Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for the Environment, meeting on Thursday, 8 October 2015

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms A Lo (Chairperson)
Mrs Pam Cameron (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr C Eastwood
Mr William Irwin
Mr Gary Middleton
Lord Morrow
Mrs S Overend


Ms Julie Broadway, Department of the Environment
Ms Nicola Creagh, Department of the Environment
Ms Brenda Kelly, Department of the Environment

Local Government (Standing Orders) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015: Departmental Briefing

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): I welcome Julie Broadway, Brenda Kelly and Nicola Creagh, all from the policy division. I remind members that the session will be reported by Hansard. Julie, over to you: back again on local government.

Ms Julie Broadway (Department of the Environment): Back again on local government and providing you with an update on where we are with the standing orders regulations. I will just give some background to the standing orders regulations. Section 37 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 requires a council to make standing orders for the regulation of its proceedings and business. Section 38 of the Act provides an enabling power for the Department to make regulations to prescribe provisions that must be incorporated into a council's standing orders, so there would be mandatory standing orders for all councils. It would ensure consistency across councils.

The 2014 Act already provides that a council's standing orders must include some issues. Those include specifying the decisions that would require a qualified majority and provision for the reconsideration or call-in of a decision if requested by 15% of the members of a council on grounds that either the decision was not made after proper consideration of the relevant facts and issues or that it would disproportionately affect in an adverse way any section of the inhabitants of the district. The 2014 Act also requires that the clerk will obtain an opinion from a practising barrister or solicitor where a call-in is made on the grounds of disproportionate adverse impact.

The draft regulations that were laid in the Assembly in February made provision for some matters that must be incorporated into a council's standing orders in addition to those specified in the 2014 Act. That was the process for the reconsideration of a decision that has been called in; the timescales for selecting and accepting positions of responsibility; the procedure for appointing more than one Committee at a time; and, also, decisions that are required to be taken by a qualified majority, in addition to those already set out in the 2014 Act. It really made provision for two additional matters that would require a qualified majority. One was a call-in made on disproportionate adverse impact grounds, and the other was the suspension of standing orders.

So, a motion to approve the draft regulations was considered by the Assembly on 24 February, but the regulations were not approved. The draft regulations laid in February in the Assembly provided that all decisions called in on disproportionate adverse impact grounds must be taken by a qualified majority, taking into account the opinion of the barrister or solicitor. Issues raised during the Assembly debate on the motion to approve the draft regulations included concerns that this provision did not allow the opinion of the barrister or solicitor to act as a filter for those decisions that would require a qualified majority. That would really mean that any decision that was called in would require a qualified majority, and I think that there were concerns that even possibly the most spurious challenges would require an 80% decision.

Since the Assembly debate and the non-approval of the draft regulations, the Department has been seeking legal advice on what provision could be included in the regulations to provide this filter mechanism and to address the issues that were raised during the debate. A revised draft of the regulations was sent to the Committee on 25 September. I would like to highlight the changes. There are very few changes from the draft of 24 February. Schedule 1 to the draft regulations has been revised to enable this filter mechanism, and the draft regulations now specify that where the legal opinion indicates a risk that the decision is outside the powers of the council, is incompatible with EU law or convention rights, or is not in compliance with the council's equality scheme, then a qualified majority would be required. However, in any other case, the decision would be implemented or tabled for ratification by the council.

A consequential amendment has also been made to paragraph 4 of the schedule to take account of this filter mechanism. In paragraph 4(8)(b) the words:

"at which it must be taken by a qualified majority"

have been removed, so that it ties in with the new provision for the filter mechanism.

Then there is one additional amendment on a completely separate issue. The draft regulations that were laid in February made provision for call-in procedures for a decision of a council or a decision of a committee of a council. But, of course, if a council is applying executive arrangements, some decisions could be delegated down to officers of councils. So, we need to add in provision for a call-in procedure where key decisions are taken by officers. That additional change just ensures that that happens.

In the absence of the regulations, of course it is up to councils to come up with their own standing orders that take into account things that are already specified for inclusion in standing orders in the 2014 Act. To assist councils, the Department issued a framework document, really to remind councils of the things that must be included in standing orders and also to suggest wording or issues that could be included in the standing orders. So, that is the situation at the present. I am happy to take any questions.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Thank you for your presentation, Julie. So, it means then that there will be that mechanism to consult a solicitor to act as a filter to say, "On these conditions it will go for a majority vote." So, would the solicitor have the final say?

Ms Broadway: No, the solicitor would just be giving an opinion on whether a decision, if implemented, would be at risk of not complying with a council's powers laid out in legislation, or be incompatible with EU or human rights legislation, or incompatible with the equality scheme. It is then back to the council, taking into account the opinion that the solicitor has given as to whether there would be a risk of the council acting unlawfully, to make that decision.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): So, what is the difference now, with the change, compared to previously?

Ms Broadway: Only those issues where the solicitor has given the view that there would be a risk of the council acting unlawfully or against EU or human rights legislation would require the 80% vote. If, in the opinion of the solicitor or barrister, the issue that was called in would not actually have a risk of being unlawful, that would just go back to the council to be ratified. It would just be a simple majority vote.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Are you all clear?

Lord Morrow: We might be clear, but we are not saying that there is agreement.

Mrs Cameron: Thank you for your presentation. Obviously, I welcome the shift in the regulations from the previous draft, which now aims to ensure that only call-ins that are based on valid and legitimate grounds will be subject to qualified majority vote, rather than [Inaudible.]

which obviously runs the risk of vexatious call-ins blocking legitimate decisions. However, we do have a concern over one issue in the schedule in Part 1 on voting. In paragraph 1(a), the test for legitimacy is now:

"compliance with the council’s equality scheme".

That replaces the previous test used by councils in the transition period, which was that the:

"decision would disproportionately affect adversely any section of the inhabitants".

Obviously, the previous test mirrored exactly what was in the Act. It was used by councils and was clearly legally compliant. What is the reason for the change? Why is something that exactly mirrored primary legislation being changed in the regulations?

Ms Broadway: It is because councils already have to draw up the equality scheme, so, in coming to a decision, the barrister or solicitor will be giving a view on whether any part of that would not comply with the equality scheme. Obviously, there are issues in the equality scheme where there are no points of law, but there are things in the equality scheme of the council that could involve points of law, where the Barrister or solicitor would be giving an opinion on whether, if a decision were to be implemented, it would fail to comply with the agreed equality scheme of the council.

Lord Morrow: So, it would be down to one person's decision.

Ms Broadway: No, it is not down to —

Lord Morrow: One person's opinion, rather.

Ms Broadway: Yes.

Lord Morrow: So, that would be the opinion of one learned person, but not necessarily the opinion of another learned person.

Ms Broadway: That would be the case, yes.

Lord Morrow: Is there a weakness there?

Ms Broadway: One thing raised recently with the Minister is the idea that the Committee raised previously about the possibility of setting up a panel of solicitors that councils could call in to give views. We are actually in the process of putting a paper to the Minister on options for drawing up a panel of solicitors. That would address that issue of it being just one person's opinion.

Lord Morrow: Would it be advisable to wait until you have that other paper completed and presented to the Minister? Why would we go ahead with it today?

Ms Broadway: The thing that is missing in the legislation at the minute is the link between call-in and qualified majority voting. At the minute, a call-in can really have little effect, because it just requires another simple majority. You call in a decision and, because there is no link between call-in and qualified majority vote, even if it is reconsidered, it just requires another simple majority vote. The issue of making the link between call-in and qualified majority is something that it would be beneficial to have in place. We will bring something forward as soon as possible on the issue of the panel.

Lord Morrow: The conclusion from what you have said is that the matter should not be dealt with at this stage because the problem with it all is this: whatever council makes a decision that is perceived to be highly controversial — maybe the whole community is opposed to whatever this is, and it will impact on them in a very direct way — some learned lawyer who sits 100 miles away will look at it and say, "Yes, this is fine", but the person who is most affected by it says, "No, it is not fine.". Then, the council goes in and ratifies the opinion of the one person. That gives it cover. It does not necessarily mean that it is the right decision, but it gives it cover nevertheless. I think that we as a party certainly would not be happy with that, and we would ask for it to be withheld. That is not to say that we would not come to a decision one day, and maybe soon, but we certainly would not be happy at this stage.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): That is the way in which to safeguard this. Too easy a mechanism to go for a call-in could delay decisions all the time.

Ms Broadway: Yes. One of the key things to do with call-in and qualified majority is to give effect to the provisions in the Act for protecting minority communities in district council areas. The fact that you do not have that link in legislation between qualified majority and call-in means that, in effect, the call-in process is almost nugatory because it requires only a simple majority vote. That is why we were trying to get this key aspect in as soon as possible at this stage but follow it up quickly afterwards with the idea of a panel.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): How quickly can you set up that panel or get agreement from the Minister?

Ms Broadway: The first thing is that we actually need to get the Minister's view on it. We are putting a paper together on that for the Minister's consideration.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Does it need Executive approval?

Ms Broadway: No. I do not think that it would because it would not be a cross-cutting issue.

Lord Morrow: Can I make a point and ask Julie a question? Potentially, there will be 11 different equality schemes.

Ms Broadway: Yes, because it is entirely up to each individual council.

Lord Morrow: Therein lies the problem. Surely any regulation has to be compatible right across the whole local government scene. How does that happen when you have 11 different equality schemes?

Ms Broadway: As I say, that was really put in because councils already have their own equality schemes and it was just to ensure that if there was something obviously in the equality scheme — a decision was not complying with the equality scheme — the solicitor or barrister would also flag up that issue in giving an opinion. That was the reason why it was put in, but the main thrust here is that the barrister or solicitor is actually assessing and giving advice on whether there is a risk that a decision, if taken, would be unlawful or incompatible with the EC and human rights legislation.

Lord Morrow: Julie, do you see the potential that, if this regulation is brought in, a number of councils may have to change their equality scheme? Which has to be synched here? Do the councils have to sync with the regulation or is it the other way round? If it is the other way round, I am not sure how you do that when you have got 11 different schemes. Do you see the point that I am making?

Ms Broadway: No, not quite.

Lord Morrow: If you have 11 different equality schemes, surely each council is operating under a different mandate. Will your regulation be compatible with all those 11 schemes, or do they have to be compatible with the regulations. Which is it?

Ms Broadway: No, because all the regulation is saying is that the solicitor and barrister will give an opinion on whether a decision is at risk of not complying with legislation and is also at risk of not complying with that council's equality scheme, whatever that council's equality scheme says at that time.

Lord Morrow: So what is equality in one council would not necessarily be the same in another.

Ms Broadway: One of the things about an equality scheme is that it would have to meet the requirements of the Equality Commission —

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): And section 75.

Ms Broadway: And be section 75-compliant, yes.

Lord Morrow: Those are the big ones that jump out at you, Chair. I suspect that those would be a must for all councils, although I sometimes wonder. What about the non-big-ticket issues that do not jump out? Each council will have a carefully drawn up scheme, no doubt as a result of representation from its members, with provisions that may not be included, for instance, in some other council.

Ms Broadway: Our regulations are saying that the barrister or solicitor is giving an opinion on whether it would be the particular scheme of that council and whether there would be a risk that a decision would be running contrary to the equality scheme of that council. The council will already have drawn up its equality scheme and will have, I believe, agreed that with the Equality Commission.

Mr Eastwood: Is it not the case that those equality schemes could not act outside the statutory boundaries that we already have laid down by the Equality Commission, section 75 and all that? It would be very surprising if they were all that different among the 11 councils. We had 26 different equality schemes before. Did that cause any problems?

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Is there any guidance on how the equality schemes should be made up?

Ms Broadway: I am not aware of that, but we can check that with the Equality Commission. I think that there probably is guidance from the Equality Commission.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): As Colum said, it would take into account all our existing legislation, including the anti-discrimination laws.

Mr Eastwood: They could not act outside of those boundaries.

Ms Nicola Creagh (Department of the Environment): A point that would be useful to make is that, as Julie has pointed out and as the member has said, all equality schemes are constructed in compliance with the Equality Commission's guidance on equality schemes. Lord Morrow is quite correct: there are differences in the schemes. However, as part of the council process, each of those schemes will have been consulted on extensively in that council area. Obviously, the responses to those consultations will have influenced the drawing up of the scheme. Therefore, the scheme itself already reflects the views of the citizens of the area; it is an expression of what, one assumes, is wanted in that area. The regulations are simply asking whether they are compatible with what has already been established as principles in that council area that they wish to follow. In that sense, there is no particular conflict between the two things.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): It needs to be a cornerstone of the workings of the council that it is compatible and compliant with the equality scheme.

Mrs Overend: Thanks for coming to the Committee today. I have a couple of questions, which have been raised already. You talked about the idea of a panel or, as I have called it before, a pool of legal experts. What is the timing of that paper?

Ms Broadway: It should be with the Minister very shortly. We are looking at whether it needs to be by legislation, whether it could be by administrative means for councils to set up a panel, or whether it could be done as a shared service among councils. There are various options that we will put to the Minister. We need to get legal advice on some of the issues, but I imagine that that paper will be going to the Minister within the next few weeks. As soon as the Minister has had time to consider that, we can then come back to the Committee to discuss it.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Would that be pooling solicitors, who are employees of the councils, from the councils? Are there solicitors in each different council?

Ms Broadway: At this stage, we are really just carrying out research on that. No decisions have been made. Some councils have their own solicitors. Equally, there is an argument that they need to be independent of councils. Those things will all be teased out in the paper that goes to the Minister for consideration.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Who will pay the costs? Will the councils share it?

Ms Broadway: There are various things that need to be considered as part of that.

Mrs Overend: I am not finished yet. I want to pursue that matter. You said that you are taking legal advice on it, so I suppose that whether that needs to be included in regulations still has to be considered. It could be included in these regulations if it was timely, and, if they are not passed, it could create further regulations. What are you saying?

Ms Broadway: You could create further regulations, yes, specifically for a panel, but, at this stage, we still have to get the Minister's agreement and put the paper to the Minister. There are various options, some of them legislative and some of them non-legislative, for how this could be taken forward.

Mrs Overend: If the approval of these regulations is dependent on the idea of a panel being created, it will be difficult to get something passed without the panel being created and included in the regulations as well. We are just thinking about the process of bringing things to the Assembly Floor and them not being passed. Is it worthwhile? All those things need to be considered.

The impact on inhabitants is stipulated in the Act. Is that still standing?

Ms Broadway: Yes, that is the definition in the Act. So, anything in the regulations will mirror that.

Mrs Overend: So, the further stipulations are in addition to that. Can you provide a definition of that?

Ms Broadway: We will issue guidance on that to councils. We have been working on it. It is really any inhabitant of the district.

Mrs Overend: The impact on the inhabitants.

Ms Broadway: Yes.

Mrs Overend: How do you define how it will impact?

Ms Broadway: That is one of the things that the council will look at. If a decision is called in, the group of councillors who call it in have to specify how, in their opinion, the decision would have an adverse impact on a particular section of the inhabitants. As part of the call-in process, the people who call it in have to specify what section of the inhabitants of the district would be affected and what the effect would be. Therefore, the next stage in the process is that legal opinion would be obtained to see whether, if the decision is implemented, it would be unlawful or would have an effect. Once that process is gone through, the matter goes back to the council for it to take the decision based on the reasons given for the call-in; the section of the community that the people who have called it in say it would have an adverse impact on; and the decision of the solicitor. The council can then reconsider the decision.

Mr Eastwood: Thank you for your presentation; sorry that I missed the start of it. We talked about the panel before, around the time of the legislation. I know that you do not have a ministerial decision yet, but are you envisaging one panel for the whole of Northern Ireland? Are you envisaging panels that are regional and envisaging councils pooling solicitors? What impact will that have on the city solicitors, for example, in Derry or Belfast? Lord Morrow made the point about somebody sitting 100 miles away making a decision on something that may be specific to a local area. Have you given much consideration to those issues?

Ms Broadway: All those options. As I say, there are pros and cons with the options. Some are legislative options, and some are non-legislative. There is an argument that some councils already have solicitors who can deal with this. Equally, other arguments can be made. Should a decision not be taken independently of the council? Should the panel not be independent? Should there be one panel or a call-off panel so that a panel would be set up for each decision that is called in? Should it be a standing panel? Should it be a regional panel?

There are lots of options.

Mr Eastwood: I have no real difficulty with it. I am just concerned about creating a bit of a monster. We have all had experience of lawyers and how things can get out of control in terms of the financial aspects. I just wonder whether we are setting up a permanent panel that is going to be sitting there hoping for call-ins. It could take on a life of its own. I am sure that you will consider that.

Ms Broadway: We will be considering the pros and cons of all the various options, including the cost. One of the things you have to look at is that it needs to be cost-effective. As you asked earlier, who will be paying for this panel? It needs to be cost-effective.

Mr Eastwood: Especially as some councils are already paying fairly high salaries for assistant solicitors.

Mr Eastwood: I know that there is an issue of independence, but those people are supposed to be giving advice based on the law, not on whether they work for a council. They would have to do that every day.

Ms Broadway: As I said, we got legal advice on drawing up the provision for the filter, and one of the key things that were stressed was that the solicitor or barrister can only give opinions on points of law.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): So, if they look at the negative impact on the minority community in that council district, it would only be on a point of law.

Ms Broadway: Yes.

Mr Middleton: I completely agree with my colleagues about schedule 1. It is concerning. In my recent experience of local government in Londonderry, we have already seen challenges around this process. We had the situation where the Equality Commission had already given an opinion on a decision, and the council of course just went against that, namely the issue of name change in the city, which causes problems and directly and seriously affects a large section of the minority community in that particular area. That causes us some concern. I know that, in that case, the council went out for independent legal advice but, again, it concerns me that the test of legitimacy is now compliance with the council's equality scheme. Even though there was an equality scheme in Londonderry at the time, the council has recently taken a decision to go against that advice and put the decision through. That causes me some concern and I think that we should not rush into this but take time to reflect on it.

Mr Irwin: In Newry and Mourne council, a decision was taken some years ago to name a play park after a convicted terrorist, and it was an issue on which the council got legal advice from somewhere. That legal advice seemed strange. I went to the Equality Commission and had meetings with it. At my first meeting with the Equality Commission, I was told that it was taking up the issue because it was way off the wall. That was ages ago. Many years later, that has not changed. It is important that we get this right.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): I get the feeling that we want to wait until we hear more before we agree the SR. How is it going to impact on the work of the councils if we hold off on approving the SR?

Ms Broadway: At the minute, councils can draw up their own standing orders. They must include those things that are already in the 2014 Act, which specifies the mandatory elements of standing orders. Other than that, councils can draw up their own standing orders in the absence of the regulations. So, there is no consistency in some key elements of the new governance arrangements across the councils. As I say, the important thing here is that link between the call-in and the qualified majority vote. If you do not have a link and if, for example, a decision is called in and, in the opinion of the barrister or solicitor, that decision clearly would have an adverse impact and would be unlawful, even if that decision is called in, it would require a simple majority. In the absence of the regulations, some councils have actually specified that decisions that would be called in and would have merit will require an 80% vote, but it is very different right across the board. All the councils are doing slightly different things on all of this. The key thing here is that link between call-in and qualified majority vote.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): It is really to ensure consistency across the 11 councils. Members, I certainly want your comments on this. Do you want to go ahead with the SR?

Mr Eastwood: If we do not go ahead, what is the impact and when are we likely to be able to make a decision?

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): To the members who say that they do not want it to go through now, on what conditions do they want to vote on the SR?

Mrs Cameron: I think, Chair, that we would want to go back to our own parties, reflect on what we have heard today and give it some consideration. I think that, for now, we need a bit of thinking space.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): We will leave it until next week maybe.

Mrs Cameron: Maybe two weeks.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): In a fortnight. Do you want the departmental officials to come back in two weeks in case you have further questions?

Mrs Cameron: That would be good.

Lord Morrow: Chair, can the officials assist us further over the next two weeks with more information in relation to this? In particular, why do they see the change as necessary?

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Maybe we need to see a firmer proposal on how the panel of solicitors should be administered.

Ms Broadway: We will have more information by that stage.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): We would like to know how you constitute the panel, if there is going to be a panel.

Ms Broadway: Yes.

Lord Morrow: Julie, in one of your answers to someone else — I do not know who it was — you talked about impact on people in the community. I think that you said that that would be in the guidelines. Could you flesh that out for us too?

Ms Broadway: Yes.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): OK. We want to go back to the issue of community planning. Sandra has a question on the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) being on the list of statutory consultees.

Mrs Overend: I do not have the paper in front of me, but we requested a response because CCMS had been included in the list of community partners, but they are also on the list as part of the Education Authority (EA). The further response that came back from the Department did not really tell us anything beyond what it told us the last time we asked the question. I am not really content, because there is a real inequality there. All the other educational bodies are included as the Education Authority, and CCMS are on additionally.

Ms Creagh: It is probably partly to do with what community planning is there for and how it is taken forward as a process. It is not a consultation exercise in the sense of consulting people about their views, so that, in the case of CCMS, you might ask whether it is being consulted twice, in a way, because CCMS is also on the Education Authority.

The construction of a community plan, as you know, is intended to bring together all the people and organisations in a district that have some input to make and to agree consensually how they might best construct and deliver a community plan. It is not designed to be a case of, "You said this and you said that", so that three people's views have more weight that one person's views. That is not the point of community planning. That is one of the distinctions.

Also, although you referred to the fact that the CCMS is on the statutory list, all the other education bodies — I use them as the example; it obviously extends more widely to others — were also given the opportunity to be part of that statutory list. A number of them did not wish to. For instance, the integrated sector has chosen to pursue representation through being a support partner. That is no less important than being a statutory partner; it is just a different mechanism in that they are not legally required to turn up. However, I know that the integrated sector is actively involved with a number of councils and has made the point that it wants to be there. It will be in the same position in that it will also be in the room as well as the Education Authority, CCMS and perhaps others — there will obviously be a range of others.

As I said, it is about building consensus and getting a different range of views. If you are asking whether, in a wider sense, a situation might arise in which the Education Authority and the CCMS might have slightly different views on a matter, or the Education Authority and the integrated sector might have slightly different views on a matter, that could certainly happen. The resolution of a view on a particular educational issue in an area is something that is done within the Education Authority, not within the context of community planning or the construction of a community plan. If the CCMS thought one thing about an area and the EA thought another, that discussion and the relevant points would be made within the Education Authority, and it would come to a conclusion as to how the particular educational needs of that area would be taken forward.

The community planning process is not about deciding on the educational needs of that area. It is about taking what has been decided as the educational needs of that area and bringing those together in a coordinated and cooperative fashion to look at what the wider issues are for that area. On the face of it, I know that it can look as though those people are in twice, but that is more to do with the reality of community planning rather than how the education direction in an area is drawn up. That is obviously a matter for the EA, working with the organisations within it.

Mrs Overend: So, basically, CCMS is on the list because it asked to be.

Ms Creagh: Yes, as did a number of others like Sport NI and Libraries NI. They said that they wanted to be included. Others, as I said, like those in the education sector, initially expressed an interest in being included but, having considered issues more closely, particularly around resourcing, decided that they would like to do it in a different way. That also applies to a number of other organisations. They decided that they wanted to be involved but maybe not in that way and instead as a support partner. There are other organisations in education that will be involved in that way, particularly the further education colleges, universities and so on. They will also be included in the community planning sphere.

Mrs Overend: Has everyone who asked to be on the list been placed on the list?

Ms Creagh: They have.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Will the statutory partners have more clout or a bigger weighting in the decision-making process than supporting partners?

Ms Creagh: No, it is a level playing field. All the statutory partners are there because they were identified or have self-identified as having a particular role to play but, once they are there, the playing field is level and everybody's views are of equal concern.

As I said, the community plan is really about consensually agreeing something. It is not about saying that a body is more important because it is bigger or that, because it has a bigger budget, it has more clout.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): It is more of a consultative and collaborative forum.

Ms Creagh: It is a collaborative venture.

Lord Morrow: Whose view would prevail when there is a contradiction between the two?

Ms Creagh: Within the community planning sphere, I do not think that is really relevant in the sense that what they are trying to do is to agree a plan within an area for the community. The Education Authority will draw up the education priorities for an area and the discussion on what those priorities are would take place within the EA, of which the CCMS is a member along with a range of other bodies. It would have a view on the educational direction of an area. Those agreed plans will then form part of how you might cooperate and coordinate that across the community plan. Therefore, it would not be the case that an alternative education plan would be constructed outside the remit of the Education Authority or the education groups. A community plan would not look at that; it would draw plans together and look at how the different synergies between education, health and all those other things could be brought together to create a more coherent community plan for the area.

Lord Morrow: Would it not be much more coherent if the Education Authority spoke for education, having consulted the different strands within education, and gave that view, rather than the Education Authority saying that it takes position A and other strands within education saying that they would prefer position B or C? How do you come to a conclusion?

Ms Creagh: You could extrapolate that and say that that is what would happen when you construct a community plan anyway. You will have members there that are representing health views and others who are representing education etc, and each grouping might have a slightly different view on how the community plan for that area might best be taken forward. It is about coming to an agreed consensual position. It is inevitable that the people in the room will have slightly different views, but it is how that is worked through into agreeing a more general plan for the area.

Lord Morrow: Exactly. How do you see that working when there will be all those different views?

Ms Creagh: That is about how consensus is built within the community planning process. There is no —

Lord Morrow: Sorry, should that consensus not be built behind the Education Authority, which will then articulate that in its submission to the plan?

Ms Creagh: Yes, I think you are right in the sense that a discussion will obviously go on within the EA to reach whatever is the agreed or established view on education in that area. That would be the education plan for that area, which would obviously be one of the key determinants in drawing up the community plan. However, for instance, three health organisations are statutory planning partners and, within that, one would expect that there will be an overall agreed health approach to that area. That does not negate the fact that those three bodies will be at the community planning table and will agree how health issues or health in its wider sense might be dealt with within an area. Those three bodies will be there to represent the health side. If an issue comes up to do with making people more active or dealing with difficulties in preventative health, the Public Health Authority will have a view on that, which will be compatible with the overall health views but on which it would have the lead role.

Likewise, in the education field, it may well be the case that, for example, in making schools available for out-of-school activities to help in sports or whatever, CCMS as the representatives of a sector would be able to give particular assistance and help in that area. It is about reflecting those different views, not about necessarily saying that, as a policy, these particular organisations will have different policy views and that that will not be able to be reflected in the community plan. The EA will establish the education direction for the area.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Will it have its own educational area plan? Will it put that on the table and say to other agencies, "This is our plan for having more joined-up thinking"? For example, the area plan for South Belfast states that it wants three small primary schools to be amalgamated. We do not know where the new school is going to be. It will be up to community planning to ask whether the Health and Social Care Board or the Housing Executive will give them a site somewhere to provide for that school. That would be beneficial and, of course, it would be consulted on widely in communities.

Ms Creagh: Yes.

Mr Eastwood: Chair, I do not think that it is worth getting excited about. Community planning is supposed to be about consensus building; it is not adversarial. We did it in Derry with the One Plan, although how much of it was implemented is another story. It is tortuous, but having people all in the one room trying to come up with an overarching vision for a city or a community is about getting people out of their silos to work together where they can. People in education are not telling people in health how to do their job, and vice versa. They all have their part to play. It is a positive thing that people are working together. Beside all that, everybody was invited and only CCMS decided to take up the opportunity, so I do not see what the problem is.

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): Sandra, are you happy with the responses?

The Chairperson (Ms Lo): OK, we can move on. Thank you very much. We will see you in a fortnight.

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