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Devolved Government - Programme for Government

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Research: Martin Melaugh
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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

Programme for Government

Draft Programme for Government - Published 25 October 2000




In the Belfast Agreement, as a key part of the way we would work together for the better government of Northern Ireland, it was agreed that:

"The Executive Committee will seek to agree each year, and review as necessary a programme incorporating an agreed budget linked to policies and programmes, subject to approval by the Assembly, after scrutiny in Assembly Committees, on a cross-community basis".

This draft Programme for Government sets out the Executive's proposed strategic aims and priorities which will be pursued, working with and for all the people. Each year we will consult on the revision of this Programme. It will provide an important focus of co-operation, to enable us to create a better future for ourselves and for our children.

Shortly after the restoration of devolution we produced an Agenda for Government. It demonstrated our commitment to work together to agree some early actions to improve and modernise our society. This draft Programme for Government builds on our Agenda and sets out much more comprehensively our plans for next year and the longer term, although it does not seek to cover every activity.


Our Vision for the Future

As we enter the new Millennium, after a long and difficult period in our history, and commit ourselves to work together for the common good, we need a shared vision for our society.

Our vision - as set out in the Agreement - is of a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the "achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and the protection and vindication of the human rights of all". It is a vision also based on "partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between these islands".

We commit ourselves to good government. Different departments and agencies will work together to give the best possible service to the public and develop policies in the priority areas we describe below. We also want to foster debate and co-operation between the Executive and the Assembly. Our joint aim must be to improve our policies and programmes and create the best legislative framework for the future. We must govern in an open, efficient and accountable way.

And we wish to develop our role as a region. We want to co-operate for the benefit of all and to develop a much more outward looking approach.

We also have something to give. Our efforts to resolve our conflict can be an inspiration and help to other areas in the world.

On many issues - for example on the environment, agriculture and economy - policy is developed at national and international levels. We accept our responsibilities to play our full part in these institutions and at the same time to look after our interests. In particular, the arrangements for co-operation, set out in the Agreement, create a new opportunity for us all.

We therefore set out our draft Programme for Government for the Assembly's approval and with the aim that other organisations can see our priorities, and can see how they can work with us to achieve our vision.


A Cohesive, Inclusive and Just Society

In working together to create a new future, we have to deal with the very deep and painful divisions in our society. After decades of division and 30 years of conflict there is a high level of distrust between the two main traditions within our community.

We each must continue to develop a capacity for compromise and respect, seeking to resolve conflict and creating new links and building trust. This will not be an easy or short-term task, and in undertaking it we have to give particular attention to the needs of victims.

Our vision is set out in the New Targeting Social Need (TSN) Policy by which we are committed to tackling community differentials in unemployment and the significant levels of deprivation, long term unemployment and benefit dependency which have blighted our society. We recognise the inequalities in the life experiences of our citizens in terms of poverty, health, housing, educational and economic opportunity and disability and we are determined to tackle them.

We must promote a just society where everyone enjoys equality of opportunity, whatever their religion, gender, ethnic origin and personal background, and whether they live in the cities or the countryside. We will seek to improve opportunities for those with disabilities.

We are committed to policies which actively promote equality of opportunity and adhere to international standards of human rights. We will tackle unjust discrimination through strong and effective laws. Through New TSN we will redirect resources and efforts towards people, groups and areas in greatest need. All must have an equal opportunity to participate in the life of this society.

We also wish to address directly religious and political division, seeking to create greater mutual understanding and respect for diversity, supporting dialogue and understanding among the communities. In short, we accept that we must seek to be a driving and unifying force for the whole community in the new political circumstances.

These three themes - cohesion, inclusion and justice - underpin the implementation of all our policies and programmes. The way we provide public services, the way we educate our young people, the means by which we encourage economic growth, all impact on the society in which we live.


A Healthy Society

A vision of a modern, successful society must include major improvements in the health of our people. We recognise the links between poor health and low incomes and will target our resources accordingly. We also recognise the rising cost of healthcare and will aim to maximise the effectiveness of both our health and social services.


A Future for Our Children

Central to our vision for the future must be a focus on our young people. Ours is the third youngest population of all the regions in the European Union. On their development lies our future and we need to ensure that our policies and programmes take account of their needs. At the same time we share in the broader EU trend (albeit to a lesser degree) of significant numbers of people moving into old age, with an important contribution to make, but with the right to look to the rest of us for support to maintain their quality of life. Shifts in family structure and growth in the population will mean that we will have to take account of an anticipated 250,000 new households over the next 25 years.


Education for All

We need to improve significantly the educational successes of so many of the young people in our schools, colleges and universities. Our vision is to extend accessibility, choice and excellence throughout our education system, raise standards and eliminate low achievement. Our aim is to allow everyone to fulfil his or her personal development and contribute fully to societal development. We will create a highly educated society in which all school leavers have the qualifications and aptitudes to achieve self-fulfilment to proceed to further or higher education, receive vocational or professional training for participation in a modern workforce and have lifelong opportunities to update their knowledge, skills and qualifications.


Creating jobs in the New Economy

Our vision is also of a dynamic, competitive economy, creating opportunities for all in a wide range of sectors, with many more skilled jobs in the new knowledge-based economy. Strategy 2010 has set out one perspective for achieving this. We are aware of the challenge of global competition and the real structural weaknesses of this economy, over-dependent on a number of declining or slow-growing industries and on the public sector. Our confidence in the future is built on the significant successes we have achieved in recent years, with increasing employment and manufacturing output and falling unemployment. Unemployment, however, remains relatively high and creating jobs must be a key element of our vision.


A Better Environment

We also appreciate the importance of ensuring that this development is sustainable, in environmental as well as in social and economic terms. A good quality built and natural environment is key to our economy, helping for example to attract investors and visitors as well as being integral to the future of agriculture. It is also of major importance to the personal health of everyone, now and in the future. Sustainability must therefore be a key theme that will run through the Executive's work, integrating social, economic and environmental objectives in a way that leads to the greatest gains in quality of life and well-being.


A New Basis for the Rural Economy

An important aspect of our economy and society that has been neglected in the past is that in the rural areas. This covers not only agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but also the economy in our rural towns and support for rural society. We need to integrate our approach here, creating new skills and new job opportunities while ensuring that public services are accessible. Only in this way can we sustain the rural life and our countryside for the future.


A Renewed Infrastructure

The provision of infrastructure and major public services such as public transport, roads, water and sewerage are essential for the social and economic wellbeing of the region. Serious deficiencies in our essential infrastructure assets have been identified as a result of years of under investment. This is giving rise to real public safety and public health concerns. We need to act now if we are to reverse the unacceptable deterioration in the quality and reliability of our infrastructure and to comply with EC Directives.


The Wider Context

Our future depends crucially on the development of our neighbours and the European Union. Therefore, we intend to give particular emphasis to developing Northern Ireland's external relations, within the Belfast Agreement and within the European Union, to secure the maximum benefit and to contribute to the development of our neighbours.


Our Priority Areas

In the light of these challenges, and building on our Agenda for Government of June 2000, we have agreed that our mission in the coming years is:

"to make a difference to the lives of our people, enabling them to grow as a peaceful, fair and inclusive community. We will in particular seek to work together to combat poverty and social exclusion and to improve health; to untap the creative potential of our community by investing in the education and skills of all our people; and, through renewed infrastructure and innovative policies, secure the basis for a competitive, sustainable economy. We will seek to develop our relationships, working on a North/South, East/West and international level. We will work together to develop the new democratic structures and efficient, accountable public services".

In particular we need to focus our work in the coming years on the following areas, working together across departments and agencies, to tackle the fundamental problems of our society.

  • Growing as a Community
  • Working for a Healthier People
  • Investing in Education and Skills
  • Securing a Competitive Economy
  • Developing North/South, East/West and International Relations

Within each of these Priority areas the Executive will tackle a number of broad policy issues and implement a range of actions. By linking them together under these priorities we will give better overall direction to this work.


The Executive Programme Funds

A key element of our approach is the creation of targeted Executive Programme Funds (EPFs) which we will use to support programmes or projects which are of major importance to the Executive, or which will assist the development of activity across departments, or where resources are needed to support activity which an individual department may not be able to support from its own resources. The EPFs will promote the development of new policies and programmes, and new, improved, services.


Social Inclusion/Community Regeneration Fund
Service Modernisation Fund
New Directions Fund
Infrastructure/Capital Renewal Fund
Children's Fund


EPFs will assist the development of new policies and programmes, and new, improved services, as well as dealing with major infrastructure projects. EPFs will have particular regard to the Executive's Priorities as set out in the Programme for Government and also its commitments to equality and New TSN.

The main policy issues that they will cover include:-

  1. Social Inclusion/Community Regeneration

    This relates to action against poverty and supporting community measures in both urban and rural settings, as well as actions on community relations and for cultural diversity. In this policy area, linkages to EU Structural Funds and Community Initiatives will be highly relevant.

  2. Service Modernisation

    The objective will be to promote efficiency and innovation within our own departments and the wider public sector. Actions that might be included are e-government, improvement in the focus and quality of services to the public, "invest to save" measures and administrative reforms.

  3. New Directions

    The objective will be to promote innovation in our programmes. This could embrace aspects of change in the health service, educational development as well as new approaches to economic strategy, the development of the creative industries and new directions for agriculture and the rural economy.

  4. Infrastructure/Capital Renewal

    The objective will be to support strategic projects including roads, rail, energy and telecommunications, where appropriate related to the use of the Private Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnerships.

  5. Children

    This will provide support for children in need and young people at risk, drawing on the experiences so far from the Chancellor's Children's Fund.


The focus on the funds is on policy and service innovation, on tackling weaknesses in infrastructure and on ensuring effective targeting of programmes on individuals, groups and areas in greatest need.

Proposals will by nature either be of major regional importance or cross-cutting in their nature. EPFs should in many cases help lever in other resources, from a number of departments or even elsewhere, to create new funding bases for cross-cutting programmes.


Working Together

It is vital that we improve the way in which we work together within our 11 departments. Our administration needs to be accessible, accountable and responsive, creating services that meet the needs of the public. We also need to press for a fair allocation of UK public expenditure to Northern Ireland and find new ways to finance key services. These challenges are addressed in chapter 7.

In addition, in each of our priority areas we will improve the co-ordination of our departments and agencies, ensuring that services are delivered in a way that meets the needs of the public. We will also work together on joint policy development and help define longer term expenditure priorities.


Public Service Agreements

Later this year, we will develop individual Public Service Agreements for each Department which will support the Executive's priorities and commitments. These agreements will set out for each Department its aims, objectives, programme budget allocation and key targets, and help develop a linking of public funds to the achievement of agreed outcomes. The Public Service Agreements will form part of the finalised Programme for Government.



Our commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity and tackling social disadvantage has also underpinned and informed the Programme for Government and shaped departments' priorities. Key elements of the New TSN Action Plans have been incorporated in the Programme for Government and the equality implications of proposed actions and targets have been central to their final selection.

Annex B contains an Equality Impact Assessment statement relating to the Programme for Government. The Programme for Government will be sent to all relevant groups for comment as part of the Equality Impact Assessment process before finalisation.

Contents     Preface     Consultation
Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6     Chapter 7
Annex A     Annex B     Annex C


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