A Fresh Start - Too Long, Didn't Read

On Tuesday the First and deputy First Minister, together with the British and Irish Governments agreed and published “A Fresh Start – The Stormont House Agreement and Implementation Plan.”

The agreement, and implementation plan, has six sections, runs to 67 pages and cover topics including welfare reform, tackling paramilitarism and corporation tax, but what does it say that is relevant to our sector?

You can read the agreement in full here, or the highlights below. 

Section A – Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime

  • A joint agency task force will be established comprising
    • A Strategic Oversight Group that will identify strategic priorities for combating cross-jurisdictional organised crime
    • An Operations Co-ordination Group that will co-ordinate joint operations
    • (see paragraph 3.2)
  • The Executive will implement additional measure aimed at tackling the impact of criminality and paramilitarism in NI by:
    • Measures to speed up criminal justice
    • Improving forensic capabilities
    • Support for specialist capabilities
    • Cross-departmental programme to prevent young people being drawn into paramilitary activity.
    • Programme to increase the participation and influence of women in community development
    • Additional programmes aimed at reducing re-offending
    • Initiatives to help moves away from paramilitary structures and activity
    • (see paragraphs 3.7-3.10)
  • A panel will be appointed to bring recommendations to the Executive by May 2016 on a strategy to disband paramilitary groups.
    • The Executive will undertake research on the cost of paramilitarism and undertake a public awareness campaign of the harm done by paramilitarism and organised crime
    • Before the end of June 2016 the Executive will publish an action plan with timescales for implementation.
    • (see paragraphs 4.1-4.3)
  • A four member international body will be established by the UK and Irish Governments to report annually of the progress towards ending paramilitary activity and report on the implementation of measures
    • (see paragraphs 5.1-5.2)

Section B – NI Executive Financial Reforms and Context

  • This section focuses on the Executive’s existing financial reforms and efficiencies.
    • (see paragraphs 1.1-1.19)

Section C – NI Executive Welfare and Tax Credit Top Ups

  • The Executive has allocated £585million over four years to top-up the UK welfare arrangements in NI with a review in 2018-19
    • A small working group will be established to bring forward proposals within this financial envelope
    • The Executive have agreed that the bedroom tax will not apply.
    • (see paragraphs 1.1-1.4)
  • An Order in Council through Westminster will effect current welfare changes
    • A Legislative Consent Motion will be debate and approved by the Assembly following which Westminster will pass legislation to meet the Executive timetable
    • Any subsequent changes to welfare elements of Welfare Reform and Work Bill will be brought to the Assembly for debate and approval
    • Welfare and tax credit top-ups will be taken forward by the Assembly
    • Provisions of the Welfare Bill will lapse at the end of 2016
    • (see paragraphs 2.1-2.6)
  • The Executive will provide additional funding to independent advice services due to the complexities association with welfare and tax credit changes
    • (see paragraph 3.1)

Section D – UK Government Financial Support

  • This section outlined the financial support coming from the UK Government under this agreement and the Stormont House Agreement (SHA)
    • SHA commitments are laid out in paragraph 1.1
  • This section also lays out that
    • Welfare deductions for 2015-16 will stop and the UK Government will refund the proportion of deduction for the remainder of the year
    • £25million (per year for five years) of new, ring fenced funding will be provided to address welfare error and fraud and half of all savings can be reinvested by the Executive.
    • (see paragraph 3.1-3.6)
  • The Executive plans to establish and Independent Fiscal Council for Northern Ireland which will
    • Prepare an annual assessment of the Executive’s revenue streams and spending proposals
    • Prepare an annual report on the sustainability of the Executive’s public finances
    • (see paragraphs 4.1-4.2)
  • The Executive will complete and monitoring round by end of November 2015 setting out the action being taken to balance the 2015-16 budget
    • (see paragraph 5.2)
  • Executive commitment to reduce Corporation Tax to 12.5% by April 2018
    • (see paragraph 6.1)
  • UK Government will provide £160m over the next five years to support the PSNI
    • An extra £25m over five years to tackle continuing paramilitary activity – matched by the Executive
    • The UK Government with provide £3m over four years to establish and fund the paramilitary activity monitoring and implementation body
    • As well as £60m over five years to support the creation of a shared future
    • (see paragraphs 8.1-9.1)

Section E – Irish Government Financial Support

  • The Irish Government commit £50m of funding to the A5 Western Transport Corridor and an additional £25m to ensure Phase 1 can commence once planning issues have been resolved.
    • On this basis construction should begin in 2017.
    • (see paragraphs 2.2-2.3)
  • A review with a view to identifying options for jointly developing future phases of the Ulster Canal will take place.
    • (see paragraphs 3.1-3.4)
  • A review of the Narrow Water Bridge Project will take place
    • (see paragraphs 4.1-4.2)
  • The Irish Government will provide €2.5million to support the North West Gateway Initiative, matched by the NI Executive.
    • (see paragraphs 5.1-5.2)

Section F – Implementation of other aspects of the Stormont House Agreement

  • A Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition will be established, recruitment will  begin in December 2015
    • (see paragraphs 15 and appendix F1)
  • Powers to take responsibility for parades and related protests should, in principle, be devolved to the Assembly
    • A discussion paper is currently being prepared for the Executive outlining options in relation to the model and operation of the regulation of parades and related protests (see paragraphs 16-20)
  • No agreement was made to agree a way forward on some of the key issues relating to the past
  • A Bill to reduce the number of MLAs to five per constituency will be introduced by the end of November 2015 to take effect after the first Assembly election after the May 2016 election
    • (see paragraph 56 and appendix F2)
  • A protocol re the Petition of Concern mechanism will be referred to the Speaker within a month
    • (see paragraphs 57-58 and appendix F3)
  • A Statement of Proposed Entitlements for an Official Opposition will be introduced to enable those parties entitled to Executive ministerial positions but choose not to take them to be recognised as an official opposition.
    • (see paragraph 59 and appendix F4)
  • The Departments Bill will be introduced by the end of November 2015
    • (see paragraph 60 and appendix F5)
  • A PfG framework adopting an outcomes based approach will be developed
  • From the May 2016 election the maximum consultation requirement will be eight weeks.
    • (see paragraph 65 and appendix F6)
  • A panel of six people (Civic Advisory Panel) will be established to ensure civic voices are heard on specific issues relevant to the PfG and report to the Executive.
    • (see paragraph 67 and appendix F7)

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