Minister Updates Hilditch on The Olympic Training Camps PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for an update on the Olympic training camps being held in Northern Ireland. (AQO 1744/11-15)

 

·           Carál Ní Chuilín (Sinn Féin)

With your permission, I will answer questions 8, 10 and 13 together.

To date, there are nine pre-games training camps confirmed for here. The Olympic teams are the Chinese men’s and ladies’ artistic gymnastics team —

There is also the Cuban boxing team — yo ho — the Australian boxing team, the Kuwaiti athletics team, the Sudanese athletics team, the Egyptian athletics team and the Qatari athletics team. So far, the Paralympic teams coming are the Irish Paralympic team and the Jordanian Paralympic team. In addition to the nine teams that we have secured so far, negotiations are still under way, even at this late stage, with other nations about securing pre-games training here.

 

Alex Easton (DUP)

Does the Minister agree that the Olympic Games has great potential, with teams coming here, to bring great economic benefits to Northern Ireland? Will she assure us that she will continue to chase other teams to try to bring them to Northern Ireland?

    Carál Ní Chuilín (Sinn Féin) 

     Yes; I absolutely agree that there is huge potential. Even in the past week, the Chinese Government visited here. Our local media might     not have been impressed because they did not get the access that they hoped that they would. However, I know that, when the Chinese gymnasts train at the Salto gym in Lisburn, we will have a lot of media from China, whose coverage will go into billions of people’s homes around the world.

 

 
Hilditch Questions The Minister on the Affects of the Benefit Capping PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for their assessment of the impact that the proposed benefit cap of £26,000 might have on child poverty.

With your permission, Mr Speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in.. I will ask junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, to answer that question.

 

Jonathan Bell (DUP)

The Minister for Social Development has indicated that work is ongoing to develop a more accurate estimate of the combined impact of all the proposed welfare reforms, including the benefit cap. The early estimates by the Department for Social Development (DSD) are based on the application of the Department for Work and Pensions’ calculations to the situation. The Executive recently established a subcommittee to consider the implications of welfare reform. It continues to consider all the relevant issues within the financial and legislative constraints under which we operate.

Will the junior Minister indicate when the statement on child poverty will be laid in the Assembly?

We hope to lay it imminently; it is at the very final stages of preparation. We envisage having it with the Executive as soon as possible and, thereafter, it will be presented to the Assembly.

The Child Poverty Act 2010 provides the statutory basis for the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to eradicate child poverty, and it is used to drive actions across UK Departments and the devolved Administrations. It should be noted that the Conservative/Liberal coalition Government amended the legislation that was enacted by the previous Labour Government, and those amendments have produced changes. One example of the changes is that, originally, a report was to be made to a UK commission. However, the commission was never set up and it was impossible to fulfil the provision. As a result of the changes, England and Wales have been removed from that obligation.

We are ready to produce the document and to bring it to the Assembly imminently. On all things to do with child poverty, we are assessed against the United Kingdom median figure. A consideration is then made, and children who live in households with incomes less than 60% of that median figure are classified as being in child poverty. The Northern Ireland median figure shows that we have a success story to tell, as our child poverty figures are somewhere around 19%.

That is a good story to tell, but it is cold comfort for that 19%. We are determined to do all that we can to fulfil our obligations to eradicate child poverty.

 

 
Past, Present or Future Position Remains The Same PDF Print E-mail

So I am not misquoted by certain journalists ( it is quite difficult speaking to those who don't do shorthand or record interviews ) or misrepresented by certain politicians wishing to deflect from their own party's failings and meltdown may I state once again I will be remaining as a Councillor on Carrickfergus Borough Council under the current legislation and if the legislation were to change , as predicted , and an opportunity arose to allow for voluntary service I would still be interested in carrying out that work rather than having to leave the crucial and important work of Local Government . It is as simple as that and that's all that was stated . It shows clearly the desperation of some politicians who need to look closer to home rather than attacking  fellow Unionists who are busy working with others in our town and refrain from such pettiness .

Always remember its the people who put us where we are ! Thank you .

 
Improvements Need to Be Made To CMED PDF Print E-mail

During Assemby Question Time

David Hilditch asked the Minister for Social Development to outline any changes he intends to make to improve the delivery of services offered to clients by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division. (AQO 1143/11-15)

 

Nelson McCausland (DUP)

It is a priority for the division to promote and embed behavioural changes among parents so that they take financial responsibility for their children. To that end, parents are being supported to make their own maintenance arrangements. A media campaign is currently running to promote the child maintenance choices service, which is a free, confidential helpline service to help parents decide the child maintenance arrangements that best suit their needs.

A new statutory child maintenance scheme due to be launched in late 2012 will improve the way in which child maintenance is calculated. It will be a simpler scheme supported by a new computer system, which will take information from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to calculate child maintenance assessments.

My Department has introduced a range of new enforcement powers over the past few years. Those powers improve delivery of services by giving the division new enforcement tools to recover money from non-resident parents who do not fulfil their responsibility to pay child maintenance.

 

Hilditch (DUP)

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the detail of what is coming up in the next few months. Like others in the House, I know that a lot of constituency issues are born out of frustration. What enforcement powers are available to the Department?

 Nelson McCausland (DUP)

There are ways in which money can be recouped from people who have not paid, but I would prefer to answer you more fully on that in due course. We have a range of powers to enable the Department to take firm action to ensure that parents meet their financial responsibilities. They include deduction orders; deduction from earnings orders; liability orders; charges on property; orders for the sale of property; driving licence disqualification; committal to prison; and freezing orders. Therefore, there is a wide range of options.

We can also arrange for deduction of maintenance payments and/or arrears from bank accounts without the need to apply through the courts. Recovery of arrears can also be made from a deceased person’s estate. If you want further information on any of those matters, we can provide that.

 

Social Democratic and Labour Party)

Go raibh maith agat Phriomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Can we expect the enforcement division to be more active as a result of the changes that the Minister proposes to introduce?

 

Nelson McCausland (DUP)

The improvements in the system will facilitate the enforcement that we are talking about.

 

 
Supporting Small Business Rates Relief At the Assembly PDF Print E-mail

I support the Bill as presented, and I welcome the accelerated passage afforded to it today.

The Assembly must react to the economic climate in which we find ourselves. We need to support our existing small businesses and encourage any potential new small business by the introduction of the Rates (Amendment) Bill and any forthcoming initiatives that go with it. The economic downturn has been difficult for a range of sectors, but it has hit our small businesses particularly hard. When walking through towns in my constituency of East Antrim, such as Larne and Carrickfergus, I find its effects very visible and very worrying. Other Departments are working on master planning for our provincial towns, with streetscapes and public realm schemes. However, if closure rates continue, particularly in the retail sector, those planned works will not matter too much. Although the Bill will not resolve the problem, it can take a small but meaningful and significant step towards trying to sustain town centres. In particular, where larger retailers have been sucking the blood out of town centres, it is time to put something back. Hopefully, the sacrifice made by larger businesses is understood on one hand and appreciated on the other.

Although this is the Second Stage of the Bill, there has been fairly substantial consultation and, indeed, public debate on it over the past few months. Hopefully, now, everyone has had their say, drawn conclusions and formed opinions. It is known that more than 98% of businesses in Northern Ireland employ fewer than 50 people. That is just less than half of the number of businesses that are registered for VAT purposes as having a turnover of less than £100,000. Therefore, small businesses are a crucial sector in the economy. Their contributions are vital to development in communities and will drive and support employment growth.

The additional support that any future expanded small business rate relief scheme is offering is around £6 million per year. There is no doubt that that will go some way towards helping the quoted 8,000 businesses in 2012-13. In Carrickfergus, where I am based, it is estimated that more than 300 small businesses in the borough will be beneficiaries of the scheme. That is an estimated 50% increase in Carrickfergus and, likewise, in Larne.

The large retail levy will affect, as the Minister has indicated with updated figures, 23 companies with 75 properties. Obviously, that includes Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and other department stores. The average rates bill of those affected will be £66,000, as we have already heard. To put that into perspective, one large retailer — Tesco, I believe — was listed as having a £24·4 billion market capitalisation as of 15 January 2012. Therefore, £66,000 per annum can, surely, be absorbed by the multinational company over the three-year period. Indeed, many would already have been paying substantially more had rates review taken place before now. We appreciate and acknowledge the importance of multinationals to Northern Ireland’s economy and the positive impact that they have had on employment, and we want to continue to support their growth and sustainability. However, we would struggle to say that large businesses are in the same vulnerable position as small businesses.

Ten years ago, you would probably have had to travel some distance to find a Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda. Now, they have at least one large retail unit in virtually every provincial town. If you take a walk through most town centres today, you will find it difficult to say that they need another multinational. The evidence is clear from the boarded-up shops, derelict buildings and smaller retail outlets. Businesses are required in those centres. That is why my party welcomes clause 2. Even aesthetics would be improved by its provisions on shop windows and frontages.

Businesses, such as coffee outlets, shops, offices, restaurants and community facilities add footfall, vitality and liveliness. Improving the built environment and retail outlets in towns would attract a greater number of visitors and tourists to spend money in communities. The Rates (Amendment) Bill is a small but important step to try to help the sector. It is for those reasons that I urge the Assembly to support the Bill. My party is not saying that the Bill will rectify the problems faced. However, it will be an important step towards addressing the cost base and the very survival of the small business and retail sectors.

Many good points have been highlighted and arguments made with regard to the scheme’s boundaries and which businesses should be included and which should not. Lines have to be drawn somewhere. The scheme has reached the best balance possible at this stage. I welcome the Bill, and I look forward to the Minister's response.

 
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