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Cross-sector Advisory Forum

Part of Office Of The First Minister And Deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 9th November 2009.

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Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 9th November 2009

I certainly hope that over the course of the next short while, the group will come forward with recommendations. We have charged it with the responsibility to do that, and the subgroups worked over the summer to draw up recommendations in each of their respective areas to address the downturn.

Six subgroups have been established. The infra­structure group is looking at the out-turn of the capital spend of £1·7 billion. It is also looking at future capital work opportunities, which are now posted on the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) information portal to allow the construction industry to better plan business. It is also looking at planning reform, which is out for public consultation and includes proposals for reforms of the pre-consultation planning process, whereby applicants can talk to officials before submitting their plans, thus avoiding obvious impediments and, ultimately, shortening the planning process.

The business and skills group is considering three areas: economic regeneration, exports and manufacturing. There is a list of recommendations, including maintaining support for construction, improving awareness of export support schemes and improving awareness of government business support schemes.

The group on hardship, poverty, debt and energy is dealing with access to prepayment meters, awareness of the “green new deal”, bulk fuel purchase, gas boiler conversion, extension of the gas network, domestic renewables, awareness of benefits, financial advice for consumers, and so on.

The agriculture group is dealing with such issues as the opportunities for renewable energy, how the demand side of the equation could be stimulated and how public procurement might be deployed in that regard.

The banking and finance group is looking at how the national asset management agency will operate. That is a core issue for the group. It has also considered how lending to business could be improved, and it has considered options to support the housing market and mortgage holders.

The housing group is considering how to stabilise house prices, including assessing the downside of too much government intervention, which can push up prices, and other proposals.

I hope that, in the next short while, we will receive the groups’ proposals. They will be brought together in a paper that we will make available to Members.