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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




A key aspect of the difference that the new Executive wants to make is in how it runs government. There will be the need, from the outset, for the Executive to lead the most effective and accountable form of government in Northern Ireland. We must use our resources to best effect, to make a real difference. We need to lead change, and draw in the many organisations that share our commitment to change. To be successful we recognise that we must operate in partnership with the other key stakeholders in society - the private, the voluntary and the community sectors. The delivery of our Programme for Government must harness the energy, dedication and resource of these stakeholders in genuine partnership to build a more tolerant, participative and inclusive society.

For this reason, within our departments, we must demonstrate effectiveness, efficiency and economy. And at the same time we must ensure accountability to the people of Northern Ireland.



There are several external and internal pressures driving this change process:

  • the need to press for a fair allocation of UK public expenditure to Northern Ireland. The Barnett formula that is used to determine our levels of public expenditure fails to address our needs and will result in lower public expenditure growth in Northern Ireland than in England, Scotland and Wales. Further, with the need for significant investment in our infrastructure alternative means of financing this expenditure will need to be sought.

  • the need to develop a more joined up and strategic approach to policy making than Northern Ireland has had in the past, with poor communications between departments. We are determined to provide services in a way that addresses public need, not the need of our departments or agencies. Further the public has a right to high quality and efficient public services, including the best use of modern technology. Our staff who serve the public are equally keen to achieve this and to be proud of the services they run.

  • the need to consider the rationalisation of public administration so that resources can be used best to serve the public rather than maintaining bureaucratic structures. We have inherited from the last 30 years a wide range of public bodies. Their organisation and structure reflected the needs of those times. They helped maintain services at a time of very limited public accountability. But now that devolution has been achieved, there is a need for change that will provide not only greater accountability, but should ensure that the organisations that deliver many key services throughout Northern Ireland are much more coherently organised.

It is therefore important that we set about a major process of reform in central government.

The previous chapters have set out the overall priorities of the Executive Committee. This will guide the work of the departments and their agencies. In particular it will set out the way in which cross-cutting policies will be taken forward in the Executive, seeking to provide the best value for money in terms of policy and service delivery. Only in this way can we tackle many of the tough social and economic issues that we face.

However, the Executive is only one of the bodies with responsibility for the future of Northern Ireland. Local government and the rich tradition of voluntary, community and other bodies have a great deal to give in creating the just and prosperous society that we all seek.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act has also created a requirement for full consultation with interested parties on the equality impact of policies, while the Civic Forum provides an opportunity to hear the views of a wide number of bodies. We will seek to use these organisations to the full, to seek views on the development of policy.

The Executive will develop its links with local government, the social partners and other organisations to improve both the process of policy development and of service delivery. Local authorities have a knowledge of the needs of their areas and a capacity to ensure effective co-ordination and leadership.


We will modernise government and make it more open and accessible to the public

We will ensure that public servants are appropriately skilled to provide better, more modern services, taking advantage of the opportunities posed by new technologies and taking account of rising public expectations.

Key to this will be to meet the needs of the public in a coherent way, linking together services provided by different departments and indeed different parts of the public sector, in an easily accessible, joined up way.

Part of this will involve the improved availability of information about government, and the development of ways to consult more widely about the development of policies, taking full account of the diversity in our society in terms of community background, social class, need and language. The policy development roles of the Assembly Committees and institutions such as the Civic Forum will provide one basis for such wider consultation while Freedom of Information legislation will provide greater access. The Executive may seek additional ways to develop and expand dialogue with significant actors in other sectors of the community.


We will take the following actions:

  • by March 2001, publish a Corporate Strategic Framework for e-government which will provide the foundation to co-ordinate the delivery of government services electronically and will address key issues such as social inclusion and freedom of information;
  • by March 2001, publish a Corporate IT Strategy which will include the technical policies, standards and guidelines which will facilitate inter-connectivity and inter-operability of IT application in departments and enable the delivery of electronic services to citizens and businesses. In support of this work we will initiate projects such as the next phases of the Public Service Network to ensure consistency, security, resilience and efficiency of the ICT infrastructure;
  • manage the provision of integrated network services which will provide cost-effective telecommunications services for departments; these services may be made available to appropriate parts of the wider public sector;
  • set and monitor departmental progress towards meeting targets for electronic service delivery:
  • develop a NI government portal on the Internet and manage an ongoing programme directed at simplifying the interactions between citizens and government;
  • work with the community and voluntary sectors to maximise the opportunities for access to modern technologies; and
  • introduce Freedom of Information legislation.


We will improve the efficiency of public services

There is a need to improve continuously the quality of public services and to maximise the output from the public sector. We will also look at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how the public sector procures goods and services. New means of achieving improvement, using new technology and new business approaches, need to be introduced into the Northern Ireland public sector to ensure the maximum benefit for the public.

We are undertaking two major change processes entitled "Roads Service: Delivering Excellence", and "Water Service: Moving Forward". The processes involve a wide ranging review of the policy and financial context within which both agencies operate, and aim to improve the efficiency and value for money with which Roads, Water and Sewerage Services are delivered.


We will take the following actions:

  • establish an effective system of regularly reviewing all major policy areas;
  • establish an effective system of reviewing major service provision and all NDPBs;
  • publish annual Service Delivery Agreements for all departments and agencies, setting out the expected levels of service the public can expect; and
  • develop and implement proposals to improve Public Procurement.


We will reform public administration

There can be no doubt that, while a conscientious body of people displayed great commitment in running Northern Ireland's public services through the period of Direct Rule, many of them organised in Non-departmental Public Bodies and District Councils, different structures will be required under devolution. The Executive is committed to greater accountability than in the past at regional level, and will expect greater accountability for all services through a more efficient and effective structure of administration at local level.

We strongly endorse the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) policy "that all eligible persons have equal opportunity for employment and advancement in the NICS on the basis of their ability, qualifications and aptitude for the work".


We will take the following actions:

  • complete the Review of Public Administration;
  • by June 2001, in the context of an accommodation review, examine the scope for decentralisation of civil service jobs, taking account of a range of factors and relevant policies, including the number of such jobs already in an area in relation to the local workforce, equality of opportunity, New TSN, the regional planning strategy, business efficiency, service delivery and cost; and
  • publish regular reports on the compositional profile of the NICS and on action being taken to address under-representation.


We will find new ways of financing our public services

The resources available from the taxpayer are finite, and in particular are stretched by the need to provide services for a higher proportion of young people and to tackle higher levels of social disadvantage than the UK average. We have however a major need for significant investment, in particular in areas of our infrastructure.

Addressing the deficiencies in our infrastructure will require us to continue to press for a fair allocation of UK public expenditure to Northern Ireland and to explore new ways of financing and providing public services.

We must also ensure that we obtain maximum benefit from National Lottery, EU and international funding sources while they are available.

In addition, we shall put in place arrangements which ensure that the rates provide an adequate level of funding for public expenditure and that there is an equitable distribution of the rate burden on households and businesses.


We will take the following actions:

  • by 2002, have reviewed the opportunities for the use of private finance in all major public service provisions and decided whether Public Private Partnership/Private Finance Initiative is practicable;
  • by spring 2002, have considered the use of congestion and other charges, and decided whether their use is practicable; and
  • by March 2002, complete a review of rating policy so as to have any required legislation in place to implement any policy changes by April 2003.


We will ensure that all public sector resources are used for the means intended.


We will take the action across departments to reduce losses due to fraud. For example:

  • in each of the years 2000/01, 2001/02 and 2002/03, we will reduce levels of Social Security fraud and error in Income Support, Job Seekers' Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance by 5%;
  • we will review on an annual basis progress against target of reducing prescription fraud by 50% against 1997/98 levels by 2003.


We will seek to work in partnership with Local Government and the Social Partners

In tackling many of the Programme for Government issues, we have the advantage of a vibrant and extensive community and voluntary sector which makes a significant and crucial contribution to many aspects of the social, economic, environmental and cultural life of Northern Ireland. We are committed to building stronger partnerships with the voluntary and community sector to work together as social partners to maximise benefits for society.


We will take the following actions:

  • in 2001, we will promote the partnership between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector by developing a strategy to implement the COMPACT;
  • during 2001, we will issue a strategy on the Government funding of the voluntary and community sector;
  • in 2001, we will announce a new role, structure and remit for the Voluntary Activity Unit to better reflect our desire to work in partnership with the sector; and
  • work with District Councils, social partners, the North/South Special EU Programmes Body and other bodies through the Monitoring Committees on the EU Structural Funds, to ensure the Programmes are developed and implemented in a working partnership.

The departments with the main involvement are:

While the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Department of Finance and Personnel have lead responsibilities in many of these areas, all departments are involved. The Department for Social Development has the lead responsibility with the Voluntary and Community Sector.

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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