Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

14 December 2007

Written Submission by: Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Programme for Government

Aim, Strategic Priorities and Cross-cutting Themes

1. The Committee generally welcomes the strategic priorities and the cross-cutting nature of the draft Programme for Government (PfG).

2. It is vital when such cross-cutting plans are established that there are effective arrangements for ensuring that resources follow priorities and that departments are effectively held to account for delivering on their cross-cutting commitments. To that end, the Committee wishes to see within PfG/Budget/ISNI and related delivery plans, robust arrangements for the delivery of cross-cutting priorities and clearer identification of resources that are being directed towards these priorities.

Relevance, SMARTness and Deliverability of Goals

3. The functions and priorities of OFMDFM align well with the Executive’s strategic and cross-cutting priorities.

4. The Committee very much welcomes the priority afforded within the Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and the draft Budget to Victims and Survivors and would wish to see this directly reflected in the Programme for Government document.

5. The Committee also welcomes the commitments in the PSAs to establish an international strategy, to implement the children’s strategy, to deliver a strong independent voice for older people and to increase resources afforded to the Planning Appeals Commission.

6. The only goals specifically mentioned within PfG, for which OFMDFM has lead responsibility, are those to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010 and to eliminate child poverty by 2020. The Committee agrees in principle with these ambitious targets but is very concerned at the lack of detail within PfG and the PSAs as to how the 2010 target is to be delivered. This is particularly significant as information provided to the Committee would seem to indicate that there has been little or no progress in reducing child poverty over the past three years. Indeed it has been estimated that only 27,000 children have been removed from poverty in Northern Ireland in the past seven years, but to achieve the proposed target by 2010, 41,000 will need to be removed in the next three years. Much of the responsibility for removing children from poverty will fall to departments other than OFMDFM but sufficient information does not seem to be available within PfG on the new initiatives that will ensure rapid progress towards this target.

7. The Committee calls on Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to ensure that within the Programme for Government and the related delivery plans, the new initiatives planned by all departments to tackle child poverty are clearly detailed.

8. Concern was expressed by members of the Committee in relation to the lack of depth within the Programme for Government on Good Relations.

Proposals for Delivering the Aims and Priorities, Including the Delivery of the Cross-cutting Priorities of a Better Future and Sustainability

9. The Committee would like appropriate priority and further information to be included in the final Programme for Government document and PSAs in relation how the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability will add to the existing and planned strategies on matters such as tackling poverty, good relations and sustainability (for which OFMDFM already has responsibility) and what role, if any, OFMDFM has in ensuring that departments take account of these themes within their policies and services.

10. The Committee considers that additional information should be included in the Programme for Government and relevant delivery plans on:

(a) how progress in taking these themes forward is to be measured;

(b) how and by whom departmental plans for delivery on the cross-cutting themes are to be assessed and, if necessary, challenged; and

(c) when progress against key milestones will be reported.

11. The Committee has been advised that additional information on delivery of the cross-cutting themes will be included in delivery agreements which are currently under development. It is the Committee’s view that these documents should be published alongside the Programme for Government and should detail the contribution of each department to the achievement of targets established by the Executive on a better future and sustainability.

12. The Committee’s ability to assess the extent to which PfG/ISNI will ensure the delivery of the objective of a better future is limited as a result of the unavailability of the strategic assessment of the equality impacts of PfG/ISNI.

Public Service Agreements

13. As indicated previously, the Committee is concerned that there is insufficient information available within PfG/Budget/ISNI to enable the Committee to satisfy itself that targets on child poverty, as set out in PSA 7, are deliverable.

14. The Committee is also concerned that the budget allocations for tackling child poverty may not be sufficient to deliver the challenging targets set by the Executive.

15. The Committee recommends that OFMDFM should review the targets and actions for which it is responsible within the PSAs, to ensure that all targets are SMART. In particular, it is recommended that additional information on timescales and measurement should be included to improve the SMARTness of targets relating to:

16. The Committee considers that whilst there are a number of good targets and actions there is a need for improved read across on how the actions will achieve the targets.

Draft Investment Strategy

Alignment of the Objectives, Priorities and Investment Framework with PfG Priorities, Goals and Targets

17. The Committee welcomes and recognises the value to infrastructure development of the long-term approach provided by the Investment Strategy. The strategy is needed to clearly identify how departmental capital budgets will be deployed in one cohesive strategy to achieve the Executive’s priorities. It also has a role in informing the construction and technology industries, careers agencies and education and training organisations of the medium to long-term needs and opportunities created through the Strategy.

18. The Committee would welcome clarification on the rationale for the cross-cutting objectives in the Investment Strategy, which are additional to the strategic priorities and cross-cutting themes in PfG, and would welcome an explanation as to their purpose.

Funding Allocations

19. The Committee has sought and received assurances that the first three years of the strategy are aligned fully with the draft Budget, which includes the assumption of £600m of receipts from assets disposal. The Committee looks forward to seeing the detail of the asset disposals within the Investment Delivery Plans.

Key Goals and Milestones

20. The Committee has visited and been appraised of the proposals for investment programmes at Ebrington Barracks and Fort George and notes the proposed milestone date for regeneration of the site by 2012. The Committee has also visited and been briefed on the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site but notes that no milestone for the regeneration of the site is included in the Investment Strategy. The Committee recommends that a specific milestone is included in the Strategy for the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site.

Arrangements for Delivery of the Investment Strategy

21. The Committee has been advised that additional information on delivery will be included in a new performance management and delivery framework under development by OFMDFM and Department of Finance and Personnel. The Committee welcomes the commitment provided by OFMDFM that delivery plans will be published alongside the Investment Strategy. Members wish to see specific detail included within the delivery plans on how the cross-cutting themes of a better future and sustainability are being taken into account.

22. The Committee would welcome clarification on how the objective of promoting regional balance is to be measured and how this objective differs from tackling regional disparity.

23. The Committee recognises the importance of infrastructure investment in tackling objective need. The Committee would therefore wish to be advised as to how the geographical distribution of deprivation has informed the Investment Strategy.

24. The Committee supports the views of the Advisory Council on Infrastructure Investment on the importance of there being a cohesive approach across government departments to investment planning and delivery, the need for action to address limitations in skills and government culture and the need to see results from a monitoring process that is capable of evaluating deliverables.

25. The Committee recommends that a detailed plan of action should be developed by the Strategic Investment Board and the Department of Finance and Personnel to address the lack of capacity within the Public Sector to deliver the Investment Strategy.

The Role of Procurement

26. Committee members were concerned at the lack of information that officials from OFMDFM were able to provide on how procurement practices will help to deliver strategy objectives and would wish to see specific target dates set for the development of guidance on embedding equality and sustainability into procurement practice.

Programme for Government and Investment Strategy- Information and Process

Structure, Accessibility, Quality and Relevance of Information

27. PfG/Budget/ISNI are very closely linked. The Committee is concerned that there can be difficulty in cross-referencing these documents because of the number of different priorities, themes, objectives, goals, milestones and targets and would encourage the Executive to consider whether the framework could be simplified or more effectively cross-referenced.

28. The Committee is concerned that it was required to complete its scrutiny of the Programme for Government without having the opportunity to consider the strategic level equality impact assessment of PfG/Budget and ISNI. It is vital that this is corrected for future years.

29. Similarly, more detailed information in relation to the geographic spread of new capital investments will not be available until the final version of the Investment Strategy is produced. The Committee is not therefore in a position to comment on the extent to which the strategy objective of promoting regional balance is being delivered. The Committee recommends that such information should be available in future years when Committees consider the draft Investment Strategy.

30. The Committee would also to wish to have information included in PfG and ISNI in future years on the role, purpose and format of investment and delivery plans so that it is clear what further information will be available to statutory committees to assist them in monitoring departmental performance.

Improving the Process to Develop PfG and the Investment Strategy

31. The schedule for this year’s consultation exercises on Programme for Government, Investment Strategy and Budget was not satisfactory. The 10 week consultation period started on 25 October 2007 and the closing date is 4 January 2008. The reality for many Committees was that they had their first opportunity to consider the documents during week commencing 5 November 2007, when they first met following the statements, and ended at the end of November when Committees were asked to respond to the Finance and OFMDFM Committees.

32. As a result, there was insufficient time available to the statutory committees to scrutinise relevant aspects of PfG/ISNI. This significantly limited the ability of the Committee to hear views from stakeholders before forming its own opinions. The Committee accepts the exceptional reasons and circumstances relating to the cycle this year, but would wish to see this addressed in future years, when there must be a much longer period available for statutory committees to properly scrutinise PFG/ISNI.

33. The Committee intends to work with the Committee for Finance and Personnel to develop proposals for improving the scrutiny by the Assembly of PfG/Budget/ISNI.

34. The Committee would wish to see the Executive, early in 2008, bringing forward a timetable in relation to the development of PfG/Budget/ISNI for future years.