Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Arms-length bodies 'cost £7bn'

DUP South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt has hit out at the amount of money devoted to arms-length bodies
DUP South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt has hit out at the amount of money devoted to arms-length bodies

Arms-length bodies are costing Northern Ireland around £7 billion a year, it has been revealed.

Efficiencies are being sought and some organisations could share services to drive down the bill, an official from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister added.

Jackie Kerr told the Department's Stormont scrutiny committee costs were being reviewed.

"The objective is to ensure the most efficient delivery of services in terms of those overheads for both the Department and in terms of arms-length bodies... while minimising or avoiding any impact on front line services," the OFMDFM director of finance said.

She added the £7 billion spend was across all Executive departments and included health bodies.

She also outlined a range of other potential savings including the abolition of a think tank which provides economic advice to the OFMDFM and £1.7 million reductions in victims spending. The Northern Ireland Memorial Fund could be scrapped because its role would be taken over by the new victims service.

Arms-length bodies enjoy varying degrees of freedom from political interference. The intention is that they be free from day-to-day politics while ultimately remaining accountable to the electorate for delivering specialist functions.

Chief executives of some arms-length bodies are earning more than £100,000 a year. Many also have boards where the chairman receives payment and members receive travel and other allowances. There have been repeated calls from the DUP and other parties for a cull.

DUP South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt said the amount of money devoted to arms-length bodies was "scary" and highlighted bureaucracy within the Policing Board.

"There is a lot of money there that could have been far better spent," he said. "There needs to be a very, very close look at these bodies. There has been a culture which was allowed to creep in during direct rule and a blind eye was turned to it by direct rule ministers."

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