Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Committee for Finance and Personnel
Committee Office Room 404
Tel: (028) 9052 1448
Fax: (028) 9052 1083
Date: 30 November 2007
Committee response to consultation on the Executive’s Draft Budget 2008-11
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has now completed its consideration of the implications of the draft Budget for the public services being delivered by OFMDFM. The Committee found the exercise to be very worthwhile but was restricted in its considerations by the limited time available – we comment more on this later in this response. Nevertheless, some of the preliminary performance and budget scrutiny of the OFMDFM directorates that the Committee undertook earlier in this Assembly session helped us understand many of the priorities, budgetary pressures and proposed efficiencies which OFMDFM faces.
My Committee recognises that your Committee’s role in co-ordinating a response from the statutory committee’s on the draft Budget is a similar role to the one which this Committee is carrying out on the draft Programme for Government and the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland. The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister also recognises that if both Committees work together in relation to developing the process and documentation for future consultation, this can lead to better scrutiny by the statutory committees, the Assembly and the wider public. This will in turn provide more accountability for the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.
This Committee believes that it is therefore prudent that our respective Committee Chairpersons and Clerks meet to discuss proposals for developing the process and documentation for future consultation which are evolving through our Committee discussions and through responses to our consultations with the other statutory committees. I would welcome your views on this proposal.
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s response to the draft Budget is set out below in line with the themes and issues framed by your Committee.
Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
How resource and capital allocations align with Committee priorities.
The Committee discussed the proposed bids for additional resources and the proposed efficiency plans for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at its meetings on 12 and 26 September and 3 October 2007 and forwarded its views to OFMDFM on 3 October 2007. Those priorities were:
- additional financial resources to allow the Planning Appeals Commission to recruit and deploy additional Commissioners to address the backlog in planning appeals in Northern Ireland;
- additional resources for the programme for Good Relations;
- additional funding to support the needs of victims and survivors;
- additional funding to develop a play policy for Northern Ireland;
- additional funding to take forward sustainable development in Northern Ireland; and
- additional funding to take forward the anti-poverty strategy.
The Committee is generally content with the additional resources allocated but has concerns about a number of areas in relation to these priorities and these are covered in this response under “Budget allocations”.
The Committee also welcomes the allocation of resources for taking forward the Older People’s agenda from 2009/10.
Importance of Department’s spending priorities to the Executive’s strategic and cross-cutting priorities
The Committee considers that the majority of the departmental functions and corresponding spending priorities will directly help to deliver on the Executive’s strategic and cross-cutting priorities if managed and delivered well. Several of the key functions are within the Equality and Strategy and Regeneration directorates and these have clear relationships with promoting tolerance, inclusion, health and well-being, investing to build our infrastructure and protecting and enhancing our environment and natural resources.
The Committee recommends that the Executive recognises the importance of the findings in the “Cost of Division Report” to the Executive’s strategic, cross-cutting and spending priorities.
Comparison with other years
The Committee welcomes the additional resources for the Planning Appeals Commission and Water Appeals Commission which will make provision for additional full-time Commissioners. The Committee is well aware of the increasing number of appeals being lodged and the increasing backlog in the handling of appeals. Members are very concerned about the effect that this is having in relation to planning and development and the consequent impact on the Northern Ireland economy.
The Committee welcomes the additional resources for the programme areas relating to good relations and for projects to help develop children’s health, knowledge and skills. The Committee also welcomes additional resources for taking forward the wider agenda of sustainable development.
It is the view of the Committee that it is essential that the work to deliver cross-cutting strategies to tackle poverty, social exclusion and deprivation and to improve the sustainability of development are properly resourced and effectively led and managed. To that end the Committee will be seeking robust arrangements for the delivery of cross-cutting priorities and will also be seeking clear identification of resources being used to address these priorities.
The Committee does have concerns about the timing of additional budget allocations in relation to victims and survivors, older people, children and young people and good relations, which may imply delays in delivering in these areas.
Evidence based arguments for additions
The Committee has concerns about the additional resources allocated to tackling poverty and will consider this matter further during its Inquiry into Child Poverty.
Transfers between programmes
The Committee is seeking further information on what controls there were in place when the resources in the Integrated Development Fund were transferred from OFMDFM in the 2007/08 financial year. The Committee will be seeking assurances that in future when transfers of funding between departments take place, that mechanisms, which are fit for purpose, are in place to ensure that proper delivery of these programmes take place within deadlines.
The Committee recognises that there is Department of Finance and Personnel guidance regarding reallocation of funding to other programmes within the departmental remit. The Committee sees many of the OFMDFM programmes as high priority, cross-cutting and making a major contribution to achievement of the Executive’s over-arching aim, it does not therefore feel it necessary to depart from the indicative budgets.
In the longer term, the Committee considers that any significant resources identified as additional and/or surplus to in-year budgets should feature in quarterly monitoring rounds for reallocation. The Committee will of course consider each bid/surrender in its own merit.
Budget reductions and efficiencies
Impact of reductions and mitigating circumstances
The Committee recognises the need for reprioritisation and for OFMDFM to deliver efficiency savings. The Committee therefore accepts OFMDFM’s proposals for real-term reductions and efficiency savings in a number of administrative and support functions. The Committee does, however, have some concerns about the potential impact of reductions and proposed efficiencies on front-line programme areas relating to equality, economic policy, the Office in Brussels and the Commissioner for Children and Young People and is seeking further information on the impact of these reductions.
Extent to which efficiency plan is achievable and risk of major detrimental effect on delivery
The Committee has concerns in relation to efficiencies identified by OFMDFM in the Northern Ireland Bureau which appear to be based on the assumption that the officers in post do not and will not have dependants over the Spending Review period. The Committee believes that although the amount of resources is not significantly high, it depends on the circumstances of the person in post and therefore cannot be relied upon as an area for efficiency.
Opportunities for more cash releasing efficiencies, opportunities to raise revenue, disposal of assets
Budget information and process
Proposals for improving quality and relevance of financial and performance indication in draft Budget
From a departmental perspective, the draft Budget document allows the departments to outline the key issues and challenges they face in the budget period and beyond. It also discusses what the budget allocations will help the departments achieve and there is evidence that there are some timeframes against which performance can be measured. However, much of what is stated here is a continuation of existing services under what may be considered existing policies and programmes. It is recognised that there are a number of new interventions by the Executive within these statements and that these are more clearly identifiable in the lower level Public Service Agreements, but there is the potential to undersell the new interventions by assuming that these documents will be read in tandem.
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister recommends that the Minister of Finance and Personnel considers providing clearer indication of the new interventions in his high level document in each departmental section.
The Committee recommends that more indications of timings are provided, where appropriate.
Proposals for improving future process
Consultations on the Programme for Government (PfG), Investment Strategy Northern Ireland (ISNI) and Budget were launched in the Assembly on Thursday 25 October 2007 by the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Minister for Finance and Personnel and began an 8 week consultation period. It must be noted that the launch of these consultations on this date meant that the consultation period would cover three weeks when the Assembly is in Christmas recess. However, it is also recognised that the launch of the consultation was hindered by the late announcement of the result of the Comprehensive Spending Review by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which confirmed the available resources in the Northern Ireland Block.
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Committee for Finance and Personnel agreed to co-ordinate responses to the consultations from the Assembly’s statutory committees. Due to the imminent Christmas recess period it was therefore necessary for Committees to carry out consultation with their respective departments and to respond to the two Committees by 28 November 2007. This further curtailed the statutory committees’ ability to consider the implications of the proposals contained in the PfG, ISNI and Budget documents.
The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister recommends that the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the Executive examine the schedule for future consultations on Programme for Government, Investment Strategy and Budget with a view to maximising the capacity for statutory committees to fulfil their statutory roles to advise Ministers on departmental budgets.
Specifically, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister asks that following consultation with his Executive colleagues, the Minister for Finance and Personnel provides a timetable for Budget 2008 to facilitate early consideration and engagement by statutory committees.
The Committee also recommends that the process for Budget 2008 builds into the process early production of Equality Impact Assessments for in-depth consideration by Committees.