Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Northern Ireland Governance - The Belfast Deficit

Sammy Wilson, the Finance minister, had this to say about the role of independent/non-executive members on Departmental Boards at Stormont back in August 2010:

The primary role of the Independent Board Member is to contribute to the good governance of the organisation. Independent Board Members will offer constructive challenge across the organisation’s business, with a view to ensuring that all aspects of strategy and delivery of policy are scrutinised for effectiveness and efficiency.

The Department of Finance and Personnel has issued a handbook [pdf file] [2008] which outlines its responsibilities:

Ministers seek to implement policies and deliver public services through public servants; but are able to do so to the fullest extent only when the Assembly grants the right to commit and expend resources. It falls to the Department of Finance and Personnel to respect and secure the rights of both the Assembly and the Executive in this process (and, where appropriate, to ensure compliance with HM Treasury guidance). Resources are provided by central government and hence it is expected that the public sector in Northern Ireland will operate within the broad framework established by HM Treasury.

The DFP handbook contains the following principle on the managing of public money:

1.1.2 At a high level the principles in this handbook apply to public services in NI, complementing the guidance on good governance in the Code of Good Practice on Corporate Governance in Central Government Departments (the Corporate Governance Code).

HM Treasury has provided such guidanceCorporate governance in central government departments: July 2011 - Code of good practice 2011 [2017 update]:

“Secretaries of State should chair their departmental board. Boards should comprise other Ministers, senior officials and non-executive board members, largely drawn from the commercial private sector and appointed by the Secretary of State in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines. The remit of the board should be performance and delivery, and to provide the strategic leadership of the department.” - Excerpt from Ministerial Code

So why don't Ministers at Stormont chair their Departmental Boards? Why aren't they implementing the good practice outlined in the guidance prepared by HM Treasury? Would the quality of governance be improved if Ministers, senior civil servants and independent members sat around the same table when key decisions are taken?

The present arrangement is a much looser one; the DRD Corporate Governance Framework illustrates the separation between the Minister and the independent/non-executive Board members. The Minister and his special adviser join senior civil servants for a Weekly Stocktake and the special adviser participates in the Weekly Business Review but both are absent from the monthly meetings of the Departmental Board.

The Departmental Board (the Board) provides corporate leadership to the organisation as a whole, takes responsibility for the Department’s performance and provides support for the head of the Department who provides advice to the Minister. .. DRD CGF

Perhaps it's time Stormont got in step with HM Treasury's guidance on good governance.

Added 14 December 2017

Some of the links no longer function as government has been restructured but as far as I can see Ministers have still not followed Treasury best practice ie they've not been at the Departmental Board tables alongside senior civil servants and Independent board members.

This needs to be updated to bring it into line with Treasury best practice.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bushmills Salmon and Whiskey Festival - Saturday, September 22

1 - 7pm Bouncy Castles • Inflatable Slide • ‘Spat the Rat’, Coconut Shy, Tombola Riverside Car Park
12.30pm KASK - Ulster Scots Folk Group
1.30 - 2.30pm Alistair Coyles - Local Country Music Artist
2.30 - 3.00pm Junior Dance Competition – judged by Cllr. Sandra Hunter
3 - 4.00pm JML Irish Dance Club • Katheryn Stewart Group Highland Dance Dance Stage
Top Country Line Dancers • Scottish Country Dancers
4 - 7pm KASK - Ulster Scots Folk Group
Marquee @ Millennium Park ‘Big Picnic’ Dining Area - Food Providers: Copper Kettle, Village Bistro, Lillys,
Coffee Shop, Ground, The Hip Chip, Flash in the Pan. BBQs and Hog Roast.
From 1pm Facepainters - Youth Group/NEELB • Buskers @ Main Street/Millennium Park
12 - 7pm BBQ Masonic Hall
From 12noon History Talk/Exhibit of the Masonic (Refreshments available)
From 1pm BBQ Finn MacCools
1.30 to 3.00pm BBQ and Piper with Salmon Skewers, Bites and Nibbles Distillers Arms
4pm - 5.30pm Community ‘Bake off’ Competition in partnership with Bushmills WI, judged by Paula McIntyre
Festival Gourmet Dinner & Music Evening
2 - 5pm Exhibit and History Talk Orange Hall
Re Enactment signing of the Ulster Covenant and Period Costume Dress
Lambeg Display • Fifing
7 - 10pm ‘Flash’ Hog roast Tickets Available at PO and Sammy’s Newsagents
9pm - late Evening Dance
3pm Salmon and Whiskey dish cooking demo by Paula McIntyre (limited to 30 people) Bushmills Inn
during dining times Special Festival Dish of the Day available
Evening entertainment by Scad the Beggar
Bushmills Inn Car Park Firework display viewing point (strictly pedestrians only)
2.30pm Roaving Reivers - The Plantation Re-enactment … Main Street
4pm Guided Walk and Talk of ‘Walk Mill’ Riverside - Millennium Park - Walk Mill

Talk on the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ - Art Ward. Starting point Riverside Park Stage
5pm - 7pm ‘Brighter Bushmills’ Treasure Hunt Entry forms @ Distillery Distillery/ Main Street
clues relate to picture boards - children to be accompanied by parents
All Day Traditional Dish of the Day, and Guinness Special Scotch House
From 9pm Evening Entertainment - 2 plus 1
All Day Festival Beer Garden Available The Bush House
From 9pm Disco Entertainment The Sports Man
8.30pm Fireworks Display (by Ballyness Caravan Park/Bushmills Inn) Horse Shoe Field
Viewing from Horse Shoe Field, Bushmills Inn Car Park (strictly pedestrians only)
‘Bake Off’ Competition Entry Forms available from Distillers Arms
Gourmet Dinner Tickets available in Local Restaurants
Please book early to avoid disappointment
11am-12.15pm Cultural Band and Vintage Car Procession Main Street

Ulster Scots - Local Bands March and Perform - Causeway Band, Ballymarlow Fife and Drum,
Topp Star of the North, Vow Accordion, Bannside Lambeg Club
Vintage Cars - Vehicles on display @ Distillery and proceed to Parks at Main St./Post Office …
12.15pm Fancy Dress Procession - Themed Fancy Dress Parade starting @ Distiller’s Arms - Stop at Stage
to be judged by/Cllr. S. Hunter - Chair Moyle District Council

Big Al Compere and entertainer till 8pm Main St
5.30pm Winners of the Fancy Dress Announced
8pm The Red Velveteens Blues Rock Band
10.20 - 3.20pm Salmon Fishery Open Day - Tour and talk on Bushmills Salmon Fishery Salmon Fishery
Research Centre and Atlantic Salmon Lifecycle and Ecology (tour lasts 20mins)
10.15 - 3.15pm Guided Walk on The Leap with fly casting demonstration (each tour starting on the hour)

Kids activities and goodies
From 11am BREF Photo and Art Exhibition by Children aged 8+ The Den
Themed ‘What Bushmills means to you’
Community Project - Interactive Workshop
1pm Light refreshments served
12pm & 4pm Walking Tour (1 Hour) - History of Bushmills and Ulster Scots Connections (Adults)
2pm Kids Tour/Quiz
11am - 2pm St Mary’s Chapel Open Church - Talk on the history of St Mary’s Priestland Road
11am - 5pm Macnaghten Estate House and Grounds viewing with tea and coffee available Dundarave House
From 12noon Bushmills Presbyterian Open Church - Cream Teas Upper Main Street
1pm and 3pm Talk on the History of the Mills Kent Bolton’s Mill
by Raymond McMullan - Bushmills Historical Society
From 12 - 4.30pm Distillery History Talk and Whiskey Tasting in the Copperage Theatre Old Bushmills Distillery
Special Festival Dish of the Day Restaurant • Gift Shop
5pm Treasure Hunt Starting Point
From 12.30pm Bushmills Community Association Exhibit The Mill Rest
1pm Causeway Museum Talk on the Salmon Run John Hamilton
2pm & 3pm How to Research your Family Tree Ulster Historical Society
From 12noon Bungee Trampolines • Core Coastal - Coastal Training Millennium Park
The ‘Big Picnic’ Dining Marquee
6pm Salmon and Whiskey Tug O War
1pm - 5.00pm Cultural Fusions Exhibit Old Library Marquee
1pm & 3pm Lecture on Clans - Brigid McNeill
2.30pm & 4pm Ulster Scots Poetry - Ann Morrison Smyth, Ullans Centre Ballymoney
History of the Ulster Scots Language - Ulster Scots Agency
Special Festival Dishes, Treats, Activities in Bushmills Village Shops
Late night shopping - Keep an eye for Evening Specials

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rathlin Ferry Saga and the Pensions Ombudsman

By Pippa Stephens | 10 September 2012 |
Financial Times - Pensions Week
[free registration]

The Pensions Ombudsman is based in London so that probably provides greater independence in Northern Ireland matters than if he were locally based

Here are some snippets from the report:

"Mr McCurdy died almost four years ago. Mrs McCurdy took the matter up through Gillan Barr in November 2008. Only in the last few weeks has there been any admission of liability. Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd’s treatment of her will undoubtedly have made a difficult time more distressing.

On 11 June 2012 Stewarts Solicitors belatedly told my office that there was no scheme in place at the time of Mr McCurdy’s death. They accepted that Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd were liable for four times Mr McCurdy’s FPS, being a total sum of £101,668. However, they said:
”I regret that my clients are unable to discharge this sum at this time and my instructions are to raise discussions with the deceased’s solicitors in an effort to agree terms of payment."
In June 2008, Calmac confirmed** to Mr McCurdy that:
 his employment would automatically transfer to Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd on or about the 1 July; and
 pension arrangements would be in place and he would be offered to join the Scheme by his new employer."

Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd is in receipt of a subsidy of over £55,000 per month, administered by the Department for Regional Development and paid for by the tax-payer. It was given 21 days to pay the lump sum plus interest and also directed to pay compensation for "the significant distress and inconvenience caused".

What can a Minister do to relieve some of this distress and inconvenience?

Danny Kennedy, the current DRD minister, has weekly 'stocktakes' with Department officials who inter alia oversee the Rathlin ferry operation and his Special Advisor attends the Department's Weekly Business Review. It seems surprising that there's been no mention of the Ombudsman's Report in the online WBRs since August 1. Will there be a mention of the report in the August minutes of the Departmental Board, a board that appears not to include either the Minister or his Special Advisor.*** Will responsible officials be asked why all of these issues were not satisfactorily dealt with back in 2008? Will independent members of the Board now seek to have best practice adopted in Belfast, best practice as described by HM Treasury?

13. It is of no direct relevance to my determination of the matter that Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd say they are unable to pay. It will be for Mrs McCurdy to decide whether to enforce payment (as if a county court order, as provided for in section 147(5) of the Pension Schemes (Northern Ireland) Act 1993) following my direction below, or instead to agree to an alternative arrangement. .. PO

* Has the mainstream media in Northern Ireland covered the serious issues raised in this report?

** If the relevant Deputy Permanent Secretary was and is responsible for the implementation and supervision of the contract hopefully that name will appear in the paper trail and not just the name of a junior official. DRD officials appear to have been intimately involved in every step of the process and in every hiccup. Is there anything the Northern Ireland Audit Office might have missed?

*** “Secretaries of State should chair their departmental board. Boards should comprise other Ministers, senior officials and non-executive board members, largely drawn from the commercial private sector and appointed by the Secretary of State in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines. The remit of the board should be performance and delivery, and to provide the strategic leadership of the department.” - Excerpt from (Westminster) Ministerial Code

Added September 19

This and related material has been published on the For Argyll website: RMT and CalMac ferries staff should look at result of 2008 Rathlin Island contract change

Rathlin Ferry Saga and the Pensions Ombudsman 2

Friday, 7 September 2012

European Heritage Open Day - Dunluce Castle


Saturday September 9 
Sunday September 10

Facebook link

Twitter link

DC's part in London 2012

Prime Minister, David 'I like the boots' Cameron, probably won't be there

but Big Telly will

Fawlty Towers meets Blackadder meets you at Dunluce Castle on Saturday 8th September. Performances at 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm. FREE ENTRY – we look forward to seeing you there!

What a magical evening! Earl of Antrim, Randal MacDonnell is delighted to present his new wife Lady Catherine Manners** to local dignitaries and to welcome everyone to their sensational castle, staffed by a team of wonderful servants. Surely, nothing can spoil this magical evening, except of course the ever present threat of food poisoning, spies, invasions, and the structural integrity of this newly acquired property. Expect action, entertainment, hysteria and an eerie tale in the tower. 

This project is funded by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland

The event at Dunluce Castle is one of many taking place this week-end

This is the 15th year that Northern Ireland has taken part in this European wide cultural event and the new arts element is sure to add some theatrical colour to the weekend.

Nick Livingston, Director of Strategic Development at the Arts Council, commented: “The European Heritage Open Days continue to grow in popularity and scale each year, and we were delighted when we were asked to develop a new arts element for the 2012 programme.  

For the first time, some of our best local performers and theatre companies will be out on location, helping to bring some of our most important historical buildings to life. The events are booking out quickly but among the many highlights we have to look forward to are a performance of composer Philip Hammond's piano piece, Miniatures and Modulations at the Harbour Commissioners Office and children’s arts workshops at The Playhouse in Derry and Old Gracehill Schoolhouse.

All of the performances are free to attend and will no doubt help to bring an additional layer of colour and creativity to this annual celebration of our built and natural heritage.”

Update Saturday 14:00

Big Telly giving it some welly at Dunluce Castle. 
Next performance 14:30; final performance 16:30. 

Medieval archery tomorrow afternoon 14:00 to 17:00. 
Admission FREE

** Katherine Manners was the widow of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. I wonder if there's any connection between the Duke and Theresa Villiers, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

[According to thepeerage.com, the new Secretary of State is a descendant of Sir Edward Villiers, the Duke's half-brother.]