Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont's plans underwhelming

As MLAs head off for their nine-week summer holidays - enough to raise the hackles of voters - it is time to reflect on what they have achieved to date and what they plan to do in the coming year.

The verdict on past performance is hardly glowing; too little, too slowly. Over the next 12 months it is planned to introduce 26 new bills, but the total outweigh their significance, in spite of Junior Minister Jonathan Bell's defence of the programme as quality not quantity.

Mr Bell also claimed that the Assembly and Executive has outperformed its Welsh and Scottish counterparts, but this is a frivolous argument. What the public, and this newspaper, expects from its elected members are measures to address the day-to-day problems facing ordinary people in areas like health, employment and education.

For the most part we still await such measures. Three years after it was supposed to be up and running, the Education and Skills Authority, is now planned for next year.

But the programme outlined makes no mention of one of the most pressing requirements, an agreed Shared Future strategy. That is unacceptable. And the long-awaited reform of local government - with its promise of huge financial savings - is still no nearer beginning, never mind coming to fruition. Most of the bills due to come before the Assembly in the next year are technical or relatively minor in impact. It is not the sort of dynamic leadership that devolution once promised.

Mr Bell may have tried to mount a strong defence of the work of local politicians, but perhaps he can understand why we are feeling decidedly underwhelmed. These are very difficult times for ordinary people, many of whom cannot afford a holiday, and they desperately seek reassurance that their elected representatives understand and empathise with their plight. They won't find much reassurance in the list of bills proposed and will expect their MLAs to return from their holiday refreshed and raring to make a meaningful impact.

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