that we deliver on our targets? The games are an opportunity for us to promote Northern Ireland — as a Province and a nation — in our own way. When one examines the figures, one wonders whether the amount that has been set aside is sufficient.

Secondly, the question may have already been asked, but I am very concerned about safety at sports grounds, and the moneys that are available for that. Some press stories have reported undue concern, or perhaps due concern, over safety at our sports grounds. Will the money that we have set aside be sufficient to address those concerns? I ask the question because it seems that that amount of money that has been allocated will in no way address safety issues at sports grounds.

Mr Jardine:

To answer your first question, £2·46 million will probably not cover the cost of hosting the games. At present, a business case is being compiled, a draft version of which should be available by the end of the week. The business case will give us a much better handle on not only the overall costs but on the cost flows over the next three or four years.

Mr Shannon:

At this stage, have you any indication of what those costs may be, or is too early to tell?

Mr Jardine:

I do not know, because I have yet to see the draft report, let alone the report itself. Normally, when a draft report is published, the Department and the consultants evaluate it by testing its assumptions and checking its figures. I suspect that, even if we get the draft version on Friday, it will probably take a few weeks to evaluate it.

Mr Shannon:

Will you report back to the Committee on any developments with that?

Mr Jardine:

Yes, I will. Furthermore, in future, it may be useful for the Department to give a presentation and provide information to the Committee on the World Police and Fire Games.

Ms Hazel Campbell (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

The figures for sport public safety in our briefing paper concern Sport Northern Ireland’s revenue costs, which will enable them to provide an oversight role for the safety at sports grounds legislation and to introduce an accreditation scheme for outdoor sports. However, you are probably more interested in the capital costs.

Mr Shannon:

Yes.

Ms H Campbell:

The capital is caught up in the money that we want to transfer from the stadium budget to the sports capital budget.

Mr Shannon:

Is that the £13·2 million?

Ms H Campbell:

The money will go into a number of sports capital programmes. I cannot give you a precise figure of how much will go into the capital for sports stadiums, because those projects are subject to a range of approval procedures. The safety at sports grounds programme is one of the programmes into which we are seeking to put additional capital funding.

Mr Shannon:

Do you have a timescale for that? I ask that because all members here represent areas in which there are other issues that relate to safety in sport, and we wish to have an idea of when the money for that will come through.

Mr Jardine:

We work intensively with Sport Northern Ireland weekly. As Hazel said, we are trying to form a package that best maximises the £15·6 million, in line with the planning and procurement procedures and business cases. The way in which that money is split among the different components will depend on how quickly projects emerge and their state of readiness to commence.

Mr Shannon:

Has all the money that has been allocated for sport — particularly for football grounds — over the past year or two been used?

Mr Jardine:

It is being used. A sum of money has been ring-fenced, and the speed with which it can be used depends on how many clubs present projects and the stage to which their business cases and planning procedures have been developed. It is an ongoing programme. The money is there, and we will use it as quickly as we can.

Mr Shannon:

Can you inform the Committee of how much money is left in that pot? Can clubs avail themselves of that money at this late stage? Members here come from various parts of the Province, and they have interests in clubs in their area.

Mr Jardine:

The programme relating to stadia safety and improvements is ongoing; there is no drop-dead date by which applications must be received. The Department, the previous Minister and the current Minister all recognise that, although much of the focus has been on the creation of an iconic stadium, there is huge need at sub-regional level across Northern Ireland.

Mr McCartney:

There is a need at the Brandywell.

Mr Shannon:

What money is left in the pot? It is always good for us, as elected representatives, to know.

Ms H Campbell:

Overall, Sport Northern Ireland has a target spend of £16 million capital in this financial year’s budget.

Mr Shannon:

How much of that has been spent?

Ms H Campbell:

I do not have details on how much has been spent to date, but the aim is to spend close on that target.

The Chairperson:

Can you provide the Committee with a written response to that question?

Mr Shannon:

I am happy with that.

Mr Jardine:

Sport Northern Ireland intends to spend £16 million, but that will be a challenge.

Mr P Ramsey:

You are welcome to this morning’s Committee meeting, and I welcome your comments on additional moneys. I think that money that had been promised for elite facilities has been reduced, according to the Secretary of State’s announcement. You said that processes are ongoing. How much money will be spent on elite facilities?

Mr Jardine:

We expect to receive business cases by the 28 November deadline, and we will get a better idea then of what projects are likely to be viable and of the scale of need. For the reasons already mentioned, we try to maximise the budget, and that will depend on the projects that are presented and the state that they are in compared with some other programmes. Some mixing and matching will need to be done. Therefore, I cannot provide a specific figure for the elite-facilities programme.

Mr P Ramsey:

It is a matter that the Committee has discussed, so it would be useful if you could furnish us with more details at a later stage.

Further to Jim Shannon’s point, we are concerned that Sport Northern Ireland’s safety at sports grounds programme has, according to a letter that I have seen, been considerably compromised. How much capital is required to remove that compromise?

Mr Jardine:

What do you mean by “compromise”?

Mr P Ramsey:

The safety of sports grounds has been compromised. Eamonn McCartan, the chief executive of Sport Northern Ireland, allegedly stated in a letter to the Department that safety at sports grounds had been compromised, and that has not been denied. Therefore, Sport Northern Ireland must have given some indication of how much capital is required to remove the compromise.

How will the stadium money be reallocated? Government bodies were part of the original arrangements, so will the distribution be proportionate to Government bodies? There is an expectation in rugby, soccer and Gaelic-games circles that some money will be distributed proportionately. Grounds such as Windsor Park have been condemned, and the Brandywell could have been declared unsafe and had areas of the ground closed. Has the Department given Linfield Football Club, the Irish Football Association — Northern Ireland play their matches at Windsor Park — and Derry City Football Club any piece of mind regarding those big projects?

Mr Jardine:

Irrespective of what happens on the Maze site, the Minister fully recognises the need for stadia to be enhanced. We cannot use the money to develop large stadia this year, but that does not mean that necessary work will not be carried out. In the normal public-expenditure cycle, any resource that is declared to be surplus to requirements is returned to DFP. We must discuss with DFP the possibility of using some of the money for programmes that are necessary in the short term, such as those that concern stadium safety and stadium development. There is no proportionate allocation among the three large sports governing bodies.

Mr P Ramsey:

Has proportionate allocation been considered?

Mr Jardine:

Proportionate allocation has not been considered, because the process will be competitive. However, that does not mean that there will be no more expenditure on large stadia; that will be assessed at a later stage.

The assessment of Windsor Park identified several serious problems. The Minister has made a commitment to carry out some work on Windsor Park in the short term, which would keep the stadium intact for the next three to five years.

Mr P Ramsey:

Is there also a desire to carry out work on the Brandywell?

Mr Jardine:

Work on the Brandywell is on the radar. Discussions among the Department, Sport NI and Derry City Football Club are ongoing, and Hazel may be able to inform us further on those.

Mr McNarry:

What league do Derry City play in, Jim?

Mr P Ramsey:

Derry City played Linfield a few weeks ago.

Mr McNarry:

That was not what I asked. I asked what league they play in, and they play in a foreign league. We may as well give funds to Inter Milan.

Mr McCartney:

Have a titter of wit, David.

Mr McCausland:

You mentioned that the re-imaging communities programme will continue for a further two years. Is that programme open to new applications?

Mr Jardine:

We secured money in the September monitoring round for the re-imaging communities programme. We also made a bid in the stocktake, but it will probably be into the new year before we hear the outcome of that. Therefore, the £0·5 million is up for bidding.

Mr McCausland:

Has the £0·5 million for this year already been secured? Is that programme now open to applications?

Ms L Wilson:

No, that money must be spent by the end of March 2009. I think that that money will be used, because there is a huge backlog of applications.

Mr McCausland:

Therefore, unless the proposed bids for 2009-10 and 2010-11 are achieved, the programme will end. However, if they are secured, new applications will be welcomed?

Ms L Wilson:

If the Department allocates that amount of money proposed in the briefing paper, the Arts Council should open up the process to new applications.

Mr Jardine:

However, that money has not been secured yet, Nelson.

Mr McCausland:

I appreciate that.

Mr McNarry:

The leaking of Eamonn McCartan’s letter caused great concern. However, no specific stadiums are mentioned in it. When will the Department be in a position to identify those stadiums? That matter is of great public interest; we cannot allow spectators to attend grounds that an esteemed person such as Professor McCartan considers unsafe. He must have reasons for making such statements. Given the disasters that have occurred at other stadiums, the Department has a duty to tell the Committee and the public which grounds are unsafe; otherwise, the Department should contradict his assertion.

Hazel Campbell’s response to Mr Shannon’s question did not suggest that there is an urgency to distribute that money. There should be urgency. Why is there a delay? Given that a serious situation has been identified, why can funding not be distributed? If the Department is aware of the stadiums at the top of the pecking order, will you indicate when that money will be released in order to address those safety concerns?

Mr Jardine:

I do not accept that the letter was leaked; it was legitimately disclosed under freedom of information legislation — that is fine and proper.

Mr McNarry:

Did the BBC submit that freedom of information request to the Department or to Sport NI?

Mr Jardine:

I think that the request was submitted to the Department, but I am not certain.

Mr McNarry:

Given that even this Committee was unaware of the safety concerns, how did the BBC know to make such a request?

Mr P Ramsey:

It was a tip-off.

The Chairperson:

I presume that the reason is a matter of speculation.

Mr McNarry:

Mr Jardine denied that there had been a leak.

Mr Jardine:

The letter was released under freedom of information legislation. I do not know how journalists uncover information.

Mr McNarry:

The information was leaked from somewhere.

Mr Jardine:

Work between Sport NI and the governing bodies is ongoing. As I explained to Pat Ramsey earlier, Sport NI had encountered difficulty with its capital profile in the 2008-11 Budget, and the Department has taken steps to rectify that situation. Sport NI was unable to start projects this year, if it did not have sufficient money to complete those projects next year. The Department has now partially resolved that matter. If we are successful in moving some of the spare stadium money, that will allow us to improve the spend profile, including that on stadia safety. We will argue for improved spending, although I cannot guarantee that that will be possible, because all Departments are experiencing capital pressures.

Mr McNarry:

Discounting money that may be transferred, what money is now available? Is money available now that does not need to be transferred from somewhere else?

Mr Jardine:

Absolutely. The issue is being addressed.

Mr McNarry:

Why is there a need to transfer money? Is that additional money?

Mr Jardine:

The profile for Sport Northern Ireland’s capital dipped in year two compared with year one and year three, and that impeded the amount of work that could begin in year one, the spend profile of which continues into year two. We have now taken steps to even out that profile, and to make additional money available in year two. That will allow additional projects to get under way this year.

Mr McNarry:

Are you saying that the Department was unaware of that need, until Professor McCartan wrote his letter?

Mr Jardine:

The letter from Professor McCartan was irrelevant to that need. It was a DFP allocation, which DCAL received as part of the settlement, and we had to manage with that. The additional money is by no means exclusively for stadia safety; there are other demands for resources outside of those from the three large sports governing bodies.

Mr McNarry:

How much money has been allocated to stadia safety? When will it be spent, and on what sports grounds will it be spent?

Mr Jardine:

As I said to members earlier, the precise allocation for this financial year and the next financial year depends on the projects that are initiated.

Mr McNarry:

What is the precise amount of money that is needed to ensure stadia safety? Let us get the urgency and the priority right. People’s safety should not depend on money’s being transferred from the funds for the national stadium. People’s safety should be the priority of any funding allocation. You have already told me that Professor McCartan’s letter was irrelevant, because the Department already knew about the need. What is that need, what is the allocation for that need and how should it be spent?

Mr Jardine:

Stadia safety is one of a range of requirements of the sporting capital infrastructure. One of the issues that affects how quickly the money can be spent is that Sport NI requires that there be security — a legal charge — on money that is allocated to capital investments. With some clubs, that often requires a good deal of brokerage. At present, the broad figures for what is to be spent specifically on the stadia-safety programme over the next three financial years are £3·3 million, £5·7 million and £400,000, making a total of around £9·4 million. However, I do not want to be held to those figures, because it may be —

Mr McNarry:

I am not trying to hold you to them, but, having identified those figures, when will the Department start spending that money?

Mr Jardine:

It has already started to spend it.

Mr McNarry:

What is it being spent on? What grounds?

Mr Jardine:

I cannot answer that question off the top of my head.

Mr McNarry:

Perhaps you will come back to the Committee with information that outlines on what grounds that money has been spent, when any spending projects started, when they will be completed and the amount of money allocated, because there is a great public interest in that.

Mr Jardine:

Absolutely.

The Chairperson:

That is understood; the information request has been made, and it will be met.

Mr Jardine:

Specifically, you want to know the grounds that are benefiting from the stadia-safety programme?

Mr McNarry:

I want to know what grounds are benefiting from it, but I also want to know what grounds Professor McCartan had in mind when he wrote his letter, in case some clubs whose grounds need safety improvements have not been allocated funding.

Mr Jardine:

That is a very good point. It would be very good, particularly for the Carnegie Premier League, if sufficient numbers were to turn up to games, because that would highlight the kind of concerns that arise elsewhere.

Mr McNarry:

I hope that I did not hear you right. If one person who turns up for a game is potentially in danger, that is wrong.

Mr Brolly:

Does Sport Northern Ireland inspect all grounds or does it wait to receive applications for funding? For example, is it up to hurling and football clubs in my home town of Dungiven to identify a safety hazard, or are grounds being inspected regularly? I know that that is not exactly within your remit, but —

Ms H Campbell:

Under the legislation, it will be the role of local councils to certify. We are seeking the funding for Sport Northern Ireland to oversee that process.

The Chairperson:

That brings to an end questions on the allocation of the capital budget for sport. I now invite Mr Jardine and his team to deal with the monthly forecast out-turn data.

Mr Jardine:

This is the first time that the Committee has asked for this information. I will give an explanation, and, after that, it may be useful to discuss whether that was what the Committee had in mind or whether it wanted something different. We produced a paper, and it has been updated in the light of Minister Dodds’s announcement on Monday about September monitoring, which changed the picture slightly.

The paper contains a table that shows the Department’s forecast out-turn for the six months from October 2008 to the end of March 2009. As a result of the September monitoring round, it has been amended to take account of a small addition on the revenue side of a net figure of £0·5 million. Moreover, £2·9 million from the capital programme has been surrendered. The table includes both departmental and arm’s-length bodies, and, therefore, it represents the full budget.

We have divided the forecast out-turn into three broad cost categories: resource, which is, effectively, the recurrent costs of front-line provision; capital, which speaks for itself and includes projects that have a life of more than one year; and administration, which is the cost of departmental administration when the cost of direct front-line services, and so on, is removed. However, the table also includes annually managed expenditure (AME), which is expenditure outside the block that is difficult to predict or control. In this case, because our local authorities are responsible for certain public expenditure — for example, education and library board costs, pension costs, and so on — those fall outside the normal block.

That is the broad thrust of the matter. We provide the Department of Finance and Personnel with a return every month. The current projection is that the forecast out-turn will be along the lines of the revised totals, and we expect that those will be met.

It is important that we do not overreach the block expenditure. There tends to be slightly disproportionally less expenditure in the first six months and slightly more in the final six months, as we see how the year is going. Resource and administration costs tend to be more evenly spread across the year. Capital tends to be more heavily skewed towards the latter part of the year.

That is a quick precis of the table. It will be interesting to hear members’ views on whether that is what the Committee had in mind.

The Chairperson:

When do you intend to report back to the Committee on actual spend for October 2008, against what you estimated that you would spend?

Mr Jardine:

Do you mean for the first half of the year?

The Chairperson:

For October, precisely.

The Committee Clerk:

I understand that this is the Department’s estimated spend for the remainder of the financial year, so the table includes an estimated spend for October 2008. By the end of October, or by the middle of November, the Committee would like to know how much of the estimate was spent. For example, was there an underspend or an overspend?

Mr Jardine:

I am not sure how useful it would be to provide such information every month. It may be more helpful were we to provide the Committee with such information every six months. However, if the Committee wants details on the spend-against-profile every month, we will try to provide those details. However, we may not get the precise out-turn costs until several months later. The details, therefore, would not be accurate in some cases. That said, it is up to the Committee; we will try to do what it wants.

Mr Brolly:

Are you saying that you may not spend anything in a given month and are, therefore, unable to return a spend?

Mr Jardine:

That is correct, more or less. The longer the given time span, the more likely an accurate return will be produced. That is critical.

The Chairperson:

There are no other questions on that issue, so we will move on to discuss the proposed Ulster-Scots academy.

Ms L Wilson:

Following our presentation to the Committee on the budget stocktake on 23 October, we were asked to meet with members of the Ulster-Scots community and the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group, and to draw up an action plan on how the academy process might be developed quickly. We were given two weeks to do that, which was a tall order.

However, we had a useful meeting with some key stakeholders. Paul Sweeney, the permanent secretary, and I met with interested parties last week to discuss how the academy might be progressed. That was a useful meeting, but there are still many issues to discuss. The group will meet again next week, and will continue to meet fortnightly.

At the meeting, we agreed a number of action points. We were to consider the publication of some language documents on spelling, which the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group has prepared. It will submit those documents formally to the Department.

We agreed, in principle, that further work should be done on a model of the academy. That encompasses two key strands of work. The first will be focused on a socio-linguistic project, which will need the highest standards of academic credibility and input, and which will seek to address the preservation and development of Ulster Scots in the context of its attendant culture, history and heritage, by developing the existing corpus of the language.

The second strand of the project will be based around outreach, and it will incorporate community outreach centres and development outreach workers who will seek to build community confidence and raise the profile of Ulster Scots. In turn, that will increase awareness and strengthen the community infrastructure to encapsulate language, culture and heritage.

Arrangements will also be made for key players to engage with Deloitte on the draft business case for an Ulster-Scots academy, with the opportunity for them to input additional material. To progress, we will have to get the business case approved, and we will have to proceed to procure the language project. That will take until approximately September next year. We will also need to draw up a detailed programme on the establishment of the centres and on the recruitment of outreach workers. That will involve a tendering process for an intermediary body to manage the programme. The Department proposes to establish a formal project group, to be chaired by a senior official, to monitor and oversee the delivery of the project’s different elements.

Next week, we will hold another meeting with stakeholders to facilitate further engagement on the options and the proposals that I outlined. On the specific point of surrender of money, the surrender will be reduced next year, and, by the following year, it will have been removed completely.

Mr Shannon:

Point 6 of the action plan deals with the development of an Ulster-Scots academy and refers to “additional community-based activity” and, in particular, the establishment of five community outreach centres. At this stage, is there any indication that a plan for more centres will be advanced?

Ms L Wilson:

It is proposed that around five community outreach centres will be built; however, there are no specific details as yet.

Mr Shannon:

When do you envisage that the Department will put meat on the bones of this paper exercise? In other words, when will you have more information on those community outreach centres? What do you think the centres’ role should be? I have an idea of what their role should be.

Ms L Wilson:

At this stage, the Department’s idea is that the centres will provide activities linked to the Ulster-Scots language, culture and heritage for the local community, and that they will serve as a base for the development workers. A programme must be developed to address, in detail, how that will be delivered and to examine the possible implications of that for the agency, because the agency’s development workers will have distinctive and separate roles from the outreach workers. It is a loose concept that may be developed out of the business case.

Mr Shannon:

Have locations for the five centres been identified?

Ms L Wilson:

No.

Mr Shannon:

Is it a very loose concept at present?

Mrs L Wilson:

Yes.

Mr Shannon:

I welcome the idea, but I want to see it become a reality. I am slightly frustrated with how the system works. Often, ideas are proposed but nothing happens, which makes me wonder whether they will ever become a reality in my lifetime. By the way, I am not being facetious. Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever see certain proposals being implemented during my time on this earth.

This is a good idea that could deliver. However, I want to see the plans being advanced. The Ulster-Scots academy implementation group is to meet on 14 November, and fortnightly thereafter. I would welcome the Department’s input to the process. How do you envisage the proposals being advanced? Has a timescale been put in place? Have locations and staff issues been addressed? It is a tremendous idea, and one that I do not want to see become a paper exercise for the Committee to examine every few months. Let us see something happen.

Ms L Wilson:

It is critical that we work that out in more detail. Over the next few weeks, during meetings with the implementation group, I hope that a way in which to develop that programme can be mapped out. We should encourage people who are involved in that sector to take the lead and to act in partnership with the Department. We are trying to do that at present. During the next few weeks, that will be a key area of focus for the group. We recognise the importance of this fundamental issue.

Mr McCausland:

Some weeks ago, a small conference was held, which the Ulster-Scots Agency and Ulster-Scots Heritage Council co-sponsored. The two groups, which represent people from across the Ulster-Scots community, came to several common understandings. Departmental officials who attended the conference acknowledged that it was as inclusive, comprehensive and united as possible.

People were singing off the same hymn sheet. It is extremely important that it go on record that a series of proposals were made at the end of the conference, and not one person dissented. I want to flag that up as important, because, sometimes, I hear from Departments about there being differences of opinion among Ulster-Scots representatives. The meeting demonstrated unanimity. A key element in achieving that unanimity has been the work of the outreach centres.

Therefore, there is general, overall desire for the programme. Jim is correct when he says that many years have been lost. That is why the fortnightly meetings are necessary in order to push the matter forward. Frankly, if civil servants know that people will come back in a fortnight to ask questions, they will tackle the issue, but if they can let it sit on a desk for a year and gather dust, they will. Now, every fortnight, questions will be asked to which answers must be given. Therefore, the programme will be driven forward. I detect a new energy, enthusiasm and commitment in the Department. I welcome that very much.

The Chairperson:

Therefore, you do not wish to ask a question but to make a strong statement.

Mr McCausland:

It is a strong statement of support.

Mr D Bradley:

Which key stakeholders does the Department meet?

Ms L Wilson:

The Department has met the chairman and the chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency, who are Mark Thompson and George Patton respectively; the chairman of the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group, Philip Robinson; and William Humphrey, Keith Gamble and Nelson McCausland. I do not know what precise designations I should give those people, because they have mixed interests.

Mr McCausland:

William Humphrey is the director and Keith Gamble a board member of the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, which has recently been renamed the Ulster-Scots Community Network. The key point is that both men are members of the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group.

Mr D Bradley:

Perhaps you should declare an interest, Nelson.

Mr McCausland:

I have declared an interest in so far as I am the chairperson of the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council/Ulster-Scots Community Network.

The Chairperson:

I thank the departmental officials for their attendance at this meeting.

The Committee for Finance and Personnel has asked Committees to forward to it by 14 November 2008 any concerns that they have about their Departments’ budget stocktake returns. Have members any comments on that matter?

The Committee Clerk:

The issue is whether members are content now that the Department has changed its return on the Ulster-Scots academy. Are there any further areas of concern that members want to flag up with the Committee for Finance and Personnel?

The Chairperson:

At present, there are no other areas of concern. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

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