Local Government: Severance Arrangements for Councillors
I thank the Business Office for making time available for this statement. I am today confirming that I am bringing forward proposals and shall table regulations for a councillor severance scheme in the rundown to local government reorganisation. This statement recognises that the people we serve will, rightly, ask challenging questions about this proposal. However, it also recognises that there are people who served our citizens and communities greatly, who have earned our respect and whom we should support as they leave political life. There are long-established councillors with decades of service and constituency work who represented the essence of good politics of local service for local people on local issues of daily life and human experience. This statement is about them.
We live in a time of stability, devolution and a united stand against terror. Those achievements came at an enormous cost — lost hopes, lost opportunities and, most of all, lost lives. My view is that this new order of things came, first and foremost, from those who held the line against violence from all its sources. Others now tell us that acts of reconciliation were worked at for decades. The first and bravest people of peace were all those, in all walks, at all times who held to the values of democracy. Counted among them were elected representatives, councillors, who spoke up for people and causes, with little financial recognition and significant personal and family costs — people now in their tenth, ninth and eighth terms in councils, stretching back to the 1970s. We are here today because of their resilience then.
In making this statement on councillors’ severance, I have, first, recognised and acted on some practices among elected representatives that cannot be defended and that a well-informed public do not wish to be defended. That is why, first, I proposed to Executive colleagues last November — and fellow Ministers agreed — that with local government re-organisation, there would be a ban on double-jobbing. Councillors will not also be MLAs.
Secondly, in recognition that that ban would need new law before entering into place — I may yet accelerate the commencement of that law with regard to its double-jobbing provisions once the Assembly has passed the legislation over the next year — I then also reduced the allowances paid to councillors who are also MLAs by two thirds as of April this year. As of this month, July 2012, the remaining one third allowance will be further reduced by half as a result of the independent review of MLAs’ salaries.
It is also my view that there are enduring issues around the pay and conditions of public and other officials who are paid fully, substantially or in part through the public purse. As DSD Minister, I pursued the issue of salaries of senior staff in housing associations. The fact that the vice chancellors of Queen’s University and the University of Ulster earn extravagant salaries, with no government oversight, when government makes such a major contribution to university moneys, also needs to be rectified. I will also take forward in the coming months the issue of salary levels at senior levels of merged councils.
That is the broader context in which I am bringing forward a councillor severance scheme. First, addressing double-jobbing, senior salaries and payments to MLAs who remain as councillors. Secondly, recognition of people who served Northern Ireland, Ireland and these islands with conviction in dark and turbulent days.
Since I went to the Environment Committee on 15 December 2011, which was a public session, and on a number of occasions since, I have asserted my view that a proper councillor severance scheme is appropriate. I repeated that view during the recent debate on the Local Government (Boundaries) Order. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 provides an enabling power for the introduction of severance arrangements for councillors. I now intend to rely on that provision.
When the previous Executive considered the planned reduction in the number of councillors, they agreed to provide severance for outgoing councillors. However, some fundamental things have changed since that time, which affect the nature of any severance scheme. That is reflected in the proposals and principles that I am bringing forward today and over the next short while. First, it was originally envisaged that there would be a dramatic reduction in the number of councillors under the new RPA arrangements, thus justifying in one way a broad severance provision. The Executive have now decided that the reduction in the number of councillors will be much more modest than originally envisaged. I therefore think that a more focused severance scheme is an appropriate response.
Secondly, all of that was prior to the economic downturn and the pressure on the public purse. The changed financial environment; the terrible pressures facing people, workless and working; the prospect of further London baseline budget cuts; and the scale of welfare change and cuts to family incomes have led me to the proper conclusion that a cap is necessary on severance schemes. That is one of a number of principles that will inform my proposals on the severance scheme, a draft of which shall be consulted upon over the summer. A cap means that councillors applying will not receive the severance payment that some might have previously suggested was proper. I believe that that is the right approach. People who served over a long time will receive recognition, but it will be more moderate than has previously been talked about.
There are a series of core principles that will inform the severance regulations. There will be a minimum eligibility period; namely, three terms of council service. It will not be a lesser period, although I am prepared to be convinced that it should be a four-term period — not a four-year term period. [Interruption.] That proves that I write my own statements. That is further recognition that longer terms of service and longer-serving councillors are at the heart of the scheme. In deciding on the three- or four-term rule as a condition of entitlement to the severance, I will do so mindful of the increasing councillor basic allowances payment since April 2001, which was £4000 at that time. Prior to that, from April 1998 it was £2500, and before that it was lower again. There are many councillors in the North who remember the days when it was much lower than even the £2,500 figure that was introduced at that time.
The severance amount payable will therefore not be on the basis of a fixed sum for each year of service. The original proposal was £1,000 a year for each year of service. Rather, the severance amount will be calibrated, with entitlement to lower sums per year for those with lesser years of service and with graduated payments per year for those with longer periods of service who worked for many years without anything like the remuneration available to councillors in more recent times. That calibration is to emphasise the principle that councillors with the longer periods of service are being treated in a fair and proportionate manner. Modelling has been, and is, taking place on how that will work in practice, and will form part of the consultation on the regulations. I am working through what the amount and the multiplier effect will be, but I can say to people that, for those who might be entitled to severance, in the early years of their entitlement, the multiplier per year will be a small amount, graduating to a higher amount for those who have served many long years of service.
As indicated above, there will be a cap on the total severance payment. As noted, modelling on severance options is ongoing. However, the consultation will be on the basis of a cap of no higher than £30,000. I may decide that it should be lower. The figures that were previously talked about were a cap of around £38,000 or £38,500. I do not think that is appropriate, sustainable or right and, consequently, I will consult on a figure of up to, and certainly no higher than, £30,000. As I said, that amount is proposed to assist the longest-serving councillors, some of whom have been serving as long as their council has been in existence, and the payment per year will be calibrated on that basis. I anticipate that it is only councillors whose service stretches back to the 1970s who will receive the higher severance amounts.
Clearly, only councillors in office at the time of the commencement of the scheme will be entitled to benefit under the scheme.
There is an ongoing debate about the funding of RPA. The Executive decided in November 2011 that there would be no central assistance with the up-front costs. In June 2012, a monitoring round bid from my Department to assist with costs was unsuccessful. I shall renew and expand that funding bid, because I believe that central government should contribute a percentage of the costs for a severance scheme.
Councillors who are also MPs, MLAs or MEPs will not be entitled to councillors’ severance. A provision will exist to enable an applicant councillor to nominate a person or persons to receive the award in the event of the applicant councillor’s death prior to the award being made. Councillor applicants who receive a payment will be disqualified from being nominated for a council election or by-election. That is consistent with section 4(1)(e) of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, as amended by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2010. Any year in which a councillor receives a salary from the public purse for an office as an MP, MLA or Member of the European Parliament would not be a contributing year for the purposes of the severance scheme.
The severance scheme will be available quickly after the regulations are confirmed. It is intended that the scheme will run once and for the cut-off date for applications to be a significant period in advance of cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow council elections in 2014. I hope that it will run in September 2013 at the latest. The intention is that that date will be the maximum feasible one consistent with the timely and proper management of the severance scheme.
Introducing the severance scheme early and not waiting until later in 2015 will allow parties to manage vacancies through co-options and will give the new councillors the opportunity to gain experience of being a councillor before additional powers are transferred to the new councils. It will also ensure that councillors who are likely to be members of the new councils can lead the change and convergence to them. It will mean that any capacity-building for those new powers will be undertaken by the councillors who intend to seek election to the new councils.
Following the reform of local government, councillors will be taking on more work, as they will be serving larger councils and have an increased range of functions. Their remuneration should be reviewed to assess the proper level required and to recommend changes, if any. I believe that elected representatives, whether in councils, in the Assembly or at Westminster, should receive reasonable allowance for performing their duties. I appreciate that councillors perform an important civic role, and it is one that will, through the additional services that councils will be responsible for delivering from 2015, have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of people.
I therefore intend to set up an independent panel to conduct a review of councillors’ remuneration and to advise me on the system and level of allowances that would be appropriate for the new councils. The Local Government Finance Act 2011 provides an enabling power for the establishment of an independent panel. The regulations needed to allow the panel to be established have already been consulted on, and I propose to have the regulations made by the autumn to allow the panel to be set up as soon as possible. The panel will be appointed using the public appointments procedure. I also propose to seek the advice of the panel on the allowances that should be paid during the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow period.
As Members know, I have reservations about the 11-council model. I believe that a 15-council model would better reflect local identity, reduce up-front costs and ease the complex management of reorganisation. This afternoon, I will meet Fermanagh business representatives anxious about debt burdens, rate differentials and the consequences of merger. There was a different way to do RPA. It has not prevailed.
Finally, I know there will be some criticism of anything that looks like payments for politicians. I prefer to regard it as I believe many will regard it: as recognition for unsung heroes. It is also an essential part of our reform programme. That having been said, radical reform should prevail on RPA, prisons, housing and across public policy sectors. That radical reform should also be the benchmark for local councils. As we move forward, it is important to respect those who have served for so long in harsh times, under threat and upholding democratic values, while giving body and soul to the introduction of a new order of things: our councillor colleagues.
Anna Lo (Alliance)
I thank the Minister for his statement. He mentioned the minimum eligibility period being three or four terms. When and on what basis will he make a final decision on the number of terms, and will he consult on that?
I thank the Chair of the Committee for her question. I spoke to her prior to making the statement in order to indicate to her my thinking. As I said in my opening remarks, today I am outlining a proposal that, in order to qualify for severance, you will have had to serve at least three terms, but I am prepared to be convinced that it should be four terms. I am in that range because, if you examine the pattern of payments to councillors, you will see that, prior to 1998, they were paid less than £2,500 a year. That is what they were paid prior to 1998 for public service and the accompanying scale of responsibilities. From 1998 to, I think, 2003, it increased to £4,000. Since then, it has increased, and increased disproportionately, relative to the increases in the years prior to 2003. My judgement is that, in those periods, after 1998 or 2003, councillors were receiving better recognition for the services for which they were responsible. Therefore, in my view, given that shift in the pattern of allowances being paid, that is the time frame in which a councillor’s severance scheme might kick in.
Yes, we are going to consult on the details of the regulations in order to drill down and find out what is the appropriate time frame in which severance should kick in and whether it should be three or four terms. Even when it kicks in, the payment calibration for those who serve three, four, five or six terms as a councillor will be at a much lower threshold than those who have served seven, eight, nine and 10 terms. There are people across parties who have served 10 terms in council life, going back to 1973. That is a lifetime ago. Many people in the North were not born when those people fulfilled their democratic service to the people of the North. They served in a year that was arguably the single worst year of terror and tragedy in the North of Ireland over the years of conflict, yet they stepped into the breach to uphold democratic values in moments of great turbulence, threat and difficulty. There are Members who know people who were threatened, and there are a few of us who know people who were murdered as a consequence of the conflict. This has been calibrated to, first and foremost, recognise those councillors who served the most over the longest period in the worst moments and to recognise, but recognise more moderately, those who entered political service later during those years, and to not recognise at all those councillors who have enjoyed somewhat better recognition as councillors in more recent times.
Simon Hamilton (DUP)
I thank the Minister for an interesting statement. The second sentence of the statement accepts the prevailing public opinion that payments of any kind to politicians are not a popular thing at this moment in time. I am reminded of the advice of Sir Humphrey to Hacker when he said, “Very courageous, Minister”.
The fifth core principle of the Minister’s statement restates the Executive’s current position that the centre should not be paying for the costs of the RPA. Given, therefore, that locally raised rates will pay for some of this, as the situation stands, what would the Minister say to those who would say that it would be better to spend that money on council services than on a severance scheme?
When I hear politicians saying that something is interesting, I do not know if that is support or lack of support. Perhaps some of your colleagues would like to indicate later whether that is support. I remind people that it was the view of the Executive and the parties in the Executive previously that, in principle, a severance scheme was something that should be taken forward. Circumstances have changed; I recognise that.
This is a difficult call; there is no doubt about it. However, we are at the point of change in council life in the North of Ireland, and I think that there is an argument to be made and won that people who fulfilled their democratic responsibilities, stretching back to the 1970s and 1980s, need to be recognised when leaving the democratic council stage.
I think that they are in a stand-alone category from many other categories of politicians. I would be dishonest to my own conscience, and I do not think I would be honest as a politician or a Minister if I did not say that I think those people deserved more recognition then, and deserve some recognition now. It may well be that that argument does not prevail in this Chamber in the different circumstances that we have now, but I think that that argument on behalf of those people that I am talking about is one that I have a responsibility to put forward, defend and, hopefully, convince people of. When comment is made on this, be it within or outside the Chamber, we need to put ourselves back in the position of those people in 1973 and subsequent years, and make an assessment about what is the proper and fair thing to do for them.
Yes; there are issues and choices to be made about how this gets funded and what the consequences might be for other services, but I have to say to the Member that the total cost of this scheme would be a fraction of the money that is in the current budget for the social investment fund. That is an £80 million budget line, and this scheme would cost a fraction of that. If the Member is saying to me that we have to make a choice in what we fund — I accept that we have to make a choice between what we fund centrally and what local councils have to fund locally — then that principle should be escalated to assessments of other ongoing funding streams involving much more money within government as we speak: moneys that are not getting spent.
I have to say to the Member that, whilst politicians may not be the most favoured species in many walks of life in the North, there is in local communities some greater appreciation of local councillors and the local service and duty that they have fulfilled over many years.
Cathal Boylan (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Seeing as I only got the statement 10 minutes before the Minister came in, I will neither welcome it nor thank him for it. I just want to ask him, in relation to his point about making a new bid for moneys, whether he can indicate what percentage he believes central government should pay for the severance. Failing obtaining any of the money from central government, how does he propose that this scheme will be taken forward?
You did receive the statement in advance of hearing it. I remember occasions, Mr Boylan, when Ministers not very far from your own party were making statements in the House and there was not even a statement for Members in the House, so maybe you want to reflect on that.
I will certainly answer any and all questions you want to ask me. I regret very much that the Executive did not endorse a June monitoring bid for £2·3 million for two dedicated streams of work around council reorganisation, both to build local resource and change-management capacity, and to build up capacity around community planning. I regret that, but when the Minister of Finance advised the Executive that that was his view, I said that I would very quickly come back to him with a further paper, which will escalate the bid and the approach that I am going to take in terms of funding local government reform, on two levels. First, there is probably a need for more money to go into councils in the short term, and, secondly, we need to guarantee funding over the lifetime of RPA change. I will present that to the Minister of Finance in a letter before the Twelfth holidays. My argument will be that we now need to work out how we are going to provide assistance, not just out of monitoring rounds but on a rolling basis between now and the creation of the new councils in May or June 2015. It will be an argument that will be made in full recognition of the funding situation at Executive level. Two weeks ago, the Cabinet Secretary in London said that there will be cuts for 10 years. That was not him thinking wistfully off the record; he was sent out to send a message to people and to the devolved Administrations that, in his view, 10 years of cuts are coming. He did not get much of a denial from the Chancellor, who, within hours, said that he could talk only about the lifetime of the present Government. So, there is probably bad news to come. That is why, in every conversation that I have had with local councils, and there have been many such conversations over the past four or five months, I have told them that, although I will make an argument for central funding to help with the cost of RPA, the funding for it will have to come from a family of sources. It will come from loans, reserves, the disposal of surplus assets and, possibly, from moneys from a mutual bank. Some chief executives go as far as saying that RPA funding can be a self-financing business case and that it can all be funded by local councils. I do not buy that argument, but a number of chief executives maintain that that is the case.
So, how do we fund RPA in the circumstances that we face and in the more difficult situations that we may be about to face? We negotiate, work it through and exhaust all possibilities. On the far side of that, I think that we will come to a settled place about where the funding will come from. However, whatever its scale, an element of it will have to come from central government.
Peter Weir (DUP)
I thank the Minister for his statement. He rightly identified that councillors were very lowly paid, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. On a point of accuracy, I should say that the references to the basic allowance in the late 1990s and early 2000s are slightly misleading, because, during that period, councillors also received an attendance allowance. Indeed, when the switch was made to abolish the attendance allowance, the remuneration for councilors went down.
Will the Minister clarify whether, prior to making the proposals that are in the statement, he consulted with the National Association of Councillors? If not, does he intend to do so before he brings forward more detailed proposals?
I acknowledge and accept the point about the basic allowance. It is a fair point, and I should have covered all sources of income to ordinary councillors. Peter Weir has clearly demonstrated that his motivation for his political responsibilities must not be financial, given that he continues to be a councillor.
I eventually hope to have the Executive’s support to commence the ban on double-jobbing earlier than 2015. If the Assembly passes the Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill during the next year, I would like the Chamber and my Executive colleagues to endorse the commencement of a double-jobbing ban that would be effective for the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections of 2014. I would like it to happen then, rather than a year later, which is when the new councils go live. I hope that people understand that I will seek that early commencement to ensure that, even in the twilight period between the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections and the new councils going live, there will be no double-jobbing.
The Member asked whether I have discussed the statement with NAC and NILGA. It would be more accurate to say that they discussed it with me. Indeed, they have been urging me to move in that direction since last summer. I refused to do that, and they were not at all happy. However, they can speak about that for themselves. If we are to have a proper understanding of why this is a correct intervention at this time, and if we are to reflect the work of those way back in history who served political life in the North, my view was that some issues needed to be addressed so that a proper understanding of the proposal could be created. Those issues were double-jobbing, senior salaries and councillor allowances for those who choose to double-job. Given that two out of those three are being definitively dealt with and, I hope, will become even more definitively addressed over the coming time, I think that that is the right context in which to build understanding and support for this intervention.
I thank the Member for his question. In answer: how long is a piece of string? I do not know how many councillors will apply for severance payments. It is up to them to decide whether to apply. Councillors may decide not to go for severance but stay on until 2015 and then retire; or they will not go for severance and take their chances in the 2014 cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections. However, those who do not take up the option of severance when the application period goes live will not have a second opportunity. It is a one-off offer that will be made in advance of the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections. It will not arise after the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections for councillors who have unsuccessfully continued to seek election. I cannot speculate on how many will or will not take up the opportunity. My assessment is that it may not be as many as people think. People will assess whether they would rather stay on and fulfil their democratic mandate until 2015 and receive the allowances over that period. Rather than take severance and go early, their sense of political duty or their own calculations may lead them to that conclusion.
There was talk — I will write to the Committee about this — that the previous £38,500 scheme, with a rate of £1,000 a year, would have cost a projected £4·5 million. I think that those figures are correct. I have a more moderate ambition than that for the scheme. I am reducing the cap, having graduation and far from £1,000 a year will be available to those who apply for severance and have not served for longer terms.
Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice)
I welcome the statement, and I join in the tributes paid to many councillors who have given several decades of service.
Will the Minister clarify a couple of points? First, it is quite clearly the ambition on double-jobbing that, come 2015, it will not be possible to sit as a councillor and an MLA. That being so, what possible logic or sense could there be in such a double-jobber being able to stand in the 2014 cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections? Political expediency is the only answer: to try to get elected so that the electorate is not electing the person who will serve them but someone who will be substituted. Does the Minister agree that that would be wrong? Secondly, when he talked about three or four terms, did he factor in that, on at least one occasion that I can think of, the term was more than four years? Therefore, would he not be better to refer to 12 years or whatever?
As questions on my statement come to a conclusion, I welcome and share the sentiments of the Member’s opening remarks. Many councillors paid a heavy price. A member of my party who was a Senator in this Building was murdered. Councillors and MPs were murdered, as were members of other political institutions. Last week, I was at Queen’s University to speak to Indian academics about marine management, and I recalled the murder of Edgar Graham, a matter of yards from the administration building there. A close friend of mine who became known as “witness A” in the subsequent inquest witnessed that murder. So this debate arises from the horrible prices that were paid and the pain that was endured by the many families whose members are or were committed to politics and the political process.That is the true backdrop and true motivation behind this statement.
Mr Allister tempts me, and I wonder whether I should take up the temptation. There is something incongruous — let me put it that way — for any party to use the option of secondment into councils in 2015 as a political strategy. For a party to deploy the use of secondments to reshape the life of council groups for its own particular interest would be incongruous. That would be held up to public ridicule, and I hope that that would not arise. However, because of the risk that that situation might arise, because I have been corrected by a leader of a political party about when double-jobbing kicked in, and in order to live up to the spirit of the principle on double-jobbing, on the far side of the reorganisation Bill being presented to the Chamber, we will try to commence the double-jobbing ban requirement in advance of the 2014 cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections and the 2015 councils going live. Let us create certainty, and let us not have any political meddling on the principle of double-jobbing to sustain bad practice.
Mr Allister is right that there is an issue with not all council terms being four years. That will be conclusively addressed in the consultation and regulations.
Danny Kinahan (UUP)
I thank the Minister and welcome his recognition of the unsung heroes and his action on double-jobbing. If you take that matter further forward and look at the dysfunction and lack of joined-up government that we are often criticised for, what is the Minister planning to do to link councils to the Assembly so that there is a formal linkage between the two? Once you remove councillors from doing both jobs, you have taken away one of the formal links in making sure that we have better joined-up government between the Assembly and the councillors.
That is a very important question, because it conveys that we are going through a process of reform. As I see it, the more radical the reform, the better. On the far side of the reform, if the function of government centrally and locally has not been raised, what is the point of it? We would be letting down the citizens, communities and ratepayers. That is why the question is a very valid one. It probes the complexity of local government reorganisation and asks, “Are we going to get this right or get this wrong?”
Let me give you an example: on the far side of RPA, community planning will be a big function of local councils. As the planning powers get devolved, the concept of community planning will arise as a statutory function of local councils. If, on the far side of RPA, councils have a community planning function and there are no requirements for all the relevant agencies and Departments to sit in the room with local councils as they work through community plans with local communities, the whole thing will fall in on itself. Departments need to be less territorial, less defensive and more forthcoming in how they work together now and how they work together with councils on the far side of planning devolution.
I know that because I convened a meeting on planning issues in north Belfast a number of months ago, which fell in on itself. It fell in on itself because, even though a lot of Ministers were in the room, there was some territoriality going on. That is probably inevitable when it comes to north Belfast land issues. The consequence of that is that we have not got proper planning or joined-up thinking between Government Departments. The University of Ulster is moving to York Street, recognising the Carrick Hill residents, and sees the development of the lands behind the Belfast Telegraph in a proper manner rather than as a commercial grab for student accommodation by some big developers. If all of that is not integrated into the Royal Exchange proposal, on which there will be an announcement in the very near future, the point will be that we have not joined up, things will not be much different to how they were, and we will have missed the opportunity. The point is valid, and it is something that we need to get right over the next two years.
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
I remind Members that we are trying to finish questions on the statement before Question Time. There are still a couple of questions to go, and I do not want to have to interrupt the Minister of Justice.
I welcome the Minister’s statement and his particular recognition of the bravery of many councillors over many years, when they were targeted by republican and loyalist terrorists. When our party colleagues first stood up for the policing reforms, their meetings were interrupted and disrupted by Sinn Féin and other members of the Provisional republican movement.
Will the window of opportunity for councillors to take up the severance proposal be time-limited, and does the Minister have plans to introduce such a measure?
I concur with Mrs Kelly’s comments. It is not just about the people who served in public life in the 1970s. Even when all parties had signed up to democratic elections, there were councillors who, for the reasons that Mrs Kelly gave, still lived in the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow of the past.
The severance proposal will be a time-limited, one-off opportunity and will, for the reasons that I have outlined, be quite moderate. It may well be that some councillors in the North will feel that the scale of the proposal is disappointing, but my judgement is that the configuration is right and justified. Councillors will not have for ever and a day to make up their mind about taking up the severance option. They will have to do so in good time and in advance of the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections. There will be no second chance and no severance scheme after the cabinet is the name given to the group of senior members from..." class="glossary">shadow elections.
Chris Lyttle (Alliance)
I want to put on record the Alliance Party’s recognition of the decades of service of some of our councillors in the most difficult of circumstances, including the roll-out of the new policing arrangements. I had the pleasure of working with them on district policing partnerships (DPPs), taking policing arrangements into areas where that had not been possible before and under some extremely intimidating circumstances. It is important that we put that on record.
My party welcomes the Minister’s plans for double-jobbing, because we have taken proactive measures to rule it out. However, is he satisfied that he can justify severance payments on those scales?
I concur with Mr Lyttle’s remarks and wish to broaden his theme. The policing change that was envisaged by Patten did not have anywhere to go until politicians and civilians joined the Policing Board and the DPPs.
In a sense, the politicians knew what they were getting into because they had experienced difficulties in the past, but it was the community representatives who stepped into the breach and who were, in some places, demonised and attacked physically and with bombings during that period. They were not from a political background and did not have a political pedigree, yet they served equally on the Policing Board and on the DPPs with those from a political background. Their role was enormous, and the contribution that they made to serving the policing structures between 2002 and 2007 is something that we have only too quickly forgotten in the context of subsequent developments.
I welcome the Member’s comments about double-jobbing. I will justify the scale of the severance proposal. Indeed, I would not have made the statement unless I thought that I could justify it. The proposal is not on the scale of a scheme that was proposed heretofore; it is more moderate. It is not a one-size-fits-all scheme as was proposed before. It is a model of a scheme that clearly favours those who have served the longest, in the worst times and with the least recognition during those times. Therefore, the ethics and principles around this are the right ones. There may be adverse political or other comment, but I have not been shy since December in saying that this, in all conscience, is the right thing to do in a moderate way to recognise people whose contribution was far from moderate.
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
As Question Time is due at 2.00 pm, rather than interrupting the Minister of Justice in his opening address on the Second Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. The sitting is, by leave, suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 1.55 pm.
On resuming (Mr Principal speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair) —