Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 25 February 2002


Assembly Business: Election of Deputy Speaker

Assembly Business: Suspension of Standing Orders

Personal Social Services (Preserved Rights) Bill: Consideration Stage

Budget Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Review of Public Administration

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Department of Employment and Learning

Department of Social Development

Review of Public Administration

The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes' silence.

Assembly Business: Election of Deputy Speaker

Mr Speaker:

I wish to remind Members that the election of a Deputy Speaker will be conducted in accordance with Standing Orders 4 and 5. I will begin by asking for nominations. Any Member may rise to propose that another Member be elected a Deputy Speaker. Each nomination must be seconded, and I will verify that the Member nominated is willing to accept the nomination. I shall then ask for further proposals and deal with any subsequent proposals in the same way. When it appears that there are no more proposals, I will make it clear that the time for proposals has passed. If Members wish, a brief debate may follow.

At the conclusion of the debate, or, if there is no debate, at the conclusion of the nominations, I will put the Question that the Member first proposed be a Deputy Speaker of this Assembly, a motion that will have to be carried on a cross-community basis. If the motion is not carried I will put the Question in relation to the next nominee and so on until all nominations are exhausted. Once a Deputy Speaker is elected, all other nominations fall.

Do we have any proposals?

Mr Trimble:

I have great honour in proposing that Sir John Gorman, who has resigned as a Deputy Speaker, be succeeded by Mr Jim Wilson.

Mr Davis:

I second the nomination of Mr Wilson.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I propose Mr Mervyn Carrick.

Mr Morrow:

I second that nomination.

Mr Speaker:

Mr Wilson, are you content for your name to go forward as a nominee?

Mr J Wilson:

I accept the nomination.

Mr Speaker:

Mr Carrick, are you willing for your name to go forward as a nominee?

Mr Carrick:

I accept the nomination.

Mr Speaker:

Are there any further proposals?

I hear no further proposals, and the time for proposals has expired.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

In an Assembly of this kind, whose only real parallel is the European Parliament where there are a number of Deputy Speakers or Presidents, it is the usual custom that consideration be given to the opinion of the House with regard to the political divides. It is not so in Westminster, because that is a different type of assembly. It seems strange that in this Assembly, where the main division is either pro- or anti- the agreement, we do not see fit to have at least one anti-agreement Deputy Speaker, yet justice demands that in this type of assembly - [Interruption].


Mr Speaker:


Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I do not know what that man is blethering about. If he wants, I will give way to him, and he can tell us what he wants to say.

I just want to make that point. We have representation from one of the smallest parties - one of our Deputy Speakers is a member of the Women's Coalition. That is right and proper. However, consideration should be given to the main division that exists in the House. Justice requires that that be considered. It is for that reason that we are putting forward a candidate.

Mr Trimble:

I assure the Member, Mr Carrick, who also has the honour of representing Upper Bann, that there is nothing personal in what I am about to say. I deprecate the suggestion that the election of a Deputy Speaker should be anything other than a matter for the House as a whole, having regard to the candidates who have been proposed, their suitability for the position and their ability to represent and to deal with the House as a whole. It would be most unfortunate if this decision became a matter of pro- versus anti-agreement, or Unionist versus Nationalist feeling. Such political considerations should not enter into it. I have proposed Mr J Wilson because I consider that he is eminently suited for the job: his experience in the Business Committee and otherwise suits him for that, and I commend him to the House on those terms.

Mr Speaker:

Having received no further requests to speak, I will put the Question in the order that the candidates were proposed earlier.

Question put, That Mr J Wilson be a Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 56; Noes 25



Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney.


Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Reg Empey, Sam Foster, John Gorman, Tom Hamilton, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Ken Robinson, George Savage, David Trimble, Jim Wilson.


Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy.



Paul Berry, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Total Votes 81 Total Ayes 56 ( 69.1%)
Nationalist Votes 28 Nationalist Ayes 2 ( 100.0%)
Unionist Votes 49 Unionist Ayes 24 ( 49.0%)

Question accordingly agreed to (cross-community vote).


That Mr J Wilson be a Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

Mr Speaker:

I declare that Mr J Wilson has been elected a Deputy Speaker of the House. The nomination of Mr Carrick falls.

12.15 pm

Assembly Business: Suspension of Standing Orders

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I beg to move

That Standing Orders 10(2) and 10(6) be suspended for Monday 25 February 2002.

This is a technical measure to enable the Assembly to sit for longer.

Mr Speaker:

Having no requests to speak, I put the Question to the House. I remind the House that a motion to suspend Standing Orders requires cross-community consent.

Question put and agreed to

Resolved (with cross-community support):

That Standing Orders 10(2) and 10(6) be suspended for Monday 25 February 2002.

Personal Social Services (Preserved Rights) Bill:
Consideration Stage

Mr Speaker:

No amendments to the Bill have been tabled, and I have received no indication that any Members wish to speak. I therefore propose, by leave of the House, to group the eight clauses, followed by the schedule and the long title.

Clauses 1 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Personal Social Services (Preserved Rights) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

Budget Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Mr Speaker:

No amendments to the Bill have been tabled, and I have received no indication that any Members wish to speak. I therefore propose, by leave of the House, to group the seven clauses, followed by the four schedules and the long title.

Clauses 1 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Budget Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.


Review of Public Administration

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes the proposed Terms of Reference for the Review of Public Administration.

The review of public administration is one of the major tasks facing the Executive, and will be central to the way in which we deliver, structure and organise our public services in the future. This is the opportunity of a generation to put in place a modern, accountable, effective system of public administration that can deliver a high-quality set of public services to our citizens. It is an opportunity that we must take.

Naturally, the review will attract great interest from the public and the Assembly. In that context, we wrote to the Speaker on 8 January to seek advice on how the Assembly would wish to oversee the review. We understand that the Business Committee has been considering that. We look forward to working with whatever Committee will lead on the review, and we understand that it is the Business Committee's preference that the Committee of the Centre should perform that role, with the involvement of other Committees as appropriate.

The Executive gave a commitment in the Programme for Government to launch the review by spring 2002, and we are on course to meet that target. The Executive have initiated the debate on the review at the earliest possible point, and we are seeking the Assembly's views about the approach to be taken to the review before work starts on it. The Executive are determined that this should be an open and transparent process from the outset, and we are keen to hear the views that will be expressed in this debate.

Members will have received a copy of the proposed terms of reference. They include a set of characteristics against which any system of public administration should be measured and a set of questions to inform the conduct of the review.

We identified the need for a wide-ranging review of the public sector in February 1999. The creation of the Assembly and a regional tier of Government lead, rightly, to questions about the overall architecture of government here.

At present Northern Ireland has three Members of the European Parliament; 18 Members of Parliament; and 108 Members of this legislative Assembly. In addition, there are 582 local councillors from 26 district councils and over 2,000 appointees to more than 100 public bodies - all for a population of just over 1·6 million. In that context, therefore, it is only natural for the public to ask whether Northern Ireland is overgoverned.

In the Programme for Government we committed ourselves to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public services in Northern Ireland as well as the accountability for the administration and delivery of those services. The review will consider the structure, responsibilities and delivery of services by local government. It will examine the accountability and co-ordination of public bodies at arm's length from government, and it will consider all elements of public administration against the characteristics that are finally agreed.

Although it is too early to reopen the 18 December 1998 agreement on the distribution of functions among the 11 Departments, the discharge and delivery of services under any one of those Departments can be scrutinised. The review may result in changes to the way in which services are delivered and alterations to the co-ordination and organisation of services.

The introduction of the Executive and the Assembly means that we need to consider the balance with a local government system, the structure and powers of which have remained relatively untouched for 30 years. The review will consider which services should be delivered by regional government, and which should be delivered by local government. It will also consider how many councils are needed and how services should be delivered.

We recognise that many people feel an affinity with their councils and that local councils are seen as responsive to local needs. Against that, there are questions about whether we need 26 councils and how efficient the current system is overall. That highlights the fact that there are balances to be struck between local accountability, public confidence, efficiency and effectiveness.

Of course, there is already much speculation about the outcome of the review. There are fears that councils will be abolished and that towns will lose public-sector jobs. There is, however, no presumption that centralisation, whether structurally or geographically, is better.

12.30 pm

We are committed to examining the scope for the decentralisation of Civil Service jobs in the context of an accommodation review that is currently being led by the Department of Finance and Personnel. The objective is to create the best possible system of public administration. We have set out on that with no predetermined outcomes.

With the establishment of the Assembly, much of the democratic deficit under direct rule has gone. Ministers are accountable to the Assembly, and ultimately to constituents, for the services provided. However, there remain issues of accountability for the review to consider. There is long-standing concern at the extent to which financial powers are vested in quangos, with unelected boards supervising a wide range of public services. Those bodies, and the people who served on them, worked hard to deliver a service to the people of Northern Ireland throughout the long years of direct rule. However, we must ask if it is still appropriate to continue the administration of public services through those structures, and if not, how the accountability arrangements should be changed.

Accountability is the first of the headings in the terms of reference under the proposed characteristics of public administration. I have already mentioned efficiency, effectiveness and quality of service. I want to speak about several other important dimensions, although in the time available I will not be able to cover all of them.

Equality and human rights are important issues. We must ensure that not only are finite resources appropriately targeted at those most in need but also that the point of delivery for public services is easily accessible to those who have the greatest need of those services. The location of services must, therefore, continue to meet people's needs and contribute to their sense of community. In addition to that, an exercise of that magnitude has to take account of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and New TSN policies.

Co-ordination and integration of services will be an important consideration for the review team. Sometimes it can be difficult for people to know whom to turn to, and to know who is responsible for a particular issue. A prime example of that becomes apparent if one considers those people who live in the Cookstown District Council area. They are in the Southern Education and Library Board area, the Northern Health and Social Services Board area, the western area for roads and planning, and the eastern area for water. It would scarcely be surprising if people were confused about who delivers their services. We must examine whether units of administration can be provided at sub-regional level, or one-stop facilities provided locally to assist customers.

Those are some of the issues covered by the draft terms of reference. We are keen to hear from Members whether other issues should be included explicitly.

I wish to address how we envisage the review being conducted. We want everyone to feel that their views will be listened to and taken into account. We envisage that the review team will hold a range of events around Northern Ireland, which can be attended by anyone. In addition to the traditional means of communication, we have already launched a web site dedicated to the review. People will be able to communicate with the review team by using that site.

It is important that everyone can have confidence in the way in which the review will be carried out. There have been calls for it to be completely independent. However, after careful consideration, we have concluded that the Assembly and the Executive must be central to the process. This issue is too important and too complex to leave to an appointed body, with elected Members merely coming in at the end of the process. There would be a huge irony in an unelected body examining the appropriateness of other unelected bodies that had responsibility for the administration of public services.

Given that the review has the potential to shape the future governance of Northern Ireland for years to come, it is essential that there is political input at every stage of the process. For that reason we must lead the review and decide its outcome. That said, we are convinced that there must be a strong independent element throughout the review process. We are in the process of identifying and appointing a small number of high-level independent experts, who are recognised for their expertise in governance and organisational change. The independent experts will have an involvement in all aspects of the review, from quality assuring the terms of reference to participating in setting the strategic direction of the review and offering views, evidence and new ideas to the review team and to Ministers.

The experts will not be shackled. It is hoped that they will work closely with the review team. However, the independent experts will have a direct line to Ministers, if they wish to register an alternative approach or a difference of view. We also intend that the review team will be broadly based. We have initiated a selection process to recruit candidates from local government and the wider public sector as full members of the team who will apply their expertise throughout the review.

The Executive will lead the process, working closely with the independent experts, the core team of public officials, the Assembly and its Committees. That will create a balanced process that offers full accountability of members and the Assembly, and which protects the public interest in the light of the suggestion that the review of the public sector is being carried out by the public sector.

Understandably, the delay in initiating the review was criticised. The Executive rightly waited for greater political stability, for the new arrangements of the Executive and the Assembly to bed down and for relationships with local government to become clear. In addition, an earlier start might have had a negative impact on last year's council election by discouraging people from standing again or coming forward for election because of uncertainty.

We look forward to the debate. I anticipate that Members will want to range widely, as well as addressing the proposed terms of reference. It is the start of a long process. We will welcome, and give careful consideration to, all the Assembly's comments, and we look forward to constructive dialogue with Members throughout the review. I commend the draft terms of reference to the Assembly.

The Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre (Mr Poots):

First, I will comment on the handling of the review. The Committee of the Centre welcomes the publication of the draft terms of reference. The Assembly has waited for the commencement of the review for a long time. Some Members have expected the review since the former Minister of the Environment announced it at the Ulster Unionist Party conference in the autumn of 2000.

The review will be one of the most significant and far-reaching issues to be considered by the Assembly. If it is to be done properly, it will take time and considerable effort from us all. Several statutory Committees have a role: health, environment, education and agriculture, for example. However, the Assembly needs one Committee to take the lead in scrutinising the review through consultation with the other statutory Committees and by providing input on issues within their remit. That Committee will also monitor progress of the review.

Without a lead Committee, how would the Assembly scrutinise the review? To whom would the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, officials and experts answer on cross-cutting issues and matters that do not fall to a statutory Committee? The Committee of the Centre is best placed to undertake that role. I therefore welcome the Business Committee's decision of 12 February that the Committee of the Centre should scrutinise the review process, with statutory Committees involved in the issues that are within their remit. The Committee looks forward to working with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) on the review in its early stages and as the review progresses.

I will raise several issues on behalf of the Committee on the draft terms of reference and the accompanying paper that sets out the parameters for the review. On first reading, the terms of reference appear to be detailed and comprehensive. On further examination, however, they raise as many questions as answers.

We do not know the methodology for the review. For example, will matters such as health and education be examined separately, or will the review be split into subject areas such as accountability issues and the delivery of services? Which bodies and organisations will the review cover? How will existing reviews, such as the Hayes and Burns reviews, feed into the review of public administration?

The work could be complex and time-consuming, and we have not been told what will be the structure for tackling it. Who will appoint the review team, and when will that happen? How much consultation will there be with the relevant Committees before the team is appointed? An appointment to the Committee of the Regions in Europe was made without any consultation with the Assembly, as opposed to the approach in Scotland. We hear much about accountability, but there was none in that case. To whom will the review team report, and will there be a project board?

In addition the Assembly should be given the overall timescale of the review, together with timescales and interim targets for the completion of each element. No reference to the estimated overall cost is made in the draft terms of reference and the accompanying papers setting out the review's parameters - perhaps that is unsurprising. Should the Assembly not be given an indication of that cost? Is there an overall target for savings?

What will be the procedures for equality proofing the review? Will it be done in stages or only once, when the review nears completion? In the letter from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to the Committee Chairpersons we were told that two levels of independent experts and advice were being sought. The Assembly needs to know the precise functions and costs of those two groups and to whom they will be accountable as the work progresses. How will their work be evaluated?

The review must also address the scope for joined-up government, increased electronic government and one-stop shops, all of which have a role in the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public. According to the papers provided, we must examine what people's needs will be in five or 10 years' time. Should such a comprehensive and strategic review not assess the needs of people over the next 20 or 30 years?

As Chairperson of the Committee, I ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to tell us when they will return to the Assembly with revised terms of reference, and the target date for the launch of the review.

I wish to raise other matters in my capacity as a Lagan Valley representative. Why does the review not cover the functions that arise from the Belfast Agreement: the Assembly, the North/South bodies, the British- Irish Council, the Civic Forum, and other matters? The First Minister said that it was too early to review those matters. When will the review be complete? I suspect that by that time, it would be appropriate to investigate those matters.

The First Minister mentioned the numbers of public representatives and appointees to quangos. In Northern Ireland there is one quango appointee for every 800 people and one public representative for every 2000 people. Democratic representation costs each Northern Ireland constituency some £1 million. That includes the cost of MPs, MLAs, local councillors, their offices and their administrative back-up staff. How is it possible to have a review that takes powers from Departments - without examining them - and gives more power to the councils? The 11 Departments were set up on 18 December 1998. It could be argued that the issue has been "over-equalitised", however I was unable to check the existence of that word with David Ervine. In my part of the world the appropriate expression is "over-egging the pudding". Fifty per cent of the Ministers were to represent Nationalists, and 50% were to represent Unionists. I suspect that there will be an election before the review is complete.

12.45 pm

I would be surprised if the Unionist/Nationalist mix of Ministers in the 11 Departments were fifty-fifty after that, and perhaps now is the time to consider that issue in a more focused way, rather than in a way that would ensure an equal number of Nationalists and Unionists in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Since the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998, £80 million has been taken from the public purse in Northern Ireland to cover additional administration costs. We cannot ignore that. It was supposed to have been dealt with at an early stage, and promises were made about quangos during the run-up to the Assembly elections.

Approximately £20 million is being spent on the North/South bodies. How can we have a review of public administration without including everything that was established under the terms of the Belfast Agreement? The review is not comprehensive; it is not all- embracing; it will not wholeheartedly deal with the issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland. We cannot have a proper review of public administration unless we encompass all issues.


The Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning (Dr Birnie):

I welcome and support the terms of reference as they are. It is good to have a debate on them, and it will be beneficial to have the review up and running as soon as possible.

The Department for Employment and Learning has a relatively unique experience in this regard. Recently, it subsumed one of the bodies under its control, the Training and Employment Agency, which was a Next Steps agency. Other Departments may learn how to reduce the number of semi-free-standing bodies related to their administration from such experience. Admittedly, it is not yet clear how far that change has increased the effectiveness of service delivery or cost efficiency.

Invest Northern Ireland, an agency of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, also merits a mention. Its creation resulted in the grouping of several similar agencies, which reduced the total number of that Department's agencies.

The Department for Employment and Learning is responsible for training. The Committee for Employment and Learning wonders whether there is a training issue relating to the membership of the 100-plus quangos, boards, agencies and partnerships, which, as the First Minister rightly said, have more than 2,000 persons on their oversight and management boards. The Committee is concerned that, in future, those people should receive better training and come with a guarantee that they are equipped to fulfil their remit and tasks.

Most notably, that concern relates to financial oversight responsibility. For example, the boards of governors of several further education colleges have run into severe financial difficulties in recent years. However, the Committee suspects that that is indicative of a more general problem in so-called "quangoland" in which administrative boards do not have sufficient financial management or accountancy expertise to check that public money is being adequately and properly used. The Committee suggests that consideration of the selection criteria for the boards of future administrative bodies and better training for the persons who volunteer to sit on such bodies be added to the terms of reference.

The rest of my remarks are made as an MLA rather than as Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning. Mr Poots raised the number of Departments and their functions, and I am sure that others will also do so. I do not deny what Mr Poots said about the increase in departmental running costs. However, it should be put on record that, on the benefit side of the ledger, we have gained from having 11 Departments as opposed to six. They have enabled us to focus more on certain issues.

The remit of the new Department for Employment and Learning used to be subsumed in the large empire of the Department of Education, and for many reasons that was arguably not good. For example, the needs of further education colleges were ignored compared to those of schools.

The creation of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was good because of the added emphasis that was placed on rural development. In the long run, that Department must deal with much more than simply maintaining the farming industry. We must diversify into alternative rural-based economic and other activities.

The old Department of the Environment was similar to the gigantic eastern European public administrative bodies. It was simply too big, and its remit too wide- ranging, to be economically efficient and administratively effective.

The terms of reference of the review represent a great opportunity. This is possibly the first opportunity to look at these issues in depth since the McCrory Report of about three decades ago. It gives us a chance to look, as he did in the early 1970s, at the efficiency of public administration and at the appropriate level of desirable accountability to the electorate and those who use public services.

A key point is that form should follow function. The challenge for the review and the independent experts who will be advising it will be to identify what can most fittingly be added to the functions of, for example, the district councils. Once that is done, the second step will be to decide the appropriate size of those councils, given the economies of scale that will relate to the functions that they may have in the future.

I support the motion.

Mr Gallagher:

I welcome the consultation paper and the involvement of the Assembly and its Committees during the consultation period. As we progress with the review, we will need one of the Assembly Committees to manage it on our behalf. It should not necessarily be the Committee of the Centre, which already deals with the business of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Perhaps we should consider which other Committees could steer the progress of the review.

We must also take account of independent views. Reviews of public administration have been carried out in other European countries. We should draw on that work, identify best practice elsewhere and consider reflecting that in our review.

The local government units are an important part of the review, and as a member of such a unit - and the only local government unit that has a county boundary that coincides with the unit boundary - I think that we should examine closely how the units that we arrive at identify with local communities. It has worked well in Fermanagh, and, despite local government controversies from time to time, members have often managed to overcome any difficulties and work well together for the greater good of that area. We should give careful consideration to that.

Several characteristics have been identified in the document, and I will mention some that I consider important. First, no characteristic is more important than equality. The governing factor in the delivery of public services must be equal access to them for all. The review should result in structures and mechanisms being developed that can deliver those services fairly and equitably.

Secondly, accountability is important, and it is mentioned in the document. There is a widely held view that many decisions taken on the delivery of services are taken by people who are not democratically accountable or even close to the communities that are most affected by those decisions. It is imperative, therefore, that democratically elected and accountable representatives play a full role in making decisions on the delivery of services that affect the lives of so many.

Partnership is a third important characteristic that is referred to in the document, but it does not have a heading of its own. Many non-elected individuals have specialist expertise, and they can, and do, make an important contribution to the decision-making process. They must be allowed to continue to make that input in a way that complements, and does not exclude, the role of elected representatives.

Fourthly, there is the issue of transparency. Last week, I heard that one quango, on which there are no elected representatives, was denying elected representatives access to the minutes of its meetings. That is most unsatisfactory. We must have better practices on transparency. Local government is a good example of transparency in the delivery of services. However, that does not mean that local government practices cannot be improved upon.

Finally, I wish to address efficiency. I recognise the good work that is being carried out daily by councils and health and education boards. I am aware of the uncertainties that the ongoing speculation about this review has created among public-sector workers. Such workers must be reassured that public services cannot be delivered without the existing, dedicated staff.

Much of the discussion on the review centres on councils. However, we must remember that councils are currently responsible for 3% of public expenditure, so the debate needs to take place in a wide and a balanced manner. It will enable us to make progress on a balanced examination of how services are currently delivered.

We all know of the complications within Health Service management. Ordinary people do not understand the present confusing arrangements, with the maze of structures from the Department through to the boards and trusts.

1.00 pm

I remind Members that this matter was referred to in the Hayes review. It recommended structural changes to coincide with a new arrangement for acute hospital services. Therefore, we have to decide whether some Health Service structures need to be changed as part of the acute hospital services review, which we hope will take place this year, or be addressed as part of this wider and longer public service review. That requires more detailed discussion.

I am not saying that the structures recommended in the Hayes Report have to be implemented, rather that further consideration is necessary. The review must look at which agency, or agencies working collaboratively, can best deliver services to communities. I welcome this opportunity to bring the decision-making process closer to the people and do it through a process governed by equality in both its structure and its delivery.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I want to make several points, and one of my Colleagues will deal with the terms of reference in more detail later. I was interested to hear Mr Poots making forward projections about the likely breakdown of Nationalist and Unionist representatives and how that will affect the various Departments. Given his long- standing democratic credentials, I would have thought he would have been clamouring for majority rule as opposed to some method to deal with that, as he suggested. Nevertheless, perhaps people move on. It is important to recognise that we need to move on the basis of inclusion and make sure that equality is built into any system of governance that we devise.

I want to put on record my disappointment that it has taken over three years from the announcement of the review to bring us to the point today where we are being asked to take note of the terms of reference, although I welcome that. It gives us something firm to deal with, and I look forward to the work that has to be done. However, it is important to record our disappointment at the long delay. I am not making recriminations; rather I am trying to ensure that the reason for that delay is not carried forward into the work itself.

The First Minister mentioned some reasons for the delay, which were more to do with politics than technicalities. It may be fair to say that political judgements had to be made, but, arguably, if the Assembly and the Executive had got down to this important work three years ago, we might not have had some of the political difficulties that we did have. It is important to note that.

In their report the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister listed the 582 councillors, 26 councils, 108 MLAs, 18 MPs, and three MEPs, not to mention the 150-odd quangos with approximately 2,000 public appointees. Many of those public appointees have carried out some sterling work on behalf of the community over the years. However, many - and Mr Gallagher made a relevant point about this - have been unaccountable for years. In fact, looking at the cost of those quangos, the range of activities those people are involved in and the political who's who of those bodies, I do not think that many have served us well.

It must be remembered that many of those agencies were set up because of many years of misrule here. Forms of government were either abolished or had their powers removed substantially, so we must bear in mind where we are coming from, given the quagmire throughout public administration. The benchmark must now be the institutions that were established under the Good Friday Agreement. Further work is necessary in order to streamline or improve the functions of government, whether here or elsewhere. However, there are specific terms for the review of the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions contained therein, and people will look forward to that.

I hope that we can continue to improve the way in which we represent the people and the way in which we deliver important services. However, it is also important that there should be further explanations from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for the three years it has taken to reach this point, primarily to ensure that we do not have any further delays in the future.

I welcome the manner in which we hope to deal with this major programme of work. There is no doubt that it will take a long time. It is heartening to hear the First Minister talk about the way in which the Assembly, other representatives and organisations will have a full, proper and open input. However, I hope that we will not have the type of spin that we have had from the recently appointed press officer for the Executive, in which presentation rather than substance is the order of the day. For instance, last week in 'The Sunday Times' there was a suggestion that one reason for the three-year delay was that many Members are also councillors and therefore resistant to change. I have not heard of any councillor resisting change for the sake of it. My party will actively pursue change, particularly in local government and in how it is delivered. This is not about whether there are 26 councils - that is a matter for debate - this is about examining the role and functions of those district councils and, more importantly, about ensuring that they will have to discharge their business fairly and equitably.

There have been some improvements in recent years through local government, perhaps because there has been a thaw in certain places with regard to broader politics. However, no one can say that local government operates fairly, and the delay in the review has put further back, probably quite considerably, changes to boundaries, which mean that the current unfair system of government will continue for the next few years. The councils and the boundaries that currently exist do not represent properly the demographic changes in our community. Local government will have to be much fairer.

I recommend that we move forward with the local government review and examine the principles contained in the institutions. Although people criticise them, the potential for abuse is less than in local government, because proportionality, equality, safeguards, checks and balances are built into the system, and that must come across into local government too.

The review of local government and the other reviews should proceed quickly and address proportionality, particularly with regard to local government. That will ensure that the people who are represented, and those who have the privilege of representing them, are treated fairly and equitably.

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should address the reviews that are currently under way. There have been several recent attacks on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety about the number of reviews in that Department. Some of them are being held up by the review of public administration.

How will the reviews dovetail to be conducted within a time frame and how can the required outcome fulfil the terms of references? There is the review of local government, quangos and public administration. There is also the review of the rates system, and I fail to see how that can be conducted independently of the review of local government. There is also the review of the Civil Service, the review of government accommodation and the question of public appointments. How will all those reviews dovetail?

It is important that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister give us a wider vision. We must see those reviews dovetailing to a point where we can deliver effective and accountable governance to the people in a reasonable period of time. I look forward to Members' responses.

Mr Close:

I welcome the launch of the review of public administration in Northern Ireland. I notice the slippage that has taken place with regard to its launch; it is undoubtedly overdue. I shall be charitable and say that it is better late than never, and I will do so hand on heart as I am a reasonable person.

My main concern about the delay is that this is undoubtedly one area where time has cost money. We know the difficulties that various Departments are under due to lack of finance. I say without fear of contradiction that, due to the delay, hundreds of millions of pounds have been badly spent over the past three years. Again, I am being charitable.

To say that Northern Ireland is overgoverned is something of an understatement. We cannot rehearse the numbers often enough to get the message home. We have three MEPs, 18 MPs, 108 MLAs and either 582 or 586 councillors, and those are just figures at a governmental level for a, lest anyone forget, population of 1·6 million. I should also mention the plethora of health boards, health trusts, education and library boards, planning and roads divisions, Next Steps agencies, and the layer of other bodies that apparently provide useful services to the people of Northern Ireland. Again, I am being charitable. Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with the size of populations in other parts of the United Kingdom and the number of people elected to represent them.

I would like to be able to say that due to all these wonderful layers of bureaucracy, administration and elected representatives the people of Northern Ireland were getting a wonderful deal. However, that would not be a truthful observation. More importantly, those whom we represent and those who send us to the Assembly and other places would not agree with such a sweeping statement. They believe that their money - taxpayers' money - is being squandered through layer upon layer of bureaucracy and administration.

Members may recall that I have referred to administration in Northern Ireland as somewhat akin to the onion. Those who have any culinary skills will recognise that as one tries to peel away the skins of the onion, it brings tears to one's eyes. I have no doubt that as the skins of bureaucracy and administration in Northern Ireland are gradually peeled away until we get to the hub, many tears will flow in Northern Ireland.


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