Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 23 October 2008

Departmental Briefing on the Budget Stocktake

23 October 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

Ms Deborah Brown ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Hazel Campbell )
Ms Linda Wilson )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We will now receive a departmental briefing on the Budget stocktake. I remind members that the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) has commissioned input from all Departments to the Budget stocktake. The deadline for that input is tomorrow.

The Department has advised that the Budget stocktake will permit it to make bids for inescapable pressures and for new pressures that did not previously exist. The success of bids depends on whether any other Departments have spare money.

I draw members’ attention to a letter at tab 5 of their papers from the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel that relates to Statutory Committees’ scrutiny of departmental Budget stocktake returns. The Committee Clerk will address the Committee on that subject.

The Committee Clerk:

The Committee for Finance and Personnel has requested that each Committee provides their Department’s proposed return by 14 November 2008. A number of key questions are asked of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure today about its proposed return.

First, the Department is submitting 12 resource bids, as well as bidding for more money for salaries. Bids are supposed to be made only for inescapable pressures, or for pressures that were not known during the Budget process this time last year. However, it appears that bids are being made for areas that it might be presumed that the Department knew about at that time, for example, library authority redundancy costs and safety at sports grounds.

Another point is that DFP has asked Departments to try to meet their increased requirements by moving money around in-house. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure does not appear to have attempted to do that.

There are pressures as regards capital, but the Department is proposing to meet part of those pressures in-house by taking money from the stadium budget and putting it into other sports projects.

Finally, the Department is proposing to surrender around £3 million on the Ulster-Scots Academy. The Committee will need to consider whether it is content that the surrender will not adversely affect the Department’s ability to continue with the project.

The Chairperson:

I draw members’ attention to the note from the Minister on the Budget stocktake. The Department forwarded a copy of its proposed return to DFP to the Committee office only yesterday afternoon. David attended a meeting of the Chairpersons’ liaison group this week, and the issue of when a Department is late or slow to forward necessary information to a Committee is the type of issue that is discussed at such meetings. A copy of that return has been tabled. It is not good practice to supply the Committee with information of that nature at such a late stage, as it gives it little time to scrutinise the figures before questioning the Department. We should mention that fact to the officials.

Mr McNarry:

Is the Committee allowed to buy some time? We are dealing with important issues. Is it premature to have a discussion on the subject in great depth?

The Chairperson:

What does the 24 October deadline refer to?

The Committee Clerk:

The deadline for the Department to give its proposed return to DFP is tomorrow. The Department has not factored in much time to come before the Committee. In its correspondence to us, the Committee for Finance and Personnel appeared to be concerned that Committees were not being given their proper place. It is playing a co-ordinating role in asking Committees for their views by 14 November.

Mr McNarry:

I am on the Committee for Finance and Personnel, which met yesterday. Its approach to the issue was to go through the paper paragraph by paragraph. It spent a lot of time on all the correspondence and information available. To be fair to the Committee, I had time to read the information. I do not feel that I have had the time with these papers. It is a big deal. The paper will go to the Minister. Members have views as to how the stocktake is carried out — such as why it this being done, why there are not more Budget debates, etc. It must be done right. I would rather take more time. Can we buy any more time?

The Committee Clerk:

The Committee has as much time today as it needs to go through the matter with officials. However, if at the end of that we still feel that we are not totally clear, we can invite the officials to come back on 6 November.

The Chairperson:

OK. We might just do that.

Mr McNarry:

I suggest that we should have less time with the officials, which would give us more time to do whatever we need to do, and spend the extra time with them on 6 November.

The Committee Clerk:

We could suspend the Committee for five or 10 minutes to give members the opportunity to read the paper before the officials join us.

The Chairperson:

Do you want to go down that road David?

Mr McNarry:

No.

The Chairperson:

It is not necessary. However, the point is well made. We have not had adequate time to study the document, and we have the option of revisiting the matter on 6 November, which we may do. Members all understand that it is bad practice on the part of the Department to forward information so late in the day.

I invite the departmental officials — Ms Deborah Brown, Ms Hazel Campbell and Ms Linda Wilson — to join the Committee at the table. I invite Deborah to brief the Committee on the Department’s proposed return but, before that, I ask you to take on board the fact that the Committee feels aggrieved by our late receipt of the information for today’s meeting. It does not give us adequate time to read the submission ahead of the meeting. For example, we received the papers for today’s meeting only yesterday afternoon. Will you explain why your statement for the meeting arrived so late?

Ms Deborah Brown (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

I apologise to the Committee. I am aware that members feel aggrieved at your late receipt of the papers. We in the Department are constrained by the amount of time that we had to prepare the submission. The submission must go through our own finance committee as well as the Minister, and it must be with DFP tomorrow. As I am sure members will appreciate, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) has 17 arm’s-length bodies, and we must give them sufficient time to prepare their submissions for us, to ensure that the submissions are robust and that the bodies have given adequate consideration to the proposals that they were submitting.

Those submissions arrived with my finance branch only last Wednesday, and we had only a couple of days to compile that information for presentation to the Department’s finance committee on Monday. We then had a meeting with the Minister on Tuesday to get the paper cleared, and that is why the Committee received the paper on Wednesday. Therefore, I am sure that the Committee will appreciate that we were operating to very tight timescales, and that we wanted to present the submission to the Committee before it is sent to DFP tomorrow.

I thank the Committee for inviting me to present the departmental proposals for the strategic stocktake. Linda Wilson and Hazel Campbell are also here from the Department.

The 2008-2011 Budget was the first Budget process, through which DCAL secured an additional £55·3 million resource and £232 million of capital over a three-year period. Usually, there is a comprehensive spending review (CSR)/Budget process, but the Executive agreed that there should not be a substantive local-budget process this year, but a strategic stocktake instead. That directive was issued by DFP on 24 September, and I have highlighted already the timescale that the Department was operating to in order to ensure that the submission is with DFP tomorrow.

The current Budget process is operating within quite a constrained environment. There are pressures arising from the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) equal pay issue, from the Executive’s approach to the water and sewerage charges, the downturn in the property market, and the Civil Service reform programmes that are underway. There are limited resources available for the current Budget stocktake, and we were given the message that there is no new money. As a consequence of that, any bids that we make are dependent upon surrenders made by other Departments. No end-year flexibility is available; therefore, we must operate within that particular constraint.

The Department has gone through a rigorous process in compiling the submission to DFP. We met all our arm’s-length bodies to explain the process and ensure that they are clear about what should be submitted to the Department. DFP made it very clear that only inescapable bids that were not known of during the previous Budget process should be submitted. As a consequence of that, the Department considered the proposals made by its arm’s-length bodies critically. The Department recognises that there are pressures on our arm’s-length bodies and on the Department that are caused by slippage issues. The Department will seek to manage those internally, without going to DFP.

I will now take members through the proposals that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure intends to present to DFP tomorrow. I shall divide the presentation into three areas: administration bids, resource surrenders and capital bids.

The Department, under its change programme, is reviewing its structures to ensure that it is capable of delivering its strategic purpose on behalf of the Executive and to ensure that it can provide an effective service to the Minister, the Committee, the Assembly and the wider Northern Ireland community.

In recent years, the Department has assumed additional functions, without being allocated additional resources. Consequently, it is has insufficient resources to deliver all of its objectives. In addition, those objectives must be delivered in the context of increased governance and accountability, and there are concerns about the oversight arrangements for arms-length bodies — members were briefed this morning about the winding-up of the Northern Ireland Economic Council (NIEC).

The Department has critically reviewed the delivery capacity of its resources, identified some gaps and produced a recommended structure for progress. Consequently, the Department proposes to submit an administration bid for additional salaries of £1·2 million in 2009-10 and £1·5 million in 2010-11.

Moving on to resource surrenders, we propose to surrender resources that were allocated for the Ulster-Scots Academy. Taking account of the refreshed business case, the Department considers it unlikely that any more than £4 million will be spent over the next four years. Therefore, we propose to reduce the budget allocation to £2 million in 2009-10 and £2 million in 2010-11, which will produce a resource surrender of £2·295 million in 2009-10 and £738,000 in 2010-11.

In order to assist members, we have submitted a table illustrating current resource bids. Having submitted a bid for the Re-imaging Communities programme in the September monitoring round, we still do not have a confirmed outcome. In order to make progress with that initiative, we propose to submit additional £1 million bids for 2009-10 and 2010-11. That initiative’s key role is to raise aspirations and promote positive community identity and cohesion.

As part of our capital programme, we propose to bid for support for preparing outline cases, site feasibility studies, options appraisals and other programme-delivery costs. A bid of £950,000 in 2009-10 and £560,000 in 2010-11 will be required. Furthermore, in order to maximise the value of those capital projects when they are up and running, we intend to bid for £200,000 in 2009-10 and £750,000 in 2010-11.

As a consequence of the turmoil in the financial markets, the value of the assets held in the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium’s pension scheme has fallen, and, therefore, pension provision is under pressure. Consequently, bids of £390,000 are proposed for 2009-10 and 2010-11.

As part of the September monitoring round, a bid of £3 million was submitted for libraries’ redundancy costs. Although DFP supports the bid, the amount of money that it will provide has not been confirmed. Assuming that £1·5 million will be successfully secured in the September monitoring round, we will be able to accommodate some redundancies during this financial year; however, it will be necessary to stagger further redundancies into 2009-10, so we propose to submit a bid of £1·2 million in 2009-10.

A complexity has arisen from the creation of the new Northern Ireland library authority with regard to its VAT status. Under current legislation, education and library boards are able to reclaim VAT. However, the new library authority does not have that status. We have raised that issue with DFP and the Treasury; however, if unsuccessful, it will mean that we will be unable to recover any VAT incurred in the library authority. As a consequence of that pressure, we are placing a bid for £1∙5 million in 2009-10 and £1∙6 million in 2010-11.

E stablishment costs are associated with the Northern Ireland library authority in areas such as job evaluations, increased employers’ Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) costs, the Belfast strategic partnership agreement, and the extraordinary inflationary impact on PFIs. Consequently, we propose to place a bid of £769,000 in 2009-10 and £579,000 in 2010-11.

The Secretary of State made a commitment of £2∙46 million towards the World Police and Fire Games. The appraisal on that is not yet complete, and we need to secure a budget to progress that initiative. A bid of £250,000 in 2009-10 and £500,000 in 2010-11 is proposed.

There are insufficient resources for the costs associated with the sports safety advisory group and its establishment of a monitoring function; the outdoor activity accreditation scheme; and the programme costs of the outreach and capacity-building function. We propose a bid of £548,000 in 2009-10 and £540,000 in 2010-11.

Under the review of public administration (RPA), the Northern Ireland Museums Council was due to transfer sooner than is now going to be possible. As a consequence, we find ourselves with no budget allocation for that in 2010-11. In order to transfer that function and the associated budget, we need to secure £0·3 million in 2010-11, and we propose to submit a bid to DFP.

The Special Olympics will be a cross-departmental initiative. DCAL is willing to take the lead, and is prepared to submit a bid of £722,000 in 2009-10 and in 2010-11, but that will require the participation and input of all the other associated Departments.

On resource, we propose to submit a bid for salaries of £500,000. That is associated with the change programme, which I talked about under the administration bid. DCAL’s salary budget is split between administration and resource, and the classification of resource is given to those staff who are deemed to be front-line delivery staff.

Moving on to the capital bid that the Department proposes to make, the Department has critically assessed its capital programme and its budget allocation, and has, along with its arms-length bodies, identified a number of pressures across 2009-10 and 2010-11. Those pressures are associated with slippage, whereby a project slips from the current year into the next financial year and onward. If there is no end-year flexibility available, that creates pressure in future years. There are cost increases in some of our capital projects, and, as a result of the large allocation that went to the multi-sports stadium, there was an insufficient budget allocated to sports. The Department is confident that it will be able to manage that slippage and the increased costs within its own capital programme.

However, due to the pressures on the sports budget, and to accommodate those shortfalls, the Department proposes to use some money from the stadium budget. At this stage, without a decision on the stadium, it is reasonable to assume that we will not spend the £29 million budget allocated for next year, or the £30 million budget allocated for 2010-11. As a result, the Department feels that it is prudent to use some of that budget to accommodate the shortfall in the sports budget. The shortfall arises from the elite facilities capital programme, the soccer strategy, the Safety of Sports Grounds ( Northern Ireland) Order 2005 and the building-sport programme.

That concludes my summary of the Department’s proposals for the DFP stocktake that we propose to make tomorrow. I am happy to take any questions that the Committee wants to ask.

Mr McCausland:

When did the Department become aware of the VAT problem concerning the library authority?

Ms D Brown:

The Department became aware of that difficulty in June. We have been trying to work with HM Revenue and Customs, because it seems that the issue cannot be dealt with locally.

Mr McCausland:

How many years have we been working on the creation of a library authority? The Committee has spent a long time considering legislation and listening to presentations on the creation of a library authority, but no one ever mentioned VAT. The matter has been discussed for many years, and the VAT issue has been discovered only at the eleventh hour.

Ms D Brown:

There was an assumption that the special VAT dispensation that the education and library boards are granted would roll across to a library authority.

Mr McCausland:

People being paid good salaries to do big jobs should know the facts rather than relying on assumptions. Whose responsibility was it to know about the VAT issue?

Ms D Brown:

I am in charge of that now. It has been noted, and it will be taken into account.

Mr McCausland:

It is very late in the day for it to be taken into account. There are consultants and reports from this, that and the other. The Committee will want to investigate how this situation has arisen.

The degree of “surrender” of funding for the Ulster-Scots Academy is totally unacceptable. It is based on a Deloitte report that is incomplete. Indeed, your submission states that the decision on the level of surrender was:

“informed by the work currently underway by Deloitte”.

The decision was taken without the Ulster-Scots community or the Ulster-Scots Academy implementation group being consulted. Furthermore, I am not fond of the word “surrender” in any context.

The Chairperson:

That is surprising.

Mr D Bradley:

Would you say no to “surrender”? [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:

I have been known to do that in the past.

It is a surrender of finance, but it is also surrender to a history of incompetence. Are we genuinely being asked to rubber-stamp a stocktake having not been told anything or shown the relevant paperwork? It is a major decision that would have a long-term implication.

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

The word “surrender” is a technical financial term.

Mr McCausland:

I appreciate the financial implications of that word.

Ms L Wilson:

We are undertaking the exercise to improve profiling. Our funding allocation for the Ulster-Scots Academy is £4·2 million for 2009-10 and £2·7 million for 2010-11. We will want the easement or surrender that is declared this year to be reinstated in future years to protect the budget that was agreed.

The decision on the surrender was informed by consideration of various pieces of work. You are right that Deloitte’s work on the matter is incomplete, and it is not necessarily now the course that we want to follow. That work points to potential expenditure of £800,000 or £900,000 in 2009-2010 and £1·2 million in 2010-11. The Minister or the Department has not made a decision. However, the spend is of that magnitude. It should be borne in mind that the Minister announced his intention to give £1 million to the Ulster-Scots Agency. Again, it may not be in a position to spend a full £1 million next year.

Taking all of that together, the Department concluded that leaving £2 million for next year and £2 million for the year after — as regards what it might spend on the ground — was a reasonable assumption, but that it would be done on the clear understanding that the surrender could be reinstated in future years. The Department is not saying that the academy does not, and will not, need the money.

Mr McCausland:

The academy was promised £12 million five years ago. I have been involved with the Ulster-Scots community since day one and know where every body is buried — metaphorically speaking. The fact only £2 million will be spent in 2010-11 as a result of issues that lie outside its control It will be received very badly by that community. It shows a lack of ambition, aspiration and commitment. I am strongly opposed to anything that is developed on that basis. I know that others in the wider Ulster-Scots community will share that view. We are reaching the point where the gloves will come off.

Mr McNarry:

Ms Brown, one day you will come to the Committee and find its members in good form. Quite frankly, when you come with such reports, you must expect to hear what we are going to say. I hope that somewhere in your report you put in a request that the whole stocktake issue should be debated in a plenary sitting, and not just in Committees. The concerns of this Committee are representative of other Committees.

I have two questions and, depending on the answers, I will leave it at two. You have said that the Department has insufficient resources. Does the Department have a contingency fund?

Ms D Brown:

No.

Mr McNarry:

I am flabbergasted. I know that the Department has not been that long in business as a devolved Department, but to operate without a contingency fund is lamentable business practice. You should consider coming back to the Committee and telling it why the Department does not have a contingency fund, whether it will get one and how one goes about getting one.

Ms D Brown:

For clarification, when you refer to a contingency fund, do you mean a pot of money? We have contingencies —

Mr McNarry:

I will just call it a contingency fund. You tell me about the pot of money.

Ms D Brown:

The Department has contingencies in place to manage the situation — of course it does. It can examine some of the issues and possibly address them. The Department has vehicles to pull back on its spend. However, that will have implications for the delivery of some services. As regards having a contingency fund, there is no way that any Department should be holding contingencies anywhere. How could I possibly bid to DFP for a contingency fund? I am not sure what you mean by a contingency fund. The Department has the resources that it needs to deliver on its bids and must allocate those accordingly. Within the context of that, and the pressures it currently faces, the Department has contingencies in place to manage the situation and pull back so that it does not find itself in a situation where it might overspend. The Department does have contingency plans in that regard. The Department would never have a contingency fund.

Mr McNarry:

You might get credit for overspending. What happens when you underspend? I suppose that the underspending of the Department is part of the stocktake. We reach a situation in which we appear not to know how the underspends are going until a critical time. We then find ourselves in the situation of having to explain to the public why we did not spend money on this or that. I would like to put a question to the Minister on a contingency fund. No doubt he will ask you to answer it for him.

You said that some library staff redundancies will have to be postponed. How will that be handled by human resources? How will it be decided who to make redundant, and when? Furthermore, what respect are you showing to people in that situation? Most people are aware that there will be redundancies, but some will be told that they are going now, and others later. Is there a pecking order? If so, how will that work, and is it fair?

Ms D Brown:

There will be staged redundancies in any scenario — they will not all happen in one fell swoop.

Mr McNarry:

Hang on; you said that this was affecting your budget.

Ms D Brown:

Yes; therefore, we carry out stage one, which is on a certain tier, and then move down the tiers at different stages. The Department will put in place those redundancies that can be afforded in this financial year, and begin those that can be afforded in the next financial year.

Mr McNarry:

Are you restaging staging?

Ms D Brown:

Possibly.

Mr McNarry:

What about the human resources aspect of that process? Is anyone being appointed in order to manage people? People will be upset at being made redundant. Will you be helping them in any way through that crisis?

Ms D Brown:

That will be done by the education and library boards, which will have put those processes in place in order that there is staff awareness.

Mr McNarry:

Therefore, that does not come out of the Department’s budget?

Ms D Brown:

Not the cost of the awareness surrounding the redundancies. That will be managed by the education and library boards.

The Chairperson:

The next couple of questions will be grouped.

Mr Shannon:

Does postponing the library redundancies for a year increase the amount of redundancy payments? With regard to Nelson McCausland’s remarks about the Ulster-Scots Agency, you are sending out a wrong message. Nelson gave the reasons why, and I will not repeat them. However, I agree with his comments, and I am just as discouraged as Nelson by what I hear here today. On behalf of the Ulster-Scots Agency –

The Chairperson:

I think that you mean the academy, Jim.

Mr Shannon:

Yes, academy — and those who are involved in Ulster Scots across Northern Ireland. We are discouraged by what we have heard here today.

You spoke about safety in sports grounds. Although I am encouraged that we are discussing the matter, is there any indication, in light of comments about the issue in the press, whether we will meet the demand for safety?

Mr Brolly:

In setting the context for your report, you mentioned pressures that have arisen since the Budget, for example, equal pay and finding the money for next year’s water charges. However, why should the downturn in the property market affect the Department?

Ms D Brown:

In the capital programme, which is the investment strategy for the next 10 years, there is a three-year investment strategy, within which there were planned disposals. As a consequence of the property market downturn, however, expected values will not now be realised.

With regard to library staff redundancies, perhaps Linda could help on the question of additional costs due to staging.

Ms L Wilson:

The costs should not be significant. We have to adopt a phased approach, and will, therefore, be going down through the organisation. The further down we go, there may be more people who may want to be made redundant than we can afford to let go for the good of the organisation. In such a case, the Department would be clear that it is a financial issue, and that the cost would have to be taken into account in deciding who to let go.

Mr Shannon:

An almost false economy is being created, as things are being put off, but that ends up costing more money. Why do you want to do things that way?

Ms D Brown:

We do not want to do things that way.

Ms L Wilson:

We submitted a bid to DFP in the September monitoring round for the full amount that we think that we need. We have prepared a business case, which covers all the redundancy packages.

Mr McNarry:

It is Nigel Dodds’s fault then.

Ms L Wilson:

We do not know the outcome from the September monitoring round, but the signals are that the bid will not be fully met. However, we assume that the indicative figure that we have been given will hold, and we will submit a bid for the balance next year. That is all that we can do in the circumstances.

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

The resource bid is to cover Sport Northern Ireland setting up an advisory and monitoring Committee, which will provide guidance. It will also oversee the safety of sports grounds legislation and the work of the district councils. In addition to that, we have the capital bid, and we want to transfer some money from the stadium budget to the sports capital budget. There is a sports stadia safety programme, and we must ensure that it has sufficient funding to progress the projects. However, it is up to Sport Northern Ireland to determine the individual projects.

The Chairperson:

We were told that it is about inescapable pressures. Did you know about the sports safety issues last year?

Ms D Brown:

The process is that the Department submits bids or surrenders items, but the stadium budget and the sport budget both sit within the sports pillar in the investment strategy. According to DFP’s commissioning letter, there is no need for Executive approval for movement within a pillar. Therefore, in theory, the Department has the freedom to move money around the sports pillar, but it must surrender the stadium budget and bid for the sports budget. We would present it as a linked bid, but there is a risk attached to it, because we must surrender items or submit bids. That is the process that we must go through.

The Chairperson:

Are we talking about resource or capital in this instance?

Ms D Brown:

We are talking about capital.

Mr Shannon:

You mentioned the soccer strategy, the building sport programme, the sports stadium and, in the middle, there is the safety of sports grounds legislation. How much of your bid is allocated for the safety of sports grounds? Perhaps you cannot say, but you may have an idea of how much you are aiming for.

Ms D Brown:

I do not have the detail with me of the split between the programmes.

Mr Shannon:

Perhaps you can report back to the Committee with those figures.

The Chairperson:

The questions from Raymond and Dominic will be grouped.

Mr McCartney:

If a decision is not taken on the sports stadium, how do you determine the amount of allocation that will not be required in that particular year?

Mr D Bradley:

My question relates to the surrender of items and the bids process. From what you said, and from dealings with other Departments, I understood that when you surrender items to DFP, there is no guarantee that DFP will meet the pressure that you are trying to meet. If the pressure is not met, how do you meet it? What position does that leave you in?

Ms D Brown:

The risks are limited for us because it all falls within the sports pillar.

Mr D Bradley:

As you said, this year is one of the most financially stringent years to date, and the certainties are much less than they were in previous years, even with linked bids.

The Chairperson:

Raymond, do you want to make an additional point?

Mr McCartney:

I might have a supplementary question, but I will listen to the answer first.

Ms D Brown:

Do you want to know how we are going to manage the pressures if the bids are not met?

Mr D Bradley:

Yes.

Ms D Brown:

The Department will have to go back and take a critical look at its capital programme to find out its highest priorities and how it may reorganise its budget allocation in order to meet those priorities, which will mean that we will simply be unable to do some things. Therefore, some very tough decisions will have to be taken.

Mr D Bradley:

What criteria do the Department use to prioritise?

Ms D Brown:

Criteria are linked to the corporate plan, delivery of public service agreements and strategic objectives. Matters are considered in that way. Obviously, that will also take account of the Minister’s views.

Mr McCartney:

How did you determine that the allocation of £29 million would not be used in 2009-10?

Ms D Brown:

That was based on Sport NI’s requirements in order to ensure that it could progress what it needs to at present while trying to retain an element of the allocation in the stadium’s budget should a decision on it be made. I cannot comment on whether that decision was scientific. The Department needed to make a judgement at that stage. It judged that money needed to be secured for Sport NI, because its budget is seriously depleted in 2009-10. It has insufficient funds in that period to deliver its objectives and the programmes that we consider to be high priority.

Mr McCartney:

I am just looking at the linkage. Regardless of a decision on the stadium, the assumption has, in some respect, been made that a decision will not be made in the short term. The bid for the World Police and Fire Games was premised on a there being a stadium. When will the Department admit that there will not be a stadium by 2013 and, therefore, decide not to supply money to a bid from which the premise has been taken away?

Mrs D Brown:

No decision has been taken on the stadium and I am not privy to when that decision will be made.

Ms H Campbell:

The World Police and Fire Games can proceed in the absence of a stadium.

Mr Shannon:

There are plenty of stadiums.

Mr McCausland:

The only event that would take place in the new stadium is the opening ceremony. Every other event can be held elsewhere.

Mr McCartney:

I asked the question because the bid that was outlined in the brochure was based on there being a stadium.

The Chairperson:

I thank the departmental officials for their attendance at the meeting. It has been a busy morning for you, Hazel. Perhaps you would like to stay for the rest of the meeting. [Laughter.]

I want to discuss with members any concerns that they may have with the proposed departmental return. David, you mentioned that there should be another opportunity to discuss it.

Mr McNarry:

I did. However, Deborah referred to pressures. She mentioned 24 October 2008.

Mr D Bradley:

That is the deadline for all Departments.

The Chairperson:

The Committee Clerk may be able to guide us on that. It might still be relevant to discuss that on 6 November 2008. Is there a rationale for that?

The Committee Clerk:

Correspondence from the Department for Finance and Personnel states that the Executive will not discuss the matter until 27 November. Therefore, there is still time. DFP is gathering Committees’ proposals with a view to forwarding them to the Executive before they discuss the issues.

Mr McNarry:

I would certainly welcome the opportunity to return to specific concerns of mine, on which I have not been able to ask questions, at the earliest possible time. The problem is that questions will be asked without being answered. Will there be answers? Will officials be able to come back to the Committee?

The Committee Clerk:

The question is whether the Committee wants to have another discussion or to request officials’ attendance at its next meeting.

Mr McCartney:

We went through that exercise in the Committee for Regional Development yesterday. However, we did get the papers by the weekend, so there was some discussion. Our response — to take Nelson’s point — was that the Committee should raise its concerns. Perhaps, the discussion did not explore the specific details of the matter. David is correct; the timescale of tomorrow does not allow sufficient time.

The Chairperson:

Perhaps we can revisit the matter on 6 November and write to the Department and DFP.

The Committee Clerk:

To clarify, we will write to the Committee for Finance and Personnel to raise any concerns about the Department’s return.

Mr McCausland:

Therefore, will we express our concerns after our meeting in two weeks’ time?

The Committee Clerk:

Yes, after the meeting on 6 November.

Mr McCausland:

Following on from that, the point was raised about whether we want civil servants to come back to the Committee. There are a couple of issues — particularly the one that I identified — about which my concerns are such that I want the civil servants to come before the Committee again. When they appear before us in two weeks’ time, they should have an action plan that details how — working in partnership with the Ulster-Scots community — they could introduce a revised surrender. In order to get the proposal moving, aspiration and ambition should be part of that action plan. That would overcome the lethargy and the dysfunctional nature of the way in which the Government handled the matter in the past.

Mr McCartney:

We will need a briefing to assist us because, in fairness, I am not as aware of the background as Nelson is.

The Chairperson:

Nelson, there is a perception that the dysfunctional nature that you referred to could be inside the academy, but that could be entirely wrong.

Mr McCausland:

That is a myth that has been perpetrated. In two weeks’ time, I simply ask that they have an action plan, in partnership with the Ulster-Scots community, as to how they might —

The Chairperson:

Is that with the community or the academy?

Mr McCausland:

It is with both. They should set a more ambitious target.

The Chairperson:

Do members agree?

Members indicated assent.

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