Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

The controversial Education and Skills Authority: Stormont fails to deliver again

The controversial Education and Skills Authority... Stormont fails to deliver again
The controversial Education and Skills Authority... Stormont fails to deliver again

Education has been one of the prime battlegrounds in the political infighting at Stormont. Sinn Fein ministers' attempts to get rid of the transfer procedure has merely resulted in continuing chaos year after year as political opposition and the grammar school lobby continue to defy the party dogma.

Now another signal failure of Sinn Fein policy has emerged, with John O'Dowd signalling that the controversial Education and Skills Authority is dead in the water.

What was supposed to be a single education authority – bringing much-needed streamlining to the sector – can now be regarded as a costly white elephant.

It is estimated that it has run up a bill of £17m already. It has been seven years in the pipeline, but real progress on bringing it to fruition has been stalled by political deadlock. According to the Programme for Government, it was supposed to be operational by 2013, but it is unlikely ever to see the light of day.

However, Mr O'Dowd may try to revive the principle – if not the organisation – according to his statement to Stormont's education committee yesterday.

He is reconfiguring the existing five education and library boards to fit the new super councils structure of local government, but has hinted that these may be reduced to three or even one. If ESA is ever to become a reality it will be by the back door. What this shambles demonstrates is the dysfunction of politics at Stormont when it comes to compromise over party dogma or vested interests. Far too often the hard decisions are shelved or subjected to political deadlock.

As has happened with the welfare reforms, scarce public funding is being wasted on the altar of political principle.

Our politicians need to realise that their peculiar form of power-sharing requires compromise on a scale they have not yet envisaged.

If they put their singular party policies above the common good, then the process could unravel.

What is certain is that the electorate will become more and more disenchanted with their political representatives.

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