Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Simon Hamilton: 'People deserve to have more with less'

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton warned public spending budgets could be tight for more than five years (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton warned public spending budgets could be tight for more than five years (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

The maiden speech to the business community of new Finance Minister Simon Hamilton emphasised the necessity of public sector reform, which has to be carried out because of reduced public spending. Mr Hamilton said:

"THE biggest challenge that Sammy (below) [former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson] faced and successfully overcame during his time in office was agreeing and delivering a very difficult budget settlement. Whilst the widespread predictions of public spending doom and gloom haven't materialised, the public expenditure landscape has been altered.

"The spending round for 2015/2016 may have been more encouraging than we might have imagined but the prospect of tightening budgets up to 2018 and possibly beyond still exists.

"Coupled with the ever-increasing expectations of an understandably demanding public, it is clear that tough times lie ahead.

"Meeting those demands with ever fewer resources will be the underlying context of my time in the Department of Finance and Personnel.

"The people of Northern Ireland won't accept, and nor do they deserve, less with less. They deserve more with less. That's all very easy to say but far harder to deliver.

"The answer lies in the relentless pursuit of one aim – reform.

"The challenge of less public spending together with looming long-term tests like an aging population means that reform isn't something we can set aside, ignore and hope it isn't needed.

"This is the single biggest challenge Northern Ireland faces in the next decade and it's a challenge we can't resist, it's one we must embrace. For failure to reform in a way we choose and at a time of our choosing will see change forced upon us through circumstances.

"I want the Department of Finance and Personnel to be a proactive partner with other departments and the entirety of our public sector to positively change Northern Ireland.

"Northern Ireland needs a department that drives reform and innovation and change across the whole of government and, in my view, no department is better placed to do that than DFP.

"To assist me in meeting this objective, I can today announce the creation of a public sector reform division within the department. This division will work with the other Executive departments to assist them in making the reforms they require a reality.

"It will seek to stimulate innovation in service delivery and it will gather and disseminate best practice in public expenditure, shared services and digital delivery, amongst other things.

"I want to make it clear that I don't see this as a matter of DFP dictating how departments should reform. I see the Department of Finance and Personnel as an enabler, as a facilitator, as a partner that provides support, assistance and, where appropriate, funding to make reform happen.

"DFP already plays a crucial role serving the needs of every other department in ways that aren't just about budgets. Things like shared services, procurement and human resources. It is in that capacity, as part of a strategic centre making our agreed objectives in government operational realities, that I see DFP helping others in the Executive to get the big and difficult things done. Departments need to be the owners of reform in their own areas of responsibility and DFP can be a helping hand."

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