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  1. 10am: Social Development Committee
  2. Welfare reform is again top of the agenda, with officials from the Social Security Agency briefing the Social Development Committee on 'flexibilities' arising from the Stormont House Agreement.
  3. These include the Discretionary Support Scheme, the Universal Credit Payment Flexibilities and the Disability Protection Scheme.
  4. 2pm: Health Committee (Wed. 11 March)
  5. Representatives of the Regional Workforce Planning Group appearing to discuss workforce planning under Transforming Your Care.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK


That's all for today. Join us at noon on Monday for a meeting of the Assembly.

The subjects for debate include an Alliance motion on equality legislation, and a proposal that the attorney general should have speaking rights in the Assembly.

Have a good weekend.

Paying for cancer drugs

The SDLP's Fearghal McKinney says his understanding of the PPRS scheme is that it is intended to pay for "cancer drugs and specialist medicines".

Fearghal McKinney

He puts it to Julie Thompson that the money is not being used to pay for "innovative" drugs.

"It's going against the growth in branded medicines because by the time we've done that there isn't any further available," she replies

How is PPRS money used?

Ulster Unionist Jo Anne Dobson asks about receipts from the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS). Are they being used to support "pressures" across the HSC?

Jo Anne Dobson
Jo Anne Dobson

Julie Thompson says "the PPRS receipts are assumed to be offsetting the growth in branded medicines".

'Significant financial challenges'

Julie Thompson says the department faces "significant financial challenges" in the coming financial year.

Officials brief on spending plans

Julie Thompson

Department of Health officials Deborah McNeilly, Julie Thompson, and Jackie Johnston are briefing the committee on the department's 2015/2016 Spending Plans.

Too many hospitals?

A recent

review by the former chief medical officer of England, Sir Liam Donaldson found that Northern Ireland had too many hospitals for its population.

Sir Liam Donaldson

Sir Liam said that the Transforming Your Care programme established that elsewhere in the UK, a population of 1.8 million people would likely be served by four acute hospitals - not the 10 that Northern Ireland has.

'Lack of funding constraining GP numbers'

Kieran McCarthy of Alliance asks about a possible shortage of GPs in future.

Kieran McCarthy

Heather Stevens replies that there is no shortage of doctors wanting to train to be GPs.

She says the "constraining factor" is "the lack of funding for the training programme".

'Not just a simple 3% staff reduction'

Maeve McLaughlin asks if they are talking about a 3% decrease in staff under TYC.

Dr Carolyn Harper
Dr Carolyn Harper

Dr Harper says that as the population ages there will be more patients "with increasingly complex needs".

The witnesses are in agreement that there is not a simple figure of 3% staff reduction.

Chair disagrees that TYC is 'fluid'

Maeve McLaughlin says she does not agree that Transforming Your Care (TYC) is "fluid".

Officials explain workforce planning

Officials appearing at the Health Committee

Damian McAlister of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Heather Stevens of the Department of Health, and Dr Carolyn Harper of the Public Health Agency brief the committee on workforce planning in the context of Transforming Your Care.

What is Transforming Your Care?

Transforming Your Care is the Executive's reform plan for local health and social care services.

Transforming Your Care

John Compton, former chief executive of the NI Health and Social Care board, was the author of the report, whose recommendations included moving hospital services out into the community.

The meeting resumes

The committee is back in public session in the Stormont Senate chamber.

Maeve McLaughlin says there was "some confusion around the timescales".

Committee briefly adjourned

The committee is adjourned to await the arrival of a witness.

Maeve McLaughlin chairing the session

Maeve McLaughlin

Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin is in the chair for this meeting.

And we're back

First up for discussion at yesterday's meeting of the Health Committee was the Food Hygiene Bill.

That's all for now.

Join us again at 2pm.

There are no live committee sessions at Stormont this afternoon so we'll be streaming the Health Committee session from yesterday afternoon.

Workforce planning under the Transforming Your Care reform initiative was the main topic of discussion.

In the meantime, why not take a look at the

BBC NI politics page.

The committee goes into closed session

The Social Development Committee moves into closed session to consider the next phase of its report on the inquiry into potential political interference in Housing Executive managed contracts.

The allegations came to light when they were featured in a BBC NI Spotlight programme, aired on 3 July 2013.

'How will our benefits be paid?'

"If we are not buying into the new system, how will our benefits be paid?" asks Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs

"With grave difficulty," says Brian Doherty "or it would have to be done clerically if it transpired that the system was unable to function and we would have to bear the cost of any changes that there would be to the current system if we continue to maintain the legacy system".

Brady: '97,000 would lose out'

But Mickey Brady of Sinn Fein says "something like 97,000 would lose out and 92,000 would stay the same".


Alliance's Stewart Dickson quotes a NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) statistic that said a 102,000 people would be on average £38 a week better off "how do we get that money to those people?"

"First of all we need the legislation in place so we can move forward," said Brian Doherty.

The £1bn question

Jim Allister

The TUV's Jim Allister asks whether the Stormont House Agreement would have brought extra IT costs. Mr Doherty says "not within the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) system that I'm aware of".

He says the current contribution from Northern Ireland to the overall £1bn cost of administering the IT system was around £15m per year.

Jim Allister asks "if welfare reform doesn't proceed are we back to the business of requiring our own IT system?" and said DWP had suggested that could cost £1bn.

Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady says he asked departmental officials if the changes or anomalies that came out of the Stormont House Agreement could be applied to the current IT system and was told they could.

"The billion pound figure, it just seems a lot of that was not necessarily the case," he says.

'Bearing the pain'

On the IT system needed to administer Universal Credit, Mr Doherty says "DWP is bearing most of the pain" but there would be some cost of implementing the changes to the system that are unique to Northern Ireland.

37 changes

Around 37 changes would be needed to tailor the IT system to Northern Ireland, which Brian Doherty says would have a one-off cost of around £3m.

Earliest date

Brian Doherty says "May next year is probably the earliest date we can take Universal Credit because we've said we'll only take a system that's fully functional and scalable".

'Robust level of support'

Brian Doherty

The payment flexibilities scheme would offer a "robust level of support, alleviating many of the concerns around the new payment arrangements while still encouraging claimants to engage responsibly with their own budgeting requirements", said Brian Doherty from the Social Security Agency.

Universal Credit

The committee is receiving a briefing on the flexibilities to Universal Credit arranged in the Stormont House Agreement.

Brian Doherty from The Social Security Agency and Sinead Crossan of DSD (Department for Social Development) are answering questions on how the system will operate.

What are the changes to local government?

Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall


reform of local government will see the reduction of 26 councils to 11. The 11 new councils will take over on 1 April 2015.

According to the Department of the Environment:

"The new councils will be stronger, more efficient and will deliver more effective services. They will be citizen focused, responding to the needs, aspirations and concerns of their communities."

Powers will transfer in planning, roads, urban regeneration, community development, local economic development and local tourism.

'Shared space'

Stewart Dickson of Alliance says he is concerned that there is not more mention of 'shared space' in the bill.

Karen Smyth from NILGA says councils have responsibilities under community planning and the TBUC (Together Building a United Community) strategy and her organisation has spoken to the Office and First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) Committee about "good relations" and how to build that into community planning.

'Fluffy language'

TUV leader Jim Allister says economic regeneration was a priority for some councils "instead of fluffy language about social need".

Planning powers

Kareen Smyth and Dermot Nicholl

Karen Smyth from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) and Cllr Dermot Nicholl from Limavady Borough Council are briefing the committee on the Regeneration Bill which transfers some powers and responsibilities for planning and development to local councils.

The Committee gets underway

Mickey Brady

Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady is chairing this morning's committee session.

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to BBC NI Democracy Live's coverage of the Social Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Thursday 12 March 2015.