Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

This publication contains the written answers to questions tabled by Members. The content of the responses is as received at the time from the relevant Minister or representative of the Assembly Commission and has not been subject to the official reporting process or changed in any way.

NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY

Friday 01 June 2007

Written Answers to Questions

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
Agriculture and Rural Development
Culture, Arts and Leisure
Education
Employment and Learning
Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Environment
Finance and Personnel
Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Regional Development
Social Development
Assembly Commission

OFFICE OF THE FIRST MINISTER AND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER

Planning Appeals

Mr Tommy Gallagher asked the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister if it will provide the following information in relation to planning appeals to the Planning Appeals Commission:

1. The number of appeals received in the years 2005, 2006, and 2007; and

2. The time taken currently to determine those appeals that (a) request a formal hearing and (b) request written representation.

(AQW 25/07)

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister (Rt Hon Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness): The Planning Appeals Commission is a tribunal Non Departmental Public Body, and I understand the Chief Commissioner has written to the honourable Member in the following terms:

"I have been asked to provide you with information requested in the above Assembly Question. I have set out, in the following table, the total number of appeals received in the 2004/05, 2005/06 and 2006/07 financial years.

YEAR

2004/05

2005/06

2006/07

Appeals received

762

1265

2765

I have also provided, in the table below, figures for the average time taken to decide an appeal for all of the procedures available. These figures indicate the time taken to determine appeals already heard and illustrate the position as at 30 April 2007.

PROCEDURE
MEDIAN TIME (WEEKS)
Formal Hearing 64
Informal Hearing 66
Written Representation (accompanied Site Visit) 63
Written Representations (unaccompanied Site Visit) 62

The Commission publishes updates of these figures on a monthly basis via its website. I would be happy to provide any further information you require arising out of this response or to meet with you to discuss the matter if that would be more suitable."

AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Fishing Industry

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what discussions she has had with the Anglo-North Fish Producers' Organisation and the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation regarding promotion of the fishing industry.

(AQW 107/07)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Gildernew): Prior to taking up my Ministerial appointment I met the Chairmen and Chief Executives of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation and the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation on 26 April 2007 to hear at first hand about the main issues facing the fishing industry. I hope to meet with both organisations again in the near future.

DARD Direct (Enniskillen)

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to give a date by which the evaluation of the DARD Direct (Enniskillen) experiment will be made known; and to advise whether a consultation process will be entered into, following the formal evaluation.

(AQW 122/07)

Ms Gildernew: The evaluation should be completed by the end of July 2007 and at this stage no decision has been taken on consultation.

Kilkeel Harbour

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to outline her plans to upgrade the entrance to Kilkeel Harbour.

(AQW 123/07)

Ms Gildernew: My Department is funding the further technical studies recommended in the Wallingford Report. The studies will assess the feasibility of a new breakwater with regard to solving the safety issues at the entrance to Kilkeel harbour and assess the impacts of the structure.

No decision on construction of a new breakwater can be taken until after the studies are completed in 2008.

Animal Health

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to provide full details of progress made in dealing with animal health issues on an all-island basis, since the collapse of the previous Assembly in 2002.

(AQW 124/07)

Ms Gildernew: Despite the suspension of the machinery of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), co-operation in the field of animal health and welfare has continued through the work of the nine working groups set up under the auspices of NSMC arrangements to discuss a range of animal health and welfare issues.

The most significant achievements of the working groups to date have been the development of a broadly similar system of sheep identification, broad (though not total) alignment of policies in respect of border controls to prevent introduction of animal disease, convergence of policies on scrapie, sharing of data on animal disease trends and outbreaks, close liaison on Avian Influenza, Equine Infectious Anaemia and a range of other epizootic diseases, co-operation on contingency planning for exotic disease outbreaks and co-operation on testing regimes for TB and Brucellosis in border areas.

As I have already announced, the issue of the All-island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy is one of my key priorities. It is my intention to meet the new Minister for Agriculture in the South, at the earliest possible opportunity, in order to discuss how we can develop the Strategy.

Organic Horticulture

Mr Peter Weir asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what plans she has to introduce capital grants for organic horticulture, for polytunnels and specialist machinery.

(AQW 141/07)

Ms Gildernew: There may be scope for capital grant support through a proposed Farm Modernisation measure within the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 (NIRDP). However, negotiations are ongoing with the European Commission and I hope to announce more detailed information after the NIRDP has been approved.

Designation of Less Favoured Areas

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what action has been taken to ensure that areas of Northern Ireland designated as 'less favoured' will retain their designation.

(AQW 165/07)

Ms Gildernew: The European Commission plans to carry out a major review of the approach to the designation of Less Favoured Areas across the EU in 2008-9. This has been prompted by criticism of the current regime by the European Court of Auditors. The Commission is still at an early stage in this process.

DARD is closely engaged with its counterparts in the rest of the UK in preparing for this review. DARD will be seeking a robust and objective set of criteria for future LFA designation.

Farm Nutrient Management Scheme

Mr Tom Elliott asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development how many applicants for the Farm Nutrient Management scheme have not yet received approval; and what is the timescale for the receipt of such approvals.

(AQW 225/07)

Ms Gildernew: At 24 May 2007, 3332 applicants had not received approval to the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme. Issue of approvals to all of these applicants is subject to additional funding being made available.

CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE

Waterways Ireland

Mr Willie Clarke asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what progress has been made in relation to the disparity of pay between Waterways Ireland employees north and south.

(AQW 28/07)

See Corrigenda in Written Answers Booklet of 15 June 2007

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr Poots): The disparity of pay between Waterways Ireland employees north and south is due to the differing public sector pay increases which have applied North and South in recent years. The movement in the euro -sterling exchange rate has also had an impact. Southern staff have their pay linked to ROI public sector pay whilst Northern staff pay is linked to Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) rates. These arrangements have been agreed through the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) procedures.

The Chief Executives of the North/South Bodies, including Waterways Ireland, have raised a number of concerns about the pay and conditions of service of their staff. Any change to these conditions is primarily a matter for Finance Ministers and the NSMC. As these are complex issues the NSMC Joint Secretariat, in consultation with Sponsor and Finance Departments north and south, is currently considering scope for introducing revised arrangements.

Orange Order Funding

Mr Mervyn Storey asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure how much funding was allocated for the promotion of (a) the annual Orange Order 12 July celebrations; (b) the Independent Orange Order 12 July celebrations; (c) the annual Sham Fight of Scarva; (d) the Maiden City Festival; and (e) the annual Royal Black Institution Black Saturday celebration, in each of the last three years.

(AQW 91/07)

Mr Poots: Funding as follows was allocated to support the annual Orange Order 12th July celebrations and the Maiden City Festival. No funding has been made available to support the Independent Orange Order 12th July celebrations, the annual Sham Fight of Scarva or the Annual Royal Black Institution Black Saturday celebration, in the last three years.

 
2004-2005
2005-2006
2006-2007
Orange Order 12 July £2000 £34,705 £136,533
Maiden City Festival £87,100 £84,100 Nil

Financial Assistance to Football Clubs

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what financial assistance was made available to football clubs for the financial years 2002/03; 2003/04; 2004/05; 2005/06; and 2006/07, for (1) Premier League clubs; (2) 1st Division clubs; and (3) Intermediate Clubs.

(AQW 114/07)

Mr Poots: Sport Northern Ireland (SNI) is responsible for the development of sport in Northern Ireland including the distribution of funding. SNI has provided financial assistance to football clubs for the financial years 2002/03; 2003/04; 2004/05; 2005/06 and 2006/07, for (1) Premier League clubs; (2) 1st Division clubs; and (3) Intermediate clubs as follows:

2002/03 - Exchequer Funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award (£)

Premier league

1st Division

Intermediate

Armagh City FC

2,657

2,657

 
 
Dungannon Swifts FC

1,910

1,910

 
 
Larne FC

2,492

2,492

 
 
Bangor FC

2,248

 

2,248

 
Omagh Town FC

2,817

2,817

 
 
Ballymena Utd FC

22,685

22,685

 
 
Glenavon FC

74,630

74,630

 
 
Institute FC

15,275

15,275

 
 
Linfield FC

99,863

99,863

 
 
Ards FC

2,625

 

2,625

 
Ballyclare Comrades FC

2,157

 

2,157

 
Carrick Rangers FC

2,775

 

2,775

 
Cliftonville FC

5,760

5,760

 
 
Coleraine FC

75,194

75,194

 
 
Crusaders FC

81,304

81,304

 
 
Glentoran FC

12,772

12,772

 
 
Limavady Utd FC

3,625

3,625

 
 
Lisburn Distillery FC

3,285

3,285

  
 
Newry City FC

4,100

4,100

 
 
Portadown FC

71,043

71,043

 
 

Totals

489,217

479,412

9,805

0

2002/03 – Lottery Funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award (£)

Premier League

1st Division

Intermediate

Knockbreda FC

30,345

   

30,345

Tandragee Rovers FC

70,000

   

70,000

Totals

100,345

0

0

100,345

Total Funding

589,562

479,412

9,805

100,345

2003/04 – Exchequer funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award

Premier League

1st Division

Intermediate

Ards FC

1,900

 

1,900

 
Ballymena Utd FC

3,010

3,010

 
 
Cliftonville FC

5,083

5,083

 
 
Coleraine FC

3,250

3,250

 
 
Crusaders FC

2,360

2,360

 
 
Dungannon Swifts FC

2,160

2,160

 
 
Glentoran FC

6,362

6,362

 
 
Glenavon

3,110

3,110

 
 
Institute FC

2,220

2,220

 
 
Larne FC

1,940

1,940

 
 
Limavady Utd FC

1,820

1,820

 
 
Linfield FC

7,121

7,121

 
 
Lisburn Distillery FC

2,080

2,080

  
   
Newry City FC

2,500

2,500

  
 
Omagh Town FC

1,830

1,830

 
 
Portadown FC

3,606

3,606

 
 

Totals

50,352

48,452

1,900

0

2003/04 Lottery Funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award (£)

Premier League

1st Division

Intermediate

Ballinamallard Utd FC

85,000

  
  

85,000

Dungiven Celtic FC

70,000

  
  

70,000

Rathfriland FC

76,004

  
  

76,004

Totals

231,004

0

0

231,004

Total Funding

281,356

48,452

1,900

231,004

2004/05 Exchequer Funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award (£)

Premier League

1st Division

Intermediate

Coleraine

1,370

1,370

   
Ards FC

1,800

 

1,800

 
Ballymena Utd FC

3,230

3,230

   
Cliftonville FC

4,385

4,385

   
Dungannon Swifts FC

2,220

2,220

  

  

Glentoran FC

7,135

7,135

   
Institute FC

2,190

2,190

   
Limavady Utd FC

2,460

2,460

   
Linfield FC

7,045

7,045

   
Lisburn Distillery FC

2,170

2,170

   
Loughall FC

2,200

2,200

   
Newry City FC

2,290

2,290

   
Omagh Town FC

1,610

1,610

   
Portadown FC

3,970

3,970

   
Totals

44,075

42,275

1,800

0

Total Funding*

44,075

42,275

1,800

0

*There were no lottery awards issued to soccer in financial year 2004/05.

2005/06 – There were no exchequer or lottery awards issued to soccer in this financial year.

2006/07 Exchequer Funding to Soccer

Organisation

Award (£)

Premier League

1st Division

Intermediate

Ballymena Utd FC

168,326

168,326

   
Newry City FC

2,179

2,179

   
Dungannon Swifts FC

2,402

2,402

   
Portadown FC

4,995

4,995

   
Glentoran

11,706

11,706

   
Ards FC

1,888

 

1,888

 
Linfield FC

11,628

11,628

   
Armagh City FC

3,365

3,365

   
Cliftonville FC

4,023

4,023

   
Crusaders FC

2,134

2,134

   
Donegal Celtic FC

3,150

3,150

   

Totals

215,794

213,906

1,888

0

Total Funding*

215,794

213,906

1,888

0

* There were no lottery awards issued to soccer in financial year 2006/07.

Re-opening of the Ulster Canal

Mr Daithi McKay asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans he has to help secure the re-opening of the Ulster Canal.

(AQW 172/07)

Mr Poots: I am well aware of proposals to re-open the Ulster Canal as a major cross-border project and I am actively considering the options open to me at this time.

Irish Language Funding

Mr Nelson McCausland asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what funding has been given by Foras na Gaeilge to the Irish language organisation Pobal, in each year from 2000 onwards.

(AQW 198/07)

Mr Poots: The funding given by Foras na Gaeilge to POBAL since 2000 is shown in the table below:

Year

Amount

2000

£50,000

2001

£115,800.00

2002

£143,155.00

2003

£156,530.00

2004

£150,240.00

2005

£154,387.10

2006

£169,582.00

Colmcille Funding

Mr Nelson McCausland asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what funding has been given to the Gaelic language network Colmcille in each year from 2000 onwards.

(AQW 199/07)

Mr Poots: The amount of funding given by my Department to Colmcille from 2000 is shown in the table below.

2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003- 2004 2004- 2005 2005- 2006 2006- 2007 2007- 2008
£67,500 £150k £177k £180k £180k £180k £180k £30k to date

Future Viability of the Belfast Festival at Queen's

Mr David McNarry asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what long-term plans are in place to secure the future viability of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.

(AQW 218/07)

Mr Poots: The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council and the Queen’s University Belfast are engaging in on-going discussions, with the aim of securing the future viability of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

Queen’s University, Belfast, is currently preparing a three year plan intended to move the festival towards a more sustainable business model.

Football Task Force

Mr David McNarry asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans are in place to reinstitute the Football Task Force for Northern Ireland; and whether he is satisfied that Windsor Park will continue to maintain its status as an international venue.

(AQW 227/07)

Mr Poots: The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the governing body of football in Northern Ireland and primarily responsible for implementing the recommendations contained within the Soccer Strategy Advisory Panel’s report of October 2001. The IFA is presently implementing these recommendations and, consequently, there is no need to reinstitute the Panel. As part of this process, the Association is also considering the status of Windsor Park as an international venue in conjunction with the owners of the ground, Linfield FC.

Financial Procedures at Ordnance Survey

Mr David McNarry asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether he is satisfied that controls at the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, as described by a Northern Ireland Audit Office report on a £70,000 fraud perpetrated against the agency, have been resolved.

(AQW 229/07)

Mr Poots: The Agency completed a review of financial procedures in November 2003 which identified control weaknesses and made recommendations for improvement. All of the recommendations have now been implemented. The recommendations included new management checks, new arrangements for collection of valuable receipts and better segregation of duties in post opening and the handling of valuables.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta Funding

Mr Nelson McCausland asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what funding has been given by Foras na Gaeilge to Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta, in each year since its formation.

(AQW 231/07)

Mr Poots: The funding given by Foras na Gaeilge to Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta is shown in the table below:

 

£

2002

Nil

2003

75,000

2004

50,000

2005

25,000

2006

Nil

Creative Connections Plan

Mr David McNarry asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what assessment has been made of the Arts Council for Northern Ireland's five-year 'Creative Connections' plan; and what meetings he has had in relation to the plan.

(AQW 233/07)

Mr Poots: The Arts Council’s 5 year plan ‘Creative Connections’ was approved by my Department prior to its launch on 29th January 2007. This is a high level strategic plan and I support the vision and themes set out in it.

I have not yet held a business meeting with the Arts Council to discuss the plan in detail, though I have received a broad outline of its key principles in an introductory meeting with the Council’s Chairman and Chief Executive.

 

EDUCATION

New School for Ballywalter

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Education if she will give an update on the new school for Ballywalter; and if she will confirm that a site for the new school has been identified.

(AQW 45/07)

The Minister of Education (Ms Ruane): The South Eastern Education and Library Board submitted a draft economic appraisal for Ballywalter Primary School to the Department of Education in November 2005. The recommended option is for the provision of a new seven classbase school on a new site in Ballywalter. The capital scheme for the school is one of a number of such schemes currently with the Department and in line with the recommendations of the Bain Report, the planning of the new school is being considered within the context of area-based planning and a Shared Future.

The South Eastern Education and Library Board has identified a proposed new site for the school, some 300 metres from the existing school.

Victoria Primary School, Ballyhalbert

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Education if she will confirm the start date for construction of the new primary school adjacent to Victoria Primary School in Ballyhalbert.

(AQW 46/07)

Ms Ruane: There are several planning, site and cost issues which require to be addressed before work on the new school for Victoria P.S. could start on site. The South Eastern Education and Library Board have advised that they expect these issues to be resolved by July and subject to that being the case, they anticipate that construction work for the new primary school could start in August 2007.

Educational Psychologists

Mr Barry McElduff asked the Minister of Education to detail the shortage of available educational psychologists in each of the five Education and Library Board areas; and to detail the measures she will take to ensure adequate provision of, and to remove barriers to the recruitment of, same.

(AQW 52/07)

Ms Ruane: I am advised by the Chief Executive Officers of the Education and Library Boards that the shortage of available educational psychologists in each Board is currently as follows;

Belfast Education and Library Board 4

South Eastern Education and Library Board 6

North Eastern Education and Library Board 4.5

Western Education and Library Board 3

Southern Education and Library Board 1

Since 2004/045 The Department of Education has provided an additional £53m to enable the Boards to improve services for children with special educational needs, including the provision of additional Educational Psychologists.

DE has increased the number of Educational Psychology trainees to 12 per annum and to attract applicants provides funding for an annual bursary of £15,000 per trainee for the three year duration of the course at QUB.

I am informed by the Chief Executives of the Boards that due to the high number of young women in this profession the Boards have introduced family-friendly working arrangements to help retain their employment in the Educational Psychology Service. In addition, the vacancy control measures, imposed because of the Review of Public Administration, have been lifted in relation to the recruitment of permanent Educational Psychology staff due to the unique situation of the Educational Psychology Service.

Transport Assistance for Pupils Attending School in ROI

Mr Barry McElduff asked the Minister of Education to detail the measures she plans to introduce to ensure that pupils who reside in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, but who attend their nearest post-primary school in the Irish medium sector in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, receive financial assistance towards transport costs.

(AQW 54/07)

Ms Ruane: The Western Education and Library Board cannot legally provide assistance for a pupil to attend a school which is not grant-aided under the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Orders.

It is, however, prepared to provide transport assistance for pupils in Strabane to attend the post-primary Irish-Medium unit Coláiste Bhríde in Londonderry which is the nearest suitable grant aided school.

I intend to meet with the incoming Minister for Education in the South to discuss a range of issues. You will be aware that the North South Ministerial Council will be meeting and this will create an opportunity for issues like this to be raised. In the meantime I will discuss this matter with my officials.

New Schools in Upper Bann

Mrs Dolores Kelly asked the Minister of Education when the new schools building programme for the Upper Bann constituency, which was announced during direct rule, will commence; and if she will give the dates for completion of the programme on a school by school basis.

(AQW 73/07)

Ms Ruane: Planning is underway for each of the schools which have been allocated funding for major capital building works in the Upper Bann constituency. The table below provides the estimated dates for construction work to start on site and estimated completion dates for each of the schools. The dates are subject to each stage of the planning and building processes being completed and approved within agreed timescales.

SCHOOL

ESTIMATED START DATE

ESTIMATED COMPLETION DATE

St Teresa’s P.S., Lurgan

December 2007

March 2009

Tannaghmore P.S., Lurgan

August 2008

November 2009

St Mary’s P.S., Banbridge

March 2009

June 2011

St Patrick’s College, Banbridge

June 2009

May 2011

Waringstown P.S.

July 2007

September 2008

Banbridge Academy

December 2007

January 2011

Lurgan College

March 2008

July 2011

Portadown College

April 2008

April 2011

Meeting with ROI Education Minister

Mr Sammy Wilson asked the Minister of Education what are her plans to meet with her counterpart in the Republic of Ireland to discuss education matters.

(AQW 117/07)

Ms Ruane: I have met with the previous Minister in the South – Mary Hanafin and intend to meet with the incoming Minister following the elections.

Locally Produced Food in Schools

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of Education to outline her plans to increase procurement levels of locally produced food in schools.

(AQW 125/07)

Ms Ruane: Procurement of food for schools must be undertaken in the context of European and Government procurement requirements and in a way which is designed to ensure value for money and that the appropriate specifications regarding food content and quality are met. Within that framework, Education and Library Boards make every effort to source food from local producers wherever possible. The creation of the new Education and Skills Authority will provide a new opportunity to look at procurement arrangements to see if further improvements can be made in ways that can support local producers.

My Department is also investing additional funding of over £3 million to improve the quality of food served in schools. Through that funding it has been possible to increase spending on ingredients and raise the quality, attractiveness and nutritional content of the food being served.

Naiscoil Choin Ri Uladh Funding

Mr Daithi McKay asked the Minister of Education if she will provide the necessary funding for Naiscoil Choin Ri Uladh (Baile Meanach) to operate in 2007/08; and if she will confirm that the school will be included in the Pre-school Education Expansion Programme.

(AQW 260/07)

Ms Ruane: To receive funding in respect of places in the voluntary pre-school sector from the Department of Education would require Naiscoil Choin Ri Uladh to be in the Pre-School Education Expansion Programme.

I understand that the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) Pre-School Education Advisory Group (PEAG) have received correspondence from Naiscoil Choin Ri Uladh requesting 13 places in the Programme from September 2007.

The NEELB PEAG is currently going through the re-allocation of places process. Until this is completed, hopefully by mid June, they cannot confirm whether new providers will be admitted to the Programme.

EMPLOYMENT AND LEARNING

Permanent Teaching Posts

Mr Ken Robinson asked the Minister for Employment and Learning how many teachers, upon completing their studies in Northern Ireland in the years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 have yet to obtain a permanent teaching post in a primary school in Northern Ireland.

(AQW 50/07)

The Minister for Employment and Learning (Sir Reg Empey): The Department for Employment and Learning only holds information on the destination of graduates 6 months after they complete their studies.

The table below indicates the number of students, who returned information and for which a destination is known, gaining primary school teaching qualifications between 1999/00 and 2004/05 and who had not gained a permanent teaching post in a primary school in Northern Ireland 6 months after they graduated.

1999/00

207

2000/01

227

2001/02

261

2002/03

307

2003/04

317

2004/05

357

Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency

Restriction of Funding for Adult Learning Courses

Mr Stephen Moutray asked the Minister for Employment and Learning what assessment he has made of the number of learners who will be denied access to adult learning courses, following the decision to restrict funding to colleges delivering non-externally regulated qualifications; and if he will publish the figures.

(AQW 133/07)

Sir Reg Empey: Under existing policy, Further Education colleges are required to increase the proportion of their provision that is on nationally accredited qualification frameworks, in order to ensure quality, recognition by employers, and progression routes for learners. My Department’s strategy for Further Education includes a review of curriculum policy. The revised policy will be the subject of an Equality Impact Assessment and public consultation later this year. No final decision has been taken on how this will impact on college funding and provision. An analysis of the potential impact on learners will be included in the EQIA and consultation process.

Equality Impact Assessment for Adult Learning Courses

Mr Stephen Moutray asked the Minister for Employment and Learning what equality impact assessments his department has carried out to determine which learners will be denied access to adult learning courses, following the decision to restrict funding to colleges delivering non-externally regulated qualifications.

(AQW 134/07)

Sir Reg Empey: To date there has been no Equality Impact Assessments on the revised curriculum policy for Further Education however one will be conducted later this year

Further Education Means Business Strategy

Mr Stephen Moutray asked the Minister for Employment and Learning how many adult learners aged 16 and over are not within the level two band identified by his department in its 'Further Education Means Business' strategy; and if he accepts that progression routes must be made available to encourage as many of these learners as possible to progress to level two and above.

(AQW 135/07)

Sir Reg Empey: In the 2005/06 academic year there were 70,493 (27,543 of which were on assessed courses) adult learners aged 16 and over enrolled on provision below level 2 in the Northern Ireland FE sector. All qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework must have clear progression routes that meet quality criteria laid down by the Regulatory Authorities of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Accordingly, the Department for Employment and Learning promotes qualifications on the National Qualifications Framework as the qualifications of first choice to ensure quality and guarantee progression routes for learners. The Department encourages colleges to review their lower level provision, and where possible move it onto the National Qualifications Framework.

Qualifications Framework for Adult Learners

Mr Stephen Moutray asked the Minister for Employment and Learning if he will (a) support a qualifications framework; and (b) review departmental funding, to enable progression of more adult learners into the level two band identified by his department in its 'Further Education Means Business' strategy.

(AQW 136/07)

Sir Reg Empey: My Department supports the National Qualifications Framework and, in conjunction with the administrations in England and Wales, is working towards developing a new national qualifications and credit framework – the National Database of Accredited Qualifications (NDAQ). Within this major programme of reform of vocational qualifications the participating administrations are also testing and trialling new funding arrangements.

Adult Learning

Mr Stephen Moutray asked the Minister for Employment and Learning if he will outline his department's strategy for providing meaningful learning opportunities for progression of the significant number of adult learners currently below the level two band identified by his department in its 'Further Education Means Business' strategy.

(AQW 137/07)

Sir Reg Empey: Through its 48 campuses and 876 outreach centres, the Further Education sector offers an extensive range of vocational and non-vocational provision for adult learners. FE colleges also help deliver various labour market programmes designed to provide adults with opportunities to develop the skills needed to obtain and retain employment.

To further improve opportunities for learner progression, my Department is developing arrangements for better collaboration between FE colleges and community-based education and training organisations. Through these arrangements, adult learners, particularly those who may be disadvantaged or who were previously reluctant to engage in further education, will be actively encouraged and assisted to progress towards qualifications at level 2, and above. Consultation on these new arrangements is expected to take place later this year.

English Classes for Non-English Speakers

Mr Roy Beggs asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to advise what financial support his department gives towards English classes for non-English speakers.

(AQW 219/07)

Sir Reg Empey: Expenditure, funded by the Department for Employment and Learning, on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses in Further Education colleges, in each of the last 5 years, was:-

2006/07 £1,469,297
2005/06 £865,059
2004/05 £691,628
2003/04 £486,093
2002/03 £349,276

Funding is also available within the New Deal programmes.  However, it is not possible to separately identify this funding.

ENTERPRISE, TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Lignite Mining

Mr Mervyn Storey asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on lignite mining in County Antrim.

(AQW 96/07)

The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Mr Dodds): My Department is responsible for issuing and regulating prospecting and extraction licences for all non-precious minerals, including lignite.

As a result of the considerable amount of data compiled from exploration activity, the Department has, since October 2004, suspended the issue of any further prospecting licences for lignite. The position is to be reviewed later this year.

In relation to extraction, it will be necessary for a company seeking a mining license to obtain planning and other statutory approvals before consideration is given to the application. Currently there are no lignite mining applications under consideration.

The Department’s Strategic Energy Framework acknowledges the strategic importance of lignite reserves. The Framework is consistent in its approach to the use of lignite with policy on prospecting and extraction licensing and indicates that any application under Article 39 of the Electricity (NI) Order 1992 to use lignite for power generation will only be considered against published criteria.

North Coast Tourism Industry

Mr David McClarty asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what policy he will pursue in relation to the tourism industry on the north coast.

(AQW 111/07)

Mr Dodds: Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) will be pursuing the following policies in relation to the tourism industry on the North Coast:

"Tourism in Northern Ireland - A Strategic Framework for Action 2004-2007" has identified the Causeway Coast/Antrim Glens area and the Walled City as Signature Projects.

The Causeway Signature Project is being delivered through "The Causeway Tourism Masterplan 2004-2013" (including the Causeway Coastal Route and the development of new visitor facilities at the Giants Causeway) and is the blueprint for sustainable development in the region. Financial investment to date in the delivery of the Masterplan has been £10m.

Phase 1 of The Walled City Signature Project is now complete with £4.6m invested in a Visitor Orientation Programme and the Tower Museum/Armada in Ireland exhibition. A further £9.1m has been secured for Phase II including the City Lighting Scheme and a Built Heritage Programme.

Giant's Causeway Visitors' Centre

Mr David McClarty asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what is the current position in regard to (i) his Department's involvement in; and (ii) the current status of, a new visitors' centre at the Giant's Causeway site.

(AQW 112/07)

Mr Dodds: Following disagreement between key stakeholders on development of new visitor facilities at the Giants Causeway my Department has been in the lead in planning for a replacement centre. It is the intention that a planning application will be submitted once car park requirements and financial viability issues have been settled. Progress on the Department’s application will be related to that on a separate private sector application.

ENVIRONMENT

Mournes/Slieve Croob Area

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of the Environment if she will outline her plans to assist the members of the farming community concerned about the consequences to the industry that will arise if the Mournes/Slieve Croob area is granted National Park status.

(AQW 3/07)

The Minister of the Environment (Mrs Foster):

I am awaiting the recommendations of the Mourne National Park Working Party which are expected within the next few months and I will consider these before making any decision on the proposal to establish a National Park in the Mournes.

I can assure you that I will take the interests of the farming community and all other stakeholders fully into account.

Ards/Down Area Plan

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of the Environment what is the timescale for completion of the Ards and Down Area Plan 2015.

(AQW 14/07)

Mrs Foster: The Public Inquiry into the draft Ards and Down Area Plan has now ended and the Department awaits the Report on the Inquiry from the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC). The PAC Report is expected at the end of 2007.

The Department intends to publish the adopted Plan as expeditiously as possible. It is not possible however to give a precise date for publication at this point in time as this will depend on both the date of receipt of the PAC Report and the nature of its content.

Ards/Down Area Plan

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of the Environment if the Ards and Down Area Plan 2015 will be made available to elected representatives prior to its announcement to the press and public.

(AQW 17/07)

Mrs Foster: The Ards and Down Area Plan 2015, when published in final form, will become the statutory plan to guide development in Ards and Down over the plan period. The adopted Plan will be made available to all interested parties, including elected representatives, at the same time. In line with established practice, it is not intended to make the adopted Plan available to elected representatives prior to it being made available to the press and public.

Policy Planning Statement 14

Mr Patsy McGlone asked the Minister of the Environment to detail how many applications received since 16 March 2006 met the criteria for Planning Policy Statement 14: Sustainable Development in the Countryside, and were subsequently approved, in the following categories:

1. replacement dwellings (number per District Council Area);

2. infill sites (number per District Council Area); and

3. farm dwellings (number per District Council Area).

(AQW 21/07)

Mrs Foster: Details of the number of applications received since 16 March 2006 meeting the criteria for PPS 14 and subsequently approved as replacement, infill or farm dwellings are shown in the attached table.

District council area

Farm

Infill

Replacement

Ballymena Division   

Antrim

2

0

17

Ballymena

3

1

34

Carrickfergus

0

0

2

Larne

1

0

11

Magherafelt

6

1

45

  

12

2

109

Belfast Division   

Belfast

0

0

2

Castlereagh

1

0

9

Newtownabbey

0

0

4

  

1

0

15

Craigavon Division   

Armagh

0

0

1

Banbridge

0

0

5

Craigavon

3

0

8

Newry and Mourne

0

0

5

  

3

0

19

Downpatrick Division   

Ards

5

0

21

Down

4

1

26

Lisburn

6

0

42

North Down

0

0

4

  

15

1

93

Londonderry Division   

Ballymoney

1

0

15

Coleraine

0

0

20

Derry

1

0

6

Limavady

2

0

16

Moyle

3

0

7

   

7

0

64

Omagh Division   

Cookstown

0

0

14

Dungannon

1

0

27

Fermanagh

1

0

24

Omagh

1

0

23

Strabane

0

0

19

   

3

0

107

   

41

3

407

[Note: These figures represent the number of approvals recorded on the Planning Service’s database, from descriptions provided by applicants/agents, as replacement, infill or farm building. There may be some approvals on the database which have not been described in this way but which otherwise meet the PPS 14 criteria. It is not possible to provide figures for these cases. It should be noted that a considerable number of applications received after 16 March 2006 still are in the "backlog" of applications in some Districts, particularly Armagh and Newry & Mourne Districts and have not been decided.]

Single Houses in the Countryside

Mr Patsy McGlone asked the Minister of the Environment to detail, per district council area, how many outline planning applications for single houses in the countryside were approved in the financial years 2004/05; 2005/06; and 2006/07.

(AQW 22/07)

Mrs Foster: The number of outline planning approvals for single houses in the countryside over the last 3 financial years are shown in the attached table

District council area

2004/05

2005/06

2006/07*

Ballymena Division

     

Antrim

315

206

76

Ballymena

432

266

111

Carrickfergus

10

3

4

Larne

20

22

7

Magherafelt

309

296

118

 

1086

793

316

Belfast Division

     

Belfast

3

0

0

Castlereagh

7

4

1

Newtownabbey

5

6

5

 

15

10

6

Craigavon Division

     

Armagh

269

317

174

Banbridge

248

168

108

Craigavon

132

130

44

Newry and Mourne

619

504

152

 

1268

1119

478

Downpatrick Division

     

Ards

246

64

14

Down

220

89

51

Lisburn

206

74

36

North Down

6

4

6

 

678

231

107

Londonderry Division

     

Ballymoney

236

267

85

Coleraine

226

260

140

Derry

60

62

41

Limavady

216

145

59

Moyle

95

85

33

 

833

819

358

Omagh Division

     

Cookstown

371

303

181

Dungannon

585

678

457

Fermanagh

798

790

710

Omagh

459

583

434

Strabane

176

329

142

 

2389

2683

1924

Totals

6269

5655

3189

*It should be noted that a considerable number of applications received after 16 March 2006 still are in the "backlog" of applications in some Districts, particularly Armagh and Newry & Mourne Districts and have not yet been decided.

Policy Planning Statement 14

Mr P J Bradley asked the Minister of the Environment what plans she has to apply withdrawn status, or similar, to planning applications refused as a direct result of Planning Policy Statement 14: Sustainable Development in the Countryside, or on the grounds of prematurity arising out of delays in the production of Area Plans; and if she has any plans to refund application fees in respect of such applications.

(AQW 40/07)

Mrs Foster: Once an application has been determined it cannot be withdrawn as this is a formal decision. Moreover, application fees cover the costs of processing and it would not be appropriate to return a fee after an application has been determined. I therefore have no plans to apply withdrawn status or similar to applications refused as a result of PPS14 or on the grounds of prematurity arising out of delays in the production of Area Plans. I also have no plans to refund application fees in respect of such applications.

Salmonid Rivers

Mr Ken Robinson asked the Minister of the Environment what safeguards she will introduce to ensure that salmonid rivers and their tributaries in rural and urban areas receive a higher level of protection than is currently the case.

(AQW 55/07)

Mrs Foster: DCAL has overall policy responsibility for the supervision and protection of salmon and inland fisheries. Its Salmon Management Plan informs conservation measures, such as restrictions on commercial and recreational fishing and habitat protection and improvement programmes. The Conservation Officers of the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Loughs Agency seek to detect unlicensed and illegal fishing and liaise with my Department on pollution and fish habitat matters.

My Department has responsibility for protecting rivers and lakes important for Atlantic Salmon through the use of nature conservation legislation. To date Lough Melvin, the River Foyle system and the River Roe system have been declared both as Areas of Special Scientific Interest under domestic legislation, and as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the European Habitats Directive.

In response to EU concerns that more rivers may need to be formally protected, my Department has commissioned a report from experts in the field of freshwater fisheries and will act upon its findings to ensure that Atlantic Salmon are given the highest reasonably practicable level of protection.

My Department has also designated 4154km of our rivers and some lakes as salmonid waters, requiring that they comply with quality standards specified in the European Freshwater Fish Directive. We seek to protect, and, where possible, to improve the quality of the aquatic environment. My response to your Question (AQW 49-07) on urban streams gives more detail of our water quality work.

Proposed Review of Road Safety

Mr Raymond McCartney asked the Minister of the Environment if she will outline the timescale for her proposed review of road safety; and if the process of consultation will include the relevant agencies in the Republic of Ireland.

(AQW 56/07)

Mrs Foster: It is my intention to seek an early meeting with the Department for Regional Development and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the other key stakeholders involved in developing the Road Safety Strategy, to discuss the way forward.

My Department works closely with the relevant authorities in the Republic of Ireland to ensure shared road safety benefits, and they will be included in any consultation on proposals for the future direction of road safety in Northern Ireland.

Extensions to Rural Businesses

Mr Patsy McGlone asked the Minister of the Environment to detail how many planning applications made since 16 March 2006 for extensions to rural businesses have been refused planning permission.

(AQW 62/07)

Mrs Foster: Since 16 March 2006, 2 applications concerning extensions to rural businesses have been refused planning permission.

Rotting Seaweed at Ballyferris Beach

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of the Environment if she will detail the outcome of discussions between the Environment and Heritage Service and Ards Borough Council regarding the clearing of rotting seaweed from the beach at Ballyferris.

(AQW 80/07)

Mrs Foster: Representatives of Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) met with Ards Borough Council officials on the 5 May 2007 to discuss the impact of beach cleaning upon ASSIs within their district, especially the Outer Ards shoreline.  An approach was agreed that would allow litter and rubbish to be removed from the beaches in a timely and environmentally friendly manner, taking care not to impact upon the ASSI.  The exact proposals will be finalised soon and all legal and public health obligations will be addressed, with the Council obtaining an open-ended assent from EHS to continue to maintain their amenity beaches to the expected high standards.

Unauthorised Developments

Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley asked the Minister of the Environment (a) how many unauthorised developments have occurred in Northern Ireland in the last three years; and (b) what are her plans to stop this type of illegal behaviour.

(AQW 82/07)

Mrs Foster: It is not known how many unauthorised developments have occurred. However, my Department has opened some 11,229 files on possible breaches of planning control in the last 3 years.

I should add that not all unauthorised developments are illegal, but if a breach of planning control has been established and the offender has failed to resolve the breach following a formal notice, then the activity is illegal.

The Department’s general policy approach to dealing with breaches of planning control is contained within Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 9 "The Enforcement of Planning Control" and having regard to existing enforcement legislation. Changes to legislation were made in 2003 and 2006 and I have no proposals to introduce any new legislative measures at present.

Enforcement Action

Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley asked the Minister of the Environment what action her Department proposes to take against developers who have not sought appropriate approval.

(AQW 83/07)

Mrs Foster: If a developer carries out a development without the appropriate planning approval, this may constitute a breach of planning control. If there is a breach, my Department takes the appropriate enforcement action to remedy it and regularise the situation.

Carrickfergus Town Walls

Mr David Hilditch asked the Minister of the Environment if she will give an assessment of the present condition of the town walls in Carrickfergus.

(AQW 86/07)

Mrs Foster: About half of the original circuit of the 17th century Carrickfergus town walls is still extant and the best-preserved stretch is in the Joymount area (the north east corner) where the walls stand to their full height of around four metres and have impressive battlements. North Gate is the only surviving gateway. This was re-modelled in the early 20th century. Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) has cared for these walls for many decades, most recently conserving the portion along the back of the Lancasterian Street carpark. The only upstanding portion not in State Care is a fragment of ‘bastion’ in Albert Road. The walls are mainly in good condition. They display many interesting features including artillery bastions, wall walks and a blocked door. Ongoing maintenance is always necessary to keep such a monument in good condition. The site is monitored regularly by EHS and action is undertaken as appropriate.

Unauthorised Developments

Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley asked the Minister of the Environment to list, by constituency, the number of unauthorised developments in each of the last three years.

(AQW 97/07)

Mrs Foster: I regret that my Department does not keep this information in the format requested. However, across Northern Ireland as a whole it has opened some 11,229 files on possible breaches of planning control in the last 3 years.

I should add that not all unauthorised developments are illegal. However, if a breach of planning control has been established and the offender has failed to resolve the breach following a formal notice, then the activity is illegal.

Draft Metropolitan Area Plan

Mr Alex Easton asked the Minister of the Environment what plans she has to release greenbelt land in north Down for development.

(AQW 110/07)

Mrs Foster: The draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (dBMAP) includes proposals for development affecting some greenbelt land in North Down. These and other proposals in the draft Plan have been the subject of a significant number of objections which are being considered by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) at an ongoing public inquiry. My Department will, therefore, not be in a position to decide finally on such proposals, including those for development affecting greenbelt land, until after it receives and considers the PAC Inquiry report.

Illegally Dumped Waste

Mr Simon Hamilton asked the Minister of the Environment what estimates have been made of the tonnage of waste, originating in the Republic of Ireland, that is illegally dumped in Northern Ireland.

(AQW 154/07)

Mrs Foster: Estimates suggest that up to 250,000 tonnes of household waste from ROI were illegally deposited on land within Northern Ireland between October 2002 and the end of 2004, the latest period for when figures are available.

Recycling of Domestic Waste

Mr Simon Hamilton asked the Minister of the Environment what percentage of domestic waste is recycled in each of the 26 district council areas.

(AQW 155/07)

Mrs Foster: In 2005/6, District Councils in Northern Ireland recycled an average 24.5% of domestic waste. Details for each Council are set out in the table below.

Waste Management Group District Council Percentage of household waste recycled and composted as % of total household waste arisings
    2004/05 2005/06
ARC 21 Antrim Borough Council 38.4 44.0
Ards Borough Council 20.4 24.0
Ballymena Borough Council 23.4 26.9
Belfast City Council 8.9 14.4
Carrickfergus Borough Council 17.2 17.4
Castlereagh Borough Council 22.2 32.5
Down District Council 19.2 33.7
Larne Borough Council 16.5 25.0
Lisburn City Council 12.3 19.8
Newtownabbey Borough Council 19.9 22.5
North Down Borough Council 17.2 24.6
ARC 21 16.7 22.9
SWaMP Armagh City & District Council 23.3 26.7
Banbridge District Council 39.2 41.0
Cookstown District Council 20.6 28.1
Craigavon Borough Council 23.4 29.3
Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council 20.1 19.5
Fermanagh District Council 21.0 20.8
Newry and Mourne District Council 20.0 24.9
Omagh District Council 19.6 17.8
SWaMP 23.0 25.9

NWRWMG

Ballymoney Borough Council 24.02 24.4
Coleraine Borough Council 18.6 24.3
Derry City Council 13.7 28.1
Limavady Borough Council 17.3 35.9
Magherafelt District Council 31.4 35.7
     
Moyle District Council 11.3 25.5
Strabane District Council 17.3 21.3
NWRWMG 19.3 27.6

Northern Ireland

18.9 24.5

Job Losses in the Driver and Vehicle Agency

Mr John Dallat asked the Minister of the Environment what action has been taken to compensate for the proposed loss of vehicle registration and licensing jobs at County Hall, Coleraine; and what steps have been taken to ensure that there will be no further job losses in the Driver and Vehicle Agency.

(AQW 247/07)

Mrs Foster: DVA carry out vehicle licensing work in Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT). DfT have decided to integrate the NI and GB IT systems and to bring the delivery of vehicle licensing services in NI into line with the rest of the UK. This re-alignment of services would have meant the loss of 260 jobs from the peak number of posts funded by DfT. However, DfT have agreed to transfer a block of UK-wide work to NI, safeguarding 93 jobs. In anticipation of these changes, DVA have been allowing the number of permanent staff employed to run down through natural wastage and replacing permanent staff who leave with casual employees, where possible. At present, it is projected that around 100 permanent staff will be surplus when these changes take place in November 2008. The Central Personnel Group of the Department of Finance and Personnel, working with the DoE, are seeking to identify redeployment opportunities for the staff losing their posts in vehicle licensing. The expectation is that all the surplus staff will be redeployed somewhere in the wider Civil Service and redundancies are not anticipated. The identification of redeployment opportunities will include examining if work from functions in DoE or other NI Departments could be relocated to Coleraine. Future employment levels on vehicle licensing in Coleraine will be determined by DfT, in line with business needs. However, these proposed changes will put NI on to the same basis as the other 3 operational regions in the UK and there is no reason to believe that different criteria would be applied to employment levels in NI than in the rest of the UK.

FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

Review of Public Administration

Mr Roy Beggs asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel what are the most recent cost estimates of the current Review of Public Administration proposals; and what funding has been identified within the (a) 2007/08 Budget; (b) 2008/09 Estimates; and (c) 2009/10 Estimates; and if he will provide a breakdown of the costs.

(AQW 186/07)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Robinson):

Work is ongoing to update the cost and savings estimates arising from the Review of Public Administration (RPA) proposals. That work will also need to recognise any emerging views from the Executive as to the nature of RPA. For the current year, I can confirm that any costs arising will be managed through a combination of opening budget allocations and the normal in-year mechanisms. Provision for the 2008-09 and 2009-2010 years will be considered as part of the forthcoming Programme for Government and Budget processes

Sick Absence in the Northern Ireland Civil Service

Mr Roy Beggs asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to advise of the number of days absence that were recorded, by department, over each of the last five years; how this compares to the private sector; what investigations have occurred to account for any variations; and what action has been taken.

(AQW 187/07)

Mr Robinson: In answering this question it has been assumed that the number of day’s absence relates to days lost due to sickness absence. The answer reflects the position for the non-industrial grades only and covers the 11 Departments of the Northern Ireland Administration, including Executive Agencies.

Sickness absence statistics for the Northern Ireland Departments are analysed by financial year as opposed to calendar year. Published statistics for Northern Ireland Departments for the financial years 2001/2002 – 2005/2006 are accessible on the Department’s website at www.dfpni.gov.uk/publications.

Information relating to the 2006/2007 financial year will be published in the autumn.

Information on sickness absence rates in Northern Ireland Departments is set out in Table 1. Table 2 and Table 3 include statistical information drawn from reports published by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) respectively.

It should be noted that it is not possible to make statistically valid comparisons between the information contained in Tables 2 and 3, and Table 1. The methods used by CIPD and CBI to collect the information differs significantly to the current arrangements in the Northern Ireland Departments where there is a very robust, accurate and comprehensive means of recording and analysing sickness absence data.

Managing sickness absence is a key priority within Northern Ireland Departments and there is a comprehensive range of policies and procedures in place to deal with sickness absence. Much work has been done to ensure that the policies and practices reflect organisational best practice, including an academic research project that was carried out by the University of Ulster and ongoing benchmarking with a range of public and private sector organisations in Northern Ireland and with Government Departments in the UK.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has been undertaking a major review of sickness absence in the non-industrial NICS and their report is awaited.

Table 1: 11 NI Departments - Average Days Lost per Staff Year for Non-Industrial Staff

Department

2001/2002

2002/2003

2003/2004

2004/2005

2005/2006

DARD

11.8

13.4

12.4

11.5

11.1

DCAL

14.6

13.8

15.1

11.0

10.3

DE

13.2

12.5

11.7

12.8

12.9

DEL

19.0

18.7

17.7

14.7

14.0

DETI

13.0

12.7

11.8

9.9

10.7

DFP

13.5

13.6

14.3

13.7

13.0

DHSSPS

14.6

13.2

12.3

9.5

10.7

DOE

14.1

14.5

13.4

12.0

11.1

DRD

11.4

10.7

12.0

10.2

8.2

DSD

18.4

19.1

19.7

19.4

18.3

OFMDFM

11.6

12.2

12.6

8.6

8.6

OVERALL

15.1

15.4

15.5

14.2

13.4

Table 2: Findings from the CIPD Surveys from 2002 to 2006

Average Days Lost per Employee

CIPD

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

Private Sector

8.4

7.0

7.8

6.8

6.8

Public Sector

10.9

10.6

10.7

10.3

9.9

Table 3: Findings from the CBI Surveys from 2002 to 2006

Average Number of Working Days Lost per Employee

CBI

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

Private Sector

6.5

6.9

6.4

6.0

6.3

Public Sector

8.9

8.9

9.1

8.5

9.0

Departmental Underspend

Mr Roy Beggs asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to list, by department, (a) the underspend for 2006/07; (b) the amounts that have been agreed that can be carried over to the financial year 2007/08; and (c) the amounts that will be returned to the Treasury from those allocated from the 2006/07 Budget.

(AQW 188/07)

Mr Robinson: Information on the extent of any underspend for 2006-07 is not yet available, and I will publish details in due course. However, I would emphasise that all department underspend remain available for redeployment within Northern Ireland in future years.

Funding for Children and Young People

Mrs Dolores Kelly asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel if he will confirm that there will be no retraction of the funding for Children and Young People during the lifetime of this Assembly.

(AQW 194/07)

Mr Robinson: The Executive has adopted the inherited spending plans for the current financial year (2007-08), and thus no change in funding for the area in question is planned for this year. For the longer term, public expenditure allocations for the period 2008-09 to 2010-11 will be determined as part of the local Programme for Government and Budget processes, due to be completed by the end of the year. Those processes will be developed in the context of the Executive’s view of priorities and available resources.

HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND PUBLIC SAFETY

Attacks on Fire Fighters

Mr Willie Clarke asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give an assessment of the costs associated with attacks on Northern Ireland Fire Service crews in terms of (a) number of injured personnel; and (b) damage to equipment.

(AQW 74/07)

The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Mr McGimpsey): Attacks on fire-fighters have a human cost which, although difficult to quantify, is no less important than the financial costs. Seven firefighters were injured in attacks between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007. Of these, one resulted in a one day’s absence from work at an approximate cost of £250. Thirty seven appliances were damaged during 2006/07 at an estimated cost of £18,050.

Agenda for Change

Mrs Dolores Kelly asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to confirm that each Health Board and Trust has been given the funds to meet the commitments to staff under the Agenda for Change programme; if he will give a detailed report, by Trust area, on whether the budget allocated has been spent for the purpose intended; and if he will highlight any outstanding financial shortfalls.

(AQW 76/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Since 2004-05, my Department has provided the following funding to Health Boards and Trusts to meet the cost of implementing Agenda for Change.

2004-05 £22.8m
2005-06 £57.7m
2006-07 £79.6m
2007-08 £94.6m

I can confirm that the budget allocated has been spent for the purposes intended and represents a significant investment in our 65,000 staff, many of whom have benefited from increases in earnings of 6% on average above inflation.

Allocation to Boards, Trusts and Non Departmental Public Bodies for Agenda for Change in 2007-08 is set out in the table below.

Trust 2007- 08 Allocation (£)
Belfast 24,948,138
Northern 16,402,223
Southern 15,479,780
South Eastern 12,172,511
Western 13,931,700
NIAS 8,259,079
Sub Total 91,193,431
   
Board  
Eastern 566,787
Northern 373,598
Southern 278,161
Western 335,938
Sub Total 1,554,484
   
NDPB  
Central Services Agency 978,825
NI Blood Transfusion Service 295,846
NI Guardian Ad Litem Agency 95,756
NI Practice and Education Council for Nursing and Midwifery 20,187
NI Regional Medical Physics Agency 204,647
NI Social Care Council 55,464
Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority 169,360
Sub Total 1,820,085
   
Total 94,568,000

A further £3 million has been held centrally towards the cost of meeting proposed changes to the unsocial hours regime, bringing the total allocation for Agenda for Change to some £97.57 million.

At this stage of the financial year, it is too early to identify the existence and/or extent of shortfall in funding for 2007-08 but I can advise that all Health and Social Care bodies will be expected to manage any potential deficits as part of their break-even plans for 2007-08.

Healthcare Centre for Carrickfergus

Mr David Hilditch asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give an update on the current progress of plans for the provision of a level two healthcare centre for Carrickfergus, as outlined by the former Homefirst Community Trust.

(AQW 87/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The provision of a Level 2 Health and Care Centre and a replacement Day Centre facility (formerly at Taylor's Avenue) are included in the Primary and Community Care Infrastructure Programme. Both facilities have been identified as high priority and the project is expected to proceed later this year to site acquisition and the design stage. The current estimated capital cost of the combined project is £28m.

Carrickfergus Day Centre

Mr David Hilditch asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what plans are being made to facilitate the clients of Carrickfergus Day Centre (formerly at Taylor's Avenue), currently displaced to locations in Larne and Newtownabbey, in respect of the provision of a centre in their own borough.

(AQW 92/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The provision of a Level 2 Health and Care Centre and a replacement Day Centre facility (formerly at Taylor's Avenue) are included in the Primary and Community Care Infrastructure Programme. Both facilities have been identified as high priority and the project is expected to proceed later this year to site acquisition and the design stage. The current estimated capital cost of the combined project is £28m.

Unused Medications

Mr Mervyn Storey asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what is the estimated cost of unused medications in Northern Ireland for the last 12 months.

(AQW 93/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The information requested is not collected routinely. Extrapolating figures from Great Britain, it is estimated that the cost of unused medicines in Northern Ireland amounts to approximately £2.5million per year. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is pursuing a number of initiatives to reduce waste in drug costs.

Mixed Sex Wards

Mr Mervyn Storey asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many mixed wards there are in each hospital in Northern Ireland; and what measures he has taken to reduce the number.

(AQW 94/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The following table shows the number of mixed sex wards that there were in each hospital in Northern Ireland at 22 February 2007.

Trust / Hospital

Number of mixed sex wards at 22 February 2007

Armagh & Dungannon  
Mullinure Hospital 0
Longstone 3
St Luke’s 4
   
Altnagelvin  
Altnagelvin Hospital 17
Waterside (Ward 5) 1
   
Belfast City  
Belfast City Hospital 21
Cancer Centre* 4
Windsor House 0
   
Causeway  
Causeway (inc Ross Thomson Unit) 2
Dalriada 0
Robinson Hospital 0
   
Craigavon & Banbridge  
Craigavon PNU 4
   
Craigavon Area  
Craigavon Area 12
Lurgan 5
South Tyrone 2
   
Down Lisburn  
Lagan Valley 7
Downe 4
Foyle  
Gransha 1
Waterside 7
Stradreagh (now Lakeview) 5
   
Greenpark  
Forster Green Hospital 3
Musgrave Park Hospital 8
Forest Lodge 0
   
Homefirst  
Holywell 8
Whiteabbey PNU 1
   
Mater  
Mater Hospital 1
   
N&W Belfast  
Muckamore Abbey 4 (day space only)
   
Newry & Mourne  
Daisy Hill 6
   
Royal Group  
Royal Victoria 31
RBHSC 9
   
S&E  
Knockbracken 6
Young Peoples Centre 1
Shaftesbury Square 0
   
Sperrin Lakeland  
Tyrone County 2
Erne 0
Tyrone & Fermanagh 4
   
Ulster Community  
Ards 1
Bangor 0
Ulster 21
   
United Hospitals  
Antrim 13
Braid Valley 1
Mid Ulster 4
Moyle 2
Whiteabbey 6
   

Source: HPSS Trusts

Where a mixed sex ward exists, within such a ward patients would normally be cared for in single sex bays. Mixed sex accommodation may be necessary in the provision of some specialised services such as critical care units. On occasion, a patient may need to be admitted to mixed sex accommodation rather than wait on a trolley in an Accident and Emergency Department. In such cases, they would be moved to a suitable bed, in either a single room or single sex bay, at the earliest opportunity

In May 2004, the Department issued guidance to the HPSS on new standards for patient accommodation that require all new build acute ward accommodation to be planned on the basis of 50% single bedded ensuite rooms. Increasing the proportion of single bedded rooms will improve patient privacy, facilitate better utilisation of hospital beds, and reduce the need to care for patients in mixed sex accommodation.

Ambulances in Rural Areas

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what analysis his Department has carried out concerning the deployment of ambulances in rural areas of Northern Ireland.

(AQW 99/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has procedures in place to minimise non-availability of ambulances. These procedures include use of relief staff and overtime cover to reduce non-availability due to absence. However, the pattern of cover provided is on the basis of shifts ranging from 8 to 12 hours, and it would, therefore, be misleading to measure non-availability in days.

Similarly, non-availability as a result of mechanical failure of the vehicle is compensated by regional management of the total ambulance fleet. Sufficient vehicles are maintained in a state of readiness in excess of the number required by planned crews at any one time to ensure that planned ambulance availability is not compromised over an extended period.

For these reasons it is not possible to answer the question in the format requested.

Ambulance Availability

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail for how many days ambulances were unavailable in the last 12 months.

(AQW 100/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has procedures in place to minimise non-availability of ambulances. These procedures include use of relief staff and overtime cover to reduce non-availability due to absence. However, the pattern of cover provided is on the basis of shifts ranging from 8 to 12 hours, and it would, therefore, be misleading to measure non-availability in days.

Similarly, non-availability as a result of mechanical failure of the vehicle is compensated by regional management of the total ambulance fleet. Sufficient vehicles are maintained in a state of readiness in excess of the number required by planned crews at any one time to ensure that planned ambulance availability is not compromised over an extended period.

For these reasons it is not possible to answer the question in the format requested.

Ambulance Journey Times

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what steps his Department (a) has taken in the last 12 months; and (b) proposes to take, to reduce (i) the average time taken for ambulance emergency journeys; and (ii) the number of occasions on which the average journey time was exceeded by 50%.

(AQW 101/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The performance of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) is not measured in terms of average ambulance journey times but by its achievement of the national target for responding to Category A (life-threatening) emergency calls within 8 minutes in each financial year.

The Department recognises that, currently, NIAS’s performance in meeting its response targets is well below the required standard and, during the last year, has been working closely with the Trust and the Health and Social Services Boards’ Commissioning Group for Ambulance Services (CGAS) to address this issue. In particular, NIAS, at the request of the Department, was benchmarked against the Staffordshire Ambulance Service, widely regarded as the best performing UK ambulance service. As a direct result of this exercise, NIAS agreed that the service should be re-engineered to adopt a high performance ambulance service model.

The Department is also currently working closely with NIAS and the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) to develop outline business cases for the modernisation of the Trust’s estate, fleet and equipment. A Business Case for the introduction of Automatic Vehicle Locating Systems and Mobile Data Transmission in the current year has been submitted to the Department for approval.

The Department is now monitoring NIAS’s performance on a fortnightly basis to review its achievement of the Trust’s 2007/08 Priorities for Action targets.

Patient Mortality in Ambulances

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail how many people in Northern Ireland died while being taken to hospital by ambulance in each of the last three years (a) in total; and (b) broken down by ambulance deployment point.

(AQW 102/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The information requested cannot be provided without disproportionate cost as Northern Ireland Ambulance Service personnel do not routinely record patient mortality in transit on Patient Report Forms. It is not possible to retrieve such data from the Trust’s IT system and a manual search of hard copy records would require considerable time.

Macular Degeneration

Mr Sammy Wilson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what efforts he will make to ensure that those suffering from wet age-related macular degeneration get the treatment they need.

(AQW 116/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Additional funding of £24 million has been allocated in 2006-07 and 2007-08 for specialist hospital drugs. It is for Health and Social Services Boards, as commissioners of services, to prioritise how funding is used, taking into account local circumstances, the strategic objectives established for the Health and Social Care (HSC) sector and demands and pressures generally for access to a wide range of new effective drug therapies.

Specialised treatments are available in Northern Ireland for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), including laser treatment and photodynamic therapy. Two new treatments for wet AMD – pegaptanib (Macugen) and ranibizumab (Lucentis) – are currently being appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Institute is expected to publish its guidance in September 2007. When that guidance is published, the Department will consider the applicability of the NICE guidance to HSC. In the interim, the Health and Social Services Boards have agreed that they will consider funding treatment with Macugen or Lucentis for those patients presenting with the greatest clinical priority, on a case by case basis.

Ambulance Service Deployment Point for Ards Peninsula

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give an update on the out-station for the Ards peninsula, to be provided by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

(AQW 126/07)

Mr McGimpsey: There are no plans at present to provide an additional Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) deployment point for the Ards Peninsula.

Emergency ambulances are deployed on the basis of historic patterns of demand. NIAS reviews its deployment locations continually to ensure they are sited where demand for emergency response is likely to be highest.

Emergency Services Response Times in the Ards Peninsula

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give details of emergency services response times for the Ards peninsula: how many calls were responded to (a) within 10 minutes; (b) within 15 minutes; (c) within 20 minutes; and (d) in over 20 minutes.

(AQW 127/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The following table shows Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) and Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) emergency response times in the Ards Peninsula during the period 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007. NIAS has used the BT22 postcode to source the data provided whereas NIFRS has provided data for Bangor, Newtownards, Donaghadee, Ballywalter and Portaferry Fire Stations.

Timeframe

NIAS responses

NIFRS responses

Within 10 minutes

51

1509

Within 15 minutes

152

228

Within 20 minutes

225

38

Over 20 minutes

370

15

Total Calls

798

1790

Emergency Services Co-response Initiative in the Ards Peninsula

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give an update on the co-response initiative between the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service for the Ards peninsula.

(AQW 128/07)

Mr McGimpsey: While primary responsibility for attending medical emergencies rests with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue (NIFRS) is working closely with NIAS to develop co-responder schemes so that its personnel can support Ambulance personnel in cases involving cardiac arrest.

Portaferry and Ballywalter Fire Stations in the Ards Peninsula have been identified as locations where co-response would be beneficial. NIFRS personnel at those locations have completed additional medical training with defibrillation equipment and vital casualty stabilisation techniques to provide limited medical care prior to the ambulance’s arrival.

However the English High Court ruled in October 2006 that Firefighters are not contractually obliged to participate in co-responder schemes. NIFRS is considering, therefore, how best to progress its co-responder initiative and, as an interim measure, has placed defibrillation equipment on Fire Appliances at Portaferry and Ballywalter, initially for use at incidents where NIFRS personnel would normally arrive first (fires, road traffic collisions, etc) and their intervention is appropriate.

Cataract Operations

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many cataract operations have been carried out in each of the last five years.

(AQW 138/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Information on the number of cataract operations carried out in acute hospitals in Northern Ireland in each year from 2000/01 to 2005/06 (the latest year for which data is available) is shown in the table below.

Year

Number of Cataract Operations

2001/2002

7,196

2002/2003

7,676

2003/2004

8,513

2004/2005

8,391

2005/2006

9,441

Source- Hospital Inpatient System

Waiting Lists for Cataract Operations

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will give details of waiting lists for cataract operations; how many people have been waiting for (a) 3 months; (b) 6 months; (c) 9 months; and (d) 12+ months.

(AQW 139/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Information on the number of patients waiting (a) less than 3 months and (b) less than 6 months for cataract surgery at 31 March 2007(the latest available validated statistics) are provided in the following table. There were no patients waiting more than 6 months for cataract treatment at 31 March 2007.

 

Number of Patients Waiting for Cataract Surgery at 31 March 2007:

Quarter ending (a) Less than 3 months (b) Less than 6 months Total Waiting
March 2007

1909

2256

2256

Source- Departmental Information Return PFA 211

Enquiries in the Irish Language

Lord Browne asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail the percentage of enquiries made to his department in the Irish language.

(AQW 166/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The information requested is not collected. However, research has suggested that there have been no enquiries made to the Department in Irish in the past 5 years.

Publications in Irish

Lord Browne asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail the full breakdown of costs for the implementation of the decision taken by the former Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to produce all publications in Irish.

(AQW 167/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The Department of Health, Social Services does not produce all publications in Irish. It is the current policy of the department to produce both press releases and advertisements in Irish. Translated copies of documents and other associated materials are provided by the department upon request.

The costs incurred by Irish translation since 2002/2003 are provided in the table below:

  Irish Translations1 Publications Total
2002/03 £72,500 £16,652.86 £89,152.86
2003/04 £26,185 £3,120.80 £29,305.80
2004/05 £8,389 £1,203.76 £9,592.76
2005/06 £8,974 £0 £8,974.00
2006/07 £14,046.45 £45.55 £14,092.00
Totals £130,094.45 £21,022.97 £151,117.42

1Irish Translation figures include costs for Press releases, speeches and advert translations.

Child Obesity

Mr David Hilditch asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what action he plans to take to reduce child obesity.

(AQW 177/07)

Mr McGimpsey: At a regional level, the report of the Fit Futures taskforce on tackling obesity in children and young people was published in March 2006. The report includes over seventy recommendations designed to deliver on the Public Service Agreement target to stop the increase in levels of obesity in children by 2010. Responsibility for this target is shared by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

A governmental response to the report, including a cross-departmental implementation plan, has subsequently been developed and was issued for consultation. Following an analysis of the responses to the consultation, this final implementation plan will be published shortly.

At a local level, the four Health and Social Services Boards have been tasked with developing local integrated plans to tackle the issue of childhood obesity. These plans should address specific priorities set out in the original Fit Futures report, including enhanced training for front line staff, additional support for children in care, training to improve cooking skills in low income families, and initiatives to tackle specific health and social inequities.

Waiting Times at the Royal Victoria Hospital

Mr Dominic Bradley asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what steps he is taking to reduce waiting times at the fracture clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital; and when improvements will be seen.

(AQW 181/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Patients who sustain a definite or suspected fracture are seen by the fracture service without delay, and there is no waiting list for a first outpatient appointment. When assessed by the fracture service, patients are triaged according to their clinical need.

I am committed to improving access for patients who require surgical intervention following a fracture. A comprehensive programme of reform is being taken forward across Northern Ireland to reform and modernise hospital services across a wide range of healthcare activity including the fracture service. This will deliver shorter waiting times for both emergency (fracture) patients and elective (waiting list) patients.

By March 2008, I expect that at least 75% of patients should, where clinically appropriate, wait no longer than 48 hours for inpatient fracture treatment, and by March 2009, 98% of patients should have their fracture surgery within 48hours.

Waiting List for Speech and Language Therapy

Mr David McClarty asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will make a statement on the average length of time patients have to wait on a speech and language therapist waiting list, before availing of the service.

(AQW 192/07)

Mr McGimpsey: Information on the average length of time that patients have to wait on a speech and language therapy waiting list is not collected centrally. However, information is collected on the number of completed waits for a first appointment with a community speech and language therapist.

Waiting list information for speech and language is collected by time band. It is therefore not possible to calculate the average waiting time on a waiting list.

During quarter ending 31 December 2006, 2,649 patients had a first appointment with a community speech & language therapist in Northern Ireland. Of these, 82% (2,177) had waited less than 3 months from referral to the community speech and language therapist to the first appointment actually taking place, 13% (334) waited 3 to 6 months, and 5% (138) had waited 6 months or more.

Heroin Replacement Drugs

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many heroin addicts have been prescribed heroin replacement drugs in each of the last three years, broken down by (a) health trust and (b) substitute drug prescribed; how many in each year were new cases; and how many were continued prescriptions from previous years.

(AQW 214/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The information requested is available only for 2004/2005 and 2005/2006.

(a) Table 1 shows the number of cases for both 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 broken down by the Health Trust structure established on 1 April 2007.

Table 1 – Cases by Health Trust.

 

2004/2005

2005/2006

New Cases

Continuations from Previous Year

New Cases

Health Trust

Belfast

48

47

25

South-Eastern

41

34

14

Northern

87

90

43

Southern

5

4

8

Western

12

10

9

Total

193

185

99

(b) Table 2 shows the number of cases for both 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 broken down by the substitute medication prescribed.

Table 2 – Cases by Substitute Medication.

 

2004/2005

2005/2006

New Cases

Continuations from Previous Year

New Cases

Substitute Medication*

Methadone

89

93

42

Buprenorphine

102

85

47

Dihydrocodeine

2

7

10

Total

193

185

99

*The substitute medication prescribed at the beginning of treatment.

Eating Disorders

Mr David Simpson asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many people are estimated to be suffering from (a) anorexia nervosa and (b) bulimia nervosa in each of the last three years; and what help is made available to (i) people suffering from the conditions; and (ii) families of people suffering from the conditions.

(AQW 215/07)

Mr McGimpsey: As many of the people suffering from eating disorders are diagnosed by their GPs, it is difficult to estimate the numbers suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Best evidence from the UK indicates that approximately 300 to 1,700 in Northern Ireland people suffer from anorexia nervosa and approximately 17,000 suffer from bulimia nervosa.

Specialist teams have been established in each of the 4 Boards since 2006, These 4 teams link with each other to form a Regional Clinical Network. The teams provide various services which include structured psychological therapy, dietetic input and physical health monitoring. The teams also provide consultation, supervision and training for those cases managed at primary and secondary care level.

The specialist teams, wherever possible, involve families in the treatment process and, in conjunction with the voluntary sector such as the Eating Disorders Association and Adapt, provide carer support.

Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Mr Daithi McKay asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many people presented themselves for treatment for heroin abuse in 2004/05; 2005/06; and 2006/07, in each Health and Social Care Trust area.

(AQW 259/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The information requested is available only for 2004/05 and 2005/06. Information on individuals presenting to treatment services with problem drug misuse is held on the Northern Ireland Drug Misuse Database. The table below shows the number of problem drug users who presented to treatment services and gave their consent for their details to be held on the database, with heroin as their main problem drug, broken down by the Health and Social Care Trust area.

Health and Social Care Trust Area

2004/05(1)

2005/06(2)

Belfast

50

62

Northern

123

41

Southern

20

28

South Eastern

16

20

Western

13

16

Prison

15

6

Total

237

173

(1) During 2004/05, a further 47 Problem Drug Users presented to treatment services with heroin listed as a subsidiary drug of misuse rather than their main problem drug.

(2) During 2005/06, a further 41 Problem Drug Users presented to treatment services with heroin as a subsidiary drug of misuse rather than their main problem drug.

Compensation on Behalf of Health Boards and Trusts

Mr John Dallat asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail what action has been taken to ensure that fraud is eliminated from compensation claims handled by solicitors on behalf of Health Boards and Trusts.

(AQW 283/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The Department and HPSS systems are regularly audited and reported on in order to gain assurance on expenditure. Updated guidance has been issued recently in relation to compensation claims handled by solicitors on behalf of HSS Boards and Trusts. This guidance sets out a requirement for each HSS body to review the position in their organisation and implement immediately any controls not already in place.

Radiologists

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety how many radiologists are currently employed within the National Health Service in Northern Ireland.

(AQW 285/07)

Mr McGimpsey: The number of Radiologists employed within the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Services is given in the table below:

Number of Radiologists employed within the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Services by Grade as at 31st March 2007

Grade

Headcount

WTE

Consultant

99

96.59

Special Registrar

34

34.00

Total

134

131.59

Source: Human Resource Management System

Accident and Emergency Services at Causeway Hospital

Mr David McClarty asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if he will confirm that he has no plans to cut back Accident and Emergency Services at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

(AQW 305/07)

Mr McGimpsey: There are no plans to reduce the Accident and Emergency services currently provided at Causeway Hospital.

REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Unadopted Roads

Mr Willie Clarke asked the Minister for Regional Development to detail the number of unadopted roads rejected by his Department in each of the last four years on the grounds that they have not been brought up to the required standard.

(AQW 57/07)

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Murphy): I have assumed that the Member’s Question relates to longstanding unadopted roads/laneways rather than roads in new housing developments.

The number of such unadopted roads rejected in each of the last four years on the grounds that they have not been brought up to the required standard is as follows:

Financial Year

Unadopted Roads Rejected

2003/04

13

2004/05

11

2005/06

15

2006/07

8

There are many such private roads and laneways across the North and over the years there have been many requests for such roads to be adopted into the public road network by my Department’s Roads Service. Unfortunately, very few of them are fit for adoption and public funds are not available to enable Roads Service to embark on a general programme to bring them up to adoption standards.

I should explain that a road can be considered for adoption under Article 9 of the Private Streets (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 as amended, where:

Castlebawn Bypass

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development when work will start on the new bypass for Newtownards, known as Castlebawn; and how long will it take to complete.

(AQW 69/07)

Mr Murphy: AQW 69/07

My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that, subject to the satisfactory completion of the on-going tendering process, it is anticipated that construction of the A20 Newtownards Southern Distributor road, sometimes referred to as Castlebawn, will begin during autumn this year and will continue for approximately one year.

Roads Service Budget Allocation

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will confirm the budget allocated to the Ards section of Roads Service for the last five financial years.

(AQW 70/07)

Mr Murphy: AQW 70/07

My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that some elements of its operational budget including resurfacing, patching, gully emptying, grass cutting etc. are allocated on a Section Office basis. However these figures do not give a realistic indication of actual spend within the section as sizeable elements of the budget are allocated either on a Divisional basis, or indeed on a province-wide basis. These include major and minor improvement works, traffic management, and street lighting.

Roads Service does, however, undertake an analysis of actual spend during the preceding financial year in each District Council area, which in the case of Ards Borough Council coincides with the Ards Section Area.

The table below provides details of spend in the Ards Borough Council area during each of the last five years for which information is available.

Functional Area

2001/02

£K

2002/03

£K

2003/04

£K

2004/05

£K

2005/06

£K

Capital

690

2879

3685

1859

1785

Maintenance

3087

3216

3547

3661

6181

Total

3777

6095

7232

5520

7966

Roads Service Budget Allocation

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will confirm the budget allocated to the Downpatrick section of Roads Service for the last five financial years.

(AQW 71/07)

Mr Murphy: My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that some elements of its operational budget including resurfacing, patching, gully emptying, grass cutting etc. are allocated on a Section Office basis. However these figures do not give a realistic indication of actual spend within the section as sizeable elements of the budget are allocated either on a Divisional basis, or indeed on a province-wide basis. These include major and minor improvement works, traffic management, and street lighting.

Roads Service does, however, undertake an analysis of actual spend during the preceding financial year in each District Council area, which in the case of Down District Council coincides with the Downpatrick Section Area.

The table below provides details of spend in the Down District Council area during each of the last five years for which information is available.

Functional Area

2001/02

£K

2002/03

£K

2003/04

£K

2004/05

£K

2005/06

£K

Capital

1626

528

719

1721

2675

Maintenance

4366

4641

5089

5042

3476

Total

5992

5169

5808

6763

6151

Grass Cutting

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development what discussions he has had with the Housing Executive regarding a single contract for the cutting of grass, in order to ensure that a uniform cutting takes place for grass within the responsibility of the two organisations.

(AQW 79/07)

Mr Murphy: AQW 79/07

My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that there is a distinction between the public use of the lands belonging to both organisations and accordingly each employs necessarily different maintenance regimes.

Roads Service cuts grass on areas of land which it owns to prevent overgrowth onto carriageways and footway surfaces and the obstruction of sightlines and traffic signs.

These grass cutting operations are carried out for road safety reasons and not for aesthetic or amenity purposes. A recent policy review concluded that roadside verges should be cut five times per year in urban areas and twice a year in rural areas.

The Housing Executive is responsible for open spaces predominantly in and around areas of public housing. As these open spaces provide vital social and recreational facilities for local communities, I understand the grass is cut mainly for aesthetic or amenity purposes.

Roads Service has not entered into any discussions with the Housing Executive on this issue, as, in reality, it would be difficult to operate and manage a single contract for grass cutting in light of the above points.

However, Roads Service does have a number of partnership arrangements with District Councils which, for aesthetic or amenity purposes, wish to have a higher standard of grass maintenance in certain urban areas than is provided by Roads Service. In these cases the Councils accept responsibility for the work within their respective boundary and are reimbursed by Roads Service for the cuts which would have been carried out under Roads Service Policy.

I have asked officials in Roads Service to consider a similar arrangement with the Housing Executive.

Pedestrian Connection - Ballywalter

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development if he intends to provide a footpath (pedestrian connection) from Springvale Road, Ballywalter, to the Bowling Club, Ballywalter; and if he will give a date for commencement of this work, and a timescale for completion.

(AQW 81/07)

Mr Murphy:

My Department’s Roads Service advise me that it has carried out a full technical assessment of the proposal to provide a footway linking the Kilns to the Bowling Club on the Springvale Road, Ballywalter. However, this was found to attract a low priority status when compared to other proposals included in the Minor Works Programme and accordingly, it has not been included in that Programme for the Ards Council area.

Desludging of Septic Tanks

Mr Patsy McGlone asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will detail (a) the number of septic tanks serving private properties currently waiting to be desludged by Northern Ireland Water; and (b) the expected time from the initial request until the septic tank is desludged.

(AQW 103/07)

Mr Murphy: The Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 transferred responsibility for the delivery of water and sewerage services from the Department's Water Service Agency to a statutory water and sewerage undertaker. A government-owned company, Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has been appointed as the undertaker and the issues raised are operational matters for it. I have asked the Chief Executive of NIW (Mrs. Katharine Bryan) to write to you in response to this questions.

Improvement Scheme for Main Street, Greyabbey

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development to outline the timescale for commencement of the improvement scheme for Main Street, Greyabbey; and if he will give a completion date for the work.

(AQW 105/07)

Mr Murphy: My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that, in terms of priority, this scheme is next on its list of village improvement schemes for the divisional area. However, I must advise you that at present, funding is not available to carry out this scheme. Therefore, I am unable to provide you with even a tentative start date.

I understand that the works associated with this scheme are of such an extent that the costs involved will mean that the overall scheme will have to be carried out in two stages. While I cannot promise anything now, the situation may change as the financial year progresses and this may allow the first stage of the scheme to proceed. I have asked the Southern Divisional Roads Manager to write to you as soon as a start date for the scheme is established.

Waste Water Treatment Works - Greyabbey

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Regional Development when the landscaping for the waste water treatment works at Greyabbey will commence; and what is the agreed duration of the work.

(AQW 106/07)

Mr Murphy: The Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 transferred responsibility for the delivery of water and sewerage services from the Department's Water Service Agency to a statutory water and sewerage undertaker. A government-owned company, Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has been appointed as the undertaker and the issues raised are operational matters for it. I have asked the Chief Executive of NIW (Mrs. Katharine Bryan) to write to you in response to this questions.

Kiln Lodge, Lurgan

Mr John O'Dowd asked the Minister for Regional Development if he is satisfied that Roads Service has followed its own criteria in approving road access to a further development at Kiln Lodge, Lurgan.

(AQW 129/07)

Mr Murphy: My Department’s Roads Service has advised that the access design and layout to Kiln Lodge, Lurgan meets the criteria required to serve both the existing and the currently proposed developments.

Traffic Disruption in Lurgan

Mr John O'Dowd asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will make a statement outlining his plans to alleviate the continued traffic disruption in Lurgan caused by the three railway crossings in the town.

(AQW 131/07)

Mr Murphy: My Department’s Roads Service has advised me that, during the development of the Draft Sub-Regional Transport Plan 2015, which included consultation with elected representatives from Craigavon Borough Council, a Transport Study carried out in Lurgan identified the William Street railway crossing as a location where traffic congestion was prevalent in the town. The two other crossings at Bell’s Row and Lake Street, were not identified as problem areas.

Following a meeting between senior officials from my Department and elected representatives from Craigavon Borough Council, it was agreed that a further study would be carried out to assess the William Street crossing and develop and consider options for its possible removal. The results of this study have recently been received and are being considered. Officials will be issuing the final report to Craigavon Borough Council for comment in the near future

Roads Salting Schedule

Mr Daithi McKay asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will review the main criteria for including roads on the Roads Service salting schedule; and if he will address the problem of roads that qualify for salting in terms of traffic volume, but are not salted because they are not considered main routes.

(AQW 164/07)

Mr Murphy: There are no plans at present to amend the current winter service policy, which was subject to a detailed review in July 2001.

One of the key outcomes of the review, which was fully debated and accepted by the Assembly, was that the practice of targeting the limited resources available for this service on the busier main through routes should continue.

My Department’s Roads Service salts main through routes carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day and, in exceptional circumstances, roads with difficult topography carrying between 1,000 and 1500 vehicles per day. The application of this policy ensures that 28% of the total road network, which carries around 80% of traffic, is salted at an annual cost of approximately £5 million. If the salting schedule was to be extended to cover 90% and 100% of traffic volumes, the cost would rise to approximately £10million and £20million per annum respectively.

Whilst I can understand the concerns of those who use roads that are not included in the salted network, it is simply not practical to salt all roads given that the North, together with Scotland, is already top of the UK league in terms of the length of road salted per head of population. There is a fine balance to be drawn between putting even more funds into salting or to the many other demands on Roads Service, many of which are also safety related.

I should add that salt bins/grit piles are provided at various locations, on roads not on the salting schedule, for local residents to use on a self-help basis and in periods of prolonged icy conditions Roads Service staff will continue to respond to requests from the public for assistance.

Bus and Railway Station at Ballymartin

Mr David Ford asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will make a statement on the progress made towards the establishment of a bus and railway station at Ballymartin, Templepatrick.

(AQW 171/07)

Mr Murphy: The land required for the construction of the Ballymartin Bus and Rail Park and Ride facility has been acquired and the Department has given approval for an Economic Appraisal to be commissioned. It is expected that initially the project will provide approximately 200 spaces with room for expanding to up to 650 spaces should the need arise. The indicative opening date for this facility is 2010.

Sewage Treatment Plant, Limavady

Mr George Robinson asked the Minister for Regional Development when will the upgrading work commence on the sewerage treatment plant on the bypass in Limavady; and if he will make a statement on the delays that this work has experienced to date.

(AQW 174/07)

Mr Murphy: AQW 174/07

The Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 transferred responsibility for the delivery of water and sewerage services from the Department's Water Service Agency to a statutory water and sewerage undertaker. A government-owned company, Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has been appointed as the undertaker and the issues raised are operational matters for it. I have asked the Chief Executive of NIW (Mrs. Katharine Bryan) to write to you in response to these questions.

Policy Planning Statement 14

Mr Tom Elliott asked the Minister for Regional Development when he will bring forward substantive proposals for the replacement of the current draft Planning Policy Statement 14: Sustainable Development in the Countryside.

(AQW 224/07)

Mr Murphy: PPS 14 is a priority for me. I am currently reviewing the results of the public consultation on draft PPS 14 and the Assembly’s Preparation for Government Report of 23 January which are important considerations in developing the way forward. A further consideration is that the draft policy is subject to judicial challenge which is scheduled for Hearing on 18 and 27 June.

Newry Railway Station

Mr John McCallister asked the Minister for Regional Development to provide an update on, and timescale for, the plans to replace Newry railway station.

(AQW 274/07)

Mr Murphy: The Department for Regional Development has given approval to Translink for a project to build a new railway station in Newry, costing some £12.6m. The Department has also given approval to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company to vest the land required by Translink to build the station. The process of vesting the land is almost complete and Translink hope to be able to begin tendering for the project in the next few weeks in order to start work on site by late autumn. Construction will take approximately 18 months to complete.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Beechfield Estate, Donaghadee

Mr Alex Easton asked the Minister for Social Development if she intends to visit Beechfield Estate in Donaghadee to see at first hand the living conditions in which residents have to live.

(AQW 90/07)

The Minister for Social Development (Ms Ritchie): I understand that the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive met with the Honourable Member on 24 May about this estate. I will of course be happy to consider visiting the Beechfield Estate if invited to do so.

Affordable Housing

Mr Peter Weir asked the Minister for Social Development what elements of the Semple Review of affordable housing does her department intend to implement.

(AQW 146/07)

Ms Ritchie: As I indicated during the Assembly debate on 21 May 2007, I am committed to addressing the issue of Affordable Housing. However, this is an issue that impacts across Government and the Semple Review contains a considerable number of cross-cutting recommendations, many of which fall outside my Department’s remit.

Therefore, with the agreement of the Northern Ireland Executive I have undertaken to establish and chair an Inter Departmental Group which will respond to the Review’s recommendations. The Group will seek to develop links with organisations outside central government and to establish a partnership approach to tackling affordability. In addition to this, I intend to establish an Expert Reference Panel, comprising academics and relevant experts from across the housing arena, to provide specialist advice to the Interdepartmental Group.

I have also asked the Housing Executive to set in motion the necessary activity to produce an Empty Homes Strategy and to keep me informed of progress.

First Time Applicants for Housing Executive Homes

Mr Jim Shannon asked the Minister for Social Development if she will explain the rationale behind the approach the Housing Executive takes to interview first time applicants for Housing Executive homes; and if she will explain the rationale behind the system for applicants who require a review of circumstances to be carried out.

(AQW 162/07)

Ms Ritchie: In determining the accommodation needs of an applicant within the Common Selection Scheme, an assessment is made not only of the applicant’s personal needs, but also the needs of all members of the household who might be reasonably expected to reside with the applicant.

Applicants are normally visited in their home so that a comprehensive housing needs assessment can be carried out. Providing they are eligible, they are then ranked on the basis of their points total on the Common Waiting List that is used by all social landlords.

During the initial housing needs assessment visit, applicants are advised to let the Housing Executive know of any changes in their address or in their circumstances which could affect the number of points they have been awarded. They are reminded of this in the decision letter that is issued to confirm the level of points and areas of choice. Applicants also receive an annual waiting list renewal letter which contains a further reminder.

Any subsequent notification of a change in circumstances may result in the Housing Executive carrying out a further visit in order to carry out an updated housing needs assessment. Housing Executive staff will meet with applicants to discuss their circumstances at any stage of the application process.

Social Security Benefit

Mr Peter Weir asked the Minister for Social Development what plans she has to increase public awareness of social security benefit entitlement.

(AQW 204/07)

Ms Ritchie: On 14 May I launched the Social Security Agency’s 2007/08 Benefit Uptake Programme to increase awareness of social security benefits aimed at ensuring that vulnerable clients are receiving their full benefit entitlement. The programme will target 230,000 clients and will focus on those people with a disability/mental health problems/long-term illness, pensioners, carers and children/families.

The Social Security Agency also provides a range of services to ensure that people are advised of their potential entitlement to benefits. This includes outreach services, participation in local promotional activity, the production of specific publications and general assistance with advice and information.

ASSEMBLY COMMISSION

Day of Reflection

Mr Tommy Gallagher asked the Assembly Commission what are its plans for Assembly staff and officials to participate in the Day of Reflection on 21 June 2007, organised by the Healing Through Remembering project.

(AQW 148/07)

The Representative of the Assembly Commission (Rev Dr Coulter): The Assembly Commission considered your request at its meeting on 24 May 2007. It has been agreed that staff will be made aware of the event on 21 June by providing an internet hyperlink to the Healing Through Remembering website.