Tag Archives: department of culture arts and leisure

WI budget

I mentioned the Northern Ireland budget and its effects on Waterways Ireland here; Nelson McCausland [DUP] gives an overview of the effects on DCAL here, including this:

The North/South language bodies and Waterways Ireland, while outside the scope of this budget reduction exercise, will see their budgets fall by over £1 million collectively, as agreed at the relevant North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings.

 

A quick bit of sheughery

Here, read this. I haven’t time to take it all in at the moment, but the minister’s “An updated business case was recently completed for my Department” is, as far as I know, misleading: that business case was completed by DCAL in Northern Ireland and sent to Dublin. Thus, as the SF TD Mr Ó Snodaigh probably knows, the “business case” (which is not a cost-benefit analysis) came from a Sinn Féin minister’s department.

It seems our designation of “Saunderson’s Sheugh” was spot on.

Northern Ireland spending on waterways

Sammy Wilson [DUP]: Looking through the list of capital projects, I see lock gates on the Shannon, bridge repairs on the Grand canal, enhancements of the Grand canal towpath, the Shannon Blueway and the multi-activity trail at Carrick-on-Shannon. Nearly every one of these projects is in the Irish Republic. Does the Minister see her role as fighting for projects in Northern Ireland or simply sitting there, handing over our money for projects in the Irish Republic?

Mr Wilson might not have noticed, during his terms in ministerial office, that waterways capital projects in each jurisdiction are paid for by the government of that jurisdiction. So NI money is not spent on capital projects in the republic; if NI politicians want more money spent on waterways improvements [as opposed to running costs] in Northern Ireland, it will have to come from the NI budget.

Unfortunately Mr Wilson’s party colleague, and successor as Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton, does not share Mr Wilson’s enthusiasm for erecting lock gates or towing-paths on the Erne [or whatever it was he wanted], for he has cut DCAL’s Budget [157-page NI budget and 28-page statement, both PDFs] and, in consequence, the amounts to be allocated to Waterways Ireland.

DCAL is wondering how to apply the chopper and is seeking views; a 190-page consultation document can be downloaded here [MS Word *.doc]. Neither DFP nor DCAL makes it easy to find the change from last year’s allocations, but DCAL says that the “savings” to be made by Waterways Ireland will be £468,000. As of today, that’s €630,727.

The Word document points out that

The budgets for the North/South Bodies are agreed by the North South Ministerial Council and are dealt with under different arrangements.  They are therefore outside the scope of this exercise.

So the document can’t say what the “front-line impact” of the cuts to Waterways Ireland’s allocation will be.

15% of WI’s current budget is paid by Northern Ireland and 85% by the republic. If the savings shown above are all to the current budget [which is not clear, though WI’s NI capital budget was pretty small anyway], then the total cut in WI’s current spending will be €5,204,847.

Note again that, without spending a lot more time on this than I currently have available, I cannot say from what base figure the cuts or savings are to be made.

Respondents to DCAL’s November 2014 consultation on the draft budget included only one who discussed waterways:

There was one response who stated that other sectors should be cut and funding to Waterways Ireland should be increased.

That was from an individual; it appears that no organisations commented on waterways issues and I cannot see any inland waterways-related voluntary body listed amongst those who submitted their views. As in the republic, arts folk seem to have been well organised.

The DCAL page contains a link to a surveymonkey page seeking responses.

 

DCAL

What is the top priority of the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure?

Is it to promote culture?

No.

To promote the arts?

No.

To promote leisure?

No.

It is

… to promote social and economic equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Ne sutor ultra crepidam?

 

DCAL and water recreation

Noting that the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure [DCAL] has a Water Recreation Development Programme, I emailed the department to find out more:

I would be grateful if you could let me have a copy of your 2013-14 Inland Waterways Water Recreation Development Programme and of any subsequent equivalent programmes, policies or documents. I have been unable to find anything on your website.

I am grateful for the reply, which read:

[…] we wish to advise you that we do not have a formal Water Recreation Development Programme document. How the Water Recreation Development Programme is operated is that we apply each year for capital funding. If successful, we then go out to local authorities seeking to work in partnership with them and other public bodies to co or match fund appropriate and inclusive capital projects. Such projects should provide water related access: for example riverside paths, canoe steps or other similar facilities on public owned land which is free for the public to access and use.

The process we follow is when we receive details of the projects from local authorities we complete an assessment of the project taking into account the following criteria

  1. Does the project provide water access
  2. Are there funding or delivery partners
  3. How the project links to the community
  4. How will the project be maintained in the future
  5. Does it enhance or improve disability access
  6. How does it promote social inclusion.

If DCAL is content that these criteria are met we would then consider funding for the project.

During the 13/14 year we had a capital fund and we were able to support six projects; however due to budget constraints we do not have a capital fund this year 14/15.

The Water Recreation Development Programme appears to be distinct from the Water Recreation Programme covered here and to apply to waterways other than those managed by Waterways Ireland.

This site has what purports to be the department’s business plan for 2013–4. I expected to find it here on the DCAL site but that page seems not to have been updated for some years. If anyone can point me to a link on the DCAL site, I would be grateful for guidance.

I cannot, therefore, be certain that the purported plan is actually DCAL’s plan, but I quote it anyway.

DCAL Inland Waterways

In partnership with local authorities and the voluntary and community sector, DCAL continued to manage canal towpaths in 2012-13. In addition, under the Inland Waterways Water Recreation Development Programme, in conjunction with local councils the Department grant aided 6 projects which included a canoe slalom, interpretative signage and the installation of an outdoor exercise ‘Trim Trail’. These facilities are free for everyone to use and it is a stipulation of the Programme that projects address social exclusion. The Water Recreation Programme is continuing in 2013-14. Funding was also made available to the Lough Neagh Partnership to engage with local rural communities around the lough to explore how they could develop the cultural and leisure tourist potential of the Lough.

In 2013-14, key challenges include work towards registration of assets on the Lagan Canal and investigations into the provision of a safe system of navigation markers for Lough Neagh. DCAL will also be considering the outcomes of a study into the potential for re-opening the former Lagan Navigation.

DCAL’s target for y/e 31 March 2014 was:

By 31 March 2014, to fund at least 5 water recreation projects which provide accessible opportunities for all and target those experiencing poverty and social exclusion.

Its “opening allocations” for 2013–4 were:

  • Inland Fisheries and Waterways: current £5.87m, capital £0.17m
  • North/South Body – Waterways Ireland: current £5.42m, capital £0.25m.

 

Uninformative press release aboot thon sheugh

Plans to restore the Upper Lough Erne to Clones section of the Ulster Canal are being pursued by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

it says here. The official NSMC version is here. No mention of the inter-agency treasure-seekers; perhaps the swag is in here:

Progress on the development of the new INTERREG V and PEACE IV Programmes for the period 2014 – 2020 was discussed. The Council noted that the draft Programmes had been submitted to the EU commission by the deadline of 22 September 2014.

I see that WI employee payments for pensions are going up:

16. Ministers also acknowledged the ongoing work in relation to reform of the North South Bodies Pension Scheme, including recently approved amendments to ensure the Scheme complies with employment legislation and best practice in both jurisdictions and to increase employee contributions.

Someone with a tin ear (perhaps someone who doesn’t do crosswords) wrote this:

driving a shift to public and more sustainable modes of transport and the potential for shared cross border public transport services in border areas.

Driving would be right, especially in Donegal. But what about parity of esteem?

development of cross border Greenways

Why no Orangeways?

 

Jim Allister and WI’s business plans

I noted here that Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, had been asking questions about the “regularity” and “legality” of certain amounts granted to Waterways Ireland and the cross-border Language Body by the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. His two questions to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure were answered last week.

AQW 35466/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written]

Answer: The accounts for both agencies of the North South Language Body and Waterways Ireland for the 2013 and 2014 years have not yet been completed and audited.

My Department’s Accounting Officer reported that during the 2013/14 year, DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to the Language Body and Waterways Ireland as the business plans for these respective periods have not been approved. Draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies were monitored, and Corporate Plans for the period 2011- 13 for Waterways Ireland and both agencies of the Language Body, which were approved by Sponsor Department Ministers; both Finance Ministers and the NSMC Ministers were in place.

That’s a lesson in how to avoid answering the questions you were asked.

AQW 35541/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]

Answer: The 2013/14 Main Estimate is published on the Department of Finance and Personnel’s website (http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/main-estimates-2013-14.pdf). My Department included within the 2013/14 Main Estimate on specific lines entitled “Language Body” and “Waterways Ireland” an estimate of the grants (before any efficiency savings were applied) my Department intended to allocate to the North South Bodies during 2013/14.

Estimates are prepared by departments and examined by DFP Supply to ensure that they meet Assembly propriety requirements and are consistent with the Executive’s expenditure plans.

After approval by DFP Supply the Estimates are presented and recommended (as required by Section 63 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998) to the Assembly by the DFP Minister who moves the Supply Resolution/s summing up the requests for Supply for each body.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers that the process and published Main Estimate document shows approval by DFP for the grants allocated to the North South bodies. DFP did not approve the final business plan which has resulted in the grants being deemed irregular.

It would be nice to see that legal advice.

Last week’s Phoenix magazine had an article headed “Flanagan falls flat on face” [not online] about severe constipation in the business of the Northern Ireland Executive. It includes this paragraph:

The DUP have plunged the [NI] institutions into a blast freezer since May when unionist ultra Jim Allister, staunch opponent of the GFA [Good Friday Agreement], got 75000 votes in the Euro elections. His party won thirteen council seats the same day. That sent a high voltage chock through the party. They stopped doing business with Sinn Féin, fearful of losing votes in next year’s British election.

But the WI/Language Body business plans problem surely began before May 2014.

NI21 and waterways charges

Basil McCrea is MLA for Lagan Valley and leader of NI21. He is a member of the NI Assembly’s Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. He has asked two questions of the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure:

AQW 35965/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the Department’s total expenditure to Waterways Ireland in (i) 2012; (ii) 2013; and (iii) 2014 to date.

AQW 35966/11-15: To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether there is legislative provision for her Department to impose a charge on users of waterways.

 

The delays in approving WI business plans

I wrote on 26 November 2013, and again on that date, on 22 January 2014 and on 7 April 2014 about the extraordinary delays in having Waterways Ireland’s business plans approved by The Powers That Be. I saw it as poor practice that would make management’s job harder, with plans not being approved until very late in the year or even until after the end of the year to which they applied.

But, thanks to a statement by Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice, I have been alerted to the possibility that the problem might be even greater than that. He points out that the NI Comptroller and Auditor General qualified the Resource Accounts of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure [DCAL] for y/e 31 March 2014 because the business plans for Waterways Ireland and the North/South Language Body were not approved in time. Jim Allister’s interpretation is perhaps a little overheated — the C&AG’s “irregular” becomes “illegal” and “unlawful” — so it’s worth looking in detail about what the C&AG actually said.

Sources

It’s very hard to find the DCAL Resource Accounts on the departmental website (which has a dreadful search engine) so here is a link [PDF]. I quote from them under the [UK] Open Government Licence [the link in the accounts omits a backslash].

Summary

In his Certificate of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the Northern Ireland Assembly on page 83 of the accounts, the C&AG, K J Donnelly, says:

Basis for qualified opinion on regularity

The Department is responsible for providing Annual Business Plans to the Department of Finance and Personnel in sufficient time to allow approval by the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the North South Ministerial Council prior to the commencement of the financial year to which the plan relates. As business plan approvals were not in place the Department has incurred irregular spend in 2013-­‐14 in relation to grants amounting to £3,213,000 paid to Waterways Ireland and £5,258,000 paid to the North/South Language Body.

The detailed account

The C&AG writes about this in more detail on pages 120 and 121:

2. Irregular Spend

2.1 The Department, along with the Department for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht jointly sponsors Waterways Ireland and the North/South Language Body; both are North South Implementation Bodies set up under the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 (the legislation).

2.2 The legislation requires each body to prepare an annual business plan that is subject to the approval of both Finance Ministers and the North South Ministerial Council. The legislation also states that the department may make grants to the body out of money appropriated by the Act of the Assembly and that such grants shall be of amounts and made on such terms and conditions as the department may, with the approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel, determine.

2.3 In order to comply with the legislation, sponsor departments are responsible for providing Business Plans to the Department of Finance and Personnel in sufficient time to allow approval by the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the North South Ministerial Council prior to the commencement of the financial year to which the plan relates.

2.4 Due to delays in the provision of Business Plans for some bodies, the Department of Finance and Personnel sought legal advice on the legitimacy of grants paid to the bodies prior to the approval of the plans. The Department of Finance and Personnel wrote to Accounting Officers on 23 May 2014 pointing out that failure to follow the outlined approval process in relation to grants made to North/South bodies has resulted in irregular spend.

2.5 The Department has advised me that given the timing of business plan approvals it has incurred irregular spend of £8,471,000 in 2013–14. This is made up of £3,213,000 in relation to Waterways Ireland and £5,258,000 in relation to the North/South Language Body.

Conclusion

2.6 As Business Plans have not received the required approval, there was no authority for this expenditure. I have therefore concluded that the expenditure was not in conformity with the authorities which govern it and qualified my audit opinion on regularity in this respect.

2.7 The Department of Finance and Personnel also indicated that if a department pays a cash grant to a North/South Body without the prior approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel then the department will have breached the provisions of the legislation and the expenditure is thus unlawful. However, there is conflicting legal advice on whether Department of Finance and Personnel approval has been provided in this regard. This is an issue which affects a number of departments and I would encourage this Department and others affected to further engage with the Department of Finance and Personnel to recolve this matter. I intend to keep this matter under review.

The Accounting Officer’s response

Peter May, the department’s Permanent Secretary, is its Accounting Officer. In his report he wrote about Governance Divergences arising in the Current Year on pages 79 and 80:

N/S Bodies

On 23 May 2014 DFP alerted departments which sponsored North South Bodies of concerns it had around the regularity and legality of grant payments made to these Bodies.

Regularity of payments — The Department accepts that N/S Bodies business plans  must be approved by the North South Ministerial Council in order for expenditure to be regarded as regular.

During 2013–14 DCAL incurred irregular spend in respect of grants to Waterways Ireland and the Language Body as business plans for these respective periods  have not been approved. It should be noted that draft business plans were in place against which the performance and budget of the bodies was monitored, and an approved Corporate Plan was in place for the period 2011–13.

Legality of payments — DFP has also raised concerns about these grants because they insist there is no record of formal DFP approval for the amounts of these grants or the terms and conditions under which they were made.

On the basis of legal advice, the Department considers the Estimates process and the negotiations between Finance Ministers on the efficiency savings show approval for the amount of the grant, while the Financial Memorandum provides the terms and conditions, which have not changed since 2005. This approach has been followed in good faith by DCAL on the basis of advice provided by DFP in 2009.

Full details of this spend is given Note SOAS 8.

SOAS8, on page 90, adds no useful information.

Jim Allister follows up

Jim Allister has two Priority Written Questions down on the matter:

AQW 35466/11-15 Mr Jim Allister (TUV – North Antrim): To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in light of the Comptroller and Auditor General qualifying her Department’s Resource Accounts for 2013/14, whether she accepts that grant payments of over £8m made by her Department’s North/South Bodies were irregular; and if she will seek approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel for all such payments in accordance with the statutory requirements of the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. [Priority Written] [04/09/2014 Awaiting Answer]

AQW 35541/11-15 Mr Jim Allister (TUV – North Antrim): To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether she will place into the Assembly Library, a copy of the documentation received from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), or otherwise recording DFP approval, which verifies the claim by her Department’s Accounting Officer in the Resource Accounts 2013/14 that DFP approval of grants to North/South Bodies was given for the amount of the grant at estimates or efficiency stage negotiations. [Priority Written]  [05/09/2014 Awaiting Answer]

WTF?

If I have understood him correctly, Jim Allister is most interested in whether DCAL was engaged in illegality; the department is, I think, rather defensive about the matter, but they can fight it out between themselves.

What interests me, though, is why DCAL could not approve the business plans in good time. Had it done so, and pushed them through the remaining regulatory hoops, it would have had no problem with either regularity or legality. Neither Corporate Plans, which cover three-year periods, nor draft business plans are acceptable substitutes for having the annual business plans approved in good time.

I don’t see, in either the C&AG’s or the Accounting Officer’s coverage, any explanation for the inordinate delays; they don’t say whether the problem is within DCAL, between DCAL and DFP or between DCAL and its southern counterpart, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Wherever it lies, it needs to be sorted out.

 

Thon sheughery business

It will be recalled that Her Majesty’s Loyal Home Rule Government in Belfast is considering investing in the Clones Sheugh [aka Ulster Canal] and that I asked DCAL, the department responsible, for a copy of the Business Case. To my surprise, it said:

Your request is being treated as a Access to Information request and will be handled under either Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Either way, DCAL has now told me that I can’t see it. The Business Case, which is apparently an addendum to the 2007 Business Case (which was rotten: see here passim), won’t be complete until November. I have made a note to remind myself to ask for it then.

I quite sympathise with the DCAL folks: it can’t be easy thinking of any good reason to spend taxpayers’ [British or Irish] money on the Clones Sheugh. But perhaps DCAL can spin it out until the Shinners have taken over the Free State, at which point the economics of Grattan’s Parliament will be in vogue and we can all take up growing flax, spinning and weaving, giving grants for canals and making money out of the slave plantations.

Speaking of Shinners, there’s one called Cathal Ó hOisín, a member of HM Loyal Home Rule Government in Belfast representing East Londonderry, who said there recently:

The possibility of the reopening of the Ulster canal would open up limitless opportunities in tourism. The idea that, once again, we could travel from Coleraine to Limerick, Dublin and Galway by boat would be absolutely wonderful.

Well, you can do that: by sea. There was never an inland navigation from Coleraine, Limerick or Dublin to Galway, despite the urgings of Lord Cloncurry and the nitwitted ideas of Sir Edward Watkin.

As for a connection between Limerick or Dublin and Coleraine, I suspect that Mr Ó hOisín is perpetuating the error into which Her late Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, etc, seems to have fallen when she appointed

Commissioners to inquire respecting the System of Navigation which connects Coleraine, Belfast, and Limerick

which Commissioners reported in 1882. There was no such system and, if Mr Ó hOisín can provide evidence that any vessel ever travelled by inland navigation between Coleraine and Limerick, I would be glad to hear of it. I prefer to think of the Commissioners’ conclusion that

As an investment for capital the whole canal system in Ireland has been a complete failure.

I see no reason why politicians of the twenty-first century should repeat the errors of their predecessors in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

You expect the Parnellite members to have a bit more sense, but one John Dallat said in the same debate:

[…] when the Ulster canal is open, tourists will come in their thousands and that will benefit the Lower Bann, the Foyle as well, and right over to Scotland.

Er, John? There are actually canals in other countries. Even in Scotland. Folk are familiar with canals. They’ve seen them before. And a short sheugh to Clones is not going to attract tourists (apart from the relatively small number of canal twitchers, who will need to tick it off on their lists) unless the town of Clones is particularly attractive. Which … well, let me put it this way: why not look it up on TripAdvisor?

Of course I’m all in favour of Clones myself: I am quite interested in concrete engine-sheds and former canal stores.