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Summary

  1. Representatives of Northern Ireland's airports - Belfast International, Belfast City and Derry Airport appeared in the Finance Committee to respond to a report on air passenger duty (APD)
  2. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation gave evidence on APD.
  3. In the afternoon. the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) briefed the Health Committee on workforce planning arrangements.
  4. MLAs carried out a clause-by-clause reading of the Food Hygiene Rating Bill.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

That's all for now

Maeve McLaughlin draws the meeting to close.

Join us tomorrow morning at 10.30am for coverage of the Culture Committee, which includes an evidence session on the renewal of the BBC charter.

'Complex needs'

Rita Devlin
BBC

Rita Devlin of the RCN says the role of independent nursing homes has changed since their service contracts were put in place.

She says patients have more "complex nursing needs" than in the past.

'Honesty in the system'

Kieran McCarthy
BBC

Kieran McCarthy asks the witnesses if they "reckon that the people at the top know what they are doing?".

"We would like to see more honesty in the system," Mr Martin replies.

Recruitment difficulties

In reply to a question from Ms McLaughlin, Mr Martin says independent nursing homes are "finding it very, very difficult to recruit".

He adds that a ban on recruiting nurses from outside the EU is "a challenge in itself".

The RCN representative says he knows of a large independent nursing home employer which has 150 registered nurse vacancies.

Pregnancy scans

Doctor
Thinkstock

Breedagh Hughes questions the need for women to be called into hospital to be scanned to confirm their pregnancy.

"We would love that to be done in the community by community midwives," she says.

Ms Hughes says this would require funding for mobile scanners.

'Is TYC dead?'

Maeve McLaughlin asks if the witnesses think TYC is dead.

Garrett Martin says TYC is "absolutely the right thing to do", but the problem is "it isn't being delivered".

Right to retire

Ms Hughes says a potential threat to maternity services is that the ageing workforce with a right to retire at 55 could to choose to exercise that right.

Two male midwives

Breedagh Hughes
BBC

Breedagh Hughes of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says 70% of midwives in Northern Ireland work part-time.

The vast majority of the workforce is female, with only two male midwives out of a total of 1,300, and around 65 midwives will be on maternity leave at any given time.

RCN concerns

Mr Martin says the RCN's concerns include:

Increasing numbers of nursing staff leaving NI to work overseas.

High vacancy levels in the nursing workforce.

Staff shortages.

Increasing use of bank and agency staff.

Lack of funds.

Workforce planning

Garrett Martin
BBC

Garrett Martin of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) begins presenting the organisation's views on workforce planning in the light of Transforming Your Care.

What is Transforming Your Care?

Transforming Your Care is a health service reform programme based on a review that was led by John Compton, former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board.

Nurse
BBC

The review recommended that much greater emphasis should be placed on treating people in their own homes and in the community.

Food hygiene

Food Hygiene Rating
BBC

The members are carrying out a clause-by-clause review of the Food Hygiene Rating Bill.

The bill would make it compulsory for food businesses to display their hygiene ratings

In a clause-by-clause review committee members agree on whether or not they will suggest amendments when the bill returns to the full Assembly for its consideration stage.

In the chair

Maeve McLaughlin
BBC

Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin is chairing the meeting.

We're back

The Health Committee is meeting in the senate chamber this afternoon for its session on the review of workforce planning in the context of the Transforming Your Care health reforms.

Meeting adjourned

After reading the committee's correspondence and agreeing the time and date of the next meeting, Daithi McKay adjourns the sitting.

Join us again at 2pm when the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives are discussing workforce planning issues with the Health Committee.

'Economic driver'

Janice Gault says tourism can be a great economic driver, but "you need to look at the tax part of it, transport, skills".

She talks about the Scottish government's focus on the tourism sector, which she says, is worth seven times that of Northern Ireland's - "they're not doing it for the good of their health".

"One of the problems we have is we're not very good at extracting money from people," she says, "I'm not talking about ripping people off, I'm talking about giving people the opportunity to buy something they want when they're here".

Marketing

Michaela Boyle
BBC

Michaela Boyle from Sinn Fein asks how to market destinations within the north of Ireland.

Ms Gault says both jurisdictions, north and south, are marketed together, yet they have different currencies, different VAT rates and different levels of air passenger duty "all of which are in a disadvantaged state for the North".

"Dublin's a gateway for us, but it's also a threat," she says.

'£1bn tourism target'

Gerry Lennon says Great Britain remains "the lifeblood" of our air passenger market, but if the Executive is to achieve its target of £1bn annual tourism revenue by 2020, it will need to target short haul European routes.

'10% overseas visitors'

Janice Gault
BBC

NI Hotels Federation representative Janice Gault says that fewer than 10% of visitors to Northern Ireland are coming from outside the UK and Ireland.

"When we look at these figures we despair," she says.

Ms Gault says "we need to look at a business environment that will support this industry".

'Remove drags'

Gerry Lennon
BBC

Gerry Lennon says tourism is performing well, but is too reliant on "indigenous overnight stays".

He says "we need to remove all the drags that make us uncompetitive" - among these, he says, are Air Passenger Duty and VAT.

Tourism sector briefing

Doreen McKenzie, from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Janice Gault from the NI Hotels Federation and Gerry Lennon from Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau are briefing the committee on the impact of Air Passenger Duty

'Better devolved?'

Committee chairman Daithi McKay asks if it would be better if control of APD were the hands of local politicians.

Graham Keddie says if Scotland has a lower rate, airlines will look to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

'Handicapping ourselves'

John McCallister
BBC

Independent MLA John McCallister "we are even handicapping ourselves, that the national government effected that if I go to Dublin and fly to London I pay it (APD) one way, but if I fly from Belfast to London I pay it both ways".

Three airports sustainable?

Albert Harrison says grant aid of £4m a year for three or four years could help all three airports to develop.

Peter Weir of the DUP asks if three airports were sustainable.

Mr Harrison says "if you were starting with a clean sheet of paper, I think we'd all agree, you'd have one airport for Northern Ireland. We don't. We are where we are"

APD: The background

Belfast International Airport
BBC

The airport representatives appearing before the committee today are arguing in favour of the

devolution of air passenger duty.

The Executive has not pressed for control over all APD because the cost of removing it would hit Northern Ireland's block grant from Westminster.

It would mean a reduction of at least £55m annually.

The Executive's position was bolstered by a recent report carried out by the Northern Ireland Centre for Economic Policy.

The benefits - potentially new air routes bringing more visitors - were said not to outweigh the cost.

Currently, only the power over APD on long-haul flights is devolved.

'Not a level playing field'

Albert Harrison from the City of Derry Airport says the ending of air passenger duty in the Republic of Ireland means "we do not have a level playing field".

He says the Northern Ireland airports have also been hit by "substantial rate increases" over the last two years.

Mr Harrison criticises the report on air passenger duty, produced by Ulster University, describing it as "flawed", adding "they use consistently pessimistic assumptions without reason, they always use the downside and they have grossly underestimated the number of people going to Dublin".

'Island off an island'

Katy Best
BBC

Belfast City Airport's Katy Best tells MLAs about the particular importance of air connectivity to Northern Ireland as "an island off an island".

She says "we have to fly to conduct business, generate FDI and trade, attract inbound tourism and enjoy outbound tourism opportunities".

'Scrapping APD worth £200m'

Graham Keddie
BBC

Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport says a study by one of the top aviation organisations shows that scrapping air passenger duty (APD) would create 3800 additional jobs and £200m of value added.

He says by retaining the levy "we are handing our competitors revenue, jobs and economic success on a plate".

Daithi McKay chairs

Daithi McKay
BBC

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay is chairing this morning's meeting.

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Finance Committee
BBC

First up, on this sunny day, is the Finance Committee, where MLAs will be discussing a report on Air Passenger Duty with representatives of the local airports and the tourism industry.