Friday, 29 March 2013

Response from Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland on Mark Durkan’s comments today in relation to under occupancy

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has responded to Mark H. Durkan's comments on under occupancy.

“Mr Durkan’s comments are completely inaccurate and to suggest I am burying my head in the sand is simply ridiculous.

“I have reiterated time and time again in both in the Assembly and in media interviews my concerns with this element of welfare reform. Some time ago I asked social landlords to ensure that they had considered all options to prevent tenants being evicted from their homes or being made homeless as a result of these changes. I asked both the Housing Executive and the Housing Association movement to bring forward detailed action plans to provide a range of support measures for those households affected. No guidelines were issued by my department.

“I will be continuing to work with my Executive colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable people here are protected as welfare changes are implemented across the UK.

“In addition, over the last few weeks, I published a series of in depth research reports on the Northern Ireland impacts of welfare reform proposals. This research was shared extensively among my Assembly colleagues, the Social Development Committee of which Mr Durkan is a part, the media and stakeholder organisations.

“While a number of elements of the Welfare Reform Act (GB) 2012 are due to be implemented in Great Britain in the coming weeks, these will not begin in Northern Ireland until the Welfare Reform Bill (NI) 2012 has become law and the necessary regulations have been put in place. This Bill is currently making its way through the legislative process at the Northern Ireland Assembly and the next step in the legislative process is Consideration Stage, which will begin on 16 April 2013.”

Monday, 25 March 2013

Roads Service update on winter service response

The operation of snow clearing during the recent severe spell of winter weather has been continuing with all available Roads Service plant being deployed to assist the areas worst affected. 

These operations have been enhanced by the introduction of over 130 items of large plant including tracked excavators and quarry shovels provided by private contractors and Rivers Agency. 

Over the last few days crews have been gritting around 7000km of our roads in a single run. Roads Service vehicles spread around 1000 tonnes of salt on every run at a cost of £80,000. Routes are often salted three times during the night equating to a cost across Northern Ireland of around a quarter of a million pounds.

Roads Service has provided the following details which are current as of tonight 25 March.
  • The salted network in Western Division is 100% clear of snow and the unsalted network is 99% clear;
  • The salted network in Northern Division is 100% clear of snow and the unsalted network is 89% clear. Northern Division has experienced the worst of the severe weather and can confirm that today 97% of its totals network is now enabling the movement of traffic;
  • The salted network in Southern Division is almost 100% clear with the exception of Spelga pass which is in the Mournes. On the unsalted network 96% is clear;
  • The salted network in Eastern Division is over 95% clear whilst the unsalted network is over 90% clear.
These figures are changing hour by hour as Roads Service continue to make every effort to ensure the full network is accessible to traffic as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Robinson and McGuinness pitch for more filming projects

First Minister Rt Hon Peter D. Robinson MLA and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA were in Los Angeles to pitch for more filming projects after the success of HBO's 'Game of Thrones'.

HBO invited the Ministers to attend the launch of the third successful series of 'Game of Thrones' which was filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast.

The First Minister said: "The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to growing a dynamic, innovative economy. Through investment in our creative industries, Northern Ireland will continue to build on its reputation across the world as an excellent location to invest. 

"Northern Ireland Screen, through its funding support from Invest NI, has provided HBO with assistance of £6.05million, under the Northern Ireland Screen Fund, to secure the pilot episode and the first two series of this award winning medieval fantasy drama. 

"Game of Thrones has generated up to £65million direct spend in the local economy. We will continue to build on our highly successful relationship with HBO and have made a strong argument for any further series to continue to be filmed in Northern Ireland. 

"Investment of £8million in the Titanic Studios in Belfast, supported by Invest NI demonstrates a real confidence in our film and television sector."

The deputy First Minister said: "The film industry is an important sector for our economy and offers huge potential for further growth. HBO'S Emmy award-winning 'Game of Thrones' has created 800 jobs and contributed millions to the local economy. Its success provides the perfect platform to pitch for more film making projects from this important niche market.

"Through the work of NI Screen we have secured major film and television productions and now with the 100,000 square feet Titanic Studio facility in Belfast we hope to build on our international appeal as a global hub for the creative industries."

Northern Ireland Screen is the lead organisation in developing the film, television and digital content industry.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Statement in response to Advice NI on Welfare Reform

In a response to the statement from Advice NI, a spokesperson from the Department for Social Development commented: "Whilst the statement from Advice NI is correct in that claimants will not receive any entitlement to Employment Support Allowance during the reconsideration period, this does not represent a change from existing arrangements for those claimants who choose to challenge a decision to disallow Employment Support Allowance by opting to have a reconsideration undertaken of the original decision.

“In these cases payment of Employment Support Allowance ceases until the outcome is known although the claimant is able to claim Job Seekers Allowance thereby ensuring they will receive payment of a social security benefit. If the outcome from the reconsideration process is in the claimant’s favour, then the entitlement to Employment Support Allowance is re-instated from the date of disallowance.

“The proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill currently going through the Assembly is for the introduction of a mandatory reconsideration process. This change is intended to help reduce the number of people who have to go to appeal by introducing a formal review stage allowing them to submit additional information and having the case reviewed by someone not involved in the original decision. This change means that in the future all claimants who are disallowed Employment Support Allowance must go through the reconsideration process before being able to progress to appeal.

“Whilst claimants who are disallowed Employment Support Allowance will still be entitled to claim Job Seekers Allowance whilst the reconsideration is taking place, the Department recognises the practical difficulties which claimants may experience in moving between benefits and discussions are continuing with the Department of Works and Pensions in London on the practical implications of this change.”

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Robinson and McGuinness forge international links with Brazil

The First Minister Rt. Hon. Peter D Robinson, MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MLA, are developing international links in Brazil this week.

On the five-day visit to São Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro the First Minister and deputy First Minister will promote economic development, trade, tourism, university and sporting links with Latin America’s largest economy.
First Peter Robinson and deputy Minister Martin McGuinness are pictured in São Paulo, at the start of their visit to Brazil. 
This visit is part of the Ministers’ wider international objectives aimed at promoting Northern Ireland in the world’s fastest growing economies, commonly known as the BRIC, (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

The First Minister said: "Our Programme for Government placed our economy as the key priority. We will leave no stone unturned as we continue to identify new markets and promote Northern Ireland in Brazil.

Northern Ireland has a lot to offer potential investors with our skilled work force and world class education system. Brazil is a major player on the world stage and I look forward to a very informative and productive visit."

The deputy First Minister said: “As the fifth largest country in the world and a population in excess of 191 million Brazil is a key market for us. We will meet with the Brazilian government, business leaders and universities and avail of every opportunity to promote the north of Ireland.

“The only way to develop international relationships is through face to face meetings. Our presence here demonstrates to the Brazilians that we are committed to exploring mutually beneficial opportunities to grow our economy.”