Category Archives: Analysis

Where is NI’s Welfare Reform Bill?

The choreography two weeks ago was clear – Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland noted that agreement had been reached on most aspects of Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland; Committee Chair Alex Maskey chimed in with similar sentiments. Since these represent the two largest parties in the Assembly, it looked like a Bill was imminent. Yet the Bill has still not been introduced.

There are two main areas where Northern Ireland is seeking differentiation from Great Britain. The difficulty is, it must pay for this differentiation from its own budget. The first is the “Bedroom Tax” (actually the “new under-occupancy rules” which include a withholding of benefit for houses with unoccupied room); and the second is fortnightly payments (i.e. paying the new Universal Credit every two weeks or twice monthly, as opposed to once monthly as proposed in Great Britain).

All five parties in fact seem politically united that these are both worthwhile differentiations, even at a combined cost of around 42 million each year. It would appear, however, that when Ministers were asked to find that money collectively, some were unwilling. Thus the source of the 42 million is not obvious.

Order papers now exist to the end of May with no sign of the Bill, despite the fact it has nominally cleared Committee. We live in frustrating times!

Key words and phrases in any language

A basic corpus of fewer than 90 key words and phrases can really get you going in any language.

Here is a basic vocabulary list.

Here are some key prepositions, interrogatives and negatives.

It is more essential than ever to note that it is exceedingly rare for any single words or phrase to mean precisely the same thing in all contexts in any two given languages. The range within which a particular word is used varies from language to language (and even dialect to dialect).

Clearly, in addition to these words and phrases, a basic understanding of the grammar (word order, plural formation, tenses and so on) is necessary from the outset. Ultonia Communications will look at this over the coming months.

Welfare Reform good to go in NI

The final hurdle for the Welfare Reform Bill in Northern Ireland will be passed on 4 February, with a majority report from an ad hoc committee of the Assembly confirming there are no specific human rights or equality grounds on which to delay it.

Politically, this suits all sides. Unionists and Alliance had long cautioned Nationalists against delaying the Bill on the basis of “parity”, which would cost several hundred million pounds to the Northern Ireland bloc grant annually if it were not applied; Nationalists recognise this, but will nevertheless have been seen to push as hard as they can.

Welfare Reform has been a hot topic in Northern Ireland, but somewhat too late – “parity” always meant legislation applying to Great Britain was likely to be applied across the UK; and the basis of the legislation was established in a Green Paper from Great Britain’s Department for Work and Pensions three years ago.

The issue now is implementation, and how to manage Northern Ireland’s significant opt-outs (such as on “Split Payments”).

The ‘Compton Review’ – a year on

The Compton Review (formerly known as Transforming Your Care) started in June 2011, headed by then Chair of the Health and Social Care Board, John Compton, assisted by an independent panel. It is essentially Northern Ireland’s equivalent to reforms started by Andrew Lansley in England. It was completed in November.

The approach was:

  • a review of context and good practice;
  • assessment of existing arrangements;
  • assessment of alternative options/models;
  • analysis and reporting; and
  • engagement.

Unsurprisingly, this found three major problems with the current system, each feeding from the previous:

  • growing/ageing population;
  • poorer health and growth in chronic conditions; and
  • instability of the system.

None of these is particular to Northern Ireland (although they are if anything worse than elsewhere in the UK, as the population is both growing and ageing faster).

The consequences of this were noted as:

  • unplanned/haphazard change;
  • poorer care and treatment;
  • poorer health outcomes;
  • difficulties meeting future health needs; and
  • failing the health workforce.

Key reasons for change include more patient-centred care, managing increasing demands, and delivering an evidence-based and sustainable service.

The report emphasises a divide between emergency, planned and specialist care and suggests that:

  • people will make decisions about their own care (the Service will provide the tools);
  • most services will be provided locally (and care, ideally, at home); and
  • very specialist provision will be provided in cooperation with Great Britain and Ireland.

The review is also specific about its desire to close at least three hospitals (talking of 5-7 “hospital networks), and to set up 17 integrated care partnerships.

It is stated that the intention in Northern Ireland is not to reduce Health and Social Care spending, but rather to use what spending currently exists more efficiently. Nevertheless, given the strains on the Service, this will seem like a reduction in spending in some areas.

A year on, the ‘Compton Review’ still receives strikingly little coverage. It has, in fact, received broad support for its thrusts towards localism and individual choice. What this all means ultimately depends on your own priorities.

Nevertheless, it is a massive political undertaking and, in a democracy where local interests predominate (as is the case more in Northern Ireland than elsewhere), issues such as ‘hospital closures’ will be resisted – after all, in 2003, an Independent candidate topped the poll in West Tyrone on that issue alone!

Devolution and Layers of Government in the UK

In our experience, there remains significant confusion over how to deal with the development of devolution in the UK.

Businesses and third sector organisations have not yet fully adapted to the new reality of domestic legislation being passed for 15% of the population away from London. However, what is even more noticeable is the apparent failure in many cases to grasp that devolved legislatures also have other functions exercised in England at different levels.

This table may help:




Local Services


Social Services




Foreign Policy

England – London

Borough Council London Mayor UK Parliament
England – Rural

District Council

County Council

UK Parliament

England – Urban

Unitary Authority

UK Parliament


Regional Council

Scottish Parliament

UK Parliament


Local Authority

National Assembly

UK Parliament

Northern Ireland

District Council NI Assembly

UK Parliament

This is not perfect, of course. The precise boundaries vary from place to place, for example:

  • some more “rural” parts of England still have “Unitary Authorities“;
  • the precise division between local services and domestic policy varies slightly from place to place;
  • district councils in NI have comparatively few powers (thus the NI Assembly takes on comparatively more services);
  • fewer powers are devolved to the National Assembly in Wales than to the Scottish Parliament or NI Assembly; and
  • some powers are devolved in Scotland but not Northern Ireland (e.g. tax-raising powers), whereas others are devolved in Northern Ireland by not in Scotland (e.g. employment).

Essentially, however, this does demonstrate there are, below Europe, four basic levels of government – but no part of the UK experiences more than three of them. With that as a starting point, the whole thing becomes much easier to understand – and access.

What will Theresa Villiers bring to Hillsborough Castle?

Theresa Villiers

New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers

Theresa Villiers has been appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, replacing Owen Paterson. Mr Paterson was widely liked in Northern Ireland, and many will be sad to see him go to DEFRA.

Ms Villiers is a surprise appointment, moving over from Transport, but her keen interest in Cypriot affairs may have been a consideration. She has long campaigned for a single sovereignty and citizenship on the island, divided between Greeks and Turks since a Turkish military intervention in 1974.

She grew up in North London and is a barrister by profession.

Welfare Reform

Mr Paterson had sought for some time to promote Welfare Reform directly in Northern Ireland, as a past PPS to Iain Duncan Smith. Villiers is less likely to take such a direct interest in the subject, which is in any case theoretically devolved.


Ms Villiers is a past Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so may bring some significant economic interests to the post.

It remains likely, however, that a change of incumbent merely means a swifter dropping of the notion of a separate Corporation Tax for Northern Ireland alone. Mr Paterson had personal capital built into the idea, for Ms Villiers this does not apply.


Ms Villiers moves over from Transport which, while mainly focused solely on England, includes UK aviation. It is possible that she will use the role to highlight NI’s aviation issues, particularly the airports’ quest for new destinations.


By coincidence, her constituency is the same as that held by Reginald Maudling, a past Home Secretary with responsibility for Northern Ireland.

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What is the “Compton Review” for campaigners?

This is a public briefing on “Transforming Your Care” – more widely known as the Compton Review, which is central to Health reforms in Northern Ireland. It is designed not as a general overall briefing, but rather specifically for professionals seeking to influence public policy through the reforms.


The ultimate purpose of the Compton Review is to reform the Health Service to make it more cost-efficient. The reason for this – which is indisputable regardless of political philosophy – is that an ageing population would require ever-increasing amounts of money to deliver the same service to the same standard. This point applies in all jurisdictions of the UK.

The National Health Service, when it was set up, accounted for 3% of the UK’s GDP. It now consumes close to 9%. Therefore, although some people refer to the purpose behind the reforms, in Northern Ireland as in England, as “just a money saving exercise”, they are necessary and they are more complex than merely cutting a few quid off the bottom line. Whether they are the right reforms is, of course, a matter of legitimate contention in both jurisdictions.

The Northern Ireland Health Service is regarded, narrowly, as the best performing in the UK, although it is noteworthy that is also enjoys a higher per capita spend. Outcomes in areas such as life expectancy are roughly on a par England/Wales (and markedly superior to Scotland); Northern Ireland performs comparatively well in areas such as cancer survival and dementia diagnosis, but poorly in areas such as heart disease.

More specific reasons for change are stated in the Review and elsewhere as:

  • Improved prevention of ill health;
  • More patient-centred approaches;
  • Management of increasing demand across all programmes of care;
  • Reduction in health inequalities;
  • More evidence-based service delivery; and
  • Support for the workforce in delivering change.


In addition to the reasons for the review, “guiding principles” were also agreed to meet these reasons for change.

These included:

  • Individual-centred care (recognition that each individual’s precise needs differ) taking account also of family, and promoting independence and personalisation of care; and
  • Providing right care in right place at right time (relevant both to “Get It On Time” and care services).
  • Focus on prevention and tackling inequalities (not bad things in themselves perhaps, but not highly relevant to a condition which is not really preventable and can strike anyone anywhere); and
  • Safeguarding the most vulnerable (again, fully understandable, but with Parkinson’s there are no particular “most vulnerable”).


As a result, the model envisaged by the Compton Review is:

  • Individual at the centre and helped to make own decisions;
  • Home as hub (support at or near home more common);
  • Federations of GP practices and Integrated Care Partnerships to plan/coordinate care;
  • “Responsible” access to emergency/specialist hospital care; and
  • NI Health Service appropriately networked to Great Britain and Ireland.

“Community Care” is taken to include the normalisation of outpatient appointments in the community, minor surgery in smaller health centres, multi-disciplinary community teams, “telehealth” and ability of GP to admit to hospital (bypassing A&E).


The Compton Review leads to a focus on ten prime “programmes of care”:

  • Population Health and Wellbeing
  • Older People
  • Long Term Conditions
  • People with a Physical Disability
  • Maternity and Child Health
  • Family and Child Care
  • People using Mental Health services
  • Learning Disability
  • Acute Care (including unscheduled care, urgent care, clear protocols for emergency care and planned care)
  • Palliative/End-of-Life care.

The stand-out area here is “Long Term Conditions”, although in general “Older People” will also need some consideration in Parkinson’s UK campaigns.

The section on “Long Term Conditions” sets the objectives of:

  • Home as hub of care and personalised care pathways;
  • Early identification/diagnosis and as much self-management as possible;
  • Support from GPs with a specialist interest, multi-disciplinary teams and community pharmacy;
  • Partnership working towards greater self care;
  • Continued use of Expert Patient Programme (led by users);
  • Carers as “partners” in care;
  • Named contacts in each GP surgery (for improved communication);
  • Admission protocols between community and specialist secondary care staff;
  • Maximising use of “telehealth”; and
  • Improved data warehousing (to inform best practice).


The reforms may be read as an adaptation of those proposed by the Department of Health in England, and certainly there are parallels (most obviously Integrated Care Partnerships and the ultimate driving force of a more efficient service). However, some of the underlying motivations are different (and less obviously ideological).

The partisan political focus has been on the potential (and logically likely) closure of hospital A&E departments and, ultimately, hospitals. Around half of hospitals in Northern Ireland could face closure as a result and, although the reasoning for this (greater community care close to the home) is fairly well understood and supported within the Health Service itself, it will no doubt prove controversial with the public and be used (abused?) by some politicians for partisan ends.

Where this political debate will lead is uncertain – there is potential for the reforms to become badly stalled with serious financial consequences, but they are being well managed thus far.


 Although some Unions have expressed concerns about the reforms, the focus of their argument has been on staff pay and pensions. Otherwise, the reforms seem to enjoy broad support from people working within the Health Service (notably those within Trusts).

However, there remain serious issues of “Change Management”, particularly with regard to the principle of patient-centred (personalised) care. In truth, this is the opposite of the current culture within the Service, and will prove a significant challenge to the success of the reforms.

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What has happened to the Welfare Reform Bill in NI?

Northern Ireland’s Welfare Reform Bill was due to be published before Assembly recess earlier this month. Ultonia Communications’ Ian James Parsley asks where it has gone.

One of the peculiarities of devolution is that it operates subtly differently – both in theory and in practice – in different jurisdictions. One area where this is most obvious is social security, and thus Welfare Reform.

In the UK social security is, in theory, devolved only to Northern Ireland. However, a long-standing principle of “parity” – aimed at guaranteeing the same level of social security and welfare support to all citizens regardless of where in the UK they live – means that any shortfall in funding for social security in NI will be met by the UK Treasury provided NI retains roughly the same social security system. Precisely what this means, however, is open to debate.

Already there are areas of welfare provision which are done slightly differently in NI, usually due to different systems elsewhere – for example, as NI retains rates where the rest of the UK has moved to Council Tax, housing support is necessarily different. In NI, the system is also administered slightly differently, run as it is by the Department of Social Development (DSD) in Belfast rather than the Department of Work and Pensions in London. Although in practice DSD uses many of the same systems (IT, management etc), in some areas practice and outcome are subtly different (for example, DSD has in fact been significantly more successful in tackling fraud).

Welfare Reform would necessarily involve some differences in NI, where areas such as childcare provision and government-sponsored training are markedly different – thus, some of the assumptions behind welfare reform in Great Britain do not necessarily apply to NI. There is a legitimate debate about whether this requires NI to come more into line in areas such as childcare and training, or whether it provides reasonable grounds for a difference in welfare reform policy (still falling within the spirit of ‘parity’ on the grounds it ultimately seeks the same outcome).

For all that, Great Britain’s Welfare Reform Bill achieved Royal Assent on 7 March. “Parity” dictates that roughly the same reforms are necessary in NI, and thus that roughly the same legislation is necessary, and according to all Assembly scrutiny on the subject (most notably in the Social Development Committee), this was due at least to have been published by the end of June. Why wasn’t it?

Ultonia Communications makes great play of understanding not just the structures but also the culture of the devolved institutions, and therein lies the answer. Ultimately the NI Executive is driven by two parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – and things only happen once they agree. However, as one correspondent puts it: “There is no ‘bank of goodwill’ between the parties“. In other words, decisions can only be made which may be seen to favour on party’s position at the same time as a decision favouring the other party’s position – regardless of the issues involved or even whether they are remotely consequential. Hence, earlier this month, we saw decisions announced on the Maze Regeneration and the Victims’ Commissioner at the same time, with the rest (including welfare reform) relegated to a sideshow – or, specifically, to a trade-off at a later date.

This “culture” does not just impact on NI’s Welfare Reform Bill (which cannot be delayed too long otherwise NI will be left with a huge tab to pick up, likely running into billions, for social security). It will also surely come to impact implementation by the Health Minister of Transforming Your Careimplementation by the Education Minister of the two Education Bills (and broader reforms), and a whole host of other policies. Welfare Reform has been delayed by the lack of a “Bank of Goodwill” – and, in public affairs, it is always worth having contingencies in case the same happens in other areas.

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Language Learning Kit

We offer innovative routes to quick language learning success, based on an entirely different approach to language learning.

One area of focus is core vocabulary – a file of which covering major Western European languages and some minority languages is downloadable free here.

Even with this file, we urge caution. Traditional learning methods emphasize like-for-like correspondences between words – for example “to ask” is usually given as “demander” in French and “fragen” in German. But what when it is “prier” in French and “bitten” in German? We move away from vocabulary building of that type, emphasizing instead that words must be learned in context.

Nevertheless, some core words – typically short and in frequent use – are essential to fluent use of any language. The file attached will be particularly useful to people who have any of:

  • passive competence in the target language;
  • competence in a language close to the target language (e.g. Spanish speakers heading on holiday to Italy); or
  • former competence in the target language.

Take a look, and feel free to comment on the left!

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Ultonia publishes Ulster-Scots grammar

Ulster Scots: A Short Reference Grammar

Ulster Scots SRG: Cover
“This book comprehensively shifts the Ulster-Scots debate on to new, more positive ground.” – Ian Adamson

Available in/from the United Kingdom here

Available in/from the United States here

Available elsewhere via Amazon (in EUR, in USD)

Accessible to everyone – from novice language learner to professional translator – it is an indispensable guide for writers of the authentic modern and literary tongue, and an exhaustive exposition of its grammar and syntax.

The text also serves as a fascinating reminder of Ulster’s position at a linguistic crossroads. It provides not just a detailed description of points of grammar and recommendations for use in writing, but also a commentary on the interrelationship between Scots, Gaelic and other Germanic dialects and languages, including as they have travelled to the New World.

This book is designed as the first compact reference grammar of any variety of Scots, focusing on Ulster usage but also covering other varieties. With its clear layout and concise explanations, it will become an invaluable reference for everyone who takes an interest in Ulster-Scots/Scotch-Irish heritage and in the languages of Scotland and Ireland.

For further information, simply leave a comment!

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