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Summary

  1. Finance Committee hears evidence from department officials on programme for government
  2. Department of Finance discusses reforms to management of civil service estate

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

Goodnight

The Finance Committee goes into closed session to discuss the sale of the Nama's Northern Ireland loans, and that's where we leave it for today.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

We're back tomorrow morning with the Agriculture Committee from 10:00 and we'll also have coverage of the Justice Committee in the afternoon.

Goodnight for now!

Plan for non-domestic rating system review

Finance Committee members are now discussing their plan for a review of the non-domestic rating system.

The committee in session
BBC

A number of sessions are earmarked in the new year for the committee to take evidence from various groups, including Northern Ireland's councils.  

'Can't use poor broadband as excuse for non-delivery'

Ulster Unionist Philip Smith says the PfG is a "bizarre document" that is "hard to follow".

He asks how the provision of public services online can work for people when there is poor broadband connectivity in some areas of Northern Ireland.

Philip Smith
BBC

Mr Wickens says he does not think he will be able to use the excuse of poor connectivity if his target - to provide high quality public services by way of online services - is not achieved.

"We can still work towards a very clear target without a direct link to that particular one," he says.

"I don't think I could sit here in three years' time and blame the fact we didn't have more broadband capability as being the reason I didn't deliver this particular indicator."

Finance department outlines PfG aims

Matters move to the executive's programme for government (PfG), and officials from the Department of Finance are giving their take on the priorities for this assembly mandate.

Changes have been made to the way the executive will set its targets and measure its achievements.

Executive ministers outside Stormont Castle
BBC
The executive agreed a draft programme for government following May's elections

A list of desired outcomes has been drawn up for the next five years and a series of indicators allows the executive to track the progress towards the achievements of the outcomes.

Paul Wickens from the DoF explains to the committee that providing public services online is a major project for the executive, with online voter registration one such area it is working on with the Northern Ireland Office.

He adds that the department has a list of online service projects that will keep it busy for the next few years.

Flynn becomes new Sinn Féin MLA

Órlaithí Flynn has replaced Jennifer McCann as a Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast.

View more on twitter

She has worked as a political advisor for Alex Maskey MLA as well as former West Belfast assembly representatives Rosie McCorley and Sue Ramsey.

Ms Flynn, who had her official sign-in at Stormont today, says she is "honoured and privileged" to be co-opted to the assembly.

'Savings of £30m targeted by 2025'

The DUP's Paul Girvan refers to the target of saving £30m by 2025.

Desi McDonnell
BBC

"How far along the route of that saving are we?" he asks.

Desi McDonnell (above) of the DoF says it has saved £14m over the past five years, adding: "The last couple of years would have saved about £1.5m each year."

'Departments don't want to share office space'

Emma Little-Pengelly refers to the 40% of empty workspaces in the government estate, and asks if it would not be prudent to adopt an "aggressive programme of getting out of leases as soon as you can".

Mr Wickens says there are "geographical limitations" and there are also "political limitations".

Emma Little-Pengelly
BBC

He says there is a culture that means "a department does not particularly want to share accommodation with another department".

The DoF official says a different culture prevails "across the water", where "they've gone for multi-tenanted buildings".

Executive 'compiling plan to cut' heat scheme costs

House of Commons

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme has also been up for discussion at Westminster, with MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee quizzing Economy Minister Simon Hamilton.

Simon Hamilton
BBC

Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, who described the scheme as a "financial disaster", asked the minister what "lessons had been learnt" as a result of the fiasco.

Mr Hamilton said a range of lessons "are being identified" and a plan is being put together that could significantly reduce the cost of the scheme to taxpayers.

Foster 'did not ignore' heat scheme warnings

BBC News Northern Ireland

First Minister Arlene Foster "did not ignore" warnings by a whistleblower over the catastrophic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme that is set to hit the public purse by more than £400m, Economy Minister Simon Hamilton says.

A man operating a biomass boiler
Thinkstock

Concerns over the green energy project were expressed to Mrs Foster in 2013 when she was the minister at the Department of Enterprise, which was running it.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt says Mrs Foster should consider her position as first minister over the controversy, but Mr Hamilton is accusing him of "stuntery".

'Four desks to five people is the aim'

Mr Wickens explains that 60 government organisations have been arranging their own office accommodation needs, but a "central expert team" should be set up in order to make savings.

A man using a computer
Thinkstock

In reply to a question from Ulster Unionist Philip Smith, Mr Wickens says they have been the DoF has been working from a base of 12 desks to 10 employees.

"We want to work towards four desks to five people," he says.

'Savings could be made in public sector buildings'

Three Department of Finance (DoF) officials are now briefing members on the management of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) estate.

Department of Finance officials
BBC

Paul Wickens (above, centre) explains some aspects of the reform programme.

He says research has suggested that significant savings could be made through the "rationalisation of office accommodation" in the public sector.

In the Finance Committee chair

Finance Committee
BBC

The DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly takes the helm for the final meeting of the Finance Committee before the Christmas break.

Missed last night's Stormont Today

BBC Two

It was the final day of business in the assembly chamber before Christmas yesterday, and you can catch up on it on Stormont Today with Mark Carruthers.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

On the agenda were debates on the Social Investment Fund and the Armed Forces Covenant, while Alliance Party MLA David Ford introduced his bill to reform Northern Ireland's abortion law.

Missed last night's Spotlight?

BBC One

It's the talk of the country today - the botched green energy scheme that will cost Northern Ireland taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds for the next 20 years.

Conor Spackman
BBC

Of course, if you're a Stormont Live regular, you'll be familiar with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme from our coverage of the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the project.

On last night's Spotlight, Conor Spackman took a close look at the what insiders are calling the biggest financial shambles in the history of Northern Ireland.

Good afternoon

Welcome along to Wednesday's Stormont Live coverage of the Finance Committee on what is a mild December day up here on the hill.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

Officials from the Department of Finance will be appearing before MLAs to outline changes to the management of civil service property and the department's programme for government plan.