Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Executive must rise to challenge of better yet cheaper services

The Northern Ireland Executive is being challenged to streamline and, in some areas, re-organise public services. Commenting on the current financial pressures and some of the emerging demographic trends, the CBI said: 'The need to provide services more efficiently but at lower cost is clear.'

In a critical comment on the Programme for Government and parallel economic strategy, the CBI welcomed the leadership by the Executive but added, pointedly: 'It is increasingly clear that the real work has yet to be done.'

The strengths and weaknesses, or efficiency, of public services were reviewed by the CBI in tabular form using a contrasting colour code. From a list of 25 services which were assessed, only four merited green status – where progress was made.

In contrast, 11 were red – too little action and the remaining 10 amber –where progress has been modest, marginal or slow.

There were suggestions on making services more efficient, or improving them by outsourcing. There were also ideas on how to maximise funds to grow the economy from cost reductions and extra sources of revenue.

As a means of stimulating the economy, high on the CBI agenda would be an increased public sector capital budget, financed by savings or increased taxation and charges (or reduced subsidies to selected public services).

Further impetus was commended from market testing through public and private suppliers. CBI drew attention to the absence of adequate market testing for potential cost savings from public services where decisions are based on value for money.

As target functions for reshaping, CBI suggests Land and Property Services, the Driver and Vehicle Agency and asked for opportunities from NHS reform.

CBI again asked for a modification of the TUPE (transfer of undertakings protection rules), possibly at least on the lines currently under debate in GB.

What would the CBI plan achieve? Undoubtedly it would put pressure on major parts of the public sector to reduce costs. It might release extra funds to expand the capital programme.

It again appealed for a slimmed down government structure with a new single department for the economy.

Alongside reconsidered planning criteria and better public procurement, this potentially offers a radical change of approach to public sector capital planning.

Is the Executive ready to tackle the conservatism of the present institutions?

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