First Minister Peter Robinson has appointed Jim Wells and Mervyn Storey to the health and social development portfolios, respectively, in the Northern Ireland Executive. Wells, formerly the Deputy Chair of the Assembly’s Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, succeeds Edwin Poots. Storey was previously Chair of the Education Committee and replaces Nelson McCausland.
Both men are on the more conservative wing of the DUP. Wells regards the post of Health Minister as “the most challenging position in the Executive.” The most pressing issue for Mervyn Storey is welfare reform. He has called for an agreement on the issue so that Northern Ireland can “move forward.”
In his first policy announcements, Wells launched a new regional mental health care pathway and consultations on a research and development strategy, a service framework for respiratory health and well-being and firefighters’ pensions scheme. He has commented that listening and learning from staff “has never been more important than it is now given the scale of the financial challenge facing our health system this year and going forward.”
Storey has published a masterplan for the regeneration of Ballysillan in North Belfast and launched consultations on local regeneration in Greenisland and Shaftesbury Square in South Belfast.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety accounts for 44 per cent of the Executive’s resource budget i.e. totalling £4.6 billion. The main budgeting item for social development is social security which has an allocation of £5.6 billion, followed by pensions (£2.3 billion). Other responsibilities include housing and charity regulation.