Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

It'd be great if Lord Sugar could lay waste to Stormont

Sometimes I wish Lord Sugar would be employed to run his eye over Stormont and reveal his recommendations. Just what might he conclude?

At whom might he point his finger? How often might he have cause to exclaim "You're fired"?

Did you miss the absence of our 108 MLAS over the Christmas and New Year period, when they managed another three-week break?

Or have you been duly impressed by the Stormont Executive on its return, horse-trading once more behind closed doors over who should control the Department for Employment and Learning?

If our ministers and MLAs were to lock themselves in Parliament Buildings for a week and spend more time coming up with ideas to save the province's ailing economy, they might be considered more valuable and productive.

Unfortunately that is not the image Stormont portrays. All the posturing between the five main parties belies the fact that the Executive has become a cosy club ticking over from week to week, making little or no impression on an outside world struggling to make ends meet.

Where is the sense of drive, the inspirational leadership, the collective urge to build more public confidence in the current grim economic climate?

Every now and then, the First Minister, Peter Robinson, delivers a major speech about integrating our school system, or unionists needing to be more generous to the other side, or his wish to cut Stormont's excessive bureaucracy.

His words are words. Not a lot happens to match them. If the dispute over closing one department is anything to go by, then we may have to wait a long time to see many of the promised cuts to Stormont's costs, manpower and general bureaucracy.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams appears to have washed his hands of the north and absconded to the south, leaving the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to pick up the reins again after he too sought but failed to achieve higher office in Dublin.

The SDLP has a new leader, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, but like his Ulster Unionist counterpart, Tom Elliott, he has hardly taken the political world by storm.

Messrs Elliott and McDonnell must be grateful that, in Ed Miliband, there is at least one other political leader in these islands with a lower public opinion rating than theirs.

Not to be outdone, the Alliance leader, David Ford, now seems just as power-driven as the rest, trying to justify holding two ministerial posts at Stormont - even though his party has only eight MLAs and is ignoring the mathematics of power-sharing.

If there is one individual among them all who conveys real concern and talks as if he knows what he's doing, it's the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson.

He seems to understand the parlous state of our economy, the need for painful cuts and to ensure that public funds are not wasted at Stormont, or elsewhere.

The problem he faces is that Stormont is Northern Ireland's greatest extravagance. The bill for devolution is unacceptable in these straitened times and hardly a week passes without the media revealing more excesses; from hidden bonuses to consultants' fees to a platoon of highly-paid, unelected political advisers.

This bloated administration is now arguing over whether it should have 12 departments or 11, when at most eight would do.

It is inquiring into whether 108 MLAS earning £43,000 a year plus expenses should get a pay rise - even though we know Northern Ireland is grossly over-represented and the number of MLAs should be reduced by a third.

There are almost 400 personnel in the Office of First and deputy First Minister alone, begging the question: what do they all do?

The Executive has the backing of another 25,000 civil servants, with an average of 10.4 days sick-leave on top of holidays each year. And now we find there are even consultants being paid to check on other consultants brought in to do the work one might expect the civil servants to do.

The unacceptable face of Stormont devolution - overmanned, wasteful, unproductive and inefficient - cannot be hidden from public view any longer. Some MLAs may not realise how they are viewed and appear to live in a cocoon-like world of their own.

If only Lord Sugar could be persuaded to walk the corridors of political power at Stormont, his words "You're fired" might echo ever so loudly through some of their ears.

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