Thursday, 30 July 2009

Future NI Agenda

The Executive (our Cabinet) agreed the following Bills and Consultations. Major work ahead on Policing and Justice.


The Executive today approved a wide range of papers and draft Bills representing significant future work for the Assembly and government departments.

The Executive today agreed a draft bill to go before the Assembly in the autumn to enable the future creation of a Department of Justice. The Bill to establish the new Department of Justice and appoint a Minister, is a necessary preparatory step towards devolution of Policing and Justice responsibilities. It will require a specific resolution from the Assembly at a later stage requesting the Secretary of State to transfer the necessary responsibilities.

Other items discussed by Ministers included their standing discussions on the impact of the economic downturn. Ministers discussed the ongoing engagement with financial institutions and were also updated on the work of the Cross Sector Advisory Forum and its various sub groups.

Ministers also agreed a Rates (Amendment Bill) for consideration by the Assembly. The Bill includes measures to help households and smaller businesses during the economic downturn.

Ministers agreed plans to commence a public consultation on the Victims and Survivors Service Bill. The consultation relates to proposals for a new Victims and Survivors Service and follows on from previous consultations on a draft strategy for Victims and Survivors. The consultation period will commence in August and run for a period of 10 weeks.

The Victims and Survivors Service will be the delivery mechanism for funding work with victims and survivors. It is proposed that the Victims and Survivors Service should be constituted as a Non-Departmental Public Body. This would allow it to work at arms length from government and have greater flexibility to respond to the needs of victims and survivors while at the same time retain full responsibility for the use of public funds.

The Executive also agreed to publish Planning Policy Statement 18: Renewable Energy and to set out proposals committing to carbon reduction as well as proceeding with a debt relief bill.

Consultations will also begin on a range of proposals including:

· A Bio Energy Action Plan for Northern Ireland 2009 - 2014
· A draft Social Economy Enterprise Strategy 2009 - 2011
· A Review of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Inclusion
· A Dormant Accounts Scheme
· A Review of the Regional Transportation Strategy

Other papers approved included :

· Draft Regulations to transpose the EU Floods Directive
· Association of British Insurers/government agreement to the statement of principles for a provision of flood insurance
· The proposed response to the proposals by the Committee on Procedures for Standing Orders on Legislative Consent

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Clinton makes Smart Power Speech

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations today in which she made the term'Smart Power' the centrepiece of US Foreign Policy.

'Smart Power' includes 'intelligent use of all means at our disposal including economic and military and the application of old-fashioned common sense in policymaking'. I would urge caution using the term common sense as everyone really knows it is not that common especially in politics and policy.

Basically 'Smart Power' means talking to those who think differently from you. This is a veiled hint at Iran and North Korea. But later the speech states that with regard to Iran the door will not remain open indefinitely. It also mean working in partnership with other countries to achieve common goals such as nuclear non-proliferation, counter terrorism, peace in the Middle East, human rights, energy security, climate change and economic prosperity.I suppose this makes sense given the global economic downturn creating the reality that the US cannot afford to go it alone but of course it will be in the lead. Partnership seems also to be key as there will be efforts to bring NGOs and individuals on board for certain policy options.

The countries who will be receiving attention over the next while appear to be (no surprises) India, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran,Middle East, Haiti, Africa, Pakistan and of course Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes NI is no longer centre of the universe but perhaps there would be an opportunity for a visit on one of the journeys to and from? - A Conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (Video)

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

NI Question Time

NI Question Time at Westminster today focused on: Violence, Political Stability, Loyalist Decommissioning, Size of the Public Sector, Bloody Sunday, Police Recruitment, Criminal Clearance Rates, Police Full Time Reserve, Anti Social Crime, Rascist Attacks, Human Rights Commission, Bill of Rights, Section 75 and the Equality Commission. When Policing and Justice powers are devolved NI Question Time will be very short indeed.

Monday, 6 July 2009

New Start for Planning

The new Minister for Environment Edwin Poots, today released the long awaited consultation on Planning Reform. The substantial reform document focuses on developing a more effective, managable and faster development system in which significant delays are removed. The process for legislation to implement the changes to planning will have to move swiftly and be in plave by autumn 2010 so that the necessary powers can be devolved to local councils as part of the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

Under the RPA local councils will assume responsibility for local development plans, development management/development control and enforcement. The Department will hold on to strategic planning and planning policy, regionally significant applications, legislation, oversight, intervention, audit, governance and performance management.

Devolvoing some planning powere to local councils will help citizens feel closer to the decision making process. The benefits were outlined by the Department:

- more flexible and faster local development plan
- reduction in time taken to produce plan from 6.5years to 3.5 years
- two stage process needing separate adoption - Plan Strategy and a Site Specific Policies and Proposals
- programme management scheme - to ensure public, stakeholders and consultees are aware of key milestones
- a more meaningful approach to community engagement earlier in the planning process
- a faster and more effective examination of plans at independent examination which moves away from objection - based examination process to one which tests the robustness of the plan
- scope for the independent examination to be carried out by the Planning Appeals Commission or independent examiners appointed by Department
- Sustainability Appraisals are carried out for local development plans taking into account social, economic and environmental impacts

District Councils will become responsible for deciding the majority of planning applications.

Councils will be required to draw up statements of community involvement setting out the procedures for involving the local community.