Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Stomont parties talk the talk, but have yet to walk the walk

Today most of the questions centre on education, training and the ideas for squeezing more out of our public services.

These are areas on which politicians have often been long on rhetoric but short on action.

Now policymakers will have an idea of where they can already carry public opinion and where they need to convince people.

One area where there is a green light to make progress, and significant savings, is sharing facilities between our schools.

On paper, all parties are committed to it, with the DUP and Alliance both stating a completely integrated education system as their eventual goal.

The progress is so slow that you would hardly notice it. In Ballymena, for instance, draft plans leaked to a local newspaper show amalgamations of schools in the same sector, not rationalisation across the religious divide.

In terms of planning, both churches have been given an entrenched position in an education sector that is almost wholly state-funded and little in way of guarantees of rationalisation.

Politicians have to show they are serious about achieving the objective of a shared society.

We should know if they are within the next few weeks when the Executive and Alliance, which has opted out of the joint process, will each present a separate paper on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.

The Executive should also note the overwhelming support for more transparency in the delivery of public services. Seven out of 10 voters want to know more about how their taxes are being spent.

This sits badly with proposals to charge for Freedom of Information requests and limit the scope of the act. If requests are too costly to service, it would be better to disclose information routinely.

Some of the Government’s army of ‘information officers’ could then be put to work actually disclosing information instead of batting off Press queries and covering ministers’ backs.

We saw how cumbersome and self-serving the system is when new “media protocols” from Culture Minister Caral ni Chuilin to arms-length bodies were leaked to the Belfast Telegraph. Some accused her of issuing a gagging order.

There is also strong backing for investment in ICT training. There is voter support for prioritising the sector, along with agri-food and engineering, in the Executive and Invest NI’s job creation plans.

For full statistics analysis visit Lucid talk

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