Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Promising start to the new Assembly

The eagerly awaited Programme for Government will be presented to all the parties at Stormont today with the First Minister Peter Robinson saying that the DUP and Sinn Fein are in agreement on its contents. It is now up to the UUP, Alliance and SDLP to have their say.

While nothing is ever certain, given the unique coalition which forms the Stormont administration, the signs are encouraging that the local politicians will face up to some of the biggest challenges facing them.

The reform of local government has been delayed for far too long. It is obvious that Northern Ireland is over-governed with 26 councils, 108 MLAs and 18 MPs. Reducing the number of councils to 11 would both make sense and produce long-term savings. In these times of austerity, cutting bureaucracy is not just desirable, but required. Government has to show it is efficient at a time when everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts to the last notch.

The Education and Skills Authority, another potential cost saver, is also included in the programme. Again this is a positive move.

Proposals for breaking down divisions in the community and finding ways of saving money by sharing facilities are also due to go out to Stormont committees. In the long term, this could be a real game changer because so many areas of life here are duplicated - at great expense - in a way that does not happen in other UK societies.

An obvious example is the parallel systems of education which has left schools in debt and a crumbling schools estate. But it also happens in housing and in leisure facilities where resources are needlessly spent creating services for each community. Breaking down divisions is obviously a long-term project but it is important that the politicians - with a spirit of co-operation that once seemed impossible - should urgently begin this work. The programme for government's headline proposals are an encouraging beginning.

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